Contact Information


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Second Lieutenant Clarence William Cook - A "Prisoner Of War" Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: February 9, 1888

Place of Birth: Cook's Cove, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Esther Ann "Annie" MacDonald

Father's Name: John Henry Cook

Date of Enlistment: January 24, 1916 at Windsor, NS

Regimental Number: 733899

Rank: 2nd Lieutenant

Forces: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry); Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC); Royal Flying Corps (RFC)

Units: 112th Overseas Battalion; No. 9 Stationary Hospital, CAMC; No. 53 Squadron, RFC

Location of service: England and France

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: John H. Cook, Guysborough, NS (father)


Clarence William Cook was the second of three children born to John Henry and Esther Ann "Annie" (MacDonald) Cook of Cook's Cove, Guysborough County.  His mother, Annie, passed away sometime after 1901, and John Henry subsequently married Sarah Jane (Stearns) Carr.  Clarence's stepbrother, Albert Henry — John Henry and Jane's only child — was born in 1903.

The elder of the John Henry and Esther's two sons, Clarence completed his grammar school studies at Guysboro Academy and enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts program at Acadia University, Wolfville.  Sometime after the outbreak of war in Europe, he joined the 81st "Hants" Regiment, an eight-company militia unit organized at Windsor, NS in February 1914.

Clarence William Cook (Acadia University graduation photograph).
Eager to contribute to the war effort, Clarence set his studies aside halfway through his senior year, attesting with the 112th Battalion at Windsor, NS on January 24, 1916.  Unbeknownst to Clarence, over the following three years, he was destined to experience several dramatically different aspects of the First World War.


The 112th (Nova Scotia) Battalion was authorized on December 22, 1915 and mobilized at Windsor, NS.  A significant number of its early recruits came from the 81st Hants militia regiment.  After several months' training, its personnel travelled to Halifax, boarding SS Olympic for the trans-Atlantic voyage.  Upon arriving in England eight days later, the unit made its way to camp in southern England.

Clarence was promoted to the rank of "Acting L/Col." [Lance Corporal] on the same day the 112th arrived in England, but reverted to the rank of Private "at [his] own request" on August 29, 1916.  Throughout the autumn of 1916, his battalion provided reinforcements for CEF units in the field, its remaining personnel absorbed by the 26th Reserve Battalion on January 7, 1917.

By that time, Clarence's military career had taken another direction.  On December 19, 1916, he was transferred to No. 9 Stationary Hospital, CAMC, Bramshott, and commenced service as a hospital orderly.  Authorized on February 1, 1916 under the sponsorship of St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS, No. 9 Stationary had arrived in England on June 29, 1916 and three months later assumed operation of Bramshott Military Hospital, catering to the medical needs of Canadian soldiers stationed at Bramshott and Witley military camps.

During the winter of 1916-17, the hospital's resources were stretched to the limit by a severe influenza outbreak in the Bramshott area.  Clarence also experienced health problems shortly after joining the unit.  He was admitted to Bramshott on February 12, 1917, suffering from a sore throat, general aching, headache and chills.  His temperature spiraled to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius) and his pulse was 90 at the time of admission.

After examination and medical tests, Clarence was diagnosed with diphtheria and transferred to Military Isolation Hospital, Aldershot the following day.  He spent four weeks recovering and was discharged on March 13, only to be readmitted on April 5 for additional treatment.  Finally, on May 1, medical personnel determined that he had made a "complete recovery" and discharged him to duty.

Clarence returned to No. 9 Stationary, serving with the unit into the summer months.  As with many young men stationed in England, he longed to see action at the front.  His university education proved to be an asset, earning admission to the Royal Flying Corps' cadet training program.  On August 1, 1917, Clarence reported to Cadet Wing, RFC, Thurston Park, Winchester, where he commenced the second phase of his military career.


The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was established by royal warrant on April 13, 1912.  Its inaugural staff consisted of 133 Officers, operating 12 manned balloons and 36 aircraft.  By November 1914, the RFC had expanded sufficiently to justify the creation of "wings" consisting of two or more squadrons, each under the command of a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Further expansion in subsequent years led to the establishment of Brigades in October 1915 and specific Divisions, including a Training Division established in August 1917.  Throughout the latter year, British military authorities dramatically expanded the country's air resources, in an effort to overcome the German Air Force's domination of the skies during the conflict's early stages.

The recruitment and training of Canadian soldiers as pilots was an integral part of this plan.  Clarence was amongst a group of cadets who reported to the RFC's Military School of Aeronautics at Reading, England on August 24, 1917.  Five days later, he was officially "discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force, "having been appointed to Commission in [the] Imperial Army — RFC — 30/8/17."  Documents at the time described his military character as "Very Good".

