Contact Information


Friday, 10 October 2014

Two Recent First World War Publications

Two recent books may of particular interest to blog readers.  The first - "Going Over: A Nova Scotian Soldier in World War I" - profiles the war experiences of Titus Mossman, a native of Lunenburg County who enlisted with the 85th Battalion on October 7, 1915 and was one of a handful of "originals" still with the unit when it returned to Nova Scotia on June 8, 1919.  Author David Mossman traces his father's story from his family roots to later life.

Titus Mossman's story is of interest to any readers seeking an overview of the 85th's history and role in the events of the First World War.  Copies are available at local bookstores throughout Nova Scotia.

The second book - "Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Services of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War" - provides an overview of nursing during the First World War, through the experiences of Island-born nursing sisters serving with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.  Two preview chapters are available at the publication's website, Those Splendid Girls.  Copies can also be ordered online.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Sapper John Robert 'Jack' Smith - A Divisional Train Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: January 2, 1890

Place of Birth: Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janet McKenzie

Father's Name: Robert Smith

Date of Enlistment: March 1, 1915 at Victoria, BC

Regimental Number: 430115

Rank: Sapper

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry & Canadian Army Service Corps)

Units: 48th Battalion; 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion; 123rd Pioneer Battalion; 3rd Canadian Divisional Train

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Teamster

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Janet Smith, Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County (mother)

Jack's younger brother, Charles 'Charlie' Edwin, enlisted with the 4th Divisional Train at Halifax, NS on April 29, 1916, and survived the war.  Charlie later served in Canada during the Second World War.

John 'Jack' Robert Smith was the fifth of seven children - five sons and two daughters - born to Robert and Janet (McKenzie) Smith of Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County.  The third of the couple's sons, Jack spent his early years doing chores on the family farm alongside his siblings.  Never one to be idle, Jack's descendants attribute the fact that remained active well into later life to patterns developed during his formative years.

Sapper John Robert Smith
On March 28, 1910, Jack's father, Robert, passed away unexpectedly.  Sometime after 1911, Jack relocated to British Columbia, where he found employment in the province's lumber and mining camps.  After the outbreak of war in Europe, the province's abundance of fit young men drew the attention of Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) recruiters.  In fact, British Columbia provided a significant number of soldiers for the CEF during the conflict's early months.
Jack was amongst the earliest recruits, attesting for overseas service with the 48th Battalion at Victoria, BC on March 1, 1915.  A teamster by occupation, he stood five feet six inches and weighed 147 pounds at the time of his enlistment.  Like many of his comrades, Jack had no prior military experience and thus no idea of what to expect.  Nor could he have anticipated that he was destined to return four years later, accompanied by a Scottish war bride and young son.

Authorized on November 7, 1914, the 48th Battalion established its headquarters at Victoria, BC and recruited its initial personnel across the entire province.  Jack spent two months training with his fellow recruits at Willow Camp, outside Victoria, before travelling across the country by train and embarking for England aboard the SS Grampian on July 1, 1915.  The 48th made its way to camp in southern England, where its soldiers spent the remainder of the year awaiting orders to proceed to the Western Front.

Shortly after arriving in England, Jack received a pass to London, where he met Jean MacDonald, a native of Scotland who had travelled to the city to visit her sister.  After a brief courtship, Jack was smitten and proposed marriage.  Jean accepted and the couple married in the County of Lambeth, London, England, on October 30, 1915.  Jack immediately assigned $ 20 of his monthly pay - a maximum of $ 34.10 - to Jean, who took up residence at 90 Ballater Road, Brixton.
On January 6, 1916, the 48th Battalion was re-designated the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, a decision attributed to its soldiers' physical fitness and suitability for manual labor.  British military authorities had established pioneer units within each infantry division in December 1914, assigning major construction tasks at the front to their personnel.  While the men received basic infantry training and could be called upon to fight in an emergency, Pioneer units focused primarily on building the massive infrastructure required to support the large numbers of soldiers in the battlefield - trenches, dugouts, roads and small-gauge tramways.

3rd Pioneer Battalion was attached to the 3rd Canadian Division and proceeded across the English Channel to France on March 9, 1916.  Jack was not amongst the initial personnel sent to the front, as he was admitted to hospital at Shorncliffe, England on March 4, 1916 with a case of the measles.  After several weeks' isolation and treatment, Jack was discharged on April 7, 1916.  He spent another six weeks in England before proceeding to France on May 25, 1916 and joining 3rd Pioneer in the field on June 1, 1916.

At the time of Jack's arrival, the battalion was located near Ypres, Belgium, where its personnel toiled at night, in an effort to avoid attracting enemy fire.  Jack arrived at the front in the midst of significant activity, as described in the unit's war diary: "Owing to intense enemy bombardment the work to which the Battalion was detailed for night 1/2nd [June] was cancelled."   

Artillery fire continued into the following day, when the war diary reported a "strong enemy attack".  Despite an abundance of shells landing it the vicinity, 3rd Pioneer dispatched parties of sappers "to assist the Engineers in work of strengthening positions to which the front line had retired".  By day's end, the unit suffered one "other rank" (OR) killed and 14 OR wounded.

Jack's father Robert Smith (1844-1910)
A total of 9 OR were killed and 143 wounded over the next six days as 3rd Pioneer's sappers laboured to maintain the heavily shelled trenches.  While casualties declined somewhat toward the tour's end, the battalion's war diary reported four OR killed, one officer and 29 OR wounded, and 6 OR missing on the night of June 12/13, 1916. 

Jack and his comrades retired to billets near Abeele and Steenvorde on the night of June 16/17, 1916.  In recognition of the demanding nature of their work, 3rd Pioneer adopted the practice of resting one Company each week during subsequent tours.  A draft of 198 much-needed OR reinforcements from the 75th Battalion arrived in camp as personnel commenced two weeks of physical training and military drill.  Meanwhile, Jack's wife Jean gave birth to the couple's first child, John Robert Smith Jr., on June 22, 1916.  As 3rd Pioneer returned to the "firing line" on the night of July 1/2, 1916 as the father of a young son, Jack no doubt contemplated the precarious situation in which he found himself.

3rd Pioneer's tasks during the month of July 1916 reflect its typical work at the front - deepening trenches, constructing and repairing tramlines and roads, building a cavalry barracks at Ypres, constructing dugouts and installing a water tank for a dressing station at Zillebeke Bund.  Sappers regularly worked under the supervision of Canadian military engineers, who designed and supervised their assignments from start to completion.  The July 8/9, 1916 war diary entry described one such project: "Water system in Pioneer Camp completed.  Dam was built to catch rain water and small creek water, then piped through filter to ablution tables and horse troughs."

Fortunately, casualties on Jack's second rotation were significantly lighter than the first, although the war diary entries recorded several such incidents.  On the night of August 6/7, 1916, one OR was killed and five wounded when a trench mortar shell landed in the midst of a work party at Mount Sorrel.  The war diary described the perils of work in this particular location:

"Conditions on this [trench] work are very trying.  The enemy daily pounds this trench with heavy trench mortars and enfilades from Hill 60 with H. E. [high explosive] Shrapnel.  To date it is due more to bad shooting than anything else that we have not suffered heavier casualties."

The August 12/13, 1916 diary entry described another peril: "Enemy discharged gas on the north of Ypres Salient.  Men all placed on gas helmets on alarm sounding.  No casualties from 'gas'."
Artillery fire represented only one of many challenges the sappers encountered daily.  The war diary's August 8/9, 1916 entry noted one of the more unpleasant aspects of their tasks:

"All of the work carried out by the Pioneers is in a part of the Salient that has constantly changed hands and the ground is none too sanitary.  Frequently bodies are discovered in old dug-outs or buried by shells in the trenches.  Where possible pay books or identity discs are removed and if found are returned to their unit or base."

On the night of August 25/26, 1916, 3rd Pioneer withdrew to billets between Poperinghe and Abeele.  Personnel once again engaged in two weeks training, on this occasion focusing on engineering-related tasks - trench siting and dugout construction - in addition to bombing, gas helmet and musketry drill, and route marches.  Eight OR and one non-commissioned officer (NCO) from each Company received training as "reserve gun crews", while a second group of eight OR trained as "signallers".

3rd Pioneer Map - Maison Blanche Redoubt (November 1916).
3rd Pioneer broke camp on September 8, 1916 and followed the Canadian Corps southward to the Somme region of France, arriving on the outskirts of Albert six days later.  The following night, its sappers commenced construction of dugouts for 3rd Divisional Headquarters as Canadian infantry units attacked the German line at Courcelette.  The new location proved no less treacherous than the Ypres Salient, with four OR killed and 32 wounded on the night of September 15/16, 1916.

