Contact Information

E-mail: brucefrancismacdonald@gmail.com

Friday, 10 June 2016

Pte. Archie McIsaac, 25th Battalion - KIA June 10, 1916

On June 10, 1916, Private Archie McIsaac was killed near Zillebeke, Belgium when an artillery shell struck a dugout in which he and seven other 25th Battalion soldiers were taking shelter. Born at Canso, Guysborough County on May 30, 1890, Archie enlisted with the 25th at Halifax, NS on November 18, 1914 and first entered the Belgian trenches with the 25th on September 22, 1915.

The unit served in the Belgian Ypres Salient throughout the autumn and winter of 1915-16, receiving its first introduction to combat on April 15, 1916, when German forces attacked its positions in the St. Eloi craters, south of Ypres. Two days prior to Archie’s death, the 25th relocated to the Zillebeke area, where German forces had captured Mount Sorrel, a significant area of high ground, on June 2. Archie was killed during a massive June 10 bombardment of the 25th’s line, and laid to rest in nearby Bedford House Cemetery.

Pte. Archie McIsaac's grave, Bedford House Cemetery.
The 25th went on to serve with distinction at the Somme (September - October 1916), Vimy Ridge (April 1917) and Passchendaele (October - November 1917), and participated in the massive Allied counter-offensive (August - November 1918) that led to the November 11, 1918 armistice. As no thorough history of the 25th’s role in the war currently exists, its role in the Canadian war effort has often been overshadowed by the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), which did not land in France until February 1917, almost a year and half after the 25th’s Belgian deployment.

Two excellent books are available on the 25th’s war experience, edited/authored by Brian Tennyson, Department of History, Cape Breton University. The first, Merry Hell: The 25th (Nova Scotia) Battalion, 1914 - 1918, contains the memoirs of Captain Robert N. Clements, MC, who served with the unit throughout its time on the Western Front. The second, Percy Wilmot: A Cape Bretoner At War, chronicles the experiences of a 25th Battalion soldier. Both volumes are available online from Cape Breton University Press.



Monday, 30 May 2016

May 30, 1916: Guysborough's 193rd Battalion detachment departs for Camp Aldershot

On May 30, 1916, the Guysborough detachment of the 193rd Battalion departed the town for Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, NS. The unit, authorized on January 27, 1916 with its headquarters at Truro, NS, became part of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on February 13.

May 30, 1916: Marching to the docks.
The “brainchild” of Lieutenant-Colonel Allison Hart Borden, Commanding Officer (CO) of the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), the Brigade consisted of four battalions. The 85th, its senior unit, was authorized on September 14, 1915 and recruited to full strength within two months. The overwhelming response to its formation convinced Borden that the province’s population could provide the additional three units required to form a brigade. Upon receiving approval from military authorities, the 193rd joined the Brigade’s ranks, alongside two new battalions. The 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) was authorized on February 1, 1916, followed by the 219th Battalion (Halifax - South Shore - Annapolis Valley) shortly afterwards.

Throughout the months of March and April, military recruiters visited towns and villages of Nova Scotia in search of volunteers for the three new battalions. The 193rd’s officials canvassed northeastern Nova Scotia—Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough and Hants Counties—visiting smaller settlements such as Sherbrooke, Canso and Guysborough town for the first time since the war began in early August 1914.

The entire Brigade was recruited to full strength within three weeks, the new units establishing detachments and immediately commencing training in the province’s larger towns and villages. During the last week of May 1916, the Brigade commenced its mobilization at Camp Aldershot, marking the beginning of a summer-long schedule of military drill and route marches. On May 30, the Guysborough detachment marched along the town’s main street to the pier, boarded the coastal steamer LaTour and travelled to Mulgrave for the train ride to Aldershot.

May 30, 1916: 193rd recruits departing Guysborough.
At the height of training, Camp Aldershot contained more than 7000 soldiers, the four units gradually whittling their numbers down to the standard strength of approximately 1,000 “other ranks” (OR). In August, military officials authorized formation of the 246th Battalion. The new unit accommodated soldiers released from Brigade units, but still considered suitable candidates for infantry service, pending additional training. The 246th subsequently attempted to fulfil its role as the Brigade’s designated “reinforcing battalion,” soliciting recruits across the province.

On August 25, Aldershot opened its doors to the public for two days. Over 8,000 Nova Scotians flocked to the camp, HRH the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, reviewing the Brigade’s troops in a March Past held the following day. Personnel commenced preparations for their overseas departure the following month, Lt.-Col. Borden departing for England on September 9, eventually making his way to France to observe conditions at the front. In his absence, Lt.-Col. John Stanfield, the 193rd’s CO, assumed command of the Brigade. On September 26, Lady Borden, wife of Sir Robert Borden, Canadian Prime Minister and the Brigade’s Honorary Colonel, presented the King’s and Battalion Colours to each unit.

