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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Private William Lewis Jamieson - A "Royal Highlanders of Canada" Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: April 27, 1893

Place of Birth: Queensport, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Cynthia Feltmate (1870-1918)

Father's Name: Alexander Jamieson (1859-1942)

Date of Enlistment: April 4, 1916 at Guysborough, NS

Regimental Number: 901984

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 193rd Battalion; 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada, Montreal)

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Fisherman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. Alexander Jamieson (father)

Two of Will's younger brothers also served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Allan Alexander was conscripted on May 30, 1918, departed for England on August 2 and returned to Canada on January 2, 1919.  John Charles was conscripted on May 31, 1918 and traveled to England with his brother Allan. John Charles was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) and served with the unit in France and Belgium during the later stages of the war.  He was discharged from military service on July 15, 1919.


William Lewis "Will" Jamieson was the third of nine children born to Alexander and Cynthia (Feltmate) Jamieson of Queensport, Guysborough County.  The second of the couple's four sons, Will went to work in the local fishery at a young age. 

Private William Lewis Jamieson at enlistment.
As the First World War entered its second year, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) expanded its recruiting efforts in Nova Scotia.  Will was amongst the young men attracted by its appeals.  He began training with the 193rd Battalion at Guysborough on March 27, 1916 and attested for overseas service with the unit on April 4, 1916.

Officially authorized on January 27, 1916, the 193rd Battalion established its headquarters at Truro, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Stanfield, former Member of Parliament for Colchester.  Within one month of its inception, the 193rd was assigned to the "Nova Scotia Highland Brigade", a military unit conceived by Lieutenant-Colonel Allison Hart Borden, Commanding Officer (CO) of the 85th Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders.

The 193rd was the first unit to visit the communities of northeastern Nova Scotia in search of recruits.  Representatives traveled to towns and villages in its designated region - Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough Counties - throughout the early months of 1916.  After several months' training in their local communities, recruits made their way to Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, in late May 1916.  Will and his colleagues trained throughout the summer alongside soldiers from the Brigade's other three units - the 85th, 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (South Shore) Battalions.

The Highland Brigade departed Halifax for England aboard SS Olympic on October 13, 1916 and disembarked at Liverpool six days later.  The soldiers made their way to Witley Camp, Surrey, England and resumed training in anticipation of deployment at the front.  Initially slated for service with the yet to be organized 5th Canadian Division, the 193rd's fate was determined by the CEF's massive casualties during service at the Somme, France from September to November 1916.

By year's end, two of the Highland Brigade's four battalions - the 193rd and 219th - were dissolved and their members dispersed to other units.  Those deemed ready for service were transferred to battalions at the front.  Will was amongst a group of 193rd soldiers assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916.  He crossed the English Channel to France the following day and reported to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Havre.  Will left CBD to join his new unit in the field on December 30, 1916, arriving in camp three days later.  Will was destined to spend his entire overseas service with the 42nd Battalion.


The 42nd Battalion was authorized on November 7, 1914.  The second of three overseas battalions recruited by the 5th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada, a Montreal militia unit, the 42nd departed for England on June 10, 1915 and crossed the English Channel to France on October 9, 1915.  One week later, its soldiers were deployed in the trenches of the Ypres Salient, Belgium, where personnel provided work parties for trench construction and repair.

Officially assigned to the 3rd Canadian Division's 7th Infantry Brigade on December 12, 1915, the 42nd served alongside the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, Alberta).  The battalion commenced its first front line rotation near Dranoutre, Belgium on January 7, 1916.  Its soldiers spent the spring and summer in the Ypres Salient, relocating to the Somme with the Canadian Corps in September 1916.

The 42nd saw its first major combat on September 15, 1916 at Courcelette, where its war diary reported one Officer and 73 "other ranks" (OR) killed, 6 Officers and 290 OR wounded, and 66 OR missing after a major attack on the German line.  The battalion remained on duty in this area throughout the autumn and winter of 1915-16.  Its January 3, 1917 war diary entry reported the arrival of 250 OR reinforcements from CBD Havre.  Amongst their number were Kendall Bright, a native of Sherbrooke, and Will Jamison of Peas Brook.

At the time of Will's arrival, the battalion was in Brigade Reserve at Neuville-St. Vaast, France.  Five days later, Will entered the front trenches for the first time as the 42nd relieved the PPCLI in the line.  The soldiers focused on repairing the significant damage inflicted on front line facilities by damp winter conditions.  Throughout the first three months of 1917, the 42nd followed a rotation of front line duty, brigade reserve, and brief periods of rest and training.  Its Brigade was amongst the units reviewed by Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, on March 9, 1917.

As Will and his comrades returned to the line on the night of March 22/23, 1917, German forces detonated a mine beneath their position, heavily damaging a 30-yard section of their front trench.  The 42nd's soldiers managed to secure the resulting crater under heavy fire, suffering only light casualties as they rebuilt new trenches and saps in the gap created by the explosion.  The unit was relieved on April 1, 1917 after a challenging ten-day tour.

Two of the battalion's Companies returned to front-line duty near Villers au Bois on the night of April 5/6, 1917.  The unit's war diary described the conditions at the time: "The weather was wretched cold and wet.  The men were put to work cleaning out assembly trenches, which had fallen in badly owing to the wet weather." The 42nd's two remaining Companies moved into the front line on the night of April 7/8, 1917 as the Canadian Corps made final preparations for its attack on German positions at Vimy Ridge. Will was about to receive his first combat experience since joining the battalion.

The 42nd spent the day prior to the battle "getting platoons into their proper places for moving into their assembly trenches and distributing material to be carried over with the attacking waves.  By Sunday midnight, final preparations were completed, and the men were waiting [sic] the order to move out."  Will and his comrades moved forward to the assembly trenches at 4:00 a.m. April 9, the PPCLI to their right and the 102nd Battalion - a Northern British Columbia unit - to their left.  The battalion's 722 "all ranks" were in position by 4:45 a.m., eagerly awaiting the opening barrage set for 5:30 a.m..