3rd Pioneer focused on road repairs at Poziéres and laid communication cables as the Canadian advance was slowed by German machine gun fire.  A party of 200 sappers were "employed bringing out wounded from front line", while one officer and ten men were "detailed to dig out one of the Tanks of the Heavy Motor Section which had become stuck in a shell hole during the attack."

In the aftermath of the battle, 3rd Pioneer connected the old front line to the newly captured positions in the former German trenches, once again toiling amidst heavy shelling that inflicted daily casualties.  Its sappers dug and deepened front, support and communication trenches, laid communication cables, graded a tramline, repaired roads, and carried ammunition to the front lines.  On the night of September 26/27, 1916, 250 sappers once again served as stretcher-bearers during the "attack and capture of the ridge… north-west of Courcelette".

The unit focused on road construction and repair during the first week of October 1916.  The war diary briefly described the location: "The point where the work is proceeding is a mess of crump holes which have to be filled in as it is impossible to go round them."  Jack and his comrades retired to billets near Albert on the night of October 7/8, 1916 having completed their first tour on French soil.

Once again, 3rd Pioneer's personnel trained for several weeks, returning to the line on the night of October 25/16, 1916.  With winter fast approaching, the men focused on "draining and duck boarding of the saps, [and] the draining of the firing line… in parts not yet done", in addition to working on small-gauge tramlines, trench maintenance, dugout construction, and protecting water supplies from frost.

Throughout the month of November 1916, Jack and his comrades toiled in trenches near Louez, northwest of Arras.  The sappers revetted trenches in response to several mudslides, and focused on "keeping the trenches in their respective areas in a state of repair."  Artillery fire was considerably lighter, as the war diary reported the month's first casualties - one OR killed and 1 wounded - on November 27, 1916.

After serving on rotation in this sector for another month and a half, 3rd Pioneer relocated to Écoivres, France on January 19, 1917.  Sappers immediately commenced work on a 60-cm. tramline to Grange Subway, a major tunnel complex being constructed behind Allied front lines at Vimy Ridge.  3rd Pioneer also built a 40-cm. tramline, recesses and dugouts inside the subway, laying the groundwork for the Canadian Corps' April 1917 attack on the strategic location.

Wintertime presented new challenges, as described in the war diary's January 23, 1917 entry: "Weather clear with hard frost….  Progress poor in some parts, owing to ground being frozen."  3rd Pioneer worked at the site for several weeks, retiring to Loringhem on February 16, 1917 for a period of training and recreation.  On March 9, 1917, the unit moved out to Bois des Alleux, where its sappers repaired artillery and ammunition roads in the forward area, constructed dugouts and machine gun emplacements, and laid track for small gauge tramlines inside Goodman and Grange Subways at Vimy Ridge.
Artillery unit using limbers to transport supplies.
As spring arrived and weather conditions improved, artillery activity in the area increased significantly.  German guns struck an area near the Pioneer Camp with eight-inch H. E. shells on March 24 and 25, 1917.  Two days later, a work site near Neuville St. Vaast "was heavily shelled during the afternoon… [with] 4 other ranks killed and 3 wounded."

On April 1, 1917, 3rd Pioneer's war diary reported an average Company strength of 135 "all ranks… for work up the line".  As the Canadian Corps made final preparations for its attack on Vimy Ridge, the battalion received instructions to make the Arras - Bethune Road "passable at once for horse traffic and as quickly as possible for lorries… [one] Company to carry out the extension of the road into the captured country after the assault."

As was the case in the Ypres Salient, sappers working in the trenches faced great challenges in completing their assignments.  The April 5, 1917 war diary entry described the situation at a location known as "Square St.":

"This trench is in such condition that for the past four nights it has become increasingly difficult to make any progress.  The damage by direct hits and from sliding in of sides has finally become more than can be repaired each night and the trench is getting worse.  There are over two feet of soupy mud on top of bath mats already laid and this muck runs back into the trench as fast as it is thrown out.  Several direct hits have been made and many hits on the sides of the trench during past four nights.  Casualties one other rank killed."

As the Canadian Corps launched its attack on Vimy Ridge in the early hours of April 9, 1917, Jack and his comrades continued their work on trench and road repairs.  By day's end, the unit's war diary reported eight OR killed and 20 wounded as personnel carried out trench clearing and repair work in a newly captured German "graben" (trench) and repaired roads leading to the area.

In the days subsequent to the successful capture of Vimy Ridge, all four Companies focused on road repair near Neuville St. Vaast, in addition to reclaiming a section of captured German 60 cm. tramline and improving the Lens-Arras Road.  By April 24, 1917, its war diary proudly reported: "There is now a 12 foot road fit for wagon traffic."

German artillery continued to target sappers' work sites.  On May 2, 1917, 3rd Pioneer's war diary described one incident: "Vicinity of Nos. 2-3-4 Companies' lines were shelled intermittently by a High Velocity gun.  Bombs were dropped by aeroplane at about 8 p.m.."   A second air raid occurred "at about 7:30 p.m." the following day.  Fortunately, the diary reported no casualties after either attack.

Jack's service with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion came to an end on May 17, 1917, when the unit was withdrawn from the 3rd Division and replaced by the 123rd Canadian Battalion (Pioneers).  The unit's war diary explained the decision to dissolve the battalion: "British Columbia was unable to furnish a sufficient supply of recruits to keep the British Columbia units in the field up to strength, due to the fact that the majority of British Columbian manhood had enlisted during the early parts of the war."

3rd Pioneer's personnel was dispersed amongst three British Columbian infantry battalions, while its transport section, horses, vehicles and 25 OR were transferred to its replacement unit.  Jack was amongst the sappers assigned to the 123rd Battalion, suggesting that he may have been part of its transport section.  His occupation at attestation - teamster - certainly supports this conclusion.  Whatever the case, Jack was about to begin a new chapter in the story of his First World War service.

Sapper John Robert Smith was officially transferred to the 123rd Pioneer Battalion on May 8, 1917.  He spent only ten days with the unit, at which time he was "attached to the 3rd Canadian Divisional Train for duty".  His assignment was no doubt connected to his pre-war occupation.  Jack spent the remainder of his time in uniform with the "3rd Train", where his familiarity with horses was put to good use.

Part of the Canadian Army Service Corps, 3rd Canadian Divisional Train organized at Shorncliffe, England in late 1915 and arrived in France with the 3rd Canadian Division on January 23, 1916.  Its commanding officer was Lieutenant-Colonel William Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne Findlay, a native of Nairn, Nairnshire, Scotland. 

Lt.-Col. Findlay was fifty years of age the time of his enlistment with the Canadian Army Service Corps at Salisbury, England on January 5, 1915.  A widower whose six-foot frame no doubt conveyed an element of authority, he proved to be a demanding but fair taskmaster, basing his standards on a thorough knowledge of horse and harness maintenance.

Sustaining infantry units in the Western Front's forward areas required a complex infrastructure of support units behind the lines.  Divisional Trains were a vital part of this network, tasked with providing forward units with basic daily supplies - "food, forage, ammunition, equipment, clothing and engineering material and stores".  Each Canadian Division possessed one such unit, equipped with numerous horses and "limbers" (two- and four-wheeled wagons) and occasionally supported by a small number of "lorries".

Pack mules and limbers near front lines.
Standard-gauge trains transported each Division's supplies to a "railhead", usually located well behind the front lines and outside German artillery range.  "Train" personnel then loaded and transported the items in daily "convoys" to units in the line or supply dumps.  As horse and limbers provided the main means of transportation, each "Train" contained several stables, in addition to facilities for wagon maintenance.  In most cases, horse and wagon teams delivered supplies to a "refilling station", from where items moved forward as required by pack mule.

"Train" personnel moved a variety of goods to the front area daily - water, straw, field ambulance supplies, coal, rations and hay.  The last two items were particularly crucial in maintaining large numbers of men in the trenches, along with horses that carried out much of the heavy work.

Similar to infantry battalions, each "Train" possessed four Companies whose personnel were tasked with loading and hauling supplies, in addition to stabling horses and maintaining their harness and wagons.  Personnel also established and maintained the supply lines over which they travelled daily. 

The quality and condition of a "Train's" horses was a constant concern.  Lt.-Col. Findlay frequently expressed concern over the quality of the stock provided for his unit.  Following a June 1916 visit to a "horse show" involving teams from several transport units, for example, he compared his animals to British units' stock and concluded:

"I cannot help thinking… [that] Canadians are getting a raw deal…. Recent remounts are of a shockingly poor class….  [However,] I am convinced our horses are as clean if not cleaner than any [Imperial Train's horses].  Harness I consider in better condition and they had nothing on us in care of wagons."

Such sentiments became an oft-repeated theme in his daily war diary entries.