Upon completing his training, 2nd Lieutenant Clarence William Cook was assigned to No. 53 Squadron, RFC as a "Flying Officer (Observer)" and crossed the English Channel to France on October 2, 1917. 

Established as a training squadron on May 15, 1916, No. 53 initially operated at Catterick, North Yorkshire, England.  The location's airfield first opened in 1914 and became a base for pilot training and aerial defense of England's northeast coast after the outbreak of war in Europe.

No. 53 Squadron proceeded overseas to France in December 1916, its pilots initially flying the British-manufactured B. E. 2 (Blériot Experimental) airplane.  Powered by a single engine, the two-seat biplane was used for front-line reconnaissance and light bombing, as well as "night fighter" missions.  By late 1917, however, the Squadron returned to its initial plane, the Royal Aircraft Factory's R. E. 8 (Reconnaissance Experimental).

Royal Aircraft Factory's R. E. 8
Nicknamed the "Harry Tate" after a popular music hall artist of the era, the R. E. 8 was much better equipped to defend itself against German fighter aircraft.  The plane possessed one synchronized machine gun that faced forward, in addition to a rear gunner position equipped with one or two .303 calibre Lewis guns.  The craft was equipped with a radio and photographic equipment for reconnaissance and artillery-spotting patrols, and could also carry a small bomb rack beneath its wings.

The pilot operated the camera on reconnaissance flights and used a Morse key for communication when directing artillery fire.  Meanwhile, the observer — Clarence's role —scanned the skies for approaching enemy aircraft.  The RFC's most popular two-seater plane, Royal Aircraft produced more than 4000 R. E. 8 aircraft during the war years, making it one of the most common sights in the skies above the Western Front.

In November 1917, No. 53 Squadron was located in the vicinity of Balleuil, France, close to the Belgian border.  Its pilots operated its R. E. 8 fleet as part of RFC's Ninth Wing, flying in conjunction with No. 19 Squadron's single-pilot fighter aircraft — French-manufactured Spads and their eventual replacement, the newly introduced Sopwith Dolphin.

Clarence's arrival in France coincided with a major offensive operation, carefully planned by British commanders during October 1917 and organized around the use of another new weapon of war — the tank.  Unlike previous attacks during the summer-long Somme campaign, there would be no preliminary bombardment.  Instead, the "land ships", as they were initially named, would cut a path through the German wire and crush opposing machine gun emplacements as infantry units advanced in their wake.

The attack was to be launched along a six-mile front at Cambrai, France.  Air support would play a critical role, with Ninth Wing's squadrons instructed to conduct bombing and reconnaissance missions alongside fighter and bomber aircraft of I and III Brigades.  Ninth Wing's pilots were assigned specific bombing targets, in addition to the task of observing troop movements in the area of the Sensée River, east of Cambrai, and southward toward the village of Masnières.

British forces commenced the advance at precisely 6:00 a.m. November 20, 1917.  Thick mist and low cloud made flying difficult but assisted the advancing tanks and infantry.  While fighter and bomber aircraft attacked German airfields and artillery positions, R. E. 8 observer aircraft from Clarence's and other RFC squadrons focused on locating active German batteries and bodies of troops, in addition to identifying guns being deployed against the advancing tanks.

The morning mist made the task of locating German artillery almost impossible, unless an aircraft was in the immediate area when the guns fired.  Contact patrol observers reported on the advancing infantry's progress, but failed to note significant German resistance in the village of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, to the east of Bourlon Wood.  The fog and cloud cover also hampered the planned bombing raids.

The attack continued throughout the following two days, focusing on well-fortified enemy positions at Bourlon Wood, a strategic ridge overlooking German defenses south of the Scarpe and Sensée Rivers.  Advancing units succeeded in securing the area on November 23, but were unable to dislodge German forces from nearby Fontaine-Notre-Dame.

That same day, German aircraft received much-needed reinforcement, as Baron Manfred von Richthofen's "Flying Circus" hastily arrived from nearby Flanders.  From this point forward, von Richthofen assumed command of all fighting units deployed at Cambrai.  The sight of his squadron's colorful aircraft in the skies above the battlefield was an ominous reminder of their presence throughout the battle's remaining days.

As the British advance slowly ground to a halt and focused on consolidating its gains, German forces began preparations for a counter-attack.  While RFC aircraft reported considerable evidence of troops and resources concentrated behind the line at Bourlon Wood, German commanders quietly planned an attack at a much more vulnerable section, near the village of Masnières.

