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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald - A "Military Cross" Soldier's Story (Part II)

Date of Birth: January 13, 1890

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

Date of Enlistment: February 6, 1915 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 50013

Rank: Captain

Forces: Canadian Army Medical Corps; Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: No. 1 Canadian General Hospital; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. William Henry Archibald, New Town (father)

Dan's younger brother, Robert Edmund, attested with No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on January 18, 1918 and served at the front with 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery during the final days of the war.  His story was posted to this blog in August 2014.

A special thank you to Claudia Smith of Almonte, Ontario, Captain A. D. and Nursing Sister Mary (Graham) Archibald's grand-daughter, who graciously provided transcripts of letters, photographs, and information on her grandparents' lives. 

Claudia has written a book about her grandmother's service as a Nursing Sister.  The volume, in the final stages of production, illustrates their tremendous dedication and hard work during the tragic yet exhilarating years of the First World War. 

Once the book is published, a collection of letters, photographic albums, army cards and troop theatre programs from Nursing Sister Mary Graham's and Captain A. D. Archibald's war service will be displayed in the Huronia Museum, Midland, Ontario.  At present, a red-work signature quilt made by the Elmvale Women's Institute and sent to Mary during her service in France with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Mary's nursing uniform, boots and belts, and Dan's 85th Battalion hat and belt are housed in the museum.

The family is proud to have these historical items displayed in their home area, and delighted that Mary's and Dan's contributions to the First World War are being acknowledged and preserved.  For additional information about Nursing Sister Mary Graham's story, contact Claudia at: .

The 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was officially authorized on September 14, 1915.  Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonial Allison Hart Borden, the battalion launched a province-wide recruitment campaign, mobilizing at Halifax one month later 200 men "over strength".  The response to its appeals prompted Lt.-Col. Borden to propose the creation of a Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, a suggestion approved by military authorities in early 1916.

Captain A. D. Archibald's 85th Battalion cap badge.
In the meantime, the 85th's recruits trained at Halifax throughout the winter and spring of 1915-16, travelling to Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, in May 1916 for a summer of intense drill alongside three newly created Nova Scotia units — the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd (Blue Feather) and 219th Battalions.

The Brigade boarded the SS Olympic at Halifax on October 12, 1916, departing the following day for England.  Shortly after its arrival at Witley Camp, significant Canadian casualties in fighting at the Somme (September - October 1916) prompted military authorities to dissolve two of its units, specifically the 193rd and 219th Battalions.  While the 185th remained in England, training and providing reinforcements for units at the front, the 85th — the former Highland Brigade's senior unit — proceeded across the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917.

For two months, its personnel completed preparations for service at the front, moving to the lines behind Vimy Ridge prior to the Canadian Corps' attack on the German stronghold.  As the 85th was not attached to a specific Brigade and lacked combat experience, its personnel were assigned "support" roles in the upcoming battle — carrying ammunition, constructing dugouts, maintaining communication trenches, escorting and guarding prisoners of war.

As the fighting progressed on April 9, 1917, the 85th's role changed dramatically.   While Canadian units successfully captured the majority of their objectives by mid-day, several German positions resisted the onslaught, subjecting Canadian units to devastating sniper and machine gun fire.  Foremost amongst these locations was Hill 145, an elevated area on the Canadian Corps' left flank.

Fearing loss of the day's gains, Canadian commanders ordered the 85th's "C" and "D" Companies forward, with instructions to capture the recalcitrant German position.  That evening, its soldiers advanced up the ridge without benefit of artillery support, securing Hill 145 as darkness approached.  The successful maneuver demonstrated its readiness for combat and by month's end the 85th was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division's 12th Brigade, replacing a battalion that had suffered heavy casualties at Vimy Ridge.

A selection of Dan & Mary (Graham) Archibald's uniform buttons.
Throughout the months of May and June, the 85th served on regular rotation in the Lens Sector alongside its Brigade counterparts — the 38th (Ottawa), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders) and 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalions.  The unit was training at Suburban Camp, Villers au Bois on July 13, 1917, when its war diary recorded the arrival of several officer reinforcements.  Amongst their number was Lieutenant Alexander Daniel Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.

Dan immediately commenced service as a platoon officer with "B" Company, entering the Zouave Valley's front trenches for his first tour on the night of July 25/26.  The 85th served on rotation in this sector for the next six weeks.  One particular tour provided Dan with his first exposure to the firing line's perils.

On August 9, "A" and "B" Companies relieved the 78th Battalion in the front trenches.  At some point later in the day, Dan was wounded in the face and evacuated for treatment to No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance.  Luckily, the damage was slight.  He was discharged to duty the following day, and proceeded on "General Course"" to the First Army School of Instruction on August 11.

The 85th retired to reserve positions on September 2 after serving 39 consecutive days in the line, it longest tour since landing in France.  The unit's war diary reported three Officers wounded, eight "other ranks" (OR) killed, 36 OR wounded — four accidentally — seven OR gassed and 14 OR wounded but remaining at duty, as the battalion made its way to Tottenham Camp in the Zouave Valley.

After several days' rest and cleanup, personnel commenced a daily training schedule.  The 85th returned to the line near Avion on September 11 for one week before retiring to Petit Servins for additional drill.  Four days later, Dan was admitted to No. 7 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, for treatment of his facial wound.  He was discharged on September 21, but spent almost two weeks in convalescent camp before rejoining the battalion on October 6.

During Dan's absence, the 85th returned to Tottenham Camp on September 27, where its soldiers rehearsed attack formations over a taped, simulated battlefield.  Casualties for the month — two OR killed and 15 OR wounded — reflect its tours' light combat, a stark contrast to the experiences that lay ahead.

The 85th broke camp on October 5, making its way northward toward the Belgian frontier.  Dan rejoined the unit at Guoy Servins the following day as personnel marched through Brouay and Steenbecque, arriving at Staples, France on October 13.  Personnel spent ten days training before travelling by bus to Brandhoek, on the outskirts of Ypres, Belgium.  Upon arrival, the battalion marched to nearby St. Lawrence Camp.  In the ensuing days, its Officers travelled to the forward area to view the Canadian Corps' next assignment —  Passchendaele Ridge — while its soldiers practiced attack formations "over the tapes".

On October 28, the 85th relocated to Potijze, completing final preparations and moving into the line by nightfall.  The battalion occupied the extreme right of the Canadian Corps line, along the Ypres - Roulers Railway.  As day broke, its Officers detected considerable manpower in the opposing line and requested an artillery barrage on the location prior to battle.  They also laid out tapes, marking the "jumping off" points for the following morning's attack.

The men received hot tea and rations during the night and assumed their attack positions at 4:50 a.m. October 30, sixty minutes prior to Zero Hour.  Allied artillery and the Brigade's machine guns opened fire at the appointed hour.  Several minutes later, "A", "B" and "C" Companies proceeded "over the top" toward the German line, while "D" Company, under the command of Captain Percival Anderson of Baddeck, NS, remaining in reserve.

The soldiers soon discovered that the pre-attack barrage had inflicted little damage along the German line, as "they were met by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire… all the way along our front."  Six machine-guns on their right flank provided the most devastating fire, killing or wounding nine Officers in the advance's opening minutes.

To complicate matters, the anticipated artillery barrage supporting the advance was "light…  very little if any of it fell on our side or on the enemy's trench."  The three Companies nevertheless advanced, "providing their own covering fire with rifle-grenades, Lewis guns and rifle-fire until they had passed our old front line.  Then, in No Man's Land a fierce fire fight took place… [in which] any one who attempted to walk upright instantly became a casualty."

The battle raged for almost thirty minutes before Captain Anderson led "D" Company forward in support, tipping the balance in the 85th's favour.  As Anderson's men reached their comrades, "the whole line swarmed across the hostile front line and pushed on to the final objective, sniping the fleeing enemy and dealing with those who remained in shell-holes behind his original line."