At the time of Jack's arrival, 3rd Train was located at Barlin, France, where German artillery fire was "pretty lively and close" throughout the month.  On occasion, enemy guns disrupted daily operations.  On July 13, 1917, for instance, Lt. Col. Findlay reported: "Enemy shelling [railhead]… with fair accuracy….  Convoys [ordered] to remain on side of main road until safe to enter the railway yard."

The August 24, 1917 diary entry described a typical shipment's arrival at the railhead:

"On pack train no petrol or oil of any kind came up.  Hay 9000 lbs. short, oats 8000 lbs. short, 75 tons of coal, coke and charcoal to clear, on top of wagons having to return from railhead empty and having to draw from Barlin."

Pack mule train near the front lines.
Lt.-Col. Findlay was direct in describing the kind of man required for "train" work:

"[He] must be able-bodied, able to lift weights and march for loaders.  For drivers, they must know something about care of horses, hear and see well, although not able to march far."

The condition of Company lines was an ongoing concern, particular after periods of rain.  The September 7, 1917 war diary entry reported:  "Companies' lines are bad, very muddy but all that can be done is being done, horses all round in very good shape."  As the comment suggests, Findlay kept a keen eye on the condition of his "Train's" stock and their related equipment, once again reflected in his September 25, 1917 diary entry:

"Train horses are sweating a little after haul from railhead, but they are looking very fit and in good condition, wagons and harness carefully kept and well repaired, breechings not as well fitted as I should like, the tendency is to keep them too high and hip strap too far forward."

3rd Train personnel regularly moved to new locations to facilitate transportation to its Division's front-line units.  A September 12, 1917 move nearer to personnel at Mont St. Eloy, France prompted Lt.-Col. Findlay to protest the lack of facilities at their designated camp location: "Absolutely no shelters of any kind for man or beast, only bare Mother Earth."  Personnel immediately set about constructing new "refilling stations" and clearing "roads to new refilling points", making the best of a poor situation.

Unlike infantry and pioneer battalions, Jack and his new comrades enjoyed no "relief" from their assigned tasks, as Lt.-Col. Findlay explained on September 26, 1917:

"We get no rest like Battalions, they feed when out at rest just the same.  We make roads for ourselves, erect refilling points and are sort of general delivery agents for the Division.  We do the drudgery and get no chance of winning honours, there is only one thing to do - that is grin and bear it."

On October 13, 1917, 3rd Train's personnel began a journey north into Belgium with the 3rd Canadian Division, arriving at Caëstre, France, near the Belgian frontier, on October 14, 1917.  The unit proceeded to Ypres, Belgium the following week as the Canadian Corps made final preparations for its attack on Passchendaele Ridge.  The area designated for camp facilities was poor, to say the least: "It is all a sea of mud, no standings or shelter of any sort and it would be criminal to put horses there."

German artillery regularly shelled the Ypres area.  The October 24, 1917 war diary entry reported: "Shells in last night at intervals of 6 minutes, 10 to a dozen in number."  Two days later, Lt.-Col. Findlay described another incident: "Poperinghe getting shelled hard last evening and again this morning….  This is the day we are after Passchendaele Ridge and it is cold and raining hard all day."

The morning of October 27, 1917 "broke bright and clear, [but] the boys taking the ridge are having a hard time."  At month's end, Lt.-Col. Findlay proudly reported that his Companies "were at one time feeding as much as 58,764 men and 19,732 horses and we did it without any fall down."

On October 30, 1917, Jack was "granted permission to marry", and received 14 days' leave to London, effective November 2, 1917.  While he and Jean had wed prior to his departure for France, official permission entitled Jack's young bride to a monthly separation allowance of $ 25, a payment that commenced on December 1, 1917.  Jack rejoined 3rd Train in the field on November 19, 1917 as its personnel made their way back into France, arriving at Lillers, northwest of Lens, shortly after his return.
Jean (McDonald) and Jack Smith's wedding photo.
 The unit's war diary entry for November 27, 1917 contained the first statistics on "train mileage".  Its four Companies travelled a total of 4808 miles during the previous week, with No. 1 Company's wagons accounting for 2560 miles on its own.  Lt.-Col. Findlay reported that "everything [was] going smoothly" on December 1, 1917 as the unit's wagons covered a distance of 3749 miles during the first week in its new location.

The December 24, 1917 war diary entry described the situation on the eve of Christmas celebrations: "Everything running well; re-filling twice today to give men more time off to-morrow [sic].  All quiet around here."  A light snow fell on Christmas and Boxing Day as "…men all well provided for.  Nothing out of the ordinary happening except the Christmas festivities."

At the end of the month, 3rd Train personnel were preoccupied with an outbreak of mange among several horses in two Companies.  The problem was brought under control early in January 1918 "through [the application of an] anti-mange dip at Barlin", although officers kept a close eye on their stock for several weeks to ensure that the problem did not re-occur.

Lt.-Col. Findlay reported a total of 5627 miles travelled for the first week of 1918.  Fluctuating temperatures throughout the month resulted in "freeze-thaw" cycles that created challenges for the Companies' wagons.  The January 7, 1918 war diary entry observed: "Very mild again today and roads in bad condition."  Five days later, "all the snow [is] gone, a fine rain falling; a high wind and result, mud, mud, mud."

German artillery fire continued to pose a hazard for 3rd Train's personnel: "Quite a lot of H. E. and shrapnel came in this morning [January 12, 1918] from 6.00 a.m. to 11 a.m..  Some damage done and some casualties, but not to the Train; we had had great luck and I touch wood."  On January 15, 1918, 22 shells landed near the unit's location, but "little damage [was] done".  The following day, Lt.-Col. Findlay personally experienced a particularly close call: "While at lunch, a big bit of shell came plump [sic] into the wall of house next door, it must have come three hundred yards, and spent its force on the way, for it did no damage."

Lt.-Col. Findlay reported that Company wagons travelled a daily average distance of 9.52 miles per wagon during the week prior to January 20, 1918.  Two days later, 3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Barlin, its four Companies stationed nearby.  At month's end, the unit war diary reported that the unit had provided rations for a daily average of 20,039 men and 5692 horses, travelling a total of 22,354 miles "all duties".

In late February 1918, 3rd Train relocated to La Targette, where several horse teams engaged in "ploughing… on [the] Divisional Farm".  The Train also cultivated a ten-acre plot of its own.  Improving weather conditions resulted in greater mileage, as wagons travelled a total of 6400 miles - 9.7 per team daily - for the week ending March 11, 1918.  Two weeks later, the Train's wagons covered 7868 miles over a similar period.

A major German offensive launched in March 1918 produced a dramatic increase in artillery fire.  The unit's March 28, 1918 war diary entry reported: "Shells dropping fast and furiously all round, in dumps and in Companies' lines."  The following day, "two of the Train [personnel were] hit, but not enough to keep them from duty after being dressed."  By month's end, the situation quieted down somewhat, as 3rd Train's Commanding Officer reported delivery of rations for a daily average of 22,123 men and 5268 horses.

First World War harness repair kit (Sherbrooke Village display).
Lt.-Col Findlay reported heavy artillery fire in 3rd Train's vicinity during the afternoon of April 10, 1918.  One shell struck No. 4 Company's wheeler's shop: "How it did not kill the whole lot is a marvel.  The whole place was wrecked but [the] fire squad was instantly on duty and prevented any outbreak of fire", despite "shells… falling thick, fast and close."

During the first week of April 1918, unit personnel covered a total of 7442 miles - a daily average of 8.13 miles per wagon - as potato planting commenced at the Divisional Farm.  Later in the month, personnel added a second crop - cabbage - as weather conditions improved.

The unit's weekly mileage reached a peak of 8743 miles - 10.15 per wagon - in mid-April, and ranged from a low of 5940 to a peak of 7662 miles over the next six weeks.  Personnel provided rations for a remarkable total of 654,165 men and 137,413 horses during the month of May 1918.

3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Berlencourt-le-Cauroy on June 25, 1918, drawing supplies from a railhead at nearby Gouy-en-Artois.  This was the first recorded instance in which lorries transported goods to refilling points, from where horse-drawn wagons loaded and delivered the items to the front lines.  The unit received instructions to keep wagons loaded overnight "ready for emergencies".  As a result, personnel adopted a procedure whereby the wagons delivered their loads in the early morning hours, returned to the refilling station, and loaded supplies for next-day delivery.

By month's end, 3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Gouy-en-Artois, nearer to its railhead and refilling stations.  In early July 1918, Lt.-Col. Findlay reported: "All Companies more or less affected with 'Spanish Influenza', but no cases very serious."  Several weeks later, the unit moved its Headquarters to Dury, arriving on July 31, 1918.  Along the way, personnel passed through the historic city of Amiens, leading Lt.-Col. Findlay to comment:

"[The city has been] evacuated by civilians, and in places terribly smashed up.  So far the beautiful historic Cathedral with its world-famous Flamboyant Rose Window has hardly a mark."