At month’s end, the Brigade staged a “grand gymkhana,” consisting of “interesting and amusing sporting events” traditionally referred to as “Scotch Games,” according to Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hayes, the 85th’s Medical Officer and post-war chronicler. Having fulfilled its ceremonial, public relations and recreational duties, the Brigade commenced final preparations for its overseas departure. Amongst the various tasks was the assembly and publication of A Short History & Photographic Record of the Nova Scotia Overseas Highland Brigade, C. E. F., containing a brief description of each unit’s origin and portraits of its initial personnel.

Four Guysborough County 193rd soldiers at Camp Aldershot.
Above: Tommy Suttis, killed at Passchendaele, Belgium with 85th Bn., Oct. 30, 1917;
Matthew "Mack"Manson, wounded at Scarpe, France with 85th Bn., Sept. 2, 1918;
Frank Burton McLane, served with 2nd Cdn. Tunnelling Coy. in Belgium & France;
Blair Archibald, discharged as medically unfit on October 9, 1916.

 On October 11, the 85th travelled to Halifax by train, marching directly to the docks and boarding HMT Olympic as it lay at anchor in Bedford Basin. Sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic, the vessel’s hull bore a camouflage design, intended to hinder detection by German U-boats as it crossed the North Atlantic. The 185th came aboard before day’s end, while the 193rd and 219th arrived the following day. Just before dusk on October 13, HMT Olympic weighed anchor and departed Halifax for England.

Unfortunately, military authorities disbanded the Brigade before year’s end, due largely to the significant numbers of Canadian Corps casualties incurred at the Somme, France during the months of September to November 1916. Two of the Brigade’s four units—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved, their soldiers reassigned to existing units in the field. Before war’s end, however, virtually all of the 193rd’s initial recruits saw action at the front. Some did not return home, while others were wounded in combat or became ill during service and were “invalided” to Canada. Even those who came through the fray without physical injury carried the psychological effects of the 20th century’s first modern war for the remainder of their days.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Canso's "Commercial Cable Company Boys"

On May 9, 1916, three young men—all telegraphists employed by the Commercial Cable Company, Hazel Hill, Guysborough County—attested for overseas service with the 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS. The fact that their attestation numbers are sequential indicates that they stood in line together as they signed their papers. Very close in age, the trio were quite likely friends who decided it was time to serve their country. Not surprisingly, two later served with signalling companies in the forward area.

Cousins, Arthur Elroy - attestation number 902474:


Arthur was born at Canso on October 5, 1897 to John and Elizabeth (Munroe) Cousins. He crossed the North Atlantic to England with the 193rd Battalion, and was transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) on December 29, 1916 when the 193rd was dissolved. Arthur was subsequently transferred to the 5th Canadian Divisional Signalling Company on August 17, 1917. He immediately entered a wireless training course and crossed to France on March 18, 1918. Arthur was subsequently assigned to the 1st Canadian Divisional Signalling Company, serving in France and Belgium for the remainder of the war. Arthur was discharged from military service on April 27, 1919 and subsequently relocated to the United States, taking up residence in New York City.

Goodwin, Basil Gordon - attestation number 902473:


Basil was born at Canso on May 11, 1898 to Enos and Sarah A. (Hurst) Goodwin. Basil also departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 13 and was transferred to the 185th Battalion on December 19, 1916. Unlike his two Cable Company comrades, however, Basil’s service followed a different path. He was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia) on February 23, 1918 and subsequently transferred to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia) on March 28, 1918. Basil served in the forward area with the 25th for the duration of the war and was discharged from military service on May 25, 1919. He relocated to the Boston, MA area in the early 1920s and married, passing away at Burlington, VT on November 3, 1967.

Graham, Laurie Brine, attestation number 902475:


Laurie was born at Hazel Hill on March 28, 1897 to James and Maude (Defrancheville) Graham. He crossed to England with his two comrades and was also transferred to the 185th Battalion on December 29, 1916. He followed Arthur to the 5th Canadian Divisional Signalling Company on August 17, 1917 and subsequently completed the wireless training course. Laurie crossed the English Channel to France with Arthur on March 18, 1918 and was assigned to the 4th Divisional Signalling Company on July 1, 1918. He served in the forward area for the remainder of the war and was discharged from military service on June 8, 1919. Laurie married Hannah M. Mackenzie, a native of Margaree, Inverness County, in 1927 and the couple subsequently raised a family of three children. Laurie passed away at Antigonish, NS on February 27, 1977.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

A Canadian Forestry Corps Mystery

Since commencing work on this blog almost five years ago, I have received numerous requests for information on First World War soldiers from various parts of Canada and have endeavored to respond to the best of my ability. The most recent request is an intriguing one that I am unable to answer. Perhaps, with some luck, somebody reading this post can offer assistance.

