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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.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald - An Artillery Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 14, 1896

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

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

Regimental Number: 2101004

Rank: Signaller

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Artillery)

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

Location of service: England, France, Belgium & Germany

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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