Throughout the month of July 1918, the unit provided rations for a a daily average of 19,820 men, 482 heavy draft horses and 3541 light draft horses.  The August 7, 1918 war diary recorded a total of 11,096 miles travelled during the previous week.  The greater distances prompted Lt.-Col. Findlay to express concern: "The present long haul over very bad roads is telling very much on my horses, and they should be given a spell."  That same day - August 8, 1918 - Allied forces launched a major counter-offensive on German positions near Amiens, marking the beginning of a 100-day campaign that eventually brought the war to end.

Unfortunately, Jack would not be part of 3rd Train's efforts to provide supplies to the 3rd Division's units as they advanced into captured territory.  On August 10, 1918, Jack "was suddenly seized with severe gastric pain and straining[,] frequent diarrhea, [and] much blood in [his] stool".  His body temperature soaring to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 Celsius), he was admitted to No. 14 Canadian Field Ambulance on August 16, 1918.  Doctors diagnosed the illness as "bacillary dysentery", most likely contracted by ingesting contaminated water. 

Jack was evacuated to No. 16 American General Hospital, Le Tréport, where he was placed in isolation and given fluids to avoid dehydration.  Once doctors determined that he was "non-infectious", Jack was transferred to England via the Hospital Ship Guildford Castle on September 4, 1918 and admitted to Berrington War Hospital, Shrewsbury, the following day.

Divisional Train Farm Plots (March 1918).
Shortly after his arrival, doctors reported that Jack's diarrhea had "subsided".  Anecdotal records indicate that he was "much better" by October 11, 1918, resulting in a transfer three days later to Princess Patricia's Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Bexhill.  Jack was released from hospital on October 21, 1918 and granted a ten-day "sick furlough". 

No doubt, Jack spent his leave with Jean and his young son, Jack Jr..  On November 15, 1918, medical personnel determined that Jack was "fit for duty".  As the fighting across the Channel had ceased by this time, Jack was assigned to the Canadian Engineers Reinforcement Depot, where he spent the next two months.

On January 16, 1919, Jack was attached to Canadian Corps Depot, Buxton for return to Canada.  He departed England on February 21, 1919 aboard SS Melita, arriving at Saint John, NB on March 2, 1919.  Jean and Jack Jr. also made their way across the Atlantic Ocean and accompanied Jack to Calgary, Alberta, where he was formally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 26, 1919.  In recognition of his First World War military service, Jack later received the British War and Victory Medals.

Shortly after arriving in Alberta, Jack obtained a tract of land at Owl River under the Soldier Settlement Act, which provided returning veterans with a free quarter section of land and a $ 2500 interest-free loan.  He built a log house for his young family on the property and set about farming the land.  The couple's second child, Margaret (Peggy), was born in their new home on December 16, 1919.

Fire later destroyed the log house and its contents, but the Smiths thankfully escaped unhurt.  The family relocated to the nearby town of Lac La Biche, where Jack purchased a storage building and renovated it as accommodations for his wife and children.  Having tried his hand at farming, Jack decided to pursue an occupation more in keeping with his wartime experience.  He landed a job with the Northern Alberta Railroad, the beginning of a life-long career in transportation.

Jack Smith, railroad engineer.
Jack and Jean's third and last child, James Alexander Smith, was born at Lac La Biche on April 18, 1923.  Six years later, the family relocated to Edmonton, where Jack worked as a railroad engineer.  Jack and Jean returned to Smithfield, Guysborough County for a visit during the early 1940s, but Jack spent the rest of his life in Western Canada. 

Jack retired from work in the mid-1950s, relocating with Jean to Penticton, BC in 1956.  Jean passed away on June 13, 1965 after a brief illness, prompting Jack to move into his daughter Peggy's home at Ladner, near Vancouver, BC.  Throughout his retirement years, Jack travelled to Edmonton each summer to visit his sons and the many friends he made during his time there.

In later life, Jack was diagnosed with prostate cancer and admitted to a health care facility for treatment.  He passed away at Delta Hospital, Delta, BC on January 28, 1981 at the age of 91 years.  Jack's remains were cremated and later interred in Lakeview Cemetery, Penticton, BC, beside his beloved war bride, Jean.


Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force: Canadian Army Service Corps.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON.  Available online.

Service file of Sapper John Robert Smith, number 430115.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 9076 - 42.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of 3rd Canadian Divisional Train, CASC.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5020, Reel T-10904, File: 769.  Available online.

War Diary of 3rd Pioneer Battalion, CEF.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5010, Reel T-10858 - 10859, File: 723.  Available online.

A special thank you to three of Jack's relatives - Doreen Sproule (Edmonton, AB), Marilyn Burbridge (Vancouver, BC) and Darlene Corkum-Parkington (Tide Head, NB) - who provided valuable information on Jack's life, in addition to family photographs displayed in this post.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald - An Artillery Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 14, 1896

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

Date of Enlistment: January 18, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 2101004

Rank: Signaller

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Artillery)

Units: No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery; 16th Battery, 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery

Location of service: England, France, Belgium & Germany

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: William Henry Archibald, New Town, Guysborough County (father)

Edmund's older brother, Alexander Daniel Archibald, enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on February 6, 1915.  After rising through the non-commissioned ranks, Alexander received a commission as Lieutenant and joined the 85th Battalion at the front in July 1917.  Before year's end, he was wounded twice but remained at duty.  A third wound, inflicted by an artillery shell at Cambrai in September 1918, resulted in the loss of his right leg and his subsequent return to Canada.

Robert Edmund Archibald was the second youngest of seven children born to William Henry and Jane (Gunn) Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.  The fifth of the couple's six sons, Edmund was a student at Dalhousie University, Halifax when he was conscripted under the Military Service Act (1917).  He underwent the required medical examination on October 16, 1917 and was subsequently called to service with No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on January 18, 1918.

Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald.
Initially authorized on October 1, 1916, No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery recruited a total of 85 officers and men within two months.  Personnel were accommodated at the South Barracks, Halifax while undergoing their initial training.  Three groups of trained recruits - a total of 185 officers and men - departed for England during the first half of 1917, followed by an additional 200 "all ranks" in November 1917.

By that time, the demand for reinforcements for artillery batteries and brigades already in the field was so great that No. 10's personnel were reassigned to No. 10, 11 and 12 Siege Batteries and the 3rd Brigade Canadian Garrison Artillery.  No. 10 Siege Battery's Halifax Depot continued to operate, however, providing training for almost 800 men conscripted under the Military Service Act and sending drafts to England to serve as reinforcements for artillery units in the field.

Edmund was part of a draft that departed for England on board SS Missinabie on March 22, 1918 and landed at Glasgow, Scotland twelve days later.  The group made its way south to Camp Witley, where the men spent the summer training and awaiting orders to proceed to the front.  Perhaps because of his time at Dalhousie University, Edmund was selected for signaller training. 

Working in pairs, signallers were deployed in forward positions, one man with a telescope acting as a "spotter" while the other relayed and received messages.  The soldiers provided information on enemy targets to artillery units, allowing personnel to adjust trajectory and direction accordingly.  Signallers sent and received Morse Code messages via landline, when available.  Sun and mirrors during daylight hours and Lucas Lamps at night-time provided alternatives where landlines were damaged or non-existent. 

Needless to say, operating in forward positions placed signallers in considerable danger, as they were constantly exposed to enemy artillery fire.  Edmund's specific role with his battery cannot be fully ascertained.  He may have been trained to serve in a forward location, or - perhaps more likely - recieve and transmit messages on behalf of his artillery battery.

On October 9, 1918, Edmund completed his training and was designated a "reinforcement" for units in the field.  Three days later, he was "taken on strength" by the Canadian Artillery Pool.  On October 14, 1918, he crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC), where he awaited orders to proceed to an active unit in the field.  On November 4, 1918, Edmund was posted to the 16th Field Battery, 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, 2nd Canadian Division and immediately left to join the battery in the field.

The 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) was initially organized at Fredericton, NB and included personnel from all three Maritime Provinces.  Its first recruits departed from Halifax on board the SS Megantic on February 22, 1915.  Upon arriving in England, the unit was re-designated the Canadian Reserve Artillery.  Several months later, its personnel were assigned to the 8th Brigade CFA, authorized on September 19, 1915.  The unit returned to its original title of 6th Brigade CFA in November 1915.

On January 10, 1916, 6th Brigade CFA proceeded to France as part of the 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery.  By November 1918, it represented one of the 2nd Division's two artillery units, consisting of the 15th, 16th and 25th Field Batteries, the 22nd Howitzer Battery, and the 2nd Division Ammunition Column.