Officers reported that "casualties are heavy" as the 85th reached its final objective at 6:38 a.m..  Massive German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire concentrated on their position made consolidation very difficult.  Captain Anderson's men moved to the left, while "B" Company's Captain Campbell "proceeded along the line [to the right] and left Lieutenant A. D. Archibald getting together and consolidating what was left of his platoon.  Archibald was wounded shortly afterward but kept at duty."

While German forces appeared to regroup for a counter-attack, they took no such action as the 85th struggled to consolidate its position throughout the day.  Personnel endured a massive counter-barrage and repelled a subsequent counter-attack the following day, although "D" Company was "badly cut up" in the fighting.  The war diary described the day's closing action:

"Just at dusk in the night of the 31st a heavy barrage of high explosive, shrapnel and gas shells was placed in our front line and in the back areas about Battalion Headquarters.  Our artillery replied in a very effective manner and no counter-attack developed."

Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hayes' post-war history of the 85th identifies several Officers and soldiers who distinguished themselves at Passchendaele.  Dan was amongst those whose actions merited mention:

"Lieutenant A. D. Archibald was another young Officer to show great self-possession and resourcefulness during a barrage of artillery and machine guns [on October 30].  On going 'over the top' with his platoon he was wounded, still he carried on and by his vigorous efforts hastened the consolidation of the newly gained positions and enabled a counter attack which was formed on the left to be broken up."

The 102nd Battalion relieved the 85th on the night of October 31/November 1, allowing its personnel to retire to Burns Camps, Potijze.  While its war diary proclaimed that "the fighting spirit of the 85th Battalion was never better than on the day of relief", the victory came at considerable cost.  The unit entered the line with a complement of 26 Officers and 662 OR.  Twelve of its Officers were killed, eight wounded, and three — including Dan — remained at duty despite their wounds.  A total of 371 OR were killed or wounded in the firefight, a total casualty rate in excess of 50 %.

A. D. Archibald (left), George Murray & George Patterson.
In the battle's aftermath, Dan found a few minutes on November 2 to write his sweetheart, Mary Graham, his words reflecting Passchendaele's dramatic events:

"It seems an age since I have written to you and since that time we have all been through an experience which will never be forgotten and the few of us that remain feel thankful, and yet depressed, for many of our best friends paid the supreme sacrifice. 

"We had a glorious fight, gained our objective and held it.  Lost many of our officers and most killed.  Mr. Murr was killed before he advanced ten feet.  I was talking to him only seconds before we went over the top.  I went over first and he was to follow.  I was very lucky.  Had a few bad knocks with shell concussions and got a small wound in my hand but did not need to go out.  [George] Patterson came up in time and went over the top.  He is safe.

"The boys were splendid.  I never saw such courage.  I would not have been afraid if I had to ask them to advance to the mouth of a cannon for I feel confident they would come with me.  Words cannot do justice to them."

After several days' rest and clean-up, the 85th relocated to Borre, near Hazebrouck, France, on November 3, its men billeted in "excellent quarters all round."  Three days later, "regular routine work started" as the battalion began the task of rebuilding.  A group of 146 OR reinforcements arrived from the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) on November 7 as personnel completed a daily training regimen.  The battalion relocated to Reimbert, near Bethune, France, on November 19, a group of 21 Lieutenants and 222 OR joining the battalion there four days later.

Training at Reimbert continued for four weeks as the new arrivals prepared for the 85th's return to the line.  The weather was "snowing and freezing" as the battalion made its way to Guoy-Servins in the afternoon of December 17, marching "over Vimy Ridge through Givenchy to [the] support line of [the] left Avion sector" and relieving the 2nd Battalion the following day.

The 85th spent Christmas Day 1917 in the trenches, its war diary providing a brief summary of the day's events:

"Cold, turning fine, then snowing and strong wind.  Quiet except evening strafe and some 'pineapples' [German trench mortar shells] with gas sent on right half of Battalion front, stopped by Artillery retaliation."

Personnel retired to Niagara Camp, Château de la Haie, on December 29, its OR partaking in Christmas dinner at 1:00 p.m. New Year's Day 1918.  That evening, the battalion paraded to a nearby theatre, where the 4th Divisional Troupe's "Maple Leaves Concert Company" presented the pantomime ,"A lad in France". 

The 85th returned to support positions near Souchez on January 3, serving on rotation in the Mericourt sector for the next two weeks.  A mid-month thaw made conditions particularly difficult: "Trenches falling in very badly….  Every available man employed in cleaning out trenches."  Personnel were no doubt relieved to withdraw to Divisional Reserve at Niagara Camp on January 19.

The break in the action also proved beneficial to Dan, as he was granted 14 days' leave in France the following day.  Not surprisingly. he made his way to Étaples for a visit with Mary and the staff of No. 1 General Hospital.  As Dan made his way back to the firing line, he paused on the eve of his return to pen a letter to his sweetheart:

"Only a line tonight as I feel I cannot go to rest without writing you.  See what a hold you have on me.  We left at 5:30 today and did not arrive at our horse lines in time to go up the line to the Battalion.  We will have to join them tomorrow.  I don't know what changes there have been in B Company so I will not know where I shall fit in until I get with them.

"Mary darling, I miss you so tonight.  I feel that I must go and see you again, but we are so busy preparing to go into the trenches and you are so very far away.  We intend leaving in the afternoon and I am in my trench garb already.  I suppose you will be hard at work this morning.  I hope you slept well these past nights my dearest….

"I will write you as often as possible and will look longingly for yours.  I was going to say my heart goes with this but it would not be true for I have left it in your keeping.  Goodbye my own true Love."

The 85th returned to the line on February 4 — two days prior to Dan's return — retiring to billets at Petit Servins one week later.  Its personnel spent the next four weeks in training, re-entering to the line near Bully Grenay on March 13.  The soldiers focused on "cleaning out communications trenches,… wiring and constructing temporaries blocks in [the] Front Line" throughout the tour, moving into to Divisional Reserve at Colonne on March 24.

The massive German spring offensive launched on March 21, 1918 resulted in the 85th's temporary assignment to a "Composite Brigade" under the command of Brigadier General V. W. Odlum on March 28.  When the anticipated attack on the Canadian sector failed to materialize, the new unit was disbanded and the battalion returned to the line on March 29 near Gavrelle, southeast of Lens, France.

The ensuing days saw a gradual increase in activity, particularly in the skies above the trenches.  The 85th continued to serve in the Lens area, entering the line near Arleux on April 16 for a tour of particular significance for Dan, as he led his platoon into a trench raid four days later.  The unit's war diary described the event:

"Raiding party consisting of Lieutenants Ernst and Archibald and 24 OR raided [a German] post… with the object of obtaining identification.  As the occupants of the post ran after throwing bombs, Lieutenant Ernst with three OR followed up Arleux Loop about 100 yards… without seeing any signs of the enemy.  They returned and followed down Arleux Loop South until they came up with a party of the enemy….  After a short sharp fight two of the enemy were killed and the others ran….  Ernst obtained a shoulder strap on one of the men who had been killed.  Dugouts were bombed on the way back.  Party then returned to our lines.  Shoulder strap was that of the 102 RIR.  Smoke bombs were used during the raid with good success.  Two slight casualties (at duty)."

Lt. Col. Hayes later described Dan's role in the trench raid: "Lieutenant Archibald with his party… did very valuable work in blocking off the Hun line to the north", while Ernst and his party "traversed some two hundred and fifty yards of the enemy front line".

The 85th moved into Brigade Support on April 22, allowing Dan to find a few minutes to write to Mary three days later:

"Would you like to see my surroundings this afternoon?  It is such a warm spring day that I must try and give you some idea.  Slept all morning until twelve and came up to the surface for a shave and clean up.  Now I have crawled into a nook in the trench where I am not in view of the Fritz [sic] and wish to chat with you.

"At present everything is pretty quiet expect for some iron rations we are sending into Fritz's back area.  These go whining overhead as if weary of their journey.  Others travel with a slower speed and sound like a railroad train.  Now and again our light guns send their quick messengers which seem to land at their destination almost as soon as you hear the report of the gun.