As supporting artillery opened fire, Will and the 42nd's soldiers clambered out of the trenches and followed the "creeping barrage" across "No Man's Land".  The war diary described the conditions as the attack commenced: "Visibility was very bad, the men had to advance in drizzling rain changing to sleet."  The unit reached its initial objective by 8:15 a.m., but German resistance held up the 102nd's advance, exposing the 42nd's soldiers to "sniping and rifle fire" on their left flank.  German soldiers also fired on the battalion's position from an uncaptured, elevated position known as Hill 145.

By 10:10 a.m., officers estimated a total of 200 casualties "all ranks" and reported great difficulty in evacuating the wounded: "After three different calls for stretchers none have arrived yet." Throughout the afternoon, personnel were subjected to heavy artillery fire, although the war diary identified only one direct hit on its location as the men spent the night on the battlefield.

The following morning, 25 wounded soldiers still awaited evacuation due to a "scarcity of stretchers".  By mid-day, the 42nd's Officers received confirmation that Canadian forces - including the 85th Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders - had captured Hill 145.  Throughout the day, personnel continued to consolidate their position, in addition to overcoming remaining points of resistance on their left flank.

At 5:45 a.m. April 11, "what was left" of the 42nd's "D" Company was relieved in the line, followed by the remaining three Companies by day's end.  The 42nd retired to billets at Villers au Bois after two days of fighting in which five of its Officers were killed or died of wounds and an additional six were wounded.  A total of 291 OR were killed or wounded during two days' combat on the Ridge. 

Pte. Will Jamieson was amongst the soldiers evacuated for medical treatment, having received a severe shrapnel wound to his right buttock, most likely during the grueling artillery bombardment on the afternoon of April 9.  He was admitted to No. 1 Canadian Field Ambulance (CFA) sometime on April 11.


Will was evacuated to No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) on the same day he was admitted to No. 1 CFA.  His medical records graphically describe his injury: "Large gaping wound laid nearly open, extending over whole of R. buttock and round to his pubis.  Clean."  Personnel also noted that Will was suffering from "trench feet", although there were "no wounds" on either limb.  Shortly after admission, doctors performed the first of two surgical procedures on his wound.

Once stabilized, Will was evacuated to No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Boulogne on April 13, 1917.  One week later, he was invalided to England via the hospital ship Princess Elizabeth and admitted to Bradford War Hospital, where surgeons performed an "ether" operation on May 7.  Will's medical records provide a description of the procedure: "Large raw surface 9" x 6" at back of right buttock, scraped, and treated with 'Bipp' [bismuth iodoform paraffine paste].  Raw edges trimmed, undercut a little, and stretched together with deep silk."

Will remained at Bradford for several weeks as his wound healed.  On June 23, 1917, he was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, where he spent several weeks recuperating.  Will was discharged from hospital on August 3, at which time he reported to 3rd Canadian Corps Depot (CCD) at Shoreham.  Three months later, Will was deemed fit for duty and was transferred to the 20th Reserve Battalion, the unit that provided reinforcements for Quebec infantry units in the field.

Pte. Will Jamieson in 193rd attire.
On January 26, 1918, Will was once again selected for service with the 42nd Battalion and reported to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) at Havre, France three days later.  He remained at CCRC for five weeks, leaving to rejoin his "chums" in the field on March 9, 1918.  One week later, Will arrived in the 42nd's camp.

During his absence, the battalion fought with the Canadian Corps at Passchendaele, Belgium, sustaining 174 casualties during the November 1917 attack.  The unit subsequently returned to France, where personnel spent several weeks in reserve at Noeux Les Mines in January and February 1918 before entering the line near Vimy for their first tour of the year on the night of March 6/7, 1918.

Will's return to the "firing line" coincided with "Operation Michael", a major German spring offensive launched in the hope of winning the war.  On March 28, 1918, the 42nd received orders to "stand to" as German forces attacked positions south of its location, from Oppy to the Scrape River.  The battalion's light casualties for the month reflect the limited action in its sector - one Officer gassed, one OR killed and 16 OR wounded.

The battalion remained in the Vimy area throughout April 1918, once again sustaining only moderate losses - two Officers wounded, five OR killed, two OR died of wounds, 25 OR wounded to hospital, six OR wounded but remaining at duty, and ten OR missing.  At month's end, the 42nd completed "the longest continuous tour which the Battalion had ever done in the front line...[spending] 57 front of Vimy Ridge."

Will and his comrades retired to St. Hilaire for two months' training, sports and recreation, returning to the line at Neuville Vitasse on the night of June 28/29, 1918.  The unit served throughout the following month in this sector, relocating to Dury, south of Amiens, on the night of July 30/31.  The new location represented the battalion's furthest southerly location since arriving in France.  The war diary commented that its soldiers were quite a local curiosity: "Much interest was displayed by the French troops and civilians in the Highland dress of the Battalion."

Once again, monthly casualties were light - two OR killed, two OR died of wounds, one Officer and 10 OR wounded - as a result of limited fighting in the area.  The relative lull in action was destined to change dramatically the following month, however, when Allied forces launched a major counter-offensive in which the Canadian Corps played a prominent role.

The 42nd suffered a major blow on August 3, 1918, when its CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Bartlett McLennan, DSO, was "killed [by enemy shell fire] while making a personal reconnaissance of the country over which the Battalion was to attack some days later.".  McLennan had commanded the unit continually since its inception and his loss was deeply felt.  He was buried the following day, his funeral attended by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, Canadian Corps Commander, along with a cadre of military dignitaries, the 42nd's pipe band and a firing party of 40 OR.

