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Friday, 24 March 2017

Remembering Private John James Ignatius "Jimmy" Fraser—Died of Wounds March 24, 1917

John James Ignatius “Jimmy” Fraser was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County, NS, the second of of John James and Elizabeth “Lizzie” (O’Neil) Fraser’s five children. While census records indicate that Jimmy was born on October 12, 1899, he reported his year of birth as 1896 when he attested with the 106th Battalion at Antigonish, NS on December 7, 1915. A younger brother, Colin Francis (DOB June 5, 1901) similarly misrepresented his age when he joined the same unit six weeks later.

Jimmy departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 16, 1916 and landed in England nine days later. Transferred to the 40th Reserve Battalion on October 5 following the 106th’s dissolution, Jimmy spent little more than a month with his new unit. On November 10, 1916, he was selected for service with the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) and five days later crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Le Havre, France.

Jimmy joined the 87th’s ranks at Frévillers, France on December 7th and before month’s end entered the Zouave Valley trenches, near Vimy Ridge, for his first “tour in the line.” The 87th served a regular rotation in the forward area throughout the months of January and February 1917. The arrival of spring weather brought a noticeable increase in artillery, mortar and gun fire. During a tour that commenced on March 18, the 87th sustained daily casualties, its greatest losses occurring on March 23 and 24, when five “other ranks” (OR) were killed, six OR wounded and one OR died of wounds.

Private Jimmy Fraser was wounded by gunfire on March 23 and rushed to No. 18 Casualty Clearing Station for treatment. He died of his wounds at 10:00 a.m. the following day—March 24, 1917—and was laid to rest in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Jimmy was seven months shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his death.

Jimmy’s younger brother, Colin Francis, had accompanied him to England but remained in England with the 26th Reserve Battalion throughout the winter and spring of 1916-17. On June 20, 1917, Colin was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). The following day, he crossed the English Channel to CBD Le Havre and was temporarily assigned to 3rd Entrenching Battalion on July 11.

About this time, officials in France discovered that Colin was actually 16 years old when he was transferred to the RCR. A family member, no doubt distraught over Jimmy’s death six weeks earlier, submitted a copy of Colin’s baptismal records—completed at Mulgrave by Rev. John Fraser, Parish Priest, St. Lawrence Church on May 7, 1917—to the Department of Militia & Defence, Ottawa. Military authorities subsequently notified officials in France, who immediately sent Colin back to England. He departed for Canada on August 26 and was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on September 26, 1917.

A detailed version of Private Jimmy Fraser’s story is among the 72 profiles included in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available for purchase online.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Remembering Private Louis John Burns: Died of Sickness March 1, 1917

Louis John Burns was born at Sonora, Guysborough County, NS on June 2, 1896. The oldest of Helen “Nellie” (Cass) and John Penney Burns’s four children, Louis enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 23, 1917.

Authorized in August 1916 as a “reserve” unit for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, the 246th’s initial members consisted of personnel deemed “unfit for service at the Front” after the Brigade’s four units finalized their nominal rolls. Military authorities planned to provide the soldiers with additional training, and recruit sufficient personnel during the winter of 1916-17 to bring the unit to full strength.

Louis Burns was one of the 246th’s “winter recruits.” Unfortunately, response to the unit’s appeals fell short of expectations. Officials therefore decided to send the battalion’s soldiers overseas in two “reinforcement drafts.” Louis never departed for England. While his medical examination failed to detect any health concerns, he was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital, Halifax, on February 27, 1917 for treatment of “acute nephritis” (inflammation of the kidneys).

On March 1, 1917, Private Louis John Burns died of kidney failure and pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs). Military authorities transported his remains to Guysborough County, where Louis was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Wine Harbour.