German forces launched the counter-attack in the early hours of November 30.  As with the initial British attack, mist severely hampered visibility from the air.  At times, more than 50 RFC planes flew over the front lines in a desperate attempt to observe enemy movement.   Continuous aerial combat with opposing German planes also hampered the RFC's ability to assist troops on the ground.

The German counter-attack succeeded in forcing British units to retreat and threatened to cut off the soldiers occupying Bourlon Wood.  As a result, British commanders ordered a gradual withdrawal from the location, completely relinquishing the captured position by the morning of December 7 as both sides returned to their pre-battle lines.

The Battle of Cambrai (1917), as it came to be known, held several important lessons for aerial combat.  German aircraft exercised low-lying attacks on British infantry units during the counter-attack, with considerable success.  However, the daily "casualty rate" from such action in terms of aircraft lost was considerable — approximately 30% — rendering such tactics catastrophic in a prolonged battle.

Cambrai also highlighted the importance of accurate air observation, particularly the need for sufficient visibility to guide the infantry's advance and identify enemy artillery positions and bombing targets.  Such lessons would not be forgotten in the conflict's final year.

In the aftermath of the battle, both sides settled into the pattern of the war's previous three winters.  Military activity in the trenches declined considerably as both sides coped with winter conditions.  Aerial forces experienced a similar decline, weather hindering effective observation, particularly throughout the month of January 1918.

RFC observation flights nevertheless indicated significant concentrations of German forces along the front lines near Amiens, France, leading to speculation of an upcoming offensive.  Throughout February 1918, observers reported increased train movement, newly constructed ammunition dumps, aerodromes and gun emplacements, further suggesting that the German military was preparing for an attack.

Later that same month, No. 53 Squadron relocated to Villeselve, northeast of Noyon, France, in preparation for the transfer of a French section of the line near Soissons to British forces.  The events of March 1918, however, brought dramatic changes of plans for both Clarence and the squadron.

On March 3, 1918, the new Bolshevik government of Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany, ending combat along their common border.  Having struggled for three and a half years to wage war on two fronts, Germany was finally able to concentrate exclusively on the Western Front.  The German High Command immediately commenced relocating its personnel and weapons, setting in motion an elaborate plan for a major Spring Offensive.

Its timing was crucial, as British and French forces anticipated the arrival of American troops along the Western Front in the upcoming months.  If Germany could register a major success — perhaps a successful push to the Channel coast, or even the capture of Paris — the war might end before the United States had fully deployed its resources in Europe.

Throughout the month of March, the RFC focused on gathering information on an impending offensive, venturing as far as nine miles behind German lines.  Air patrols were particularly frequent along a section of the line occupied by the British 3rd and 5th Armies, the location where Allied Commanders expected the attack to occur.

On March 7, Ninth Wing's squadrons moved south to the 5th Army Sector, an area stretching from Cambrai to Le Catalet — by coincidence, the centre of the eventual German offensive.  While primarily assigned to observation missions, No. 53 Squadron's R. E. 8s also dropped bombs while engaging in artillery co-operation and close reconnaissance, and carried out night bombing raids.

Air reconnaissance quickly revealed German forces marshaling both men and material in preparation for a ground assault.  Unfortunately, rain and thick clouds from March 17 to 20 rendered observation almost impossible.  By this time, however, information from captured German airmen and soldiers suggested a specific date for the attack — March 21, 1918.

On the eve of battle, both sides had assembled considerable aerial resources.  The Royal Flying Corps had a total of 579 planes available, 261 of which were single-seat fighters.  Their German opponents possessed 730 aircraft, 326 of which were fighter planes.  In this particular instance, German air power significantly surpassed their British opponents.

At 4:45 a.m. March 21, German artillery launched massive artillery barrages at several separate locations along the Western Front, stretching from Belgium to central France.  The tactic was designed to disguise the assault's actual location until the last moment.  Before daybreak, German infantry units advanced toward a sector held by part of the 3rd and the entire 5th British Armies, stretching from the Sensée to the Oise River in France.  Operation Michael — the German army's massive Spring Offensive — had begun.

As was the case at Cambrai, mist assisted the offensive, inhibiting visibility on the ground and in the air.  As the fog lifted around 1:00 p.m., RFC planes took to the air to assess the offensive's progress, quickly identifying large concentrations of German troops south of Cambrai.  No. 53 Squadron's planes conducted line patrols along the entire 5th Army front from 1:20 p.m. onward, dropping bombs and firing their machine guns on advancing German troops until darkness prevented further flights.