A gentleman from Scotland, seeking to identify a First World War soldier in a family photograph, located the pictures of James Leo "Jimmy" McDonald posted on this blog in February 2012 and realized that the collar pins—Canadian Forestry Corps—were identical. The photograph in question was taken in the Jedburgh, Scotland area, where two CFC Companies—127th and 139th—operated during 1917 and 1918.

The coincidence led the individual to conclude that the soldier question served with one of the two CFC Companies. While that reduces the number of possible matches considerably, there is no way to identify the individual other than locating a person who may recognize the photo. So here is the image:


The soldier is pictured next to a young child, the grandmother of the person who owns the photograph. Apparently, the soldier had befriended the family during his time at Jedburgh, but his identity was lost over the years.

The family hopes to identify him, with the goal of contacting a living descendant in Canada as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Foresty Corps' service in Scotland. If you have any suggestions as to how to identify the soldier, or if you think you know who he is, please contact me by e-mail or leave a comment below.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Guysborough's "Valcartier Boys"—Part III

This month’s post profiles the last two of six Guysborough County natives who travelled to Camp Valcartier, Quebec in August 1914 and attested for overseas services with the 1st Canadian Contingent the following month.

*****

Leslie Seymour Mason was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County on January 12, 1893, the third child and second son of Wentworth and Louisa Caroline (Cook) Mason. Wentworth, a miner by occupation, relocated the family to Springhill, Cumberland County, sometime after 1901 but returned to Isaac’s Harbour prior to Leslie’s enlistment for overseas service.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Leslie moved to Pictou County, where he worked in the local coal mines and trained for one year with the 78th Regiment Pictou Highlanders, a local militia unit. When the 78th received a request for volunteers after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, Leslie offered his services and joined a group of young recruits that made its way by train to Camp Valcartier, QC in August 1914. He attested for service with the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) on September 26 and departed for England with the 1st Canadian Contingent on October 4.

Upon arriving overseas, the 17th was re-designated a “reserve” battalion, as it was approximately 200 soldiers under full strength. As a result, Leslie was transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) on April 1, 1915. Established at Valcartier from members of the 91st Canadian Highlanders (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders), 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders), the 16th had crossed the English Channel to France on February 14, 1915 and travelled northward to the trenches of Belgium’s Ypres Salient.

Leslie made his way to Rouen, France on April 24, his arrival coinciding with Germany’s infamous poison gas attack on Canadian units at St. Julien, Belgium. He reached the forward area in time to participate in the final stages of the Second Battle of Ypres, serving in the trenches until August 10, 1915, at which time he was admitted to No. 2 Canadian Field Ambulance with a case of enteritis (intestinal inflammation). Discharged after four days’ treatment, he returned to the line for the duration of the year, receiving a welcome four days’ leave on January 14, 1916.

Two months later, possibly due to his previous mining experience, Leslie was transferred to No. 3 Canadian Tunnelling Company. His new assignment proved no less perilous than infantry service, as Leslie received a gun shot wound to his right arm near Hazebrouk, Belgium on June 25. Admitted to No. 8 Stationary Hospital, Wimereux, France five days later, his injuries proved to be minor. He was discharged to a nearby Convalescent Depot the following day and returned to a nearby Canadian Base Depot on July 17.

Shortly after returning to the line, Leslie was once again wounded on August 4, this time in the left shoulder. As his condition was serious, he was invalided to England and admitted to Northumberland War Hospital, Newcastle on August 8. Five weeks later, Leslie was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bearwood Park, Wokingham, relocating to a second convalescent facility at Woodcote Park, Epsom at month’s end.

On November 1, Leslie was discharged to the Canadian Corps Depot, Shoreham, where he waited for almost four months before being assigned to 1st Canadian Railway Troops Battalion on February 16, 1917. He once again crossed the English Channel to France and served the remainder of the war with 1st CRT without incident, with the exception of three days’ hospitalization for treatment of conjunctivitis (pinkeye) in late July 1918.