Private Louis John Burns’ story is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available at Bantry Publishing.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments - February 1917

Three individuals with connections to Guysborough County enlisted with Canadian Expeditionary Force units in February 1917:

1. George Borden (931417) was born at Goldenville, Guysborough County in February 1896, although other documents in his service file suggest his birth year may have been 1899. Both of his parents were deceased at the time of his enlistment and their names are unknown. George listed a “step-father,” James Borden of Goldenville, as his next of kin on his attestation papers, and also identified Mrs. Norman Paris, New Glasgow, as an aunt. Post-war documents identify William Whalen of Sherbrooke as his grandfather.

No. 2 Construction Battalion badge.
George enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, NS on February 10, 1917. While his attestation papers list his occupation as “fireman,” his discharge papers stated his area of employment as “miner.” George departed Canada aboard SS Southland on March 28, 1917 and arrived at Liverpool, England on April 7. He crossed the English Channel to France with No. 2 Construction Battalion on May 17 and made his way to the Jura District, near the French - Swiss border, where he and his comrades worked alongside Canadian Forestry Corps units for the war’s duration.

Returning to England on December 14, 1918, George departed for Canada aboard SS Saturnia on March 30, 1919 and was discharged at Halifax on April 14, 1919. Available documents suggest that George departed for the United States three months later and took up residence st Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he worked as a cook. He returned to his grandfather’s residence at Goldenville, Guysborough County two years later. No additional information is available on George’s later life.

2. William Donald Brown (274134) was born at Canso, Guysborough County on October 25, 1888. His father, William J., was a native of Scotland and employee of the Commercial Cable Company, Hazel Hill, while his mother, Mary Elizabeth McDonald, was Nova Scotian by birth. William was working as a clerk in Halifax when he enlisted with the 216th Battalion on February 17, 1917.

The 216th was one of a handful of CEF “bantam” battalions recruited in Canada. William’s height—five feet, one inch—disqualified him for service in a regular infantry battalion, where the minimum height was five feet, four inches. Military officials agreed to modify the requirements for a handful of units, the 216th among them. William departed Halifax on May 3, 1917 and landed at Liverpool, England eleven days later.

Transferred to the 3rd Reserve Battalion upon arrival, William spent the summer in England. On October 30, he was transferred to the 123rd Pioneer Battalion, crossed the English Channel to France one month later, and joined his new unit in the field on December 12, 1917. The 123rd’s personnel constructed and maintained roads, fortifications and dugouts in the forward area throughout its time on the continent.

On May 29, 1918, the 123rd was re-named the 7th Battalion Canadian Engineers. William served as a “sapper” with the unit throughout his time overseas. He returned to England on February 15, 1919 and departed for Canada aboard SS Olympic on March 17, 1919. William was formally discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on March 31, 1919.

William eventually relocated to Toronto, where he worked as a clerk. He married Mary Irene Bridget Clarke at Weston, Ontario on December 31, 1926. William Donald Brown passed away at Toronto, Ontario in 1980.

3. John Cleveland Wells was born at Whitehead, Guysborough County on April 9, 1887, the son of Mary Ellen (Munroe) and John Shelley Wells. Sometime before 1911, John relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, where he completed training as a marine engineer. He found employment in the local shipyards and later enlisted with the United States Naval Reserve Force (USNRF) on February 21, 1917.

John Cleveland Wells, Chief Machinist Mate, 3rd Class.
Following the American declaration of war on Germany in early April 1917, John was called to active service and assigned to the USS Comber. A commercial fishing trawler refitted as a minesweeper, the Comber conducted regular patrols in the two naval districts off the New England coast. John served aboard the vessel throughout the summer and autumn of 1917.

On December 2, 1917, while on shore leave, John slipped and fell as he attempted to board a streetcar in Quincy, Massachusetts. He struck his head on the pavement and was rushed to a nearby  doctor’s office for treatment. Admitted to Quincy General Hospital with head trauma, John later underwent surgery to repair a bleeding artery in his brain.

The medical procedure was not successful and John passed away on the evening of December 7, 1917. His remains were transported home to Nova Scotia, where John was laid to rest beside his mother, Mary Ellen, in St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Cemetery, Mulgrave, NS.

Bantry Publishing's First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917 contains a detailed summary of John Cleveland Wells' family background and military service.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments - January 1917

Eleven Guysborough County natives enlisted for military service during the month of January 1917.