"Now and again shells pass overhead going in the opposite direction but fortunately not at present or I'd be in the dugout!  The country here was once beautiful fields.  Now the grass is green and dotted here and there with dandelions, but as you survey them the thing that strikes you the most is the red or brown trail winding its way amongst the green grass.  The trenches…

"Our company had a nice diversion yesterday.  We went out to the horse-lines for a bath.  It was quite a long way out but we had the day to ourselves and we certainly enjoyed it….  I had a large parcel of socks from people back home last night also a box of fudge.  The socks are for the boys but the fudge is for myself.  Have a piece will you?

"Excuse my handwriting as my knee serves for a writing desk.  Thunder is beginning to roll back of Fritz line.  I had better get down under Mother Earth before the rain begins.  Cheerio my little girl."

The battalion returned to the front trenches on April 28, its war diary describing the day as "quiet".  Upon relief one week later, personnel retired to Le Pendu Camp, Mount St. Eloi, marching out to billets at Monchy-Breton on May 6.  The withdrawal marked the beginning of more than two months' rest and training, the 85th's longest break from service in the line since arriving in France.

The war diary's May 7 entry described one of the location's benefits:  "This is splendid country about here, and the men can get lots of milk and eggs, a pleasant change from line fare."  Personnel commenced a schedule of training from 7:00 a.m. until noon, followed by afternoon sports.  The 85th's football team captured the Brigade title in a May 14th match, while personnel participated in a Brigade Sports Day at Ferfay on June 12, its football and baseball teams winning all of their contests.  Both squads were victorious in Divisional Semi-finals two days later, the baseball team capturing the Divisional title on June 15 before losing the Canadian Corps semi-final game on June 26.

The war diary also described another event of considerable significance to a Nova Scotian battalion:  "[May 17th was] a Red Letter day for the Battalion, for today the authorization for the kilt — Argyle and Sutherland — came through and the 85th became officially a Highland Battalion."  The June 8th entry provided an update:  "The remainder of the kilts have arrived, and by night practically the whole Battalion was kilted — after nearly three years of promise and disappointed expectation."

The month of May also proved significant for Dan, as the May 24, 1918 edition of the London Gazette listed his name amongst several Nova Scotian soldiers "Mentioned in Despatches" (MID).  The distinction acknowledged the inclusion of a soldier's name in superior officers' official reports to High Command.  The individual subsequently received a certificate and a set of bronze oak leaves, later pinned to a service medal's ribbon.  Considering its timing, the communication most likely referred to Dan's role in the April 1918 trench raid.

Captain A. D. Archibald's bronze oak leaves pin.
The 85th relocated to Lozinghem in late May, continuing its training and recreation schedule throughout the following month.  Personnel participated in a Canadian Corps sports Day at Tinques on July 1 in honour of Dominion Day, marching to Ferfay the following day for an inspection by Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden.  Its pipe band participated in a massed band concert on the evening of July 4.  Training continuing for another week, at which time the battalion broke camp on the afternoon of July 11 "in a downpour of rain" and boarded a train for Écoivres, west of Arras, France.

After one week's final preparation, the battalion entered Divisional Reserve at Sterling Camp in the Fampoux section, northeast of Arras, on July 19, ending a ten-week break from service in the line.  The war diary had considerable praise for the unit's location:  "[An] excellent place… built on the side of a huge railway embankment on the Lens - Arras railway, and there is all sorts of cover.  Baths are here, a lake for bathing and a good indoor ball ground."

Over the next several days, the battalion endured several gas shell bombardments before moving into the Fampoux sector's front trenches on July 25.  The following day, the war diary reported four OR killed, two wounded and 29 gassed in an artillery bombardment — "whiz-bangs and 5.9's, with some gas shells" — launched in retaliation for a trench raid by a neighbouring Canadian battalion.

Personnel engaged in nightly working parties "getting [the] line in better shape", while "actively patrolling both by day and night — patrols consisting of one officer and from two to four other ranks."  As the battalion retired to Aubin on July 31, the war diary hinted that the 85th's relatively light schedule was about to end:  "The whole [Canadian] Corps is moving in a few days…. For where — no one knows but it looks like a big scrap ahead."

Indeed, the Canadian Corps was about to embark on a massive Allied counter-attack in response to Germany's failed "spring offensive".  After years of combat, Dan and his comrades could scarcely imagine that the "100 Days" following its launch would bring hostilities to an end.

On August 2, the 85th boarded a train and travelled to Hangest-sur-Somme, near Amiens, France.  Upon arriving early in the morning, the battalion marched to the village of Vergies.  Its war diary noted that people were"not as hospitable as in the North where the Canadians are better known."  The battalion immediately began preparations for an attack on the German line at Amiens, "to take place in a few days." 

Personnel marched 17 miles to Briquemesnil during the night of August 4/5.   After a day's rest, the battalion moved out  under cover of darkness to Bois de Boues, a wooded area "teeming with artillery, infantry and cavalry[,] a large number of tanks in the near vicinity."  Its soldiers assembled to the left of Gentelles Wood at day's end August 7, ready for the following day's attack.

The 85th's Companies advanced in the face of withering machine gun fire at 12:10 p.m. August 8, achieving their objectives by nightfall.  The battle continued the following day, its Officer Commanding (OC), Lieutenant-Colonel James Layton Ralston, wounded by machine gun fire while proceeding to the front line.  His younger brother, Major Ivan Steele Ralston, MC, immediately replaced him as OC.

The 85th participated in the third day's fighting, moving forward at 10:10 a.m. and encountering particularly stiff resistance at Rosières-en-Santerre.  Major Ralston did not live to see the outcome — he was killed by German machine gun fire before his soldiers secured the village at day's end.

The battalion remained in the line for three more days, retiring to support positions at Aix Wood on August 13.  The toll at Amiens, while significant, was not as great as one might anticipate, considering the battle's duration.  Three Officers — including Major Ralston — and 22 OR were killed, while seven Officers and 100 OR were wounded.  The unit immediately reorganized its platoons as106 reinforcements arrived from CCRC on the day of its relief.  Dan received a promotion to Temporary Captain as part of the post-battle restructuring.

On August 18, the 85th moved into Divisional Reserve near Rouvroy, the men providing working parties for support and communication trench repairs for several nights.  During this time, Dan completed a course in Lewis Gun operation.  The 85th once again retired to camp at Aix Wood on August 23.  The following day, the battalion proceeded to Gentelles Wood, making its way on August 17 to Monchy le Proux by foot and train, in preparation for "future operations".

The 85th returned to the front line on the night of August 31/September 1, its soldiers completing preparations for an attack slated for the following evening.  Artillery bombardment commenced at 8:40 p.m. September 1, after which "C" Company advanced 150 yards in the face of heavy machine gun fire.  Unable to fully dislodge German forces from the position, personnel took shelter for the night.

The following morning, 743 of the battalion's OR prepared for an assault on the Drucourt - Queant line, with the objective of breaking through the German front and support trenches, capturing and consolidating the position, and establishing an outpost line.  Officers organized the soldiers into six waves, each consisting of two lines.  "A" and "D" Companies were chosen to spearhead the assault, while eight tanks and two machine gun sections provided support.

The attack commenced at 5:00 a.m. September 2, the soldiers advancing approximately 600 yards despite the tanks' late arrival.  The 85th's war diary described the opening minutes' toll:  "In passing over the first 300 yards of the advance, the Battalion losses amounted to approximately 50 % of our total casualties throughout the whole action, both in officers and men."

The 85th found itself face-to-face with two well-armed German posts possessing an estimated 18 machine guns.  Personnel reached their first objective by 6:15 a.m. after "severe fighting" and secured their second objective by 7:30 a.m..  In an effort to counter the overwhelming machine gun fire, rifle grenadiers moved forward and provided a "smoke barrage".  The tactic allowed the soldiers to capture their final objective by 8:40 a.m..

While the attacking wave "suffered heavy casualties", the 85th secured the position and established forward posts by 9:30 a.m..  In the aftermath, personnel held the location throughout the day despite massive artillery barrage and gun fire, retiring to Divisional Reserve that night.