Over the next several days, Will and his comrades once again readied themselves for combat.  Unbeknownst to the soldiers, the attack marked the beginning of Canada's "100 Days", a series of attacks spearheaded by Canadian Corps and Australian units.  The 42nd's soldiers assumed their assigned position at Gentilles Wood on the night of August 7/8, 1918, the war diary commenting on the beehive of pre-battle activity: "The tremendous amount of troops, transport, tanks, guns and other machinery of war which was passed on the road up [made] our progress very slow."

Allied forces launched the assault the following morning along approximately 20 miles of the front near Amiens.  The Canadian Corps' 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions occupying a central position in the line, with French troops to their right and the Australian Corps to their left.  The Canadian Corps was assigned the task of capturing a section of the main railroad between Amiens and Paris.  The 42nd was amongst the battalions participating in the initial assault, to be launched without preliminary artillery bombardment to preserve the element of surprise.

At precisely 4:20 a.m. August 8, the 3rd Division's 9th Brigade commenced the advance.  The 7th Brigade, to which the 42nd belonged, moved forward to their "jumping off" positions at 6:00 a.m. and went "over the top" at 8:20 a.m. despite a "heavy mist which hung over everything", obscuring the soldiers' visibility.  Personnel secured their first objective by 10:20 a.m., the 4th Canadian Division passing through its lines as scheduled at 2:00 p.m..  The 42nd's casualties for the day were light, considering the scale of the operation - 12 OR killed; two OR died of wounds; two Officers and 29 OR wounded.

The battalion rested at nearby Claude Wood the following day, advancing to the newly captured village of Folies in the evening.  German aircraft bombed their location on August 10, 1918, killing three OR and wounding 12 OR.  The following day, the 42nd moved into the newly established front line near Parvillers-le-Quesnoy, separated from the enemy by distances of 150 to 300 yards.  The war diary identified the unit's position as the old British line prior to the German Spring Offensive.

On the night of August 13/14, 1918, the 42nd participated in a ten-hour attack on the German line opposite its location, an action that involved significant "hand to hand fighting during which the attack was many times pressed home with the bayonet."  Two nights later, personnel were relieved and retired to Harmon Wood for several days' rest and training.  The toll during their ten-days in the line beginning at Amiens was considerable - two Officers and 30 OR killed; ten OR died of wounds; five Officers and 101 OR wounded.

Will and his comrades relocated to Manin on August 23, 1918 in preparation for the month's second major attack at Arras. On this occasion, the 42nd occupied reserve positions while its three 7th Brigade "sister" battalions launched the assault at 3:00 a.m. August 26.  The unit moved forward at 10:00 a.m., but its progress was held up by the RCR's inability to keep pace with the advance.  Heavy afternoon shelling inflicted several casualties as the fighting continued into the night.

The advance resumed the following day, the 42nd moving into positions on the newly established line on the night of August 27/28, 1918 and securing a salient that jutted approximately 500 yards into German positions.  Heavy fighting took place later that day as personnel captured another section of enemy trench.  Will and his comrades retired from the line on the night of August 28/29 and moved into billets near Arras.  Its Brigade had advanced an incredible 9000 yards (8.2 kilometers), expanded an initial 3000-yard front to 7000 yards, crossed five German lines of defense, and captured six French villages during a four-day tour.  During that time, three Officers and 60 OR were killed, 12 OR died of wounds, and 12 Officers and 225 OR were wounded.

There was little time to recover as the 42nd returned to the line west of Cagnicourt on the night of September 5/6, 1918, advancing to positions near Canal du Nord on September 9.  In the early hours of the following morning, parties of German soldiers twice attacked the unit's location, a reserve slope facing the canal.  The position made daytime movement impossible, as the men were exposed to direct enemy observation. 

The 42nd's soldiers were no doubt happy to be relieved from such precarious circumstances on the night of September 11/12, retiring to Divisional Reserve for a week's rest and training.  A group of 78 OR reinforcements arrived in camp during the break as the unit relocated to Dainville on September 19 for a second week of drill.  One week later, the 42nd returned to the line in preparation for an attack on the strategically important Canal du Nord.

The assault commenced at 5:20 a.m. September 27, 1918, the 3rd Canadian Division in support as the other three Canadian Divisions led the advance north of the village of Moeuvres.  The 7th Brigade was the first 3rd Division unit to move forward following the initial action, the 42nd in reserve as its three "sister" battalions led the way.  Will and his chums crossed the Canal in the early afternoon via an infantry bridge erected by engineers and spent the night in the open under a heavy bombardment of gas shells.  As a result, "the men were compelled to sleep with their Box Respirators adjusted."

At 7:00 a.m. September 28, 1918, the battalion assumed a position behind a railroad embankment east of Bourlon Wood, sheltered from a massive morning artillery bombardment.  Rain during the day ensured that "everybody got thoroughly wet", the 42nd remaining in reserve while its "sister" 7th Brigade battalions struggled to advance in the face of "heavy opposition".

That evening, the 42nd received orders to resume the attack in the early morning hours, with the objective of capturing the railroad embankment and establishing a bridgehead along the nearby St. Quentin Canal.  The war diary described the situation as its soldiers once again prepared for battle:  "The morning was fine with a heavy ground mist which prevented any visibility....  It was feared that direction might be difficult to maintain."

The morning advance was slowed by "a withering fire from Machine Guns at point blank range... [that] caused very severe casualties."  Four parties nevertheless succeeded in crossing the Douai-Cambrai Road and establishing a post.  Despite a supporting artillery bombardment at 12:30 p.m., heavy machine gun fire prevented personnel from any further advance, forcing the soldiers to dig in behind whatever shelter was available.

Pte. Will Jamieson - Royal Highlanders of Canada uniform.
The 42nd's soldiers once again encountered fierce resistance when the advance resumed on the morning of September 30 and were forced to repel a German counter-attack later in the day.  Personnel finally captured the high ground near the railroad embankment on October 1, retiring to a camp near Quarry Road later that night.  The battalion's war diary reported six Officers and 55 OR killed, 11 Officers and 221 OR wounded at Canal du Nord.