Leslie & Phyllis (Willard) Mason
Returning to England in mid-January 1919, Leslie married Phyllis Elizabeth Willard, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 12. He departed for Canada aboard HMT Grampian on April 11 and was formally discharged from military service at Saint John, NB on April 24,1919. Leslie and his new bride returned to New Glasgow, making their home on Forbes St. and welcoming their first child, Eva, the following year. The family subsequently relocated to Timmins, Ontario. Two sons, Wilfred and Ernest, joined the family as the years passed. Leslie Mason passed away at St. Catherine’s, Ontario on June 14, 1966 and was laid to rest in Timmins Memorial Cemetery.

*****

John Francis MacLean was born at Lakedale, Guysborough County on September 3, 1887. The youngest of John and Ann (McPherson) McLean six children, John Angus departed for western Canada sometime prior to 1911, eventually finding employment as a hospital orderly in Kootenay, BC.

John Francis MacLean (front left) & extended family, Giant's Lake (c. 1907)
Shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe, John Francis commenced training with the 7th Battalion (East Kootenay, BC) on August 12, 1914 and travelled to Camp Valcartier, QC with the “East Kootenay quota” of overseas volunteers. Despite a lack of military experience. John Francis was transferred to the 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on September 2 and attested for overseas service with the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on September 26.

The 13th Battalion was the first of three units recruited by the 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) during the First World War. Based in Montreal, the militia unit was affiliated with Scotland’s famous “Black Watch,” although the connection did not become official until after the war. The 13th departed Quebec aboard SS Alannia on October 4 as part of the 1st Canadian Contingent. The unit trained in England for four months, crossing the English Channel to St. Nazaire, France on February 15, 1915.

The 13th made its way to Belgium’s Ypres Salient with the 1st Canadian Contingent—subsequently re-designated the 1st Canadian Division—and was assigned to its 3rd Brigade. Its soldiers received their first major combat experience during the Second Battle of Ypres (April 22 - May 25, 1915), during which German forces subjected Canadian soldiers to a poison gas attack at St. Julien, Belgium on April 24. John Francis served with the 13th throughout the remainder of the year, receiving a welcome nine days’ leave in late November.

Following this brief rest, John Francis returned to the Belgian trenches. On February 3, 1916, he was attached to the 3rd Brigade’s Machine Gun Company, an appointment that became permanent on March 8. John Francis received eight days’ leave to England on May 25, rejoining his new unit on June 2. Three days later, John Francis was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

John Francis’s return coincided with the Battle of Mount Sorrel, Belgium (June 2 - 14), the Canadan Corps’ first major combat of 1916. The 3rd Brigade relocated to the Somme region of France with the Corps in early September 1916, its units conducting their first offensive action at Courcelette on September 15. Following the village’s capture, Canadian soldiers launched a six-week campaign against German positions along the adjacent Ancre Heights.

On October 9, during an assault on the German line, a piece of shrapnel struck John Angus in the left arm, resulting in his evacuation to field ambulance. He was subsequently transported to England aboard HS Antwerpen and admitted to Graylingwell War Hospital, Chichester. An x-ray detected a small shrapnel ball located in the anterior part of his left arm. Surgeons removed the “foreign body” on October 21, reporting: “No involvement of important structure.”

John Francis made a complete recovery and was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Epsom on November 17. Two days later, he reported to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps (CMGC) Depot, Crowborough. He remained there for more than a year, receiving a promotion to “Acting Sergeant with pay” on September 22, 1917. Longing to return to the front, John Francis “reverted” to the rank of Corporal on December 27 and proceeded across the Channel to the CMGC Pool, Camiers, France the following day.

On January 1, 1918, John Francis was “taken on strength” by the 3rd Canadian Machine Gun Company (CMGC) and returned to action in the forward area. He subsequently received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant on February 22. The following month, his new unit was absorbed into the 1st Battalion, CMGC. John Francis remained in the line throughout the spring and summer of 1918, with the exception of a month’s training at Army Musketry Camp, Metheringham, England from June 19 to July 16.

John Francis’s unit participated in the Canadian Corps’ major counter-attack on German forces, launched at Amiens, France on August 8. The offensive continued into the autumn, Allied forces making significant gains in a series of battles. On October 14, days after the fall of Cambrai, John Francis was wounded a second time when shrapnel struck him in the left leg. He was evacuated to No. 2 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment and admitted to No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station two days later.