The 85th suffered 62 soldiers killed, 162 wounded and 36 missing in what became known as the Battle of the Scarpe.  While costly in human terms, the victory was significant as it marked a third major setback for German forces, which now found themselves back in the Hindenburg Line's trenches, the location from which they had launched their March 1918 offensive.

Once again, the battalion reorganized, its war diary describing personnel as "pretty well fagged out after the recent show and moves."  Reinforcements arrived in camp as the unit relocated to billets at Wailly Huts on September 8 for a period of training, "breaking the new men who recently joined the Battalion into new methods of modern warfare and the weapons used."  Its war diary commented on their abilities:  "Very few men of the late draft have had more than four or five months training but are a good class of men and seem to be quick to learn."

On September 17, the 85th received notice of plans to attack Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai.  Its task in the operation was "the capture of Bourlon town, with its objective on its western outskirts on a frontage of about 750 yards [sic]."  A draft of 50 reinforcements arrived in camp the following day, the battalion continuing its schedule of morning training and afternoon recreation throughout the following week.

The 85th marched to the Arras train station on the afternoon of September 25, taking up quarters in "one of the large freight sheds in the station, with the rest of the Brigade in the surrounding buildings."  The war diary describes a tragic incident that occurred later that night:  "At 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 battalion's train finally arrived at 2:00 a.m. September 26 and carried its personnel to Bullecourt.  Upon disembarking, the unit marched to camp at nearby Quéant, where it established quarters under bivouac in makeshift trenches.  By day's end, its soldiers were outfitted with "bombs, ammunition, fireworks, extra water bottles and rations and solidified alcohol" as the 85th completed final battle preparations.

Personnel moved to the assembly area near Inchcy-en-Artois at 1:00 a.m. September 27.  The war diary noted that, since the night of September 24/25,  "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 battle with a complement of 25 officers and 605 OR.  Heavy rain made the march forward "extremely disagreeable" according to Lt. Col. Hayes, but the Companies were in place, ready to "jump off", by 3:00 a.m..  The 85th's soldiers moved forward in attack at 5:55 a.m., fifteen minutes after the Zero Hour artillery barrage.  "B" and "C" Companies led the attack with "A" and "D" Companies close behind, all advancing in single file. 

The early morning weather was "fine but a thick mist obscured the vision beyond 300 yards."  The battalion advanced toward the strategically important Canal du Nord on the outskirts of Cambrai.  Fortunately, its point of crossing was "dry", partly excavated but mainly consisting of elevated earthen and concrete walls, thus presenting a much less challenging obstacle than the structure's water-filled sections.

A report appended to the month's war diary described the action's opening minutes:

"The Battalion encountered considerable quantity of gas near the Canal, necessitating the S. B. R.'s [single box respirators] being worn for ten of fifteen minutes.  No casualties resulted from the gas."

Personnel made their way across the canal and climbed a slope south of Quarry Wood, where intense German machine gun fire struck their formation, resulting in "frequent casualties".  As Dan led his "B" Company charges up the slope, a piece of shrapnel from an artillery shell struck him in the right leg.  He fell to the ground, immediately incapacitated. 

Meanwhile, the battle raged around Dan and the other wounded as they lay on the battlefield.  The war diary summarized the morning's events:

"The advance 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 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."

"A" and "D" Companies passed through their comrades' positions and continued the advance toward the village of Bourlon.  Shortly afterward, the supporting artillery barrage resumed, striking the 85th's location and causing "numerous casualties".  The men immediately found whatever shelter they could, waiting for the barrage to pass before resuming the advance.  The war diary reported that "very little resistance was encountered in the Town" as personnel reached the Green Line on its outskirts by 9:45 a.m..

German artillery shelled the town throughout the day, causing "severe casualties particularly in 'A' Company".  Meanwhile, personnel attempted to connect with adjacent units.  Having secured its final objective, the battalion set about consolidating its position, the attack scheduled to resume the following morning.  Officers estimated total casualties in the morning fighting at eight officers and 75 OR.

Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald's service in the line ended that day at Canal du Nord.  Dan was carried to a regimental aid post as the fighting continued and evacuated to No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) for treatment before day's end.  His condition, as described in his medical records, was serious: "Shell fragment right femur, tissues badly torn.  Femoral artery torn."

As Dan was experiencing considerable blood loss, No. 1 CCS personnel immediately amputated his right leg.  As he lay on a cot awaiting evacuation to hospital, Dan found the strength and presence of mind to write a letter to Mary, dated September 29:

"Dearest Mary,

"Just a note if you can make it out as I am on the broad of my back in the 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station.  I got wounded on Friday morning in the advance.  Hit with a shell on the right leg.  Got down here at dark and lost my leg about four inches below the thigh.  Had it dressed this morning.  The M. O. [Medical Officer] says it is as good as can be expected.  Met quite a number of old No. 1 orderlies and sisters here.  It's awful nice to get into a Canadian hospital.  Don't know how long I shall be here.  Shall let you know whenever I leave.

"Cheerio.  I hope everything is O.K.."

The following day, Dan was transferred to No. 18 General Hospital, Camiers, France, where medical staff carefully monitored his recovery.  He was invalided to England on October 4, crossing the English Channel aboard the Hospital Ship Ville de Liege.  The following day, Dan was admitted to Southern General Hospital, Hyde Park, Plymouth, where he spent the next four months in care. 

During Dan's lengthy hospital stay, the November 11, 1918 armistice brought fighting to an end. Almost one year prior, Mary had returned to England in December 1917, taking up a position at a convalescent hospital in Folkestone.  On February 8, 1919, Dan once again wrote to his sweetheart from his hospital bed, signing the correspondence with his military nickname:

"My dearest Mary,

"Just received your nice long letter.  I just feel like going down to Basingstoke and see you without permission from the hospital.  The only thing keeping me is that I must get measured for a peg this week by order of the M. O. and try to get used to it.  I go over to the hydro every day for massage.  The sister helps me.  We have so much snow here and the sidewalks are so slippery that I dare not trust myself on crutches at all.  Don't know what I'll do in Canada with all the ice and snow to contend with. 

"…I am still leaving my mind open to the opportunities Canada might offer after our return.  Study does not appeal to me now.  I just feel I can never settle down to anything like indoor life and yet I know that is the only life for me….  I always thought it nice to be married over here and go home together, but then on the other hand, I would like to know definitely what I am to do before that happy day….  We must decide these things when I see you.  Let me know your opinion….

"With all my love,


Dan was transferred to Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton on February 14.  The following day, he officially received the Military Cross for bravery at Canal du Nord.  The medal citation described the actions that prompted the prestigious award:

"For most conspicuous gallantry during the Bourlon Wood operations in front of Cambrai.  On September 27, 1918, in advancing to the attack his company came under heavy shelling and intense machine-gun fire.  He personally went forward to reconnoitre the enemy position, locating two enemy machine-gun nests, and came back."

Captain A. D. Archibald's Military Cross medal.
In the days following Dan's hospital transfer, Mary made her way to Buxton for a visit while on leave.  Meanwhile, the couple discussed their post-war plans by letter, Dan once again writing Mary on March 3, 1919:

"Just a wee note tonight to tell you how everything is moving.  I've been boarded to Canada.  I also got the X-ray and there is another operation in store for me.  There is quite a growth on the bone, also a small foreign body that is causing the pain at present but since it is all healed they won't operate here.

"I will apply for leave on Saturday.  That will give you time to get yours.  I hope my stump will keep good while we're on Leave.  As you say, marriage over here would do away with all the fuss and worry of a civilian wedding and I hate everything of that nature.  Anyway, be thinking about it as we may have to decide in a hurry. 

"I think I shall have to be in Toronto part of next summer as they say the hospital there has more than it can handle for months.  So I expect to be in the Army, some time yet….  We'll see what develops with my leave."

As events unfolded, Dan and Mary obtained leave and were married at Basingstoke, England on March 12, 1919.  The newlyweds immediately headed off to the Isle of Wight for their honeymoon.  They had barely arrived when a March 14th telegram addressed to "Captain Alexandra Archibald" interrupted their holiday:

"Your attendance is required at Buckingham Palace on Saturday next the 15th inst. at 10:20 o'clock a.m. service dress, please telegraph acknowledgement."