Lt. Catherine Mary Nichols Gunn
1. Lieutenant Catherine Mary Nichols Gunn was born at East River St. Mary’s, Pictou County on December 6, 1886 to William and Margaret (McInnis) Gunn. "Nichols," as she became known during her military career, completed her nursing training at Seattle, Washington and enlisted for military service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps at Calgary, Alberta on January 1, 1917. A detailed summary of her military service and later life is available here.

2. Frank Leslie Carter (248652) was born at Liscomb, Guysborough County on October 21, 1894 to Jacob L. and Florence (Pelley) Carter. Frank enlisted with the Howitzer Brigade Ammunition Column at Halifax, NS on January 6, 1917. Two days prior to his enlistment, Frank married Cordelia Rudolph. On February 28, Frank was transferred to the Special Services Corp, Military District No. 6. A subsequent medical examination detected the presence of rheumatism and Frank was discharged from military service on April 17, 1917.

Frank returned to Guysborough County and eventually settled at Philips Harbour, where he worked in the fishery, operated a small retail business and served for a time as a County Councillor. During the Second World War, he served in Canada with the Pictou Highlanders. Frank Carter passed away on October 26, 1986 and was laid to rest in Union Cemetery, Queensport.

3. James Burton Cluney (1060309) was born at Indian Harbour, Guysborough County on November 22, 1876 to Thomas and Sarah Catherine (Bennett) Cluney. James gave his birth year as 1888 when he enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 10, 1917. Married with two young children at the time, his wife, Mary, passed away from tuberculosis in late February 1917.

James was subsequently transferred to No. 2 Nova Scotia Forestry Company. He departed for England aboard SS Justicia on June 25, 1917 and crossed the English Channel to France one month later. James served with No. 59 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, in the Bordeaux District of France for the next 14 months.

In September 1918, James was hospitalized with an infected left leg and subsequently diagnosed with nephritis (kidney disease). Invalided to England on November 29, 1918, he spent several months in hospital before returning to Canada in March 1919. Discharged from military service on March 25, 1919, he returned to Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, where he worked in a lumberman and subsequently married Ethel Munro in 1922.

James Burton Cluney passed away at Sherbrooke on May 11, 1934 and was laid to rest in St. James Anglican Church Cemetery, Sherbrooke.

Gunner George Edward Croft (standing) & Pte. Perry Ellis Croft
4. George Edward Croft (2163305) was born at Gegoggin, Guysborough County on August 5, 1898 to Edward and Bessie (Jack) Croft. George enlisted with the 1st Reinforcement Draft, No. 8 Siege Battery, Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery at Halifax, NS on January 20, 1917. A detailed summary of George’s military service and later life is available here.

5. Matthew Day (931408) was born at Upper Big Tracadie in January 1875 to Matthew and Margaret Day. He enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, NS on January 20, 1917. Married with six children and 41 years of age at the time, Matthew departed Halifax with No. 2 Construction Battalion on March 25, 1917 and arrived at Liverpool, England on April 8.

While the unit proceeded to France on May 17, Matthew remained in England, where he was posted to the Depot Company, Camp Bramshott. Transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion on July 6, 1917, Matthew exhibited several health issues connected to his age. He suffered from “pain in muscles, [was] easily fatigued and [experienced] much distress about shoulders when carrying anything.” A medical examination detected evidence of pleurisy in his right lung and reported a family history of tuberculosis.

As a result, on September 13, Matthew returned to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Bramshott, where he awaited embarkation to Canada for military discharge. He departed Liverpool on October 18 and landed at Quebec on October 28. Subsequently “taken on strength” by “B” Company, Military Hospitals Commission Command, Halifax on November 9, 1917, Matthew was discharged at Halifax as “medically unfit” on February 28, 1918.

Matthew Day returned to Upper Big Tracadie, where he passed away on January 19, 1948 and was laid to rest in Sunnyview Cemetery, Tracadie, NS. 

