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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 .

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Remembering Driver Thomas Richard "Tommy" Morris—DOW October 16, 1916

Thomas Richard “Tommy” Morris was born at Nerissa, Guysborough County on February 4, 1890. Tommy’s father, Richard S. Morris, passed away sometime after 1901 and his mother, Sarah Ann (Ross), left with several young children to support, married James Patrick Hanlon of Canso, another local widower, in 1906.

On August 2, 1915, Tommy enlisted for service with the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) at Halifax, NS. The 40th departed from Quebec aboard SS Saxonia on October 18 and landed in England ten days later. Before year’s end, the battalion was reduced to the status of a “reserve unit” and its personnel dispersed to other units.

Driver Thomas Richard "Tommy" Morris.

Tommy was transferred to the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) on February 14, 1916. Two months later, he crossed the English Channel to France and was assigned to the Base Horse Transport Depot at Le Havre. No doubt familiar with horses from his early years in Guysborough, Tommy was assigned to No. 1 Canadian Veterinary Hospital, Le Havre in late May 1916. He worked at the facility for almost three months, before returning to CASC Base.

On September 4, 1916, Tommy was transferred to No. 4 Entrenching Battalion, which was in the process of organizing at Le Havre for service at the front. Having worked with horses in his previous assignments, Tommy was assigned to the unit’s horse transport detail as a driver. No. 4 Entrenching departed for the forward area on October 1 and arrived at Brickfield Camp, near Albert, the following day.

The unit’s personnel commenced daily work party assignments in the forward area on October 4. German artillery regularly shelled the area around their camp, as well as their work locations. Meanwhile, the unit’s soldiers worked at a tramway dump along the Bruay road and completed repairs to the Ovilliers—Courcelette road.

On October 16, 1916, the regular work party at the Bruay road tramway dump came under direct artillery fire. Tommy’s “circumstances of casualty” form described the ensuing events:

“Whilst [Tommy] and several of his comrades were standing together watching the shells fell [sic], a shell exploded amongst them and he was wounded in the right leg by shrapnel. He was given immediate attention and taken to No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station, where he died the same day.”

Driver Tommy Morris was laid to rest in Varennes British Cemetery, six miles northwest of Albert, France.A detailed summary of Tommy's family background and military service is published in "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917," available at .

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Remembering Lance Corporal Clifford Ethelbert Tyner—KIA October 11, 1916

  Clifford Ethelbert Tyner was born at Port Hilford, Guysborough County on April 27, 1893. His father, Rev. James Edward Tyner, was born at Chance Harbour, NB and was ministering to a congregation at Port Hilford at the time of Clifford’s birth. In subsequent years, the family resided in several locations across the Maritime Provinces, relocating to Alberta in 1905 following the death of Clifford’s mother, Winifred “Winnie” (Shankle) Tyner.

Clifford enlisted with the 89th Battalion (Calgary Rifles) at Red Deer, AB on January 3, 1916 and was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal shortly afterward. The 89th departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic on June 2, 1916 but was dissolved shortly after arriving in England. When the 9th Reserve Battalion absorbed its personnel, Clifford “reverted to ranks” on August 24 and was transferred to the 10th Battalion (Alberta/Manitoba) four days later.

Clifford immediately crossed the English Channel to France and met up with the 10th as the unit made its way from Belgium to the Somme region of France. The unit arrived at Albert, France on September 2 and entered the Somme’s trenches one week later. Following a four-day tour. Clifford was evacuated to hospital with a severe case of influenza, spending one week at No. 7 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Havre, before returning to duty.

On the night of October 10, 1916, the 10th relieved the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion in the front trenches east of Albert, following several days in reserve. Germany artillery guns shelled the 10th’s position throughout the following day, the bombardment reaching a peak at mid-afternoon. In its aftermath, the unit’s war diary reported five “other ranks” (OR) killed, two Officers and 18 OR wounded. Lance Corporal Clifford Tyner was among the day’s five fatalities.

As Clifford’s remains were never recovered from the battlefield, his name was later inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, erected in memory of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known final resting place.

Lance Cpl. Clifford Tyner's name, inscribed on Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge.
A detailed version of Clifford’s story is published in “First World War Honour Roll of Guybsorough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at .