Buckingham Palace telegram.
The couple hastily returned to London and made their way to the Palace for Dan's Military Cross presentation.  Mary described the occasion in her memoirs:

"London, March 15, 1919

"Archie's big day.  Major [Roderick C.] Jackson and I accompanied him to Buckingham Palace for 10:20 o'clock.  It was all so grand!  After presenting our special tickets we were seated in a large elegant room.  In the loft above the front of the room was the Silver Band Orchestra, the Buckingham Palace Band.

"All medal recipients waited in a small reception room.  Then they had to walk in toward King George from one side of the room and pass in front of him.  Each soldier stopped briefly for His Majesty to hang the ribbon of the medal on a little hook that had been put on the uniforms while the men waited in the anteroom.

"When Archie came up before the King on his crutches he stopped and they has a short conversation.  Major Jackson and I wondered what they were talking about.  It was such a noticeable thing.  The King hadn't stopped any of the others like that!

"With the ceremony over and the band playing, we joined Archie among the crowds of soldiers and guests.  Emerging from the Palace and out the gates we were greeted by mobs of people taking pictures and more pictures.  We couldn't get away from them.  We'd just get away from one gang, only to be overtaken by another.  We were laughing joyously in the confusion and celebration.

"Finally we did break away and the three of us had a splendid luncheon at Claridge's.  Archie told us that the King had asked him if he was getting his artificial leg in England and how he was getting on and if he knew when he was returning to Canada.

"We sat admiring the silver medal on the purple and white ribbon nestled in its box and conversation ran lightly and happily into the late afternoon."

Major Jackson (left), Captain Dan & Lieutenant Mary (Graham) Archibald outside Buckingham Palace.
Dan returned to hospital after his leave, and was discharged to the Hospital ship Essequibo for passage to Canada on March 31.  Upon arriving in Halifax ten days later, he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital.  Mary returned to Canada on RMS Scotian shortly afterward and made her way home to Elmvale, Ontario.  She re-united with Dan in Halifax several weeks later.

While in Nova Scotia, Mary and Dan travelled to New Town for a visit with Dan's parents.  When his mother Janie asked what the King had said to him while pinning the medal to his uniform, Dan quickly replied, "Oh, he asked, 'How is your leg and when will you be going home, and how is your mother?"

On June 12, 1919, Dan and Mary departed for Toronto.  While Dan registered with the Dominion Military Orthopaedic Hospital two days later, he received "outpatient" treatment for the majority of his time in the city as he and Mary took up residene on Cambridge Avenue.

Shortly after his arrival, medical staff administered "gymnastic treatment of [Dan's] stump" and took measurements for artificial limbs.  A "peg leg" arrived on July 9 and was deemed "satisfactory", medical records commenting that Dan was "not ready for measuring for artificial leg yet for about a month."

Upon completing physiotherapy in late August, staff took final measurements for Dan's artificial leg, which arrived in mid-September.  Personnel help Dan adjust to his replacement limb, noting on October 21: "Leg fits well, but the shortness of stump gives insufficient leverage of the thigh segment of the new leg."

Finally, on March 3, 1920, medical staff judged the artificial leg "satisfactory", and notified military authorities that Dan was ready to return to civilian life.  Nine days later, Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald was formally discharged from military service.

Upon returning to civilian life, Dan first found work as a book-keeper.  Meanwhile, Mary gave birth to two daughters, Phillis and Jean, during their time in Toronto.  In 1924, Dan was one of four returning soldiers awarded a War Service Memorial Scholarship to attend the Ontario College of Education.  Upon completing its teacher training program, the family moved to nearby Belleville, where Dan taught school for 30 years.  When not attending to matters at home, Mary volunteered with the local Red Cross for 31 years before retiring.

Dan and Mary were devoted members of the Presbyterian Church and participated in the lively post-war Church Union discussions.  They became dedicated followers of the United Church of Canada after its formation.  The couple also actively supported the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), whose socialist ideology reflected their strong sense of social justice.

Dan & Mary (Graham) Archibald at Gray Arches (circa 1960).
In later years, the family spent their summers on the shores of Round Lake, Renfrew County, where they built "Gray Arches", the property's title —  inspired in part by the grey pine limbs hanging overhead —  a clever combination of their surnames.  The lake's flat shoreline provided Dan with easy mobility while using either artificial leg or crutches.

The couple celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1969.  In the subsequent years, Dan's health began to fail.  He died on September 13, 1971 and was laid to rest in Belleville, Ontario.  His beloved wife Mary spent her remaining years in the community, passing away on June 28, 1984.


Hayes, Lt.-Col. Joseph.  The 85th in France and Flanders.  Halifax: Royal Print & Litho Ltd., 1920.  Available online.

Service file of Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald, number 50013.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 211 - 5.  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.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald - A "Military Cross" Soldier's Story (Part I)

Date of Birth: January 13, 1890

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

Date of Enlistment: February 6, 1915 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 50013

Rank: Captain

Forces: Canadian Army Medical Corps; Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: No. 1 Canadian General Hospital; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. William Henry Archibald, New Town (father)

Dan's younger brother, Robert Edmund, attested with No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on January 18, 1918 and served at the front with 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery during the final days of the war.  His story was posted to this blog in August 2014.

A special thank you to Claudia Smith of Almonte, Ontario, Captain A. D. and Nursing Sister Mary (Graham) Archibald's grand-daughter, who graciously provided transcripts of letters, photographs, and information on her grandparents' lives. 

Claudia has written a book about her grandmother's service as a Nursing Sister.  The volume, in the final stages of production, illustrates their tremendous dedication and hard work during the tragic yet exhilarating years of the First World War. 

Once the book is published, a collection of letters, photographic albums, army cards and troop theatre programs from Nursing Sister Mary Graham's and Captain A. D. Archibald's war service will be displayed in the Huronia Museum, Midland, Ontario.  At present, a redwork signature quilt made by the Elmvale Women's Institute and sent to Mary during her service in France with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Mary's nursing uniform, boots and belts, and Dan's 85th Battalion hat and belt are housed in the museum.

The family is proud to have these historical items displayed in their home area, and delighted that Mary's and Dan's contributions to the First World War are being acknowledged and preserved.  For additional information about Nursing Sister Mary Graham's story, contact Claudia at: .

Author's Note: As Captain Archibald officially served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from February 6, 1915 to March 20, 1920, his story is presented in two consecutive posts.  This month's installment focuses on his service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.  The second chapter, to be posted in January 2015, focuses on his infantry service.

Alexander Daniel "Dan" Archibald was the fourth of seven children born to William Henry and Janie (Gunn) Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.  The third of the couple's six sons, Dan was raised in a family that placed a high value on education. After completing his local schooling, Dan enrolled in the Arts program at Dalhousie University, Halifax and contemplated entering the ministry.  Several months prior to completing his senior year, however, he made a life-altering choice, enlisting for overseas service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at Halifax on February 6, 1915.

Captain A. D. Archibald (photo courtesy of Colin MacKay, Riverton, NS).

Dan's decision comes as no surprise, as he was attending university in a city that became a bustling hub of military activity immediately after Great Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in August 1914.  Moreover, several of his Dalhousie classmates made the same decision within days of Dan's attestation.  Ralph B. Clarke of St. Stephen, NB led the way, joining the CAMC two days before Dan.  George Murray of River John, NS attested on the same day as Dan, while Neil E. "Mac" MacDonald of Framboise, Cape Breton enlisted two days later.  George Paterson of Grand River, NS was the last, completing his attestation papers and medical examination on February 15.  Their military service followed parallel paths, nurturing a bond that lasted well beyond the war years.

Dan and his colleagues departed Halifax shortly after enlisting and arrived in England on February 18, 1915.  Dan was briefly hospitalized for treatment of neuritis (an inflammation of one or more nerves) on Salisbury Plain before being assigned to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Netheravon.  His Dalhousie classmates also joined the unit, where all were designated for service as orderlies.