A dense fog once again hung in the air from dawn until mid-day March 22, rendering aerial observation almost impossible.  During the afternoon, No. 53 Squadron resumed its low-flying attacks on advancing German infantry units, using 25-pound bombs and machine guns to deter their progress.  Its observers also attempted to protect the Corps' planes from attack, carefully scanning the skies for enemy aircraft.

The day's aerial reconnaissance reported widespread activity behind the German line, further evidence that the 5th Army's front was the focal point of attack.  On March 23 — the third day of fighting — an early morning haze quickly lifted, providing pilots with excellent visibility.  As a result, more aerial combat occurred on this day than on the previous two days combined.

By nightfall, RFC pilots had destroyed 39 German aircraft along the entire British front, although at considerable cost.  A total of five RFC planes were "missing", 28 "wrecked from all causes" and five "burnt or abandoned".  Lieutenant Clarence William Cook's R. E. 8 was amongst the five "missing" aircraft.

The German Spring Offensive continued for two weeks before grinding to a halt at Amiens, France on April 5, 1918.  While German forces advanced 65 kilometres into British-held territory, the action failed to achieve its primary objective — reaching the English Channel and establishing a wedge between the British and French armies on the Western Front.  In sum, Operation Michael failed to achieve the decisive victory required to bring the war to an end.

The offensive had a dramatically different impact on Clarence Cook's war experience.  He was taken prisoner after his plane crashed behind German lines on March 23, 1918.  Clarence hurt his shoulder in the crash — an injury from which he never fully recovered — but was otherwise in good health as his captives transported him to a German prisoner of war camp for the final phase of his military experience.


Amongst the almost 418,952 Canadians who served overseas (i.e., in England, France or Belgium) during the First World War, a total of 3,847 Canadian soldiers — 132 Officers and 3,715 "other ranks" (OR), representing less than 1% of infantry personnel — became prisoners of war.  An astonishing 1,400 were captured in one battle — the poison gas attack launched on Canadian troops during the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April 1915).  Approximately 182,000 British soldiers suffered a similar fate, representing approximately 4% of the almost five million men who served during the conflict.

The small number of infantry POWs can be attributed in part to their units' emphasis on soldiers fighting to the end and refusing to surrender. In fact, after the war, many battalions proudly proclaimed that none of its soldiers were taken prisoner during the war.

Clarence's POW card.
The Royal Flying Corps and its companion, the Royal Naval Air Service, recorded at least 1,811 of its 290,000 personnel taken prisoner during fighting on the Western Front.  Although this represents less than 1 % of its personnel, a flight crew's circumstances certainly increased the likelihood of such a fate.  Once on the ground behind German lines, airmen had little chance of evading capture, although in some instances French or Belgian civilians sheltered downed crew.

Once taken prisoner, soldiers and airmen were theoretically protected by the terms of the Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1906, international agreements intended to guarantee the humane treatment of soldiers no longer participating in hostilities — the wounded, sick and prisoners of war.  The realities of POW camps, however, differed considerably from the ideals stated in both documents, as poor living conditions, systematic lack of nutrition and harsh treatment occurred on both sides of the conflict.

German authorities divided prisoners of war into two categories.  "Other ranks" were interned at a "Mannschaftslager", a basic camp consisting of wooden barracks ten meters wide and 50 meters long, covered on the outside with tar paper.  Each barrack held 250 POWs and contained a central corridor that provided access on each side to two-tiered straw or sawdust beds.  The barrack was furnished with a few tables, chairs or benches and a stove.

The camp also contained a guard's barracks, a canteen that sold small food items, and a guardhouse.  Rank and file POWs labored in nearby workshops or on farms, receiving pay in the form of "Notgeld" — camp currency usable only at the POW camp store — as compensation.

A barbed wire fence three meters in height defined the camp's perimeter.  Wooden posts, erected at three-meter intervals, supported a 50 centimeter grid of horizontal and vertical wiring, creating a virtually impenetrable barrier.

Officers were usually held in an "Offizierlager", where conditions were less harsh.  The camps were often located in existing buildings requisitioned for such a purpose — often castles or hotels — and provided more spacious accommodations and beds.  Unlike their OR counterparts, Officers were not required to work, passing the time in various recreational or educational pursuits.

As the war progressed, conditions in the German camps worsened, particularly during the final year when food shortages hampered their captors' ability to provide sufficient nutrition.  Commonwealth POWs often fared better than soldiers from other Allied nations, as many received regular parcels from home during their detention.

Sentry at gate, Niederzwehren POW Camp.
After his capture, 2nd Lieutenant Clarence Cook was transported to Niederzwehren POW Camp, on the outskirts of Kassel (Cassel), Germany.  The camp was located on a hill overlooking the Fulda Valley, a short distance from the village of Niederzwehren, one of Kassel's suburbs.  Its wooden barracks accommodated approximately 20,000 French, Russian and Commonwealth POWs, all of whom toiled in factories and workshops during their internment.