Pte. Louis John Burns' headstone, St. Patrick's Cemetery, Wine Harbour
6. Louis John Burns (1060325) was born at Sonora, Guysborough County on June 2, 1896 to John Penney and Helen “Nellie” (Cass) Burns. Louis enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 23, 1917. While his initial medical examination detected no health problems, Louis was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital on February 27 and subsequently diagnosed with “acute nephritis.” He died of kidney failure and pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs) on March 1, 1917 and was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Wine Harbour, Guysborough County. 

Private Howard Ellsworth Croft
7. Howard Ellsworth Croft (1060323) was born at Gegoggin, Guysborough County on February 16, 1897 to Captain James David and Harriet Jane (Croft) Croft. Howard enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 23, 1917. He stood 5’ 11” and weighed 160 pounds at the time. Howard departed Halifax on May 31 and was assigned to the 185th Battalion shortly after arriving in England.

Transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion on February 23, 1918, he proceeded overseas for service with the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on March 16. Howard received gunshot wounds to his left thigh and right arm at the Battle of the Scarpe on September 2, 1918 and was invalided to England six days later.

Admitted to Croydon War Hospital, Howard fully recovered from his wounds and was discharged to Woodcote Military Convalescent Hospital, Epsom on September 27. Discharged on October 16, he reported to Camp Bramshott, where he was attached to the 17th Reserve Battalion on November 22.

Howard departed for Canada on January 9, 1919 and was discharged from military service on February 8, 1919. He returned to the Sherbrooke area, where he married Bessie Bell Ferguson on December 11, 1924. The couple raised a family of five—three sons and two daughters—while Howard worked as a fisherman and labourer. Howard Croft passed away at the MacKaracher Nursing Home, Sherbrooke on February 16, 1983 and was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery, Sherbrooke, NS.

8. Patrick Gordon Malloy (1099751) was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County on March 28, 1879 to Robert and Joanna (Sullivan) Malloy. Gordon enlisted with the 256th Battalion at New Glasgow, NS on January 25, 1917. He stood five feet 11 inches and weighing 180 pounds at the time. Gordon’s medical examination, conducted the same day, noted that he had lost his right eye. As a result, he was discharged from military service as “medically unfit” at Windsor, NS on March 3, 1917.

A widower at the time of his enlistment, Gordon returned to New Glasgow, where he worked in the local coal mines. He married Gertrude Hicken, also a widow, on April 8, 1924 but passed away from “organic heart disease” ten days later. 

Sapper Francis Stewart "Frank" Manson
9. Francis Stewart “Frank” Manson (827203) was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County on December 2, 1892 to George and Lucy (Walters) Manson. Frank enlisted with the 143rd Battalion at Vancouver, BC on January 26, 1917 and later served in France with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Railway Troops. A detailed summary of his family background, war experience and later life is available here.

10. Thomas Paul Pelrine (1934) was born at Tracadie, NS on September 21, 1894 to John Joseph and Susan (Delorey) Pelrine. Undeterred whtn the 165th Battalion rejected the five foot two inch Thomas as “unfit for military service," he enlisted with the Composite Battalion at Halifax, NS on January 26, 1917 for a three-year term. Thomas later worked as a machinist in Halifax, where he married Elizabeth Jane Gerroir, a native of Charlos Cove, Guysborough County, on May 26, 1923. The couple raised a family of six children. Thomas passed away at Charlos Cove on October 18, 1951 and was laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Charlos Cove.

Private Percy Ellis Crift (sitting) & Gunner George Edward Croft
11. Percy Ellis Croft (2163342) was born at Gegoggin, Guysborough County on May 15, 1899 to Solomon and Margaret “Maggie” Croft. Percy in initially enlisted for “home service” with the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery at Halifax on October 27, 1916. Three months later, he exaggerated his age by one year when he enlisted for overseas service with the Royal Canadian Artillery on January 31, 1917.