No. 1 Canadian General Hospital was initially organized at Valcartier, Quebec on September 3, 1914 and travelled to England in October 1914 with the First Canadian Contingent.  Before month's end, the unit opened a "Clearing Hospital" at Salisbury Plain and commenced providing medical services to Canadian battalions encamped in the area.  During the winter of 1914-15, No. 1 General treated patients in temporary huts with no floors and lacked the facilities necessary to provide long-term care. 

On February 24, 1915, the unit's war diary recorded the arrival of 30 "rank and file" soldiers to the unit, amongst whom were Private Dan Archibald and is university chums.  "Archie", as his military colleagues came to know him, found himself part of a small but bustling facility, housing approximately 500 patients in huts, tents and a manor house.  Soldiers who had contracted venereal diseases constituted the largest number of cases under treatment.

Within one week of Dan's arrival, hospital personnel commenced preparations for a move to France.  The March 8 war diary entry commented: "Work of packing and cleaning being well advanced, the time of the men is being occupied by physical drill, stretcher exercises and instructional classes."  Later that evening, officials held a "farewell dance for [the unit's] nurses….  A large number were present and the rooms were very prettily decorated.  All enjoyed themselves."

At some time during his days at Shorncliffe, Dan was on Grounds Cleaning Detail when he noticed a copy of a Halifax newspaper tangled in a bush.  Upon perusing its contents, his attention was drawn to an item about his alma mater.  Dalhousie University had decided to grant degrees to all senior students who had enlisted for service and were thus unable to complete their studies.  Atop the list of names was "Alexander Daniel Archibald, New Town, Guysborough County".

Captain Archibald's Dalhousie University Medal.

Activities recorded in the war diary throughout the remainder of the month suggest a routine typical of military service.  On March 25, for example, "the Company did a route march of twelve miles.  Some of the men complaining of blistered feet."  Simultaneously, hospital staff gradually reduced its patient load.  By month's end, 350 soldiers remained in the hospital, "all venereal but twelve."

While patient evacuation continued into April, it was "drill and exercise for the men, as usual."  On April 22, "the men had a long route march under the O. C. [Officer Commanding]."  Personnel enjoyed a field day of sports and games, followed by an evening concert, on May 4 as final preparations were made to discharge the remaining 118 patients to a facility at Shorncliffe.  The following day, the patients were evacuated by special train, while No. 1 General's equipment was loaded onto ships at Southampton.

On May 11, personnel held a unit parade to place flowers on the graves of Canadians who died on Salisbury Plain, a total of 42 soldiers buried in three separate cemeteries.  Two days later, the unit moved out by foot at 10:00 a.m., arriving at Southampton at 2:10 p.m. "in the rain" and departing for France three hours later.  Their vessel anchored in Boulogne Harbour at 2:30 a.m. May 14, a group of its non-commissioned officers (NCOs) remaining on board while the equipment of their shipmates - No. 20 British General Hospital - was unloaded.

The following day, personnel began unloading No. 1 General's equipment, a task that was completed by mid-afternoon May 16.  The unit immediately departed for nearby Étaples, arriving at their destination on May 17.  Personnel hastily unloaded the unit's cargo during the morning of May 18 and immediately commenced erecting tents.  The following day, the hospital's Matron and 36 Nursing Sisters landed at Boulogne.

The men set about erecting tent wards and installing wooden floors, levelling the ground as they proceeded.  Within four days of the Nursing Sisters' arrival on May 22, personnel had constructed facilities for 158 patients.  A total of eight tent wards were almost complete by the end of the following day.

No. 1 General received its first admissions on May 31, 1915, a group of 51 patients who arrived at 9:30 a.m. by ambulance train from Boulogne.  The war diary noted: "Within an hour all patients… were bathed, fed and asleep in bed.  Two cases were reported as seriously ill."  Several days later, the war diary described the facility's mission: "This Hospital, though stylized a general hospital, is in reality a 'Clearing Hospital' and the smoothness and rapidity of our work is the criterion by which we will be judged."

The hospital accommodated its patients in tent wards, a practice given a favourable review in the unit's war diary:

"The Indian pattern Hospital tent has proved itself not only comfortable in the extreme, but weather proof.  Our system of placing these tents end to end, thus making a very spacious, cool and beautiful ward, was open to one objection, viz.: that in rainy weather the interspace would collect water[,] thus constituting a drip and leak.  This has now been disproved, but it is found that the cotton ropes swell and need constant attention."

By June 11, the hospital's male personnel were "very comfortably housed, [their] huts… scrubbed every day and blankets folded regimentally."  Three days later, the war diary announced: "The hospital is now well established and the grounds neatly laid out."  The opening of a Convalescent Depot at nearby Étaples in mid-June provided a nearby facility for recovering patients.  The war diary described their various responses to the "clearing" process:

"Whilst it is necessary that men fit to return to the firing line be ultimately sent back through the medium of this camp, yet it is always a hard duty to perform.  The joy which comes to the face of a patient marked for transfer to England, [sic] is worth seeing.  But no patient sent to Convalescent Camp is ever heard to grumble though his face may show how keenly he wishes for a furlough.  The British soldier is a wonderful hero."

"Archie" and his comrades enjoyed a welcome break from hospital routine on July 1 - "Dominion Day" - as staff participated in an afternoon games and sports day at Caesar's Camp, "a natural amphitheatre east of our lines."  Activities included a football match, 100 yard dash, an egg and
spoon race for the Nursing Sisters, and an evening concert. 

The war diary's July 9 entry recorded 135 admissions and 117 evacuations, the culmination of a "record week" for the fledgling hospital.  The diary lamented that the unit's total complement of 235 Officers, NCOs and "other ranks" (OR) "does not allow sufficient rank and file for varied duties."  Bearer parties were required at all hours and several personnel had already suffered injuries in the performance of their duties.  While the diary suggested the addition of a regimental band from Shorncliffe to provide much needed help with patient transportation and simultaneously boost patient morale, there is no indication the suggestion was pursued.

The hospital's location close to the English Channel provided a welcome summertime diversion.  The July 10 diary entry described a common recreational activity: "As usual everyone who could get away to Paris Plage took advantage of the Saturday to have a plunge."  The facility also received its share of distinguished visitors.  Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, paid a visit on the evening of July 20: "He was received with a salute and then the ranks were opened and an official inspection made."  The accompanying party of dignitaries included HRH Edward, Prince of Wales.

The hospital site was of considerable historical significance.  A local Roman Catholic priest informed the Adjutant - whose duty it was to complete the daily diary entries - that the location was believed to be "the burial grounds for Roman officers" accompanying Julius Caesar on his march of conquest to England.  Centuries later, the French Emperor Napoleon encamped in the area as he contemplated an invasion of England.

Dan's college mates were not his only acquaintances amongst No. 1's personnel.  As one might expect, there was considerable camaraderie with the unit's nursing staff.  One relationship Dan formed during the unit's first months in France deserves particular mention.  Mary Graham, a native of Elmvale, Ontario and a graduate nurse, enlisted with the CAMC at London, England on May 12, 1915 and joined No 1 General's nursing staff in July 1915.  One of her co-workers, Eva Maude Mosher, a native of Moosehead, Halifax County, also enlisted with the CAMC in London on the same day. 

Shortly after arriving in France, Eva introduced Mary to the "Bluenose Boys", a group of Maritimers also serving with No. 1 General.  The "boys" happened to be none other than Dan and his Dalhousie classmates.  Unbeknownst to Dan and Mary at the time, this chance introduction was destined to blossom into a lifelong relationship.

No. 1 General Orderlies, Etaples.
 Neil MacDonald (standing); George Murray (2nd row, far right); Ralph B. Clarke (2nd row, second from right); George Paterson (1st row, far right) & Dan Archibald (1st row, second from right).

By mid-August, the hospital housed approximately 500 patients.  As it completed its fourth month of operation on August 31, the war diary reported a total of 3423 admissions and 3090 discharges since arriving in Étaples.  The last month was particularly busy, as might be expected due to the increase in combat during the summer season.  The hospital received a total of 1155 patients, while discharging 822 in August alone.