Following relief, Will and his comrades enjoyed a ten-day break from the line, although their circumstances were not particularly comfortable:  "The area contained little or no accommodation and much time was spent by the men in digging in and making themselves comfortable with the use of bivvies [canvas sheets stretched hung over poles]."  A group of 62 reinforcements joined the battalion several days into the rest period. 

On October 10, 1918, the entire 7th Brigade relocated to Queant.  Once again, the soldiers struggled to find comfortable quarters:

"This area had been very badly devastated.  There was no accommodation of any kind with the exception of an old and dilapidated system of trenches.  Here again it was necessary for the men to dig in and construct bivvies for themselves."

Personnel commenced a general training schedule, in addition to "specialist" classes.  The war diary specifically identified one shortcoming its Officers sought to address:  "Special attention was paid to reorganizing and bringing up to strength all the Lewis Gun crews of the Battalion which had suffered heavy casualties in the Cambrai [Canal du Nord] attack." Before month's end, this pressing need impacted Will's service with the 42nd.

His Royal Highness (HRH) Edward, Prince of Wales, made an "informal visit" to the battalion on October 17, observing the men on the parade grounds during the morning and meeting with several of its Officers in the afternoon.  Three days later, the entire Brigade relocated to the Auberchicourt area, where the 42nd entered billets at Somain.  On October 21, personnel marched to nearby Cataine, experiencing their first encounter with a local population: 

"[The] towns and villages [through which the battalion marched]... had only been liberated from the enemy within the preceeding [sic] forty-eight hours after four years of captivity, and the joy of the inhabitants was indescribable.  The entire route was thronged by them and every possible visible demonstration of their joy at their release was given."

In the early morning hours of October 22, 1918, the 42nd's Officers received instructions to "advance and leap-frog the 1st Brigade, the latter holding the general line on the railway."  The RCR assumed positions to its right as the two battalions attempted to establish a bridgehead in the villages of Vieux-Conde and Conde, across the Jard Canal.  The entire Brigade was ordered to "advance through and mop up the Foret de Raismes" as the units moved forward.

Personnel broke camp at 7:00 a.m. and succeeded in clearing the village of Mort des Briyeres of German soldiers by 10:30 a.m..  While Companies on the right side of the advance reached a local north-south road by midday with no opposition, soldiers on the left encountered resistance while moving through the forested area.  The RCR and 42nd continued to lead the advance toward the Canal the following day, but received specific instructions not to cross without specific orders.  The unit's war diary summarized the day's progress:  "After many interesting skirmishes between our Scouts and enemy machine guns and snipers during the day, our line was advanced to Lahte Ville road... and Le Bout de Trihix by the evening."

The attack resumed the following day, the war diary reporting that the railway area was "clear of the enemy" by noon October 25.  Further advance was rendered impossible by extensive flooding to the northeast of the railway line.  On the evening of October 26, the 8th Brigade relieved the 7th Brigade in the line, the 42nd's soldiers retiring to billets at Hanson.  Casualties for the tour were light in comparison to recent rotations - three OR killed, three OR died of wounds, and 16 OR wounded in an operation that advanced a total of 10,000 yards (nine kilometers) in six days.

Will was not amongst the personnel settling into billets at Hanson.  Shortly after the battalion withdrew from the line, he was selected to attend a Lewis Gun course.  His solid frame - five feet ten inches and 170 pounds - made him an ideal candidate for carrying the portable, 13-kilogram machine gun on the battlefield.  Upon completing his training, Will rejoined the 42nd on November 17, 1918.  During his absence, the battalion moved forward with the Allied advance, its Brigade liberating the Belgian city of Mons during the war's final hours.

The 42nd remained at Mons following the November 11, 1918 armistice, its personnel engaged in daily parades, a training syllabus, and the occasional route march.  With the cessation of hostilities, recreational activities helped pass the time, the battalion's football team defeating 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, PPCLI and the 58th Battalion in a series of friendly matches.

On December 2, 1918, a jubilant King Albert of Belgium made an official visit to Mons.  The 3rd Canadian Division provided a Guard of Honor for the occasion, 100 of the 42nd's soldiers selected to represent the 7th Brigade.  The unit's casualties for November 1918 - the war diary's final such statistics - indicate the relatively light combat during the war's last days.  Four OR were killed, another four died of wounds, and one Officer and 22 OR were wounded in the battalion's final tour in the line.

The battalion's officers implemented a voluntary program of educational classes in early December 1918, providing its men with instruction in reading, writing, book-keeping, business training, elementary arithmetic, French, motor mechanics, electricity and agriculture.  HRH King George V and his sons Edward, Prince of Wales and Albert, passed through the city of Mons at 11:00 a.m. December 5.  While there was no official parade, the battalion joined the other Canadian units stationed in the vicinity, lining both sides of the "Grand Place" and giving the visitors "a rousing reception."

The day following the King's visit, Will wrote a letter to his younger sister, Leata:

"Well dear sister, just a few lines in answer to your kind and welcome letter which I received a few days ago....  I know poor Mother will feel a lot better to... have us [i.e., Will and his brother John Charles] come back home again and I hope it won't be long more before we get back....  We are having pretty warm weather over here now, but I don't know how long it will last.  I hope it will stay this way all winter as it will be a good thing....  I hope to see you all soon if everything goes good [sic] and I hope it will....  Christmas is getting handy.  I wish I could only be home to spend it with you but I hope I will spend my birthday [April 27] home with you."