At the beginning of the war, each field battery contained four "60 pounder" guns that became the 'work horse" of British and Canadian artillery.  In 1916, military authorities increased the number of guns per battery to six.  The British-designed and manufactured Ordnance BL 60-pounder, developed from 1903 to 1905, fired a five-inch (127 mm) shell and accommodated both horse and mechanical transport.  The weapon served throughout the war on all fronts and was the mainstay of British artillery units until 1942.

Ordnance BL 60-pounder - Amiens, August 1918. (Library & Archives Canada)
When Edmund reached the 6th Brigade CFA on November 5, 1918, the unit was in reserve at Valenciennes, France, "men and horses all under cover and very comfortable."  The 2nd Division, to which the unit was attached, played a crucial role in a major offensive launched in late summer and referred to as "Canada's 100 Days".  In a series of engagements commencing at Amiens on August 8, 1918, Canadian and Allied forces broke the stalemate in northern France and steadily drove German forces back toward the Belgian frontier.

At the time of Edmund's arrival, Canadian infantry units were advancing toward retreating German forces as the 6th Brigade CFA's war diary observed: "From present indication, the end is drawing near daily."  On November 6, 1918, the Brigade "moved forward to positions of assembly in the vicinity of Onnaing….  [Batteries] arrived at 11 am and at 2 pm moved into action…."  Later that evening, "the 2nd Division relieved the 4th… and are to attack in the morning."

The following day, the Brigade's batteries "fired crashes at 6:30 and 6:45 am and [the] attack was launched.  At 8:00 am infantry approache[d] Élouges [Belgium] and at 8:30 am had crossed [the] Honelle River between Quievrain and Baiseux."  The 15th and 16th Batteries moved forward with the advancing infantry units, although "machine gun fire prevented the batteries from moving farther up….  Harassing fire was carried out during the night."

On the morning of November 8, 1918, the Brigade once again fired crashes from 7:30 to 8:10 a.m., but refrained from harassing fire as "the infantry keep feeling forward during the night".  When scouts observed the enemy in retreat the following morning, "all batteries started forward".  The 16th provided "close support" for the advancing 18th Battalion, "going into action at 2:45 [pm]….  Other batteries followed[,] going into action about 5 pm."  By day's end, Canadian units had advanced an incredible ten kilometres into Belgium.

The attack continued on November 10, 1918 as the 6th Brigade CFA left Frameries, Belgium and crossed over Mount Eribus, the 16th Battery moving forward at 6:00 p.m..  As the 6th Brigade reached the outskirts of Mons at 8:15 a.m. November 11, 1918, its officers received word that "hostilities would cease at 11:00 am and the line would remain as at that hour."  Later that morning, the 3rd Canadian Division passed through Mons, the 15th Battery in support.  The 6th Brigade's remaining batteries advanced through "joy-possessed Mons" by day's end, camping at Havré for the night.

The first day after the cessation of hostilities found Edmund and his comrades "in comfortable billets[,]… being treated royally by the inhabitants, who are very pleased at their deliverance."  On November 13, 1918, the Brigade's officers were notified that the 2nd Canadian Division had been selected as part of the "army of occupation" scheduled to enter Germany under the terms of surrender.  Personnel immediately began preparations "to have men, horses, harness and vehicles put in shape for the march."  In the afternoon, "one section per battery went to Mons… to participate in the official entry by the Army."

The following day, the unit's war diary described British, French and Belgian prisoners of war "drift[ing] through on their way back from German bondage under the terms of the Armistice.  They are as a rule sorry sights after their sojourn with the [Germans]."  Preparations for the impending move continued for several days as officers received word that the march into Germany would commence on November 21, 1918, at a daily pace of 20 kilometres.  On November 18, 1918, the unit received instructions to accompany the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade as part of the "army of occupation".

On November 21, 1918, the 16th Battery moved forward with the advance guard, departing Havré at 4:00 a.m..  The remainder of 6th Brigade CFA followed three hours later, reaching Gouy-lez-Piéton by mid-afternoon.  Personnel remained there for two days, during which time they were "treated royally by the civilian population."

The advance resumed on November 24, 1918, reaching Sombreffe, Belgium by 5:00 p.m..  The soldiers were "again comfortably billeted, most of the men sleeping in beds during the night."  The following day, the unit passed through Vedrin and encamped at Champion, where personnel once again rested for two days.  The war diary noted one location of interest in the vicinity: "There is a zeppelin aerodrome near here in one of which are about 100 [German] planes left under the terms of the armistice.  Many…are badly damaged and practically none in working order."

Recruitment poster. (Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University)
On November 28, 1918, 6th Brigade CFA followed the northern bank of the Meuse River to Thon.  Once again, the war diary described a remnant of the recently concluded conflict:

"Anchored in the river here is a barge, loaded with wine which the [Germans] had brought from France, apparently on its way to Germany.  The trip along the banks of the Meuse is very interesting.  Great walls of rock tower over both sides of the river."

The advance continued over the next three days, the war diary commenting: "Although the marches are rather longer than at first[,] the horses are standing up well and are in very good shape."  Personnel arrived at Vaux Chevanne "about 4.30 pm [December 1, 1918] in a down-pour of rain" after a difficult day.   The unit's war diary described the journey:

"On the way we passed through some of the hilliest country we have experienced during the whole trip.  One climb during the day was nearly five miles long and the summit was more than 500 metres above sea level."

The men enjoyed two days' rest after the ordeal, the war diary noting with a tone of concern that "there is quite a lot of 'flu' in the Brigade."

The unit resumed the advance on December 4, 1918, crossing the German border at 11:30 a.m. the following day.  By late afternoon, the soldiers reached the village of Rodt, a "small farming village… in one of the poorest parts of Germany."  The war diary observed that "the natives do not appear to be belligerent but on the other hand do their best to make the soldiers comfortable and show the required respect to British officers."

After one day's rest, the march continued through a "part of the country [that was] very hilly[,]… the soft weather [creating] rather a hard task for the horses."  On December 7, the convoy reached Kronenburg, "a small town walled all round and very old, being situated on the summit of a small[,] steep hill, the approach was too sheer for the drawing up of guns and wagons so the[y] were parked and the horse lines situated in the valley below."  After another one-day pause, the journey continued, the war diary anticipating arrival at the final destination within the next two days: "We are bound for Bonn where a bridgehead is to be established."

At 3:30 p.m. December 11, 1918, the 6th Brigade CFA reached Mehlem, on the left bank of the Rhine River, seven kilometres from its final destination.  Personnel spent the following day preparing to cross the Rhine into Bonn, where Canadian Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, was scheduled "to inspect us as we cross the bridge."  Once again, the war diary mentioned the worsening epidemic: "Quite a number of the 22nd Battery are sick with influenza."

The column moved out at 8:30 a.m. December 13, 1918, passing through Bonn and crossing the Rhine at mid-day.  The war diary described the symbolic occasion:  "It was a very trying march, being very cold and pouring rain all day.  The Corps Commander inspected, taking the salute at the eastern end of the bridge."  Personnel moved into billets at Hangelar, four and one half kilometres east of Bonn, where they were ordered to remain "until the peace terms are arranged."

Three days later, as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig passed through the 2nd Division area,  "[6th Brigade CFA's] troops were on the Road and gave him a rousing reception as he passed."  In the meantime, personnel commenced a schedule of morning training, with sports and recreational activities in the afternoon.  On December 25, 1918, "all Batteries had their Christmas dinner [during the] evening and they were a huge success….  The boys all appreciated the fact that this would be the last Christmas away from their homes."

On December 28, 1918, the 16th Battery - Edmund's unit - relocated to billets at Berlinghaven, where accommodations were "very crowded" and "poor", as personnel shared a space with an Infantry Company.  On New Year's Eve, the battery travelled to Bonn to attend a performance of the "See Too Concert Party", an entertainment troupe from the 2nd Canadian Division.

Canadian troops entering Bonn, Germany.
Throughout the early days of the New Year, personnel engaged in the "usual routine work… [while] officers and OR's [other ranks] are appreciating the opportunities of visiting Bonn and Cologne on pass."  On January 9, 1919, "all ranks" of the Brigade attended another "See Too Concert Party" performance at the Stadt Theatre, Bonn.  The war diary described the event:

"About 500 'all ranks' went and very much enjoyed the show.  A special feature was the attendance of HRH [Edward,] The Prince of Wales and most of the Canadian Corps and 2nd Division Staff.  The prince joined in the mess songs between acts and created a most favourable impression."

On January 23, 1919, military officials organized the "International Games", a sport competition between the 42nd Division USA and 2nd Division Canadians held in Bonn.  The war diary proudly reported that the Canadians were "victorious on all points, although the Americans put up a good fight.  In the evening all ranks of the Brigade about 450 [once again] attended the Stadt Theatre Bonn to see the See Two Concert Party."