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Remembering Private Peter Fougere & Lance Corporal Arthur Stanford Horton - KIA October 2, 1916

Peter Fougere was born on April 31, 1897 at Larry’s River, Guysborough County, NS. The oldest of Simon and Sophia (Petipas) Fougere’s three children, Peter was raised by his maternal grandparents, Peter and Sophia Fougere, following his mother’s tragic death after the birth of the couple’s third child.

Peter Fougere (right) & his sister, Sophia.

On April 31, 1915, Peter enlisted with the 64th Battalion at Sussex, NB. Transferred to the 40th Battalion in October 1915, he departed for England with his new unit on October 18, 1915. After spending the winter of 1915-16 in England, Peter was transferred to the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles on March 15, 1916.

Pte. Peter Fougere, Larry's River.

Another Guysborough native, Arthur Stanford Horton, followed a similar path to the front line. Arthur was born at Canso on November 17, 1893 to Hiram Charles and Henrietta “Hattie” (Worth) Horton. He enlisted with the 40th Battalion at Sydney, NS on August 9, 1915 and accompanied Peter Fougere to England. Promoted to Lance Corporal shortly after arriving overseas, Arthur reverted to the rank of Private in the spring of 1916 and obtained a transfer to the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) on the same day as Peter.

The two Guysborough soldiers crossed the English Channel to France on March 16, 1916 and proceeded to Belgium’s Ypres Salient, where they served a regular rotation with 5th CMR throughout the spring and summer of 1916. Peter and Arthur were in the line at Maple Copse on June 2, 1916, when German forces launched a major attack on their section. 50 % of 5th CMR’s soldiers in the line that day became casualties by day’s end. While Arthur emerged unscathed, Peter received shrapnel wounds to his back and spine and was invalided to England for treatment.

Later diagnosed with “shell shock,” Peter spent several months recovering from his injuries. Upon returning to France on September 5, he rejoined 5th CMR as the unit made its way to the Somme region of France. Arthur was promoted to Lance Corporal on September 16, and returned to the trenches with Peter and their comrades eleven days later.

On October 1, 1916, 5th CMR participated in an attack on Kenora Trench, one of two fortified positions protecting a larger German stronghold known to Canadian soldiers as “Regina Trench.” While the unit succeeded in reaching its objective, fierce counter-fire and the failure of flanking battalions to advance forced 5th CMR’s soldiers to abandon the location on the following day.

Pte. Peter Fougere was killed sometime during the two days of fighting at Kenora Trench. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield. Peter’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, erected in memory of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died on France’s battlefields and who have no known grave.

Pte. Peter Fougere's name on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France.

Officials initially reported Lance Corporal Arthur Stanford Horton as “missing in action,” but subsequently determined that he was “killed in action” on October 2, 1916. Arthur was laid to rest in Regina Trench Cemetery, Grandcourt, France.

Lance Cpl. Arthur Stanford Horton's headstone.
Detailed summaries of Peter's and Arthur's family background and military service are among the 72 profiles published in "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917," available at .

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Remembering Private James Richmond & Private John Berrigan Gunn - KIA October 1, 1916

James Richmond was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County on September 29, 1891. His parents are unknown, although James listed a brother, Charlie Richmond of Tracadie, Antigonish County, as his next of kin at the time of his military enlistment.

Pte. James Richmond's name on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France.
James attested for service with the 25th Battalion at Halifax, NS on November 26, 1914. He was a sizeable lad for the day, standing six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds. James and the 25th departed Halifax aboard HMT Saxonia on May 20, 1915, arriving in England nine days later. Following a summer’s training, he crossed the English Channel to France on September 15, 1915 and one week later entered the trenches of Belgium’s Ypres Salient.

Throughout the winter of 1915-16, James and the 25th served a regular rotation in the line. The unit’s soldiers received their first introduction to combat near St. Eloi in April and May 1916 and remained in the Ypres Salient throughout the spring and summer months. During that time, several reinforcement drafts reported to the 25th’s camp. John Berrigan Gunn was part of a group of 42 “other ranks” (OR) who arrived on July 23, 1916.