The 42nd relocated to Bois d'Haine, about 35 kilometers distant, on December 11, ending a month-long stay in Mons.  The following day, personnel marched to nearby Neuville and resumed a schedule of training and educational classes.  On December 14, Will received some welcome news - he was granted two weeks' leave to the United Kingdom.  Six days later, he wrote his mother, Cynthia, from Edinburgh's King George & Green Mary Victoria League Club:

"Well, Mother, I am in Scotland.  I hope to spend my Christmas here as I have 14 days' leave.  I will be going back to France the last of the month.  This is a very nice place.  I am having quite a good time.  It is quite a treat to get away from France, but I hope before long I will be getting away for good and then home.  Hope you will all spend a good Christmas.  I wish I only could be home to spend mine with you, but I hope to spend the next one with you at home.  I expect there will be a lot of letters at the Battalion when I get back.  Send some parcels or I hope so as it is an awful place.  Any food is scarce so a nice box of cake goes good [sic] when we get one.  Well, Mother, this will only be a short letter this time....  Bye, bye with lots of love to you all from your son, William."

Will was unaware of the tragic circumstances in which both letters arrived in Queensport - his mother Cynthia had died of complications from influenza on November 27, 1918.

Will returned to the 42nd's camp on January 3, 1919.  By that time, the battalion had relocated to Nechin, Belgium, close to the French border.  The men continued their daily schedule of educational classes in a local convent, in addition to morning parades and afternoon hockey and football matches.  Personnel received day passes in small groups to visit nearby Lille, France.  One week after Will's return, the unit's Officers commenced medical and dental inspections in preparation for demobilization.

On February 1, 1919, the 3rd Canadian Division's soldiers began the journey home, the first units entraining at Basseux and making their way to Havre, France.  The 42nd's soldiers moved out on February 3, enduring a 48-hour train ride to the English Channel in boxcars.  Will and his comrades boarded ship two days later, landing at Weymouth, England "in the early morning of the 8th." The men departed for Bramshott at 11:00 a.m., arriving in camp late in the afternoon.

Military authorities commenced "medical boarding" the following day, a process that took the remainder of the month to complete.  During this time, personnel carried out two to three hours of morning training as weather permitted, although the war diary described conditions as "unfavorable" throughout most of the month.

Finally, on March 1, 1919, Will and the majority of the 42nd's soldiers boarded RMS Adriatic at Liverpool, England and departed for Canada.  While Will had served more than two years with the distinguished unit, the battalion had spent 40 months in France and Belgium.  During that time, a total of 206 Officers and 4649 OR passed through its ranks.  Twenty of its Officers were killed in action, six died of wounds, and 87 were wounded, a total of 113 casualties.  Statistics for its OR were even more tragic - 546 killed in action, 174 died of wounds and 2077 wounded, a total of 2797 casualties.

RMS Adriatic sailed into Halifax harbor on March 9, 1919.  Will remained in uniform for most of the month, and was formally discharged from military service on March 27, 1919.  At that time, his medical records identified an eight-inch-long "transverse scar" on his right buttock and described his overall condition as healthy.  After exactly three years of military service, Will Jamieson returned home to Queensport.


Will wasted little time settling into civilian life.  On October 13, 1919, he married Reta Reynolds, a native of Queensport, in a ceremony held at New Glasgow, NS.  The couple went on to raise a family of six children - three boys and three girls - in their home community, where Will was affectionately known as "Soldier Bill". 

Will supported his growing family by fishing with his older brother Aldrage on their "smack" and serving as keeper of the Queensport Light.  In later years, he developed an infection in one of his toes, a condition attributed to the "trench foot" described in his military medical records.  As a result, doctors amputated the lower part of the affected limb.

William Lewis Jamieson passed away at Queensport on June 27, 1973 and was laid to rest in St. James Church Cemetery, Half Way Cove, Guysborough County.  Will received the British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his First World War military service. 



Service file of Private William Lewis Jamieson, number 901984.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4787 - 6.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of the 42nd Infantry Battalion, CEF.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defense, Series III-D-3, Volume 4938, Reels T-10743 & 10744, File: 433.  Available online.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Private Charles Russell "Russ" Cameron - A "Valenciennes" Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 22, 1894

Place of Birth: Sherbrooke, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Jessie Dechman

Father's Name: Alexander Fisher Cameron

Date of Enlistment: April 6, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 3181453

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment; 17th Reserve Battalion; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Location of service: England & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Liveryman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. Alexander Cameron, Sherbrooke (father)


Charles Russell "Russ" Cameron was the third child and eldest son of Alexander Fisher Cameron of Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, and the first of four children born to Alexander's second wife, Jessie Dechman.  An owner of several sizeable land tracts, Alexander was actively involved in the local economy, harvesting timber from his properties, investing in local schooners, and operating a small hotel and livery in the village.

Private Charles Russell Cameron
As Alexander's four sons by his second marriage grew into adulthood, he guided each in turn into an occupation.  Russ, the eldest, was thus employed at the Sherbrooke livery operation, a facility built to house 15 to 18 horses, although often accommodating twice that number.  As passengers and mail travelled by stagecoach, there was a demand for locations where drivers could change, rest and feed horses on their journey.  Alexander serviced the stagecoach teams, along with the animals of local residents visiting the village.

As the First World War entered its third year, voluntary enlistment numbers declined as dramatically as casualty statistics increased.  The Canadian Corps' involvement in major battles at Courcelette (September 1916), Ancre Heights (October - November 1916) and Vimy Ridge (April 1917) in particular took a considerable toll.  Pressured by the British government to meet the Corps' growing personnel requirements, Prime Minister Robert Borden's Conservative government introduced the Military Service Act to the Canadian Parliament in the summer of 1917.

Subsequent to Parliamentary approval on August 29, 1917 and the Canadian people's endorsement in the December 1917 federal election, the Canadian government implemented conscription across the country.  Under its terms, all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 were subject to military service.  Several months previously, military authorities commenced medical examinations of potential recruits.  Russ Cameron was amongst the young Sherbrooke men to receive notice, completing his medical examination in the village on October 29, 1917.