Percy departed Halifax on February 17, 1917 and landed at Liverpool, England ten days later. He was assigned to the Reserve Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, Shorncliffe on May 24, 1917 and made his way to France on July 18, 1917 for service with the 4th Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column. Transferred to the 8th Artillery Brigade one month later, Percy was slightly wounded in the field on September 2, but remained at duty.

Percy’s mother, Maggie, was displeased with her young son’s decision to serve overseas and submitted a letter from her parish priest to military authorities, proving that he was only 18 years of age as of May 15, 1917. As a result, on September 21, 1917, authorities ordered Percy to report to the 1st Army School of Instruction as a “minor.”

Percy under went clerical training and subsequently served as a clerk with Canadian General Headquarters in France. Returning to England on January 24, 1919, he departed for Canada on March 13 and landed at Halifax 12 days later. He was formally discharged from military service on March 30, 1919.

Following the war, Percy married Gladys Hattie Hallett and emigrated to the United States. The couple took up residence in Connecticut and raised two sons in their new home. Percy Ellis Croft passed away at Rockledge, Brevard, Florida on May 24, 1988.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Remembering Pte. Roland "Rollie" Ash & Pte. James William Clooney - KIA January 16, 1917

Roland "Rollie" Ash was born at Guysborough, NS on September 6, 1894, the eldest child of Esther Ann (Parris) Shepard and James Stanley Ash. Several years later, the family relocated to Antigonish, where Esther and James raised a family of 11 children.

Rollie married Reta Jackson, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, in a Baptist ceremony held at Antigonish on May 27, 1915. A little more than a year later, he entered military service, enlisting with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at Truro, NS on July 11, 1916. The fact that Rollie’s younger brother, Norman, had enlisted with the same unit four days previously likely influenced his decision to serve overseas. One of several infantry battalions recruited across the province in 1916, the 106th accepted at least 16 African Nova Scotian men into its ranks, a fact that
distinguished the unit from the vast majority of Canadian battalions.

The 106th's ranks also contained several other Guysborough natives. Private James William Clooney, born at Sherbrooke on November 8, 1889, was the third of six children and eldest son of Elizabeth Ann "Bessie" (Bennett) and William H. Clooney, James enlisted with the 106th at Truro on December 27, 1915. As with the Ash family, James' brother, Garfield, joined the same unit two months later. Prior to departing for England, James married Elizabeth Mary Reinhof, a native of St. George's NL, at Bible Hill on March 1, 1916.

The Ash and Clooney brothers departed Halifax on July 15 and arrived in England ten days later. Shortly afterward, the 106th was disbanded and its personnel assigned to various units in the field. The pairs of brothers, however, managed to stay together. Rollie and Norman Ash received a transfer to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) on September 27, while James and Garfield joined them one week later.

The four inexperienced soldiers arrived in the 26th's camp at Bouzincourt, west of Albert, France, in  early October as the battalion rebuilt its ranks following significant losses at the Somme. Several days later, the unit moved northward  and returned to the trenches near Lens at mid-month.

While the arrival of cold, damp weather ended major combat operations throughout the winter months, trench raids, probing the enemy's defences and gaining valuable intelligence, were a regular occurrence. On the night of November 23/24, 1916, the 26th conducted one such operation. Its soldiers destroyed German trenches and dugouts and inflicted an estimated 15 casualties on the enemy, before returning to their trenches. The unit suffered only light casualties, its war diary reporting one "other rank" (OR) killed, one Officer and one OR wounded.

Personnel were not so fortunate during a second raid, launched late in the afternoon of January 16, 1917. Three parties of 26th Battalion soldiers, each consisting of one Officer and 45 OR, entered No Man's Land under the protection of an artillery barrage. While one party provided cover, the other two groups entered the German front line following the detonation of an underground mine.

The soldiers proceeded to destroy several dugouts, gun emplacements and sentry posts and inflicted an estimated 45 casualties on enemy forces. German artillery fire, however, inflicted several casualties as the raiding parties returned across No Man's Land. In the raid’s aftermath, five OR were reported killed, while 14 were wounded and one soldier was missing.