Demand for hospital space fluctuated through the year, according to the intensity of combat at the front.  On September 7, several recent offensives between Arras, France and the Belgian frontier prompted military authorities to order the evacuation of patients "to the fullest[,] in accordance with special instructions to clear the Hospital as far as possible." 

Two days later, the diary reported that the evacuation was "proceeding rapidly and no new patients coming in.  219 patients remaining at 12 noon."  The reason for the orders became apparent the following day, when a convoy of 118 patients arrived in the morning.  By September 17, the facility housed 341 patients, yet was once again ordered to evacuate as many cases as possible one week later.

In response, personnel discharged 282 patients, leaving only 60, "the lowest number we have had in the Hospital since opening."  Within days, 361 new patients arrived, although 336 were discharged by month's end.  For the first time since arriving in France, the war diary provided statistics on the average length of stay per patient: 10.4 days in July, 9.2 days in August, and a remarkable 1.8 days in September.  Medical staff performed a total of 156 operations under anaesthetic during the month's last five days, indicating the serious nature of the cases arriving from the battlefield.

The month also proved significant for Dan, as he received a promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal on September 2.  This was the first of several subsequent advancements, his superiors acknowledging the leadership skills he later displayed on the battlefield.

The summer's frenetic pace continued into October, as hospital staff processed 1623 patients - 823 sick and 800 wounded.  A total of 1601 were discharged, leaving a complement of 400 patients at month's end.  Simultaneously, non-medical staff began preparations for the unit's first winter at the front, building winter hut quarters for the nursing sisters and installing wood stoves in the tent wards.

The arrival of autumn weather was soon evident in the cases arriving for treatment.  The November 23 diary entry commented: "A large number of patients admitted recently have been suffering from trench feet from the cold weather in the trenches."  An early December 1915 entry also mentioned "a considerable number of cases of trench feet… being received."

On December 20, 1915, the hospital achieved a statistical milestone: "A total of 10,000 patients have been admitted to the hospital since opening here on May 31, 1915."  In keeping with the season, the hospital's 724 patients were treated to an appropriate feast on December 25:

"A dinner of turkey and plum pudding was provided for all patients by the Canadian Red Cross Society and was much enjoyed.  The Officers of the Unit provided the dinner of turkey, plum pudding, etc. for the N. C. O.'s and men… in the new hut which was first opened for use this day.  In the evening a Christmas Tree and supper was provided for the N. C. O.'s and men by the Nursing Sisters.  The wards and mess rooms of the personnel were very prettily decorated and a very pleasant day was spent by all ranks."

The month's end statistics provided a summary of the unit's work to date, in addition to details on cases currently under treatment.  A total of 10,621 patients had passed through its wards, 10,182 of whom were discharged to other facilities.  There were 139 deaths amongst its admissions, a remarkably low number considering the nature of wounds received at the front.  The hospital's surgeons had performed a total of 1991 operations.  Amongst cases currently in the hospital, 195 soldiers were receiving treatment for trench foot, 41 for parathyroid problems, and four for infective jaundice. 

As might be anticipated given the lull in fighting during the winter months, January 1916 was "the lightest month since… opening….  Of 805 cases admitted, 198 were wounded and 607 sick."  Considering the conditions the men endured in the trenches, it is not surprising that "the great proportion of cases… have been medical."

Similar circumstances prevailed the following month, as noted in the war diary's February 7 entry:  "As the number of patients arriving from the front has been less of late, the three week rule has been suspended and we are allowed to retain patients longer in the Hospital."  The respite also allowed personnel to perform several repairs to the facilities: "Old tent wards [were] cleared away, and floors removed which occasioned considerable levelling of ground.  New tent wards [were then] erected."

The month was not without its share of winter weather, the war diary specifically mentioning "heavy snow fall" on February 23.  It was "still snowing and freezing hard" the following day, but personnel nevertheless managed to erect a new tent ward.  The cold snap created problems on February 25: "Severe frost during the night.  As a result the water pipes were blocked with ice and burst in places, causing much inconvenience."  By month's end, the weather turned mild and wet, a change no doubt welcomed by personnel and patients alike.

As spring arrived, the hospital grounds received particular attention.  Personnel set about constructing a flower garden and tennis court, in addition to completing "nine new tent wards" by the end of March 1916.  The number of patients slowly but steadily increased from 309 on March 16 to 564 on March 29, as fighting at the front gradually intensified.

Map of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Etaples (June 1915).
Patient totals reached 645 by April 2 as patients and personnel endured several weeks of damp weather.  By April 23, the war diary reported "an agreeable change in the weather…, the sun was shining all day from an almost cloudless sky."  While the arrival of spring produced increased numbers of wounded, the improved weather also brought a new and unexpected danger from above.

At approximately midnight April 25/26, 1916, a German zeppelin passed overhead:

"The zeppelin was travelling in a north-west direction, apparently bound for England; it passes [sic] directly over No. 1 Canadian General Hospital.  About one mile south-east two explosive bombs were dropped amongst the trees in the vicinity of the Reinforcement Camp.  No damage was done excepting the trees in the immediate neighbourhood of the explosion being damaged.  The crater left by each was from 12 to 15 feet in diameter and about four feet deep.  Two incendiary bombs were dropped in the Isolation Hospital lines, about one-half mile from here, close to an outbuilding, one destroyed a stove.  No further damage was done."

Four other incendiary bombs landed on either side of No. 1 General's lines, but caused no damage.  The war diary described the response on the ground: "Strict order was maintained and no confusion took place."  The raid was not a "one-time occurrence".  German aircraft later revisited the Étaples area in May 1918, with tragic consequences.

The improved weather provided an opportunity for hospital staff to enjoy a break from daily routine on May 1 as officers organized an afternoon Field Day of sports and recreational activities.  A "great number" of personnel participated and observed, and "keen interest was manifest."  The practice of dignitaries visiting the facility also resumed with the milder weather.  Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces, visited the hospital on May 18, expressing "great pleasure… [at finding the facility] in such excellent condition."

Before month's end, the Canadian Red Cross opened a recreational hut on grounds located between the unit and its neighbour, No. 26 British General Hospital.  May 31 marked the one-year anniversary of No. 1 General's first patient admissions.  During that time, a total of 16,597 cases passed through its wards.  While justifiably proud of its record, hospital staff no doubt realized that greater challenges lay ahead with the onset of another "fighting season".

The past year had also been particularly eventful for Dan in several ways.  During that time, he had become friends with Mary Graham.  Their relationship, while in its early stages, would grow as the months of war stretched into years.  Spring brought a promotion to the rank of Corporal on March 1, 1916.  Dan also spent four days as a patient of No. 1 General, when he was admitted on June 5 for treatment of "neuritis torticollis" (inflammation of the nerves in the neck), the same ailment for which he received treatment in England.

June 9, 1916 - the day following Dan's discharge from hospital - proved to be the most significant one of Dan's service to date.  The daily war diary entry reported the news: "No. 50013 Cpl. Archibald, C. A. M. C., having made application for a commission in His Majesty's Army, was today ordered to proceed to 25th Canadian Battalion for one month's attachment."


The 25th Canadian Infantry Battalion was officially authorized on November 7, 1914 and recruited its personnel from across the province of Nova Scotia.  The unit organized at Halifax on March 15, 1915 and departed for England aboard HMTS Saxonia two months later.  Shortly after arriving in camp at East Sandling, the 25th was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division's 5th Brigade, where its personnel served alongside the 22nd (Quebec's famous "Van Doos"), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions for the war's duration.

The 25th crossed the English Channel to France with the 2nd Division in September 1915 and was immediately deployed in the trenches of the Ypres Salient, Belgium.  Its personnel served on rotation in this area throughout the winter of 1915-16, receiving their "baptism by fire" in April 1916 when the unit entered the "St. Eloi craters".  Exposed to ferocious enemy fire from three sides, its soldiers withstood numerous German attacks on their position during a six-week rotation.