Russ was called to duty the following spring, attesting for overseas service at Halifax on April 6, 1918.  Standing five feet ten inches and weighing a slender 130 pounds, Russ was two months shy of his twenty-fourth birthday when be boarded the SS Scotian for the journey to England on April 17, 1918.  Upon docking at Liverpool eleven days later, Russ and his fellow conscripts making their way to Bramshott Military Camp.

Russ's journey to the front lines was interrupted on May 6, 1918, when he was admitted to No. 12 Canadian General Hospital, Bramshott with a case of the mumps.  The common camp affliction delayed his passage overseas by several weeks, as he was discharged on June 4, 1918 and reported to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot the following day.  Ten days later, Russ was "taken on strength" by the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit servicing Nova Scotian battalions at the front.

While in England, Russ wrote several letters home.  In a note to his mother Jessie, dated August 15, 1918, he described his comrades' feelings as they prepared to cross the English Channel to the front lines:

"Some of the boys that came over with me are going to France this week, and they are glad of it, a fellow gets fed up on this training, day in and day out.  I will soon have all my training and I am myself glad of it, but may not have to go to France for a long while yet."

Conversations with soldiers who had been wounded and nursed back to health in England prompted Russ to observe:

"It is funny but everybody that was ever over there wants to go back again, there is something about it that a fellow likes [ - ] lots of excitement [ - ] and you never think of getting killed or anything like that."

Despite being conscripted into military service, Russ was most enthusiastic about his military experience to date:

"I am not as timid as when I was in civilian life.  The army made a man of me, every boy should have some military training, it is the best thing that ever happened to me."

Russ's call to the front came on September 11, 1918, when he was transferred to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders).  He crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) at Havre, France two days later and joined the 85th in the field on September 19, 1918.


The 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) is perhaps the province's best-known First World War unit.  Authorized on July 10, 1915 and recruited province-wide in the autumn and winter of 1915-16, the battalion departed for England on October 13, 1916 aboard the SS Olympic in the company of three other units that together comprised the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.  Shortly after arriving at Witley Camp, two of the Brigade's battalions - the 193rd and 219th - were disbanded.  The 85th, however, remained intact, crossing the English Channel to France in February 1917 and completing final preparations for deployment at the front.

While assigned a support role in the Canadian Corps' April 9, 1917 assault on Vimy Ridge, two of its Companies were called upon late in the day to attack Hill 145, a strategic location that held out against the morning's advance.  The inexperienced soldiers proved their worth, capturing the position without the benefit of artillery fire and demonstrating their readiness for combat.

By month's end, the 85th was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division's 12th Brigade, where it served alongside the 38th (Ottawa), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) and 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalions for the duration of the war.  Its soldiers served in the Vimy area throughout the summer and early autumn of 1917, relocating to Belgium on October 1917 for the Canadian Corps' successful attack on Passchendaele. 

Upon returning to France, the battalion deployed in the trenches near Lens throughout the winter and spring of 1917-18.  In the aftermath of the unsuccessful German "Spring Offensive", the 85th participated in a major counter-attack launched at Amiens on August 8, 1918.  While the unit was not involved in fighting at Arras later month, its soldiers saw action along the Drocourt-Quéant line on September 2, 1918, as the Canadian Corps spearheaded the advance into German-held territory.

Sherbrooke Livery - 2014.
 The 85th went "over the top" that morning with a complement of 26 officers and 743 "other ranks" (OR).  By day's end, three officers and 62 OR were killed in action, while 23 officers and 198 OR were wounded.  Three days after the battle, the 85th retired to camp at Wailly for reorganization and training, with the first of several reinforcement drafts arrived on September 6, 1918.

Private Charles Russell Cameron was amongst a group of recruits reporting to the 85th's camp on September 19, 1918.  The unit's war diary remarked on their composition: "[The] draft for the most part [was]… made up from men who had been doing guard duty in Canada in the Militia Regiments since the early days of the war."  For the next week, Russ took part in a daily schedule of morning training and afternoon recreation as the 85th prepared for its next assignment, the Canadian Corps' assault on the town of Cambrai and its strategic canal.

Personnel broke camp on September 25, 1918, making their way to Arras by 5:30 p.m..  While awaiting the arrival of train transportation, the war diary described the first notable incident since Russ joined the 85th:

"Battalion was quartered in one of the large freight sheds in the station, with the rest of the Brigade in the surrounding buildings.  About 11:30 p.m. enemy aircraft came over and dropped a bomb in the yards about two feet from the edge of the building where the Battalion was quartered, killing one officer and nine other ranks and wounding one officer and 53 other ranks."

The train finally arrived at 2:00 p.m. the following day, transporting the soldiers to Bullecourt.  Upon disembarking, personnel marched to camp on the outskirts of nearby Quéant, taking shelter in trenches under bivouac.  In the hours prior to the scheduled attack, the soldiers were outfitted with "bombs, ammunition, fireworks, extra water bottles and rations", catching whatever rest they could amidst the makeshift accommodations.

At 1:00 a.m. September 28, 1918, the 85th moved to the assembly area near Inchy-en-Artois.  As the battalion prepared for its second engagement of the month, the war diary remarked: "From the night 24/25-9-18, the only rest the men… had was what they had been able to get on the very torturous journey on the train, and any sleep they had during the afternoon and evening of outfitting in the assembly area."

The battalion entered combat at Cambrai with a trench strength of 25 officers and 605 OR.  Its soldiers moved out at 5:20 a.m. September 28, 1918 - 15 minutes after Zero Hour - with "C" and "D" Companies leading the attack and "A" and "D" in the rear, all advancing in single file.  A report appended to the month's war diary summarized the day's events:

"The Battalion encountered [a] considerable quantity of gas near the Canal, necessitating the S. B. R.'s [small box respirators] being worn for ten or fifteen minutes.  No casualties resulted from the gas….  Considerable machine gun fire was encountered as [the] Battalion passed Quarry Wood and frequent casualties occurred….  The advance was continued and considerable machine gun fire was experienced from the height in front of Bourlon Wood on the right, and the Battalion reached the Red Line [first objective] at about 7:45 a.m….  The forward Companies at once pushed on to make their objective….  They were led by the Tanks and seemed to have no difficulty as far as the barrage was concerned and pushed forward."