Three days later, the 6th Brigade CFA's batteries received notice of impending relief by an Imperial Division and immediately began preparations to move.  On January 27, 1919, the 16th Battery entrained at Wahn, Germany, arriving at Namur, Belgium at 6:00 p.m..  The Brigade's remaining personnel arrived the following day as personnel moved into billets in the villages of Moustier and Mornimont.  The war diary described the unusual space used to quarter the horses:

"[A] large chemical factory in Mornimont… used as a German Ammunition Barge or Railhead and thousands of rounds of all calibres are stored there.  Stringent orders were issued and posted against smoking or lighting fires, as the danger of explosion is recognized.  People here are very hospitable but poor."

On February 2, 1919, officers issued a physical training regimen to all ranks, in addition to football, baseball and hockey schedules.  The war diary noted that the weather was colder than conditions in Bonn, as officers developed plans for equipment return and prepared nominal rolls for demobilization.  Personnel also participated in classes on "educational work subjects" - Book-keeping, Arithmetic, French, Shorthand and Business Law - as the men prepared to return to civilian life. 

Weather conditions remained cold throughout the month, with occasional light snow.  Nevertheless, the men remained in high spirits, participating in baseball, football, tug of war and boxing competitions.  The war diary noted the positive impact on personnel:  "These sporting events have created a splendid feeling amongst the men and greatly relieves the monotony of waiting for the return to home, in such a small place as Moustier."

On February 20, 1919, 2nd Divisional Artillery attended another performance of the "See Two Concert Party" at a local hall.  Three days later, the war diary described precautions implemented to reduce the spread of sickness amongst the men:

"Owing to [the] increase of Influenza, all Public Places for Entertainment, Cinemas and Halls are out of bounds to troops….  Fortunately, we have only a very few cases in the Brigade, although there is a number of cases amongst the civilians here[,] some fatal."

Brigade officers initiated demobilization rolls in all batteries on February 25, 1919 as educational classes continued amidst improving weather conditions.  At month's end, Brigade officers organized a "mounted sports" event that included racing and wrestling competitions.

Edmund's service with 6th Brigade CFA abruptly ended on March 6, 1919, when he was admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment of scabies.  By day's end, he was transferred to No. 55 Casualty Clearing Station, where he was also diagnosed with influenza.  Six days later, Edmund was admitted to No. 32 Stationary Hospital, Wimereux for treatment of both ailments.  On March 16, 1919 he was "invalided sick" and transported across the English Channel to No. 16 Canadian General Hospital, Orpington.

Medical records indicate that Edmund was suffering from headaches, a slight cough, chills and general weakness at the time of admission.  Within four days, his temperature had returned to normal, although a rash remained on his face and right chest.  A thorough medical examination concluded that his "lungs are both clear, [with] good expansion [and] heart [problems] negative."

One week after Edmund's arrival at Orpington, medical records described his condition: "Skin lesions on face and chest fading.  Much improved."  On March 28, 1919, doctors determined that he had made a "good recovery" and was once again "fit for duty".  Edmund was discharged from hospital on April 1, 1919 and reported to the Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Depot (CARD), South Ripon.

On May 5 1919, Edmund was transferred to Military District No. 6, Rhyl in preparation for his return to Canada.  He left England nine days later and was formally discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on May 29, 1919.  In recognition of his military service, Edmund received the British War and Victory Medals shortly after the war.

Edmund briefly returned to New Town before resuming his studies at Dalhousie University.  He graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1925 and opened a medical practice in Kentville, NS.  On July 28, 1926, Edmund married Ethel Rae Grant, a 19-year-old schoolteacher who was a native of Melrose, Guysborough County, in a ceremony held at the bride's family home.

In 1929, Edmund and Ethel relocated to Kingston, Massachusetts, where Ethel's sister resided.  Edmund later opened a medical practice in Melrose and worked in the United States for the remainder of his life.  He and Ethel did not have any children.  Edmund Archibald passed away at Melrose, Massachusetts on June 21, 1975.


Service file of Private Robert Edmund Archibald, number 2101004.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 213 - 15.  Entire file available online.

War Diary of 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4970, Reel T-10794, File: 545.  Available online.

Photograph of Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald courtesy of Colin McKay, Riverton, Pictou County, reproduced by his daughter Jennifer McKay, Truro, NS.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Twitter Feed and Research Update

As you can see along the right side of this blog post, I have created a Twitter account with the handle @brucefmacdonald .  As we mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War's events, I plan to post tweets related to the stories of Guysborough County's First World War veterans.  The first tweets (August - December 1914) will focus on the war's early events and the County's first enlistments, while later tweets will honor the 131 veterans who lost their lives during or shortly after the war, from causes related to their service.  All tweets will carry the hashtag #guysboroveterans .

My research into the stories of Guysborough County's 131 war dead is steadily progressing.  I expect to complete profiles of the 71 veterans who died from 1915 to 1917 before year's end and hope to have a manuscript ready for publication sometime early in 2015.  I will provide further details on the blog later this year.

Something that may be of interest is CBC Radio's re-broadcast of the First World War Series, "The Bugle and The Passing Bell", first aired in 1964.  Each program combines the actual voices of veterans relating their stories, supplemented by actors reading from soldiers' diaries and letters.  The series provides a chronological overview of Canadian soldiers' war experiences.   The episodes air weekly on Thursday mornings at 9:30 am Atlantic Time.  All episodes are also available online at The Bugle and The Passing Bell immediately after broadcast.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Lance Corporal John Michael Fogarty - A Siberian Expedition Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: January 24, 1886*

Place of Birth: Hazel Hill, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Catherine 'Kate' Horne

Father's Name: John Fogarty

Date of Enlistment: April 16, 1918 at Halifax, NS (attestation with Canadian Expeditionary Force);

November 15, 1919 at Halifax, NS (attestation with Permanent Force of Canada)

Regimental Numbers: 3181730 (first attestation); 2779985 (second attestation)

Rank: Lance Corporal

Forces: Canadian and Siberian Expeditionary Forces; Permanent Force of Canada

Units: 1st Depot Battalion Nova Scotia Regiment; 260th Infantry Battalion; Canadian Military Police Corps (CMPC)

Location of service: Canada and Siberia

Occupation at Enlistment: Fisherman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Married

Next of Kin: Isabelle 'Belle' Fogarty, Hazel Hill, Guysborough County (wife)

* Michael's birth date is taken from 1901 census records.  The 1891 census states that Michael was 5 years old at that time.  The 1911 census gives his birthdate as January 1885.  His 1918 attestation papers record Michael's year of birth as 1885, while his 1919 enlistment papers list his year of birth as 1886.


John Michael Fogarty was the oldest son and second of nine children born to John and Kate (Horne) Fogarty of Hazel Hill, Guysborough County.  In 1909, Michael married Isabelle 'Belle' Jollimore of French River, PEI.  Their first child, James, was born there in October 1910.  Sometime after 1911, the couple returned to Hazel Hill, where Michael worked in the local fishery and three more children - daughters Laura, Mary and Hattie - joined the family.

After the outbreak of war in Europe, two of Michael's younger brothers enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  James Alexander 'Jim' joined the 25th Battalion at Halifax on February 11, 1915, serving with distinction in Belgium and France and rising to the rank of Sergeant before a serious combat wound in January 1918 ended his military career.  Ernest Vincent enlisted with the Divisional Cycle Platoon at Regina, Saskatchewan on November 25, 1916, but was later transferred to the 28th Battalion.  Twice wounded in France, he returned to the front each time, serving overseas until his unit returned to Canada in May 1919.

Like so many of his generation, Michael was eventually drawn to military service.  While his family circumstances made such a choice difficult, the example set by his younger brothers may have prompted him to do so.  Whatever his motivation, on November 27, 1917, Michael enlisted with the 94th Regiment, a northern Nova Scotia militia unit based at Pictou.  Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, the 94th was instructed to secure the Commercial Cable Company's strategically important Hazel Hill telegraph facilities.  Its presence in the local community may explain Michael's decision to join the unit.

On February 24, 1918, Michael was officially transferred to the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, where he trained alongside much younger men who had been conscripted under the Military Service Act (MSA).  Michael officially enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on April 16, 1918.  While military officials used the standard conscription form for his attestation, the line reserved for his MSA number states "not applicable", indicating that he was not drafted into service.

While Michael may have anticipated following his younger siblings to the Western Front, his military career took a dramatically different direction.  Perhaps due to his age, he remained in Canada for six months as many of his younger Depot Battalion comrades were shipped out to England.  As summer gave way to autumn, Michael was assigned to the 260th Battalion, one of two units designated for service with the Siberian Expeditionary Force (SEF).  He travelled by train to British Columbia, where SEF personnel prepared for deployment at several training camps near Vancouver and Victoria.