John Angus was transferred to No. 3 Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, but on this occasion did not require long term care. He was discharged to No. 5 Convalescent Depot, Cayeux on October 23, remaining there for the duration of combat. John Angus received 14 days’ leave on December 14. While he crossed the Channel to England on January 14, 1919, illness delayed his return to Canada. On August 9, he boarded HMT Caronia at Liverpool, and was discharged from military service at Halifax on August 24, 1919. In acknowledgement of his lengthy overseas service, John Angus McLean received the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory service medals.

After the war, John Angus worked in the mining industry in northern Ontario and Quebec. He never married, returning in his later years to the Giant’s Lake area. Poor health eventually resulted in his admission to the R. K. MacDonald Guest Home , Antigonish, where he passed away in the late 1960s and was laid to rest in St. Francie de Salles Cemetery, Giant’s Lake, NS.

*****

Sources:

Service file of Leslie Seymour Mason, number 47018. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6014 - 15. Attestation papers available online.

Service file of John Francis MacLean, number 24972. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: Rg 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7046 - 17. Attestation papers available online.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Guysborough County CEF Enlistments - April 24, 1916

Three Guysborough County natives attested for overseas service with CEF units on April 24, 1916:

Fanning, Charles Robert:

Born January 9, 1886 at Canso, son of Thomas & Elizabeth (Kavanaugh) Fanning.

Enlistment: 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS. Transferred to 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on July 4, 1917. Served with 4th Entrenching Battalion from July 22 to September 15, 1917. Joined 85th Battalion in the field on November 6, 1917. Wounded (right forearm, back, right ear) at Scarpe, near Arras, France on September 2, 1918 and invalided to England. Departed for Canada on November 22, 1918. Discharged as “medically unfit” at Halifax on January 27, 1919.

Post-war: Returned to Canso immediately after discharge, but was living at 40 Cleveland St., Gloucester, MA when he submitted a request for his service medals in April 1922. No additional information available.
 
Pembroke, Peter Thomas:


Born November 15, 1891 at Canso, son of John & Mary Elizabeth (Kelly) Pembroke.

Enlistment: 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS. No further details available on military service.

Post-war: Never married. Lived and worked in Halifax, NS. Died at Camp Hill Hospital Halifax, NS on March 3, 1949. Cause of death: severe burns from accidental house fire. Laid to rest in Star of the Sea Cemetery, Canso, NS.

Sullivan, Thomas William:


Born August 22 1885 at Canso, NS, son of David & Mary (Sutherland) Sullivan.

Enlistment: 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS. Transferred to 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on July 10, 1917. Wounded on October 30, 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium. Died of wounds at No. 3 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, Poperinghe, Belgium on November 5, 1917. Laid to rest in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. Thomas's story is among the 72 profiles published in "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917," available at Bantry Publishing.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Guysborough County CEF Enlistments - April 15, 1916

Three Guysborough County residents enlisted for service with CEF units on April 15, 1916. None survived the war.

Hallett, Vincent Stephen:


Born December 20, 1898 at Country Harbour, son of Freeman & Sarah Elizabeth (Davidson) Hallett.

Enlistment: 193rd Battalion at Guysborough, NS. Transferred to 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia) on January 23, 1917, then to 161st Reserve Battalion (Ontario) on February 8, 1917. Assigned to 18th Battalion (Western Ontario) on March 8, 1918. Wounded (back) at Arras, France on August 27, 1918. Died of wounds at No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station on August 28, 1918. Laid to rest in Aubigny Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

McDonald, Angus:


Born October 28, 1888 at Havre Boucher, Antigonish County, son of Duncan D. & Elizabeth McDonald. Family relocated to Mulgrave sometime before 1911.

Enlistment: 106th Battalion at Pictou, NS on April 15, 1916. Transferred to 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) on September 21, 1916. Died of wounds received in training (accidental explosion) near Bully-les-Mines, France on October 26, 1916. Laid to rest in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension, Pas de Calais, France.

Angus’s story is among the 71 profiles published in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at Bantry Publishing.
 
MacDonald, Thomas Howard:


Born December 15, 1877 at Mulgrave, son of Dr. Patrick Alexander & Annie B. (Condon) MacDonald. Married with children at time of enlistment.

Enlistment: Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bearwood, England on April 15, 1916. Commissioned rank of Major. Previous service with Nova Scotia militia units at Aldershot, NS, dating back to 1905. Served as Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS), Bath & London, England. Subsequently served with Canadian Military Hospital, Liverpool; No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Outreau, France; Medical Officer, 4th Canadian Labor Battalion; OC, CAMC Medical Staff, HMHS Llandovery Castle. Lost at sea on June 27, 1918 when a German U-boat torpedoed HMHS Llandovery Castle off the coast of Ireland.