Pte. Rollie Ash was the "missing" OR. He never returned to the 26th's trenches and his remains were never located. Rollie’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, one of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers "missing, presumed dead" somewhere on the battlefields of northern France.

Pte. Rollie Ash's name engraved on the Canadian War Memorial.
Pte. James William Clooney was one of the five OR killed during the raid. He was laid to rest in Tranchée de Mecknes Cemetery, Aix-Noulette, France. Before year's end, his widow Elizabeth, who had given birth to a daughter after James' departure, fell ill with tuberculosis and passed away at Trenton, NS on November 23, 1917. Young Elizabeth J. Clooney was subsequently adopted by a local family.

Pte. James Clooney's headstone, Tranchée-de-Mecknes Cemetery.
Pte. Norman Ash was later killed in action at Hill 70 on August 15, 1917 while serving with the 26th. Pte. Garfield Clooney served in the trenches with the 26th until mid-November 1917, at which time he was transferred to 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade Headquarters for service as a "batman." He returned to Nova Scotia following the war, married and raised a large family at Maitland, NS, where he passed away on August 23, 1963.

Detailed versions of Rollie Ash's and James Clooney's stories are included in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available for purchase online at .

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia)

On August 6, 1914—two days after Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany—Canadian military authorities authorized the formation of the 17th Battalion, its ranks to be recruited from Nova Scotian militia units. Two days later, the Adjutant-General issued instructions for each Nova Scotia militia regiment to select “not more than 125 men with officers” for overseas service with the First Canadian Contingent. On September 20, a group of 135 Officers, Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) and “other ranks” (OR) from the 78th Pictou Highlanders boarded a train at New Glasgow and commenced the journey to Camp Valcartier, near Quebec City.

A full quota from the 76th Colchester Rifles joined them at Truro, along with a Company each from the 75th Lunenburg and 69th Annapolis Regiments, and small detachments from the 63rd Halifax Rifles and 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers (Halifax). A full complement from the 93rd Cumberland Regiment came aboard at Amherst, bringing the total number of recruits to more than 500 Officers, NCOs and OR.

The fact that three units—63rd Halifax Rifles, 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers and 94th Victoria Regiment Argyll Highlanders—were already on garrison duty at Halifax and strategic locations around the province significantly reduced the number of soldiers available for overseas service. Nevertheless, the Officers on board the train developed a plan to form a Nova Scotian battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Struan G. Robertson, 78th Pictou Highlanders.

Lt. Col. Struan G. Robertson, OC, 17th Battalion (NS).
After arriving at Valcartier, the Bluenosers remained together, determined to form an exclusively Nova Scotian unit despite their incomplete numbers. Fearing dispersal to other units or the addition of soldiers from other provinces, the rank and file refused to complete their attestation papers until military officials guaranteed that their Nova Scotian Officers would accompany them overseas.

Politics soon intervened when Nova Scotia’s Premier, George Henry Murray, arrived at Valcartier shortly afterward. Murray met with the 17th’s Officers and offered them a choice—proceed to England as a “half battalion” or remain behind, complete the unit’s complement of soldiers, and sail at a later date. The Officers unanimously chose the second option and conveyed their decision to Premier Murray. Unfortunately, by that time, Murray had departed camp. The Premier responded that authorities had decided to send the group as a “half battalion” with the First Canadian Contingent, on the understanding that further recruitment and additional drafts would bring the unit to full strength after its overseas arrival.

Within three days of the Officers’ meeting, Cape Breton, Pictou, Colchester and Cumberland units raised the numbers required to complete the battalion’s ranks. However, authorities declined to provide the necessary transport, as the Contingent’s departure was imminent. As a result, the 17th Battalion sailed from Quebec aboard SS Ruthenia on September 30, 1914 with a total of 773 “all ranks,” approximately 300 under full strength.

Upon arriving at Plymouth, England on October 14, the unit made its way to military camp on Salisbury Plain, where its personnel trained as a unit for the next three months. Shuffled from one Brigade to another, no additional drafts arrived to complete its ranks. Military authorities attempted to “draft” the 17th’s OR to other First Contingent units, but the terms of the Army Act gave them the right to decline, as they had been in uniform for more than three months.