Born at Country Harbour, Guysborough County on September 7, 1891 to William and Barbara Jane (Hines) Gunn, John was the fourth of six children and his parent’s oldest son. He attested with the 64th Battalion at Sussex, NB on August 24, 1915 and was subsequently transferred to the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) the following spring. John departed Halifax aboard SS Adriatic on March 31, 1916, landing at Liverpool, England nine days later. He was officially transferred to the 25th’s ranks on June 28, 1916 and reached its Belgian camp one month later.

Pte. John Berrigan Gunn (Source: Salsman's Homeland, Vol. I).
In early September 1916, James and John followed the 25th to the Somme region of France. The unit participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful September 15 attack on the village of Courcelette. Following a brief rest, the 25th returned to the line on September 27, with orders to capture Kenora Trench, a German stronghold located in front of Regina Trench.

The attack commenced in the early hours of October 1. While the 25th’s soldiers succeeded in capturing a portion of the trench, flanking battalions failed to keep pace. The unit endured fierce counter-fire throughout the day and was finally forced to retreat, more than half of its personnel becoming casualties during the fighting.

Private James Richmond was killed in the hours prior to the advance, while on a reconnaissance patrol in No Man’s Land. Private John Gunn went over the top with the first wave of attackers but was not amongst the retreating soldiers. Initially reported “wounded - missing,” he was later officially deemed “killed in action.”

Neither James’ nor John’s remains were recovered from the battlefield. Their names are engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, erected in memory of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died somewhere on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known final resting place.

A detailed version of James Richmond’s and John Berrigan Gunn’s stories is printed in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at .

Friday, 30 September 2016

Remembering Sergeant Harold Edwin Barss - KIA September 30, 1916

Harold Edwin Barss was born at Canso, Guysborough County, NS on July 20, 1885. The second of Isaac Elnathan and Lucy Ann (Embree) Barss’ six children, Harold was the couple’s only son. By 1911, Harold had headed west, finding employment in Alberta. On June 8, 1915, Harold enlisted with the 2nd Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) at Calgary, AB.

Shortly after the unit arrived in England on October 9, 1915, military authorities reorganized the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s CMR units. Initially intended for deployment as mounted infantry soldiers, the static nature of trench warfare on the Western Front rendered such units ineffective and resulted in their reorganization into standard infantry battalions.

Four news battalions—1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th CMR—constituted the newly formed 3rd Canadian Division’s 8th Brigade. Harold was transferred to 2nd CMR on January 28, 1916 and crossed the English Channel to Havre, France the following day. Harold joined his new unit in Belgium’s Ypres Salient earl the following month.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1916, Harold served a regular infantry rotation with 2nd CMR. He proved a competent soldier, earning promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal on May 12, Corporal on June 9, and Sergeant on July 8. In early September, 2nd CMR followed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions to the Somme region of France, where its soldiers first entered the line near Pozières on the night of September 11/12.

While 3rd Division units did not participate in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Courcelette (September 15), its soldiers played a crucial role in the next phase of Canadian involvement in the Battle of the Somme—a series of attacks on Regina Trench, the longest German trench located on Thiepval Ridge. Several well-fortified positions lay between the target and the Allied line, requiring Canadian units to advance toward their final goal in several stages.

On September 29, 1916, 2nd CMR was one of several 3rd Division units ordered to attack the first line of German defenses in front of Regina Trench. Fierce fighting raged for two days, during which time the unit suffering heavy casualties. As 2nd CMR retired from the line on the evening of October 2, its war diary reported two of its Officers killed, five wounded and one missing, while 50 “other ranks” (OR) were killed and 140 OR wounded.

Memorial Plaque, Central Alberta United Church, Calgary, AB
Sergeant Harold Barss was “killed by enemy shell fire, when in the from trenches in the vicinity of Pozières” on September 30, 1916. He was laid to rest in Regina Trench Cemetery, Grandcourt. In the aftermath of the battle, an appendix to 2nd CMR’s monthly war diary listed soldiers “mentioned for their splendid and courageous work during the tour [of September 22 to October 2].” Among those acknowledged was Sergeant Harold Barss, praised “for conspicuous bravery during the fighting of September 29.”

Harold’s story is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available from .

Photograph of Memorial Plaque, Central Alberta United Church, Calgary, AB, courtesy of Marika Pirie, Calgary, AB.