Michael and Belle's oldest daughter Laura with her husband, Bob Roberts.
 On October 11, 1918 - the day on which he departed for Siberia - Michael was officially transferred to the 260th Battalion.  Prior to leaving Canada, he assigned $ 15 of his monthly pay to his wife Belle, who also received a monthly separation allowance of $ 30 while he served overseas.


The year 1917 was one of "crisis and pessimism" for the Allies fighting the German forces on the Western Front (France and Belgium).  In March 1917, a revolution overthrew Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and established an ineffective Provisional Government that accelerated the disintegration of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front.  Despite the Canadian Corps' successful capture of Vimy Ridge (April 1917) and Passchendaele (November 1917), Allied offensives on the Western and Italian Fronts failed to break the stalemate with Germany or Austria-Hungary in either sector.

The collapse of a Russian offensive on the Eastern front resulted in a second uprising in which the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the fragile Provisional Government in November 1917.  Fierce opponents of the war, Lenin's socialist government negotiated a peace treaty with Germany, ending fighting on the Eastern Front in March 1918.  As a result, Germany was able to transport the bulk of its Eastern Front troops to France and Belgium, where it launched a massive Spring Offensive in an effort to win the war on the Western Front.

In the meantime, Russia was plunged into civil war as groups opposed to the Bolsheviks refused to accept its socialist government.  Its most prominent foes were the Cossacks of the Don River region and a number of White Russian Generals, spread from northern Russia to Vladivostok, who remained loyal to the Provisional Government. 

As early as December 1917, the Allied Supreme War Council pledged its support for Russian forces committed to continuing the war against Germany on the Eastern Front.  As Russia disintegrated into civil war in early 1918, Allied governments saw an opportunity to re-establish a two-front conflict by supporting forces opposed to the Bolshevik government.  They were also concerned that large stockpiles of Allied war materials stored at Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostok might fall into Bolshevik hands. 

In response to these concerns, Japanese and British naval cruisers sailed into Vladivostok's Golden Bay in January 1918, while the "Czecho-Slovak Legion", a military force loyal to the Allied cause, seized control of the strategically important Trans-Siberian Railroad from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok.  Small parties of Allied forces also landed at Murmansk and Archangel and guarded supply depots in both locations.

Archangel and Murmansk, Russia.
 On June 28, 1918, the Czecho-Slovak Legion overthrew the local Bolshevik government and seized control of Vladivostok.  By the end of July 1918, White Russian opponents of the Bolshevik government assumed control of the city.  Meanwhile, hopeful of re-establishing an Eastern Front in the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Western Allies formulated plans for a multi-national Siberian expedition aimed at overthrowing the Bolshevik government and replacing it with one supportive of Western interests.

By August 1918, Allied governments agreed to dispatch troops to Murmansk, Archangel, the Caspian Sea and Vladivostok, in an effort to topple Russia's Bolshevik government.  When Great Britain formally asked Canada for a contribution, the Canadian government approved the formation of the Siberian Expeditionary Force (SEF) on August 12, 1918.  The proposed contingent consisted of more than 4000 personnel and included the 259th and 260th Infantry Battalions, the 20th Canadian Machine Gun Company and a mounted squadron of Royal North West Mounted Police, in addition to support personnel.

The 259th Battalion consisted of two companies each from Ontario and Quebec, the latter mainly conscripts from Montreal and Quebec City.  In fact, only 378 of its soldiers were volunteers, a situation that later generated a troubling incident.  The 260th Battalion drew its personnel from across Canada - one company each from Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and British Columbia, with a fourth from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Canadian authorities selected Victoria, BC as the SEF's assembly point and established training camps at New Westminster and Coquitlam.  Troops from across the country converged on Victoria's Willow Camp as the Spanish flu epidemic - transported from Europe by returning Canadian soldiers - swept across the country and was carried west by members of the 259th Battalion making their way to British Columbia.  Seventy-five of its soldiers were hospitalized with the illness, prompting authorities to place SEF soldiers under quarantine and ban all public meetings in Victoria.

On October 3, 1918, an advanced party consisting of Headquarters, administrative, medical, logistics and food services staff assembled at Victoria.  Also attached to the group was a detachment from the 260th Battalion selected for Base Guard duty.  Two Guysborough County veterans were amongst the soldiers chosen for this assignment.  Fellow Hazel Hill native James Edward Feltmate, age 25, the son of Abner and Agnes (Grover) Feltmate, accompanied Michael Fogarty as the advanced party prepared to depart for Siberia.

Map of key locations in Western Allies' Russian missions, 1918-19.

On October 11, 1918, the SEF advanced party, consisting of 62 officers and 618 other ranks (OR), boarded the SS Empress of Japan at Vancouver, BC and sailed for Vladivostok, Russia.  Within twenty-four hours, the challenges of crossing the Pacific Ocean in autumn became apparent as the SEF Headquarters war diary reported: "Weather fine but quite rough, about 30 % of the troops are sea-sick."  Calmer seas prevailed on October 14 and more men were "on deck" as officers organized sports and concerts to occupy their time.

The passage to Russia was not without tragedy.  On October 22, 1918, Headquarters' war diary reported that Pte. Edward Biddle, Base Coy., died of pneumonia following a case of influenza.  The first of the force's 14 casualties - all but one due to illness - Biddle was buried at sea later that day as the "weather became rough and a cold… [and a] heavy sea blew up in the afternoon."  Similar conditions prevailed for several days before the October 24, 1918 war diary entry mercifully reported: "Land in sight on our starboard off and on all morning.  Passed through the Straits of Hagodadi before midnight."

Two days later, two Russian torpedo boat destroyers met the Empress of Japan at 6 am and escorted the vessel into port at Vladivostok.  A Czech Guard of Honor welcomed the Canadians as the SEF's other ranks (OR) occupied temporary quarters in sheds along the quay, while its officers remained on the vessel for their first night in Russia.  The following day - October 27, 1918 - the "weather [was] fine but much colder" as the troops marched off to temporary billets.  The Headquarters war diary lamented a significant lack in manpower for guard duty and work parties, in addition to insufficient storage space for supplies, as the officers set about preparing for the arrival of its remaining personnel.

On October 29, 1918, officers found a suitable location for Base Headquarters: "A building known as the Pushkinsky Theatre… consisting of a small theatre and several billiard and card rooms, has been found to be available for offices… and a guard has been placed over the building."  The task of finding appropriate space for barracks proved more difficult as refugees fleeing the civil war filled many unoccupied buildings.  Headquarters War Diary commented: "The best accommodation has been taken by the Japanese and Americans, making it necessary to arrange to billet Canadian troops outside of town."

Within several days, officers succeeded in securing accommodations for 2800 men and 400 horses, although the building's windows needed replacement and most of its metal fittings had been "stolen by Chinese".  Work parties set about building stoves out of brick and constructing makeshift stovepipes out of corrugated iron sheets in preparation for the coming winter season.  The war diary noted that "the supply of wood is short [and]… everything is very dear", due to shortages caused by the civil war.

On November 5, 1918, Private Michael Fogarty was placed on command to Force Headquarters as a "Base Guard".  One month later, he was attached to Base Headquarters "for rations and quarters".  While in Siberia, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal and remained at Base HQ for all but the last nine days of his service.

Michael and Belle's second daughter, Mary Fogarty McCarthy.
A November 12, 1918 telegram from the War Office interrupted preparations for the SEF's impending arrival: "News received that Germany has accepted the terms of the Armistice and that hostilities on the Western Front ceased."  Three days later, a group of Canadians participated in a celebration described in the Headquarters War Diary:

"All the Allies in Vladivostok took part in a parade through the streets. commencing at 11 AM, and a march past the Allied Commander in Chief….  The parade consisted of troops from the British, French, Italian, American, Czecho, Roumanian, Serbian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese Armies."

While the Armistice was welcome news, it raised significant questions regarding the Siberian expedition's future.  The British government believed that the mission should continue as planned, but the Canadian government, sensitive to public opinion that all Canadian soldiers should return home, contemplated evacuating the advanced party.  Rivalries among White Russian Generals for control of the region further complicated the situation.  By month's end, Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, former Commander of the Czar's Black Sea Fleet, seized control of the Siberian capital of Omsk and declared himself "Supreme Ruler of All Russia".  The coup's implications for the SEF's mission were unclear.

In the interim, as there was little likelihood of Allied forces engaging in offensive action, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden decided that the SEF mission should continue at least until the spring of 1919 and therefore its remaining personnel would proceed to Vladivostok as planned.  SEF Headquarters was informed, however, that Canadian troops were not to move inland nor participate in military operations without the express approval of the Canadian government.