As the leading Companies continued the advance, the supporting barrage resumed, striking the area the soldiers had reached and causing "numerous casualties".  Personnel hastily took shelter, allowing the artillery fire to proceed through their location before resuming the advance.  The report noted that "very little resistance was encountered in the Town" as the 85th reached the Green Line on the city's outskirts by 9:45 p.m..

German artillery shelled the area throughout the night, inflicting "severe casualties particularly in 'A' Company, as the Battalion attempted to link up with adjacent battalions."  Officers estimated the day's losses at eight officers and 75 OR as the soldiers caught whatever rest they could, before resuming the advance the following day.

As morning broke, the 10th Brigade once again spearheaded the attack, its units gathering at the designated "jumping off" point on the Cambrai - Douai Road at 8:00 a.m..  On this occasion, the 38th and 72nd Battalions led the advance, while the 85th - reporting a trench strength of 18 Officers and 521 OR - followed in support at a distance of approximately one mile, while the 78th occupied reserve positions.

A German artillery barrage and "heavy machine gun fire" inflicted an estimated 25 casualties in the advance's opening minutes.  Later in the day, two of the 85th's Companies received orders to attack the village following a supporting barrage, which was scheduled to lift at 3:00 p.m..  The action was cancelled at the last minute, however, due to a German counter-attack in an adjacent sector of the line.

As a result, the 85th's soldiers assisted the 72nd in "holding the line" until ordered to withdraw and assume a defensive position along the Cambrai - Douai Road, behind the town of Sancourt.  After another long night in the field, the 11th Brigade resumed the attack at 6:00 a.m. September 30, the 10th Brigade following in support throughout the day.

As fighting stretched into a fourth day in the early hours of October 1, 1918, the 85th suffered "considerable casualties" from German retaliatory shelling and machine gun fire to the left of its location.  Later in the morning, the battalion was placed under the command of the 11th Brigade, receiving orders at 12:30 p.m. to assume a defensive position in the "Railway Area".  The war diary described the assignment's hazardous circumstances:

"Battalion had to be led to and placed in their positions over the open and suffered considerably from artillery and machine gun fire, direct on the area, during the afternoon."

At some point that day, Henry Seymour Archibald, a Sherbrooke acquaintance of Russ and fellow 85th soldier, was struck in the face by a piece of shrapnel.  In later years, Russ recalled seeing an unresponsive Henry lying in a trench, and assumed that his friend was dead.  While subsequent events proved otherwise, the incident no doubt brought home the perils of service at the front.

Sherbrooke Irving Station, 1930s.

The 85th's soldiers held their positions throughout the day and into the evening as the 25th Battalion, their Nova Scotia counterparts, relieved them in the line during the night of October 1/2, 1918.  The 85th's soldiers made their way into camp at 5:30 a.m., "tired and cheerful".  After enjoying a hot breakfast, the exhausted troops spent the day recovering from four consecutive days of combat.

At 6:00 p.m. October 2, 1918, personnel departed for Quéant, arriving in camp after a five-hour march.  The battalion spent the next three days resting and cleaning up, while 144 much-needed OR reinforcements arrived from the CCRC.  Personnel moved out to Agnez-les-Duisans at 11:30 p.m. October 6, 1918, arriving in the early hours of the following morning.  The men assumed quarters in huts, while the officers were housed in a nearby château.

Russ and his comrades rested for a day before commencing a training schedule on October 8, 1918.  Two noteworthy events occurred during a ten-day break from service in the line.  On October 13, 1918, the 85th's "old originals" commemorated the second anniversary of their departure from Halifax.  Shortly after relocating to Sauchy-Cauchy on October 15, 1918, HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, inspected the battalion, prompting the war diary to comment: "He seemed very much interested and evinced quite a knowledge of the Battalion."

In response to word of a German retreat, the 85th relocated to Aubencheul-au-Bac, arriving at 11:00 a.m. October 18, 1918.  The war diary described the scene that greeted the soldiers: "Town was badly smashed up and there was all evidence of the population having left hurriedly, as furniture, etc. was left in the houses."

The following day, the 85th was once again on the move, advancing at a distance of 1500 yards behind the 10th Brigade's leading battalions.  Its personnel moved forward to the Brigade's front positions early in the afternoon, pausing for the night at Marcq, where civilians reported that German troops had withdrawn at 3:30 a.m. that morning.  The advance continued on October 20, 1918, the 85th's war diary reporting the first encounter with "repatriated civilians" upon reaching Mastaing at 10:30 a.m..  Unlike previous locations, the town was undamaged, but retreating German soldiers had "extensively looted" its homes. 

The 85th entered nearby Rouelx at 2:30 p.m., the war diary observing that the town was untouched and still inhabited by civilians, "with the exception of men from 18 to 45".  For the first time, Russ and his comrades received an enthusiastic welcome from a local population:  "Battalion was given a great reception and none of the inhabitants seemed to be able to do enough to comfort the men." 

Personnel remained in Rouelx the following day, overhauling equipment and resting before resuming the advance on October 22, 1918.  The unit reached Rouvignies at 1:00 p.m., its soldiers moving out at dusk to the forward line of advance.  Progress slowed considerably as the Canadian Corps approached the city of Valenciennes, where German forces prepared to defend another strategic location.

On October 23, 1918, the 85th "cleared up" the front area as far east as the Dunkirk-Escaut Canal, the war diary commenting: "Enemy seems quite on the alert and is giving quite a lot of trouble with his machine guns."  The soldiers spent the following twenty-four hours "consolidating and organizing positions gained" the previous day, amidst "heavy artillery and trench mortar fire."