17th Reserve Battalion pipers.
When the soldiers refused to leave the unit, military authorities designated the 17th and three other First Contingent battalions—9th, 11th and 12th—“reserve units” on January 18, 1915. The four battalions formed the Canadian Training Depot and entered quarters at Tidworth Barracks, Salisbury Plain. The 17th’s NCOs and OR were then dispersed to other “First Contingent” battalions, replacing soldiers lost to sickness, desertion, or transfers to Imperial forces since their arrival in England.

Following the arrival of additional reserve battalions in March 1915, military authorities disbanded the training depot and established the Canadian Training Division relocated the training at Shorncliffe. The 17th proceeded to the new location on March 15, and was officially re-designated the 17th Reserve Battalion on April 29, 1915.

A kilted battalion that wore the Mackenzie tartan and possessed a pipe band with in its ranks, the 17th Reserve Battalion remained at Salisbury Plain throughout the war. During its first two years in England, the 17th absorbed several Ontario and Western Canadian battalions and received drafts from several others, while providing reinforcements to several 1st and 2nd Division units at the front.

In January 1917, military officials implemented a major reorganization, as the 17th absorbed the ranks of the 193rd and 219th Battalions—two of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s former units—and was re-designated the “Nova Scotia Regiment.” From that point forward, the 17th received its reinforcements exclusively from the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, located in Military District No. 6 (Maritime Provinces).

17th Reserve Battalion pipe band.
During the war’s final two years, virtually all Nova Scotian infantry drafts passed through the 17th Reserve Battalion’s ranks on their way to the front lines. The unit provided reinforcements for the 2nd Canadian Division’s 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles - effective October 16, 1917), the 3rd Canadian Division’s Royal Canadian Regiment (effective October 15, 1917), and the 4th Canadian Division’s 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders - effective January 1, 1917), for the duration of the war.

Following the end of hostilities, the 17th Reserve Battalion relocated to South Ripon on January 23, 1919. The unit was formally disbanded on September 15, 1920, and was perpetuated by the 1st Battalion, Pictou Highlanders, which later became part of the present-day “Nova Scotia Highlanders.”



“17th Reserve Battalion.” Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Available online.

Hunt, M. S.. Nova Scotia’s Part in the Great War. Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co., Ltd., 1920. Available online.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Remembering Private Angus MacDonald—Died of Wounds October 26, 1916

Angus MacDonald was born on October 28, 1888 at Havre Boucher, Antigonish County to Duncan D. and Elizabeth MacDonald. Sometime before 1911, the family relocated the nearby Mulgrave, Guysborough County, where Angus found employment as a trackman on the Intercolonial Railroad.

Pte. Angus MacDonald
On April 16, 1916, Angus attested for overseas service with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at Pictou, NS. The unit departed Halifax on July 15, 1916 and landed in England ten days later. When the battalion was dissolved several months later, Angus was part of a large group of 106th soldiers who were transferred to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick), a 5th Brigade mate of Nova Scotia’s 25th Battalion, on September 21.

The reinforcement draft crossed the English Channel to France shortly afterward and reported to the 26th’s camp at Bouzincourt, west of Albert, France, on October 9. Six days later, the new arrivals entered the trenches of the Angres Sector, west of Lens, for their first tour in the line. Upon retiring to Brigade Reserve on October 21, the 26th’s personnel commenced a daily training schedule.

On the afternoon of October 25, a group of the battalion’s soldiers proceeded to the bombing pit at Bully Grenay for a training exercise that involved the use of live ammunition. Angus was wounded around 1:30 p.m. when the bomb he was throwing exploded approximately eight feet from his hand, and was immediately rushed to No 5 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment.

On October 26, 1916, Private Angus MacDonald died of wounds sustained in the accidental explosion and was laid to rest in Bully Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension. A subsequent investigation determined that a faulty fuse had caused the premature explosion.

A detailed version of Angus’s family background and war service is among the 72 profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at .