The SEF's first British troops - 32 officers and 924 OR of the 1st 9th Hampshire Regiment - arrived from India aboard SS Dunera on November 26, 1918.  Two days later, the War Office notified Headquarters that "for the present no British or Canadian troops are to go west of the Urals."  A second vessel, the SS Monteagle, arrived at Vladivostok on December 5, 1918 with the first group of Canadian troops - 30 officers, 395 OR and 287 horses, in addition to three Canadian Red Cross officers and one matron.   

Three days later, Canadian Brigadier-General J. H. Elmsley, SEF Commander, authorized the transfer of Lt.-Colonel T. S. Morrissey, eight officers and 47 OR to Omsk.  Their task was to provide administrative services for British troops that followed them to the Siberian capital later in the month.  The Omsk mission proved to be Canadian soldiers' furthest inland advance during the Siberian mission.

Michael and Belle's youngest daughter, Hattie Fogarty Donnelly.
The departure of the second group of SEF soldiers from Canada was marred by controversy.  On December 21, 1918, a small group of the 259th Battalion's French Canadian conscripts refused to leave their barracks, when ordered to do so.  Officers instructed their comrades to remove their belts and whip the mutineers into order.  Soldiers then fixed their bayonets and marched the defiant individuals through the streets of Vancouver at knifepoint and onto the waiting transport ship.  The following day, the SS Teesta departed for Siberia.

SEF Headquarters' War Diary recorded the mission's second casualty on December 30, 1918, when Pte. William J. Henderson (attestation 2772673) died of spinal meningitis.  Two days later, the New Year arrived with ferocity, as described in the day's diary entry:

"Very stormy and cold.  Blizzard blowing from early morning hours till about 5 P.M. when wind slowly quieted down.  Fairly calm towards midnight."

The diary also reported "several cases of frost-bite" amongst a group of soldiers sent to unload a recently arrived supply vessel.

On January 12, 1919, SS Teesta arrived in Vladivostok with 22 officers and 564 OR of the 259th Canadian Rifles, 11 officers and 183 OR of the 20th Canadian Machine Gun Company, and a small group of support personnel.  Officers aboard the vessel reported that Rifleman Harold Leo Butler (attestation 2768761) of the 259th Battalion "died en route and was buried at sea", thus becoming the mission's third reported casualty.

Three days later, the SEF's remaining Canadian personnel arrived aboard SS Protesilaus - 15 officers and 474 OR of the 259th Canadian Rifles, 39 officers and 981 OR of the 260th Battalion, and the mission's remaining administrative staff.  Once again, a soldier - Rifleman F. J. Kay (attestation 3139773) of the 259th Battalion - was reported to have died at sea.

By month's end, SEF Headquarters received notice that the Imperial War Cabinet had decided to continue the Siberian mission a least until the Allied governments meeting at the Paris Peace Conference agreed upon a course of action with regard to Russia.  In the meantime, the vast majority of SEF personnel remained at Vladivostok, occupying their time with sentry duty and administrative tasks.  Quartered in barracks at Second River and Gornstai Bay, off-duty soldiers spent their spare hours playing hockey, soccer and basketball leagues, producing two brigade newspapers, and watching movies in a makeshift theatre.  Occasionally, small groups of soldiers received one-day's leave to Vladivostok, where they frequented the Chinese bazaar and Russian baths.

On February 1, 1919, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden informed SEF Headquarters that Allied leaders had agreed to the early withdrawal of Canadian troops from Siberia.  In the meantime, SEF Headquarters reported increasing Bolshevik activity in the area and two more Canadian soldiers died of pneumonia by month's end.  On March 1, 1919, Prime Minister Borden formally informed Headquarters that "arrangements will be made for the return from Siberia of the Canadian troops early in April."

Map of Vladivostok area (Source: Moffat).

March proved to be the SEF's worst month for casualties, as seven soldiers succumbed to illness - four cases of pneumonia, one each of perio-carditis and spinal meningitis, and one with no recorded cause - while an eighth soldier, Lieutenant A. H. Thring, was accidentally killed.  The war diary recorded the expedition's final casualty from toxaemia on April 5, 1919.  In the meantime, the war diary reported fears of an impending Bolshevik uprising in Vladivostok.  Increasing tensions between the troops and civilian population prompted officers to order soldiers to carry arms with them at all times. 

The mission's only opportunity for military action occurred on April 12, 1919, when Bolsheviks surrounded the village of Shkotova, north of Vladivostok, jeopardizing the city's coal supply.  Brigadier-General Elmsley immediately dispatched a company from the 259th Battalion to the area.  Upon arriving one week later, the soldiers discovered that the Bolsheviks had withdrawn, and the company returned to Vladivostok on April 21, 1919.

That same day, the SS Monteagle departed Vladivostok for Vancouver, with 1080 Canadian soldiers on board.  The evacuation commenced as Bolshevik supporters laid siege to the city, threatened the lives of Allied and White Russian officers, and vandalized vehicles and supplies.  On May 9, 1919, Private Michael Fogarty left Siberia on the SS Empress of Japan, the same vessel that had carried him to Russia six months previously.  The last major detachment of Canadians - 1491 all ranks - boarded the SS Empress of Russia on May 19, 1919 and sailed for home.

On June 1, 1919, Brigadier-General Elmsley and a small group of officers dedicated a monument to the SEF's fatalities at Marine Cemetery, located on a hillside overlooking the Churkin peninsula.  Four days later, the last Canadian SEF members boarded the SS Monteagle and sailed for Victoria.

The remaining British forces departed from Siberia by summer's end, followed by American forces in autumn 1919.  The final members of the ill-fated Siberian mission left Russian soil in March 1920.  Seven months after the last Canadian soldiers left Vladivostok, Bolshevik forces seized control of the city.  Hampered by the end of hostilities on the Western Front and further hindered by lack of consensus amongst participating Allied countries, the Siberian Expedition can only be described as a complete military failure.


On May 21, 1919, Michael Fogarty and his fellow passengers aboard the SS Empress of Japan arrived at Vancouver.  Michael made his way by train to Halifax, where he was officially discharged from the 260th Battalion on May 29, 1919.  Three days later, he was transferred to Headquarters Staff, where he served in an unspecified capacity throughout the summer months.  On October 31, 1919, Corporal Michael Fogarty was officially discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Michael and Belle's son, James Edward, served overseas during the Second World War.
Michael briefly returned to his wife and children, who were living at French River, Prince Edward Island.  A family disagreement prompted him to return to Halifax, where he enlisted with the Permanent Force of Canada as a "Special Guard" with the Canadian Military Police Corps (CMPC) on November 15, 1919.  The following day, Michael was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, based on his previous military experience.  While working in Halifax, he assigned $ 6 of his monthly salary to his wife, Belle.

Throughout the winter of 1919-20, Michael served with the CMPC at Halifax, where its members were responsible for maintaining order and discipline amongst armed forces personnel stationed in the city.  Throughout 1920, the CMPC slowly reduced its operations as the vast majority of military personnel returned to civilian life and municipal police forces assumed its duties.  As a result, Lance Corporal Michael Fogarty was formally discharged from military service on March 4, 1920.

Sadly, Michael and Belle parted ways after his discharge.  His younger brother, Ernest, had returned to Western Canada after being released from military service in May 1919.  It appears that Michael joined him in Saskatchewan after leaving the CMPC, as the 1921 Canadian census identifies 35-year-old 'Michael Fogarty', a native of Nova Scotia, living as a boarder in the Maple Creek, Saskatchewan home of John J. Richardson.

Ernest eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan, but Michael spent the remainder of his years in Western Canada.  On April 29, 1953, he died at age 68, from complications due to high blood pressure, at Drumheller, Alberta.  Having resided in the community for six months, he was laid to rest in St. Anthony's Catholic Church Cemetery, Drumheller.

Michael Fogarty's headstone - Drumheller, Alberta.


Canadian Army Military Police, 1914-1920 - A Brief History. Canadian Military Police Museum.  Available online.

Isitt, Benjamin.  The Siberian Expedition.  Legion Magazine, November 22, 2008.  Available online.

Moffat, Ian C. D.. Forgotten Battlefields - Canadians in Siberia, 1918-1919.  Canadian Military Journal, Autumn 2007.  Available online.

Service file of Lance Corporal John Michael Fogarty, number 3181730.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 3165 - 24.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of Siberian Expeditionary Force General Staff.  RG9, Series III-D-3, Volumes 5056 & 5057, Reel T-10950, File: 959.  Available online.

War Diary of Siberian Expeditionary Force Headquarters.  RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5056, Reel T-10950, File: 957.  Available online.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group's website contains links to Siberian Expeditionary Force war diaries that are available online.

A special thank you to Michael's grand-daughters, Patsy (Donnelly) Weeden, Lower Sackville, NS, Ann (Donnelly) and her husband, David Collier, Lakeside, Halifax County, who provided valuable information and family pictures for this post.