The camp became home to large numbers of POWs captured during the German Spring Offensive.  Throughout their time in detention, the men endured heavy workloads and suffered from malnutrition.  Unfortunately, Clarence's "POW Card" contains little information other than his name and rank, and there is no other record of his time at Niederzwehren.

The timing of Clarence's internment proved somewhat fortuitous, as Allied forces launched a successful counter-offensive in August 1918 and succeeded in bringing hostilities to an end three months later.  The terms of the November 11, 1918 Armistice that ended the fighting specifically required the immediate release of all French, Commonwealth and Italian POWs, delaying the release of their German counterparts until a formal peace treaty was signed.

Despite the use of the word "immediate", several weeks passed before POWs detained in German camps were released.  Clarence's RFC service record indicates that he was "repatriated" on December 26, 1918.  He subsequently made his way to England, departing for Canada on January 30, 1919.  Three months later — April 30, 1919 — Lieutenant Clarence Cook was formally discharged from military service.

King George V's letter to Commonwealth POWs.

Several post-war events suggest that Clarence quickly settled into civilian life.  On June 18, 1919, he married Gladys Henrietta Eaton, a native of Granville Centre, Annapolis County.  The ceremony took place in Gladys' hometown, after which the newlyweds settled in Parrsboro, where Clarence commenced service as a Baptist minister.

After three years in the small Minas Basin community, Clarence decided to return to school, completing studies for a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Newton Theological Seminary, Massachusetts from 1922 to 1924.  During their time in the United States, Gladys gave birth to the couple's only child, Murray Eaton Cook.

Following graduation, Clarence returned to Nova Scotia, tending to the spiritual needs of Maritime congregations for more than three decades.  He served the first three years at Milton, Queens County (1924-27), followed by eight years in Canning (1927-35) and five years in Kingston, NS (1935-40).

During the 1940s, Clarence and his family relocated to Summerside, PEI (1940-44) and Quebec City, PQ (1944-48), subsequently returning to Nova Scotian congregations at Berwick (1948-55) and Chester (1955-60).  After 36 years in ministry, Clarence retired to Canning, NS, where he was appointed Honorary Pastor of the community's United Baptist Church.

His obituary describes Clarence as "a faithful preacher of the Gospel and a devoted and conscientious pastor".  His wartime experience no doubt shaped his particular interest in conflict resolution, a task to which Clarence committed himself throughout his ministry.  He also took a special interest in the congregation's youth, often spending his brief summer vacations as a leader at youth summer camps.

Rev. Clarence William Cook in later life.
Sadly, Gladys and Clarence's later life was touched with tragedy.  Their son, Murray, followed in his father's footsteps, graduating from Acadia University in 1943.  He subsequently enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force upon graduation and served overseas as a pilot.

Upon returning to Canada, Murray completed a Forestry program at the University of New Brunswick and was hired by Price Brothers Pulp and Paper, a large Quebec company.  He married Alice Avery, a native of Hartland, NB, and the couple soon gave Clarence and Gladys their first grandchild, Jane, in 1948.

In November 1949, Murray and a co-worker were navigating Quebec's Chicoutimi River on a surveying expedition for Price Brothers.  Tragically, their canoe overturned and both men drowned.  Murray was laid to rest in Willowbank Cemetery, Wolfville, NS.

Clarence was also an active member of the communities in which he ministered.  A member and Past Master of Markland Masonic Lodge, Kingston, NS,  he was also a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, serving as Chaplain of its Habitant Branch at Canning, NS in his later years.

Clarence William Cook passed away at his Canning, NS hoe on July 13, 1961.  He was laid to rest beside his son, Murray, in the Cook family plot, Willowbank Cemetery, Wolfville, NS.



Hogan, David B..  "The Eventful History of the Number 9 Stationary Hospital (St. GFrancis Xavier University), Canadian Army Medical Corps (1916 - 1920)".  Annals of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Volume 28, No. 6, September 1995.

Hunt, M. S.. "No. 9 Canadian Stationary Hospital." Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War.  Halifax, NS: The Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co., 1920.  Available online.

Raleigh, Walter & H. A. Jones.  The War In the Air: Being the Story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, Vol. IV.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934.  Available online.

Service Record of 2nd Lieutenant Clarence William Cook.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1939 - 32.  Available online.

Special thanks to Clarence's great-nephew, Chris Cook of Linwood, NS, who graciously provided a copy of Clarence's Royal Flying Corps service file, pictures and information about his post-war life.

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).