The 25th was holding the front trenches at Zillebeke, Belgium on the day that Corporal Dan Archibald joined its ranks.  The circumstances at the time of Dan's arrival provided an appropriate introduction to the "firing line": "Enemy artillery very active on our front and support trenches.  Fourteen OR wounded."  The bombardment continued the following day as high explosive artillery shells, trench mortars, machine gun and rifle fire struck the unit's lines, killing one Officer and 12 OR and wounding four Officers.

Similar conditions prevailed on the third day, when two Officers and 15 OR were wounded and 10 OR reported missing before the 25th retired to billets during the night of June 11/12.  Personnel arrived in camp "very fatigued after having undergone a particularly heavy bombardment."  The soldiers rested the following day, enduring rainy weather in a "camp [that was] in very poor condition."  Such was Dan's initiation to infantry service.

Dan's parents, William Henry & Janie (Gunn) Archibald (courtesy of Vi Fraser, Sherbrooke).
At 7:30 p.m. June 14, the battalion marched off to Hill 60, where personnel encountered "normal" artillery activity and "very active" machine gun and rifle fire.  Two OR were killed and six wounded the following day, while "great [artillery and trench mortar] activity" took place on June 16.  On this occasion, the unit's war diary gratefully reported: "We… came through without any casualties."

The same could not be said for the following day: "Enemy bombarding with great violence, in retaliation to our artillery."  Eight OR were killed and 47 wounded in the day's shelling.  Casualties declined somewhat over the tour's final three days - one OR killed and nine wounded - as the 25th retired to billets at Reninghelst on the night of June 20/21.

Dan spent a week in Divisional Reserve with his new comrades, training during the day and participating in sports each evening.  The unit moved out to Brigade Reserve at Dickebusch - Scottish Woods on June 28, as personnel supplied large working parties nightly for one week.  The artillery fire experienced during the previous tour continued unabated: "Artillery shelling Dickebusch during the night and day.  No casualties."

On the night of July 6/7, the 25th once again "proceeded to the trenches".  Daily exchanges of artillery, mortar, rifle grenade, machine gun and rifle fire continued throughout the tour, the war diary's July 11 entry reporting: "Our front lines and communication trenches were fired upon almost continually throughout the day."  The battalion was relieved on the evening of July 15 and retired to Kenora Camp, arriving in the early hours of July 16.

Upon relief, Dan made his way back to No. 1 General Hospital, Étaples.  During his absence, the pace of work had increased considerably.  The hospital housed a total of 668 patients on July 17, but numbers steadily increased.  A convoy of 251 patients - including 150 "stretcher cases" - arrived four days later,  the war diary proudly noting that the men were processed in a record one hour and 27 minutes.  By the following day - July 22 - 1046 patients were crammed into the hospital's tent wards.
Statistics for July 1916 reveal the increasing intensity of fighting brought on by summer's arrival - No. 1 General received 4363 patients, 3808 of whom were wounded cases.  A total of 3768 patients were discharged to other facilities, while 51 soldiers died at the facility.  The war diary reported an average stay per patient of 4.37 days.

The following month opened with a pleasant surprise when His Majesty, King George V, made an "unannounced visit" to the Étaples area on August 3.  "While in the district he called at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, and walked through two or three of the wards, also the Canadian Red Cross Recreational Hut.  This was a very pleasing surprise visit…."

The unit narrowly avoided catastrophe on the morning of August 21, when a fire broke out in one of its tent wards.  "The fire piquet [watch] and others were very quickly on the scene and the fire was soon under control."  As the hospital's wards housed 1186 patients at the time, the prompt response averted a tragedy of considerable proportions.

The number of patients reached a peak of 1285 on August 24, declining slightly by month's end.  In total, personnel processed 2768 admissions, transferring 1284 to hospitals in England and 92 to duty.  The remainder were admitted to the nearby Convalescent Depot.  A monthly total of 40 deaths was a decline from July, but still significantly higher than earlier months.

The frenetic pace continued into the following month, the hospital receiving 644 admissions on September 5 alone.  The September 18 war diary entry suggests that staff and resources were stretched to the limit, as casualties continued to arrive from the summer-long Somme offensive: "Today has been a record day in almost every department.  Sixty four major operations were performed and no less than 156 X-rays taken."  The facility contained 1252 patients at day's end, its capacity stretched to the limit.

Admissions nevertheless continued to rise, reaching a peak 1594 patients in the tent wards on September 27.  While the total declined to 1332 patients by month's end, September's statistics describe a challenging workload.  The unit admitted 4750 patients, transferring 3112 to England, 1114 to the Étaples Convalescent Depot, and 19 to duty.  The average hospital stay for the month was 6.92 days.

Admission and occupancy numbers remained high throughout October and into early November, before winter's arrival once again produced a lull in the fighting.  Dan, however, was not present to witness the decline.  The October 5, 1916 war diary entry stated in part:  "No. 50013 Corporal A. D. Archibald, C. A. M. C., having been granted a Commission proceeded to England on duty this day."  The second major chapter of Dan's war experience - his infantry service - was about to begin.


Dan was not alone in making the transformation from hospital orderly to infantry soldier.  All of his Dalhousie friends - Clark, Murray, Paterson and MacDonald - made the same transition at various times after arriving in France with No. 1 General.  In a letter written to Mary shortly after he returned to England in October 1916, "Archie" provided insight into the reason why he and his friends made such a significant decision:

"Mary, it is certainly good to be back to… civilization.  A good bed felt very nice after 20 months of nothing to sleep on but a blanket.  Active service was so hard and dull with a lot of waiting around.  No bugle call to wake me this morning and now I will go down to the War Office to await my fate….  I never realized how much you were to me until I am far away and know only too well how long it will be before I see you again.  Thank you for the snap.  It cheers me to gaze upon your loving smile."

On October 7, 1916, Dan was "taken on strength" at Chariton, near Southampton, England, "pending admission to Cadet Corps".  Three days later, he received a one-month furlough.  Upon returning to camp, he waited another month before receiving orders to proceed to Cadet Military School, Dilgate "for course of instruction". 

Upon completing his cadet training, Dan received a promotion to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant on February 24, 1917.  He was officially appointed to the commissioned rank of Lieutenant on April 9 and assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit that provided reinforcements for Nova Scotian battalions at the front.  Dan attended "Gas School" at Camp Aldershot in late June, thus completing preparations for active combat.  He returned to the 17th Reserve Battalion's camp, where he awaited orders to proceed to the front.

Nursing Sister Mary Graham, Etaples, France (1916).
The call was not long in coming.  On July 9, 1917, Dan was transferred to the 85th Battalion, the other Nova Scotian unit serving "in the line".  He crossed the English Channel to Boulogne, France the following day and awaited orders to proceed to the front.  As Étaples was nearby, Dan took the opportunity to visit his former comrades at No. 1 General, particularly Nursing Sister Mary Graham.
Dan departed for the 85th's camp on July 12, finding time that evening to write a letter to Mary.  Its content reveals the level to which their relationship had developed:

"My Dearie,

To think that last night at this time I was with you while this evening we are so far apart.  I am not so many miles from the firing line.  It is such a beautiful evening and just to be on those old sand dunes [at Étaples] Mary would be bliss.

We left the base at 8:20 this morning and were on the train in toward the line until three or four p.m..  I am billeted for the night with a French family.  I cannot talk to them except in a broken way, assisted by signs etc..  The room is decorated with numerous crucifixes and paintings of the Virgin Mary so that my thoughts are very religious tonight.

The part of France we passed through today was beautiful.  So many nice places for picnics.  I am so glad you thought of having a picnic last Tuesday.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.  Patterson said he enjoyed it too.

If I had anything to do with love I'd make it contagious.  Goodnight honey and here is a kiss for you.

With much love,

Your Soldier Laddie."

The following day - July 13, 1917 - Lieutenant Alexander Daniel Archibald reported for duty at the 85th's camp near Villers au Bois, France, and commenced the second chapter of his military service.


Service file of Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald, number 50013.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 211 - 5.  Available online.

War diary of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5034, Reel T-10924, File: 851.  Available online.

Photographs courtesy of Claudia Smith, Almonte, Ontario (unless otherwise indicated).

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.