On October 25, 1918, the 85th received orders to "establish a bridgehead on the East side of the Canal tonight".  The operation proved unsuccessful, German forces destroying the bridge with explosive charges as the attacking party prepared to cross.  Personnel endured heavy artillery and machine gun fire in the forward area throughout the remainder of the day.

Machine guns and trench mortars were particularly active on October 26, 1918, while German artillery targeted La Sentinelle, on the outskirts of Valenciennes.  The battalion once again received orders to cross the canal the following day.  The misty morning weather later turned wet as the operation was once again postponed, "owing to the severe resistance of the enemy and his strong machine gun posts not permitting carrying parties getting bridging material to the canal."

The 85th received notice of relief on the night of October 27, 1918.  While the war diary made no mention of casualties during the day's action, Russ was not amongst the soldiers moving out of the line to Brigade Reserve at 11:58 p.m. that evening.  Earlier that day, he was admitted to No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), suffering from a severe shrapnel wound to his left foot.  Private Charles Russell Cameron had served his last day "in the line".


Russ's medical records described his condition at the time of his admission to No. 1 CCS: 
"He was hit in [the] left foot by a piece of shell casing.  F. B. [foreign body] did not penetrate the tissues but there was a wound on dorsum of foot at base metatarsal bones [immediately behind the toes].  Foot became very much swollen and painful."

The shrapnel's impact caused compound fractures of the second, third, fourth and fifth metatarsal bones.  Medical personnel immediately made two incisions in the dorsum and excised the wound.  Sixteen pieces of necrotic bone were discharged through several sinuses inserted into the area.  On October 29, 1918, Russ was evacuated to Rouen and admitted to No. 11 Stationary Hospital.  Two days later, he crossed the English Channel aboard the Hospital Ship Essequibo and was admitted to No. 4 General Hospital, Basingstoke on November 2, 1918.

Upon examination, doctors detected "necrosis of bones in foot" and described a steady discharge from his left foot:  "Dead bones present.  Much loss of bone and tissues.  Progress will be slow.  General condition fair."  Russ spent three months at Basingstoke before being transferred to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Kirkdale, Liverpool on February 5, 1919.  Finally fit enough for the journey home. he departed for Canada on February 24, 1919 and was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax on March 8, 1919.

Camp Hill medical staff described Russ's condition at the time of his arrival: 

"Scars inner and outer surface of left foot[,] also on dorsum….  Great deal of wasting of calf muscles, left leg 1 3/4 inches smaller than right.  Is lame on this foot, walks with the aid of a cane.  Wounds… healed.  Has no pain except after walking a mile."

An x-ray showed loss of bone in the heads of the first, second and third metatarsals, in addition to "ankylosis" in the metatarsal and tarsal bones.  A "posterior splint with foot piece" supported Russ's wounded limb, while three discharging sinuses continued to drain the affected area.  On April 8, 1919, doctors "curetted" the sinuses, while nurses dressed the wound every second day.  By May 20, 1919, Russ was "allowed up", his left foot supported by a posterior ankle splint."  Two months later, doctors described a "very slight discharge" as the wound was almost fully healed.

Russ occasionally strolled the hospital grounds throughout the spring and summer of 1919.  On one such excursion, he was delighted to encounter his old friend, Henry Archibald, whom he assumed had died from the wound he received at Cambrai.  Like Russ, Henry was well on the way to recovery.

On October 11, 1919, Russ was transferred to the Halifax "Casualty Company".  One week later, Private Charles Russell Cameron was officially discharged from military service  and returned home to Sherbrooke.


Russ gradually settled into civilian life, returning to work at the Sherbrooke livery stables.  As automobiles replaced horses as the primary means of transportation, Russ partnered with Edwin Fraser to open a gasoline and service station adjacent to the livery stable.  Russ handled the mechanical side of the operation, while Ed managed the business affairs.

Russ Cameron in later years.
At first operating independently, Russ and Ed eventually applied for admission to the Irving chain of service stations.  When K. C. Irving himself visited the garage to evaluate the applicants, he asked to speak to Russ, who was busy working underneath a vehicle in the garage's bay.  Never one to abandon a task once started, Russ continued with the repair work.  Undaunted, Mr. Irving requested a mechanic's dolly and slid beneath the vehicle, where he interviewed Russ.  Shortly afterward, the garage became part of the Irving chain.

Russ married Ida Blanche McMillan, a native of Country Harbour, at Sherbrooke on September 28, 1921.  Barely four months later, Ida was stricken with kidney failure and passed away unexpectedly on March 4, 1922.  Saddened by the loss of his young bride, Russ did not re-marry until August 19, 1925, when Edith Belle Irwin, a school-teacher born and raised in Moser River, became his second wife.  The couple went on to raise four children - two sons and two daughters - in their Sherbrooke home.

In addition to Russ's work at the garage, he and Belle operated the local customs office in the village, inspecting all parcels arriving by mail from outside the country.  Despite his serious shrapnel wound, Russ wore regular footwear.  While he favoured his healthy foot somewhat, he walked without a cane and maintained an active lifestyle well into his later years.

Ed Fraser's son, Scotty, assumed his part of the garage's operation after his father's death.  Several years later, Russ retired and sold his portion of the business to Scotty.  Russ spent his retirement days in his Cameron Road residence, enjoying the tranquility of his native community.  He passed away at home on March 7, 1974 and was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery, Sherbrooke.



Service file of Private Charles Russell Cameron, number 3181453.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1401 - 47.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4944, Reel T-10751 - 10752, File: 454.  Available online.

A special thank you to two of Russ's children, John Cameron and Mary Jane Macdonald of Sherbrooke, and his nephew, Dr. Ian Cameron of Sherbrooke, who provided photographs and valuable information on Russ's family background and life after the war.

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.