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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Remembering Private John J. Rabbie—Died of Sickness December 15, 1918

John J. Rabbie was born at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, on September 18, 1899, the second of George and Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Barrie) Rabbie’s six children and the eldest of their four sons. John spent his adolescent years in a community where the presence of soldiers was a daily occurrence. Throughout the First World War, personnel from the 94th Victoria Regiment (Argyll Highlanders) and 78th Regiment (Pictou Highlanders) guarded strategic locations in and around Canso.

Perhaps inspired by their daily activities, John enlisted with the 94th Victoria Regiment during the summer of 1917. After 11 month’s service in the Canso area, he attested with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Canso on June 29, 1918. Shortly afterward, John made his way to Halifax, where he was assigned to “F” Company, 6th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment. He was less than three months shy of his 19th birthday at the time.

Under the terms of his attestation, John’s military service would continue for six months after the signing of the November 11, 1918 Armistice. As autumn gave way to winter, the damp, crowded conditions at the Halifax barracks became a breeding ground for sickness. The situation was further complicated by the rapid spread of the deadly “Spanish flu,” carried to ports around the world by vessels arriving from Europe.

On November 30, John was admitted to the Cogswell St. Military Hospital with influenza and a suspected case of pleurisy. Medical records indicate that his body temperature was 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit (38.7 Celsius) and his heart beat an alarming 127 beats per minute at the time of his admission.

During the ensuing days, John’s condition did not improve. A December 10 laboratory report indicated the presence of streptococcal bacteria in his lungs. Three days later, a note in his medical file stated: “Patient very toxic, rapid pulse, feeble breathing.”

Pte. John J. Rabbie's headstone, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Halifax, NS
While John showed slight improvement the following day, his condition worsened dramatically on the morning of December 15 and he passed away at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. Private John J. Rabbie was laid to rest in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Mumford Road, Halifax, NS. John was 19 years and three months old at the time of his passing.

John’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Remembering Private James Walter Sullivan, MM—Canso, Nova Scotia's First CEF Enlistment

James Walter Sullivan was born at Canso, Guysborough County, on December 23, 1883, the seventh of David and Mary (Sutherland) Sullivan’s eight children and the sixth of their seven sons. As with many young men in his community, James went to work in the local fishery at an early age. On July 24, 1903, 19-year-old James married 26-year-old Mary Elizabeth “Minnie” Meagher, also a native of Canso. The couple soon welcomed their first children—twin daughters Mary Irene and Nora Kathleen—followed by a son, James Edmund.

A little more than a decade after their marriage, the outbreak of the war in Europe disrupted the Sullivan’s family life. A post-war news item in the Canso Breeze later stated that James, though married with a family to support, “… [felt] it his duty to offer his services, notwithstanding the fact that he would be obliged to leave his wife in delicate [circumstances] with three young children.” In early November 1914, he travelled to Halifax, NS, where “ he… enlisted with his wife’s consent and went overseas.”

On November 18, 1914, James officially enlisted with the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles), the first volunteer unit recruited within the province. Authorized on November 4, 1914, the 25th established offices in major towns and cities from Sydney to Yarmouth. James was almost 31 years of age—considerably older than the average recruit—at the time of his enlistment.

Pay records indicate that James’ military service actually commenced two days after the unit’s authorization. His attestation papers also state that he had served with an “active militia” unit at Canso, but provided no further details. In fact, James was the first Canso area resident to enlist for overseas service during the First World War.

May 20, 1915: The 22nd & 25th Battalions depart Halifax
On May 20, 1915, the 25th Battalion departed Halifax aboard SS Saxonia and arrived in England nine days later. James spent the summer months training at East Sandling Camp, near Folkestone, UK. During that time, the 25th was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, where it served alongside the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.

The 25th crossed the English Channel to France on September 15, 1915, and made its way northward to Belgium with the 2nd Division. Before month’s end, its soldiers commenced regular rotations in the treacherous Ypres Salient. While James’ first months in the line passed without incident, the possibility of death or injury was omnipresent.

On January 13, 1916, the 25th was deployed in Belgian trenches when German artillery fire targeted its sector. Four “other ranks” were killed and five others wounded during the bombardment. James was one of the casualties, admitted to field ambulance for treatment of a shrapnel wound to his face. The following day, he was transferred to No. 8 British Red Cross Hospital, Paris Plage, France. Fortunately, his injuries proved to be minor and James was discharged to a nearby convalescent camp one week later.

Before month’s end, James was released from medical care and reported to a nearby Canadian Base Depot. On February 3, he rejoined his 25th Battalion mates in Belgium. James’ service continued without further incident throughout the spring and early summer months. In mid-June, he received an eight-day pass to the United Kingdom. As his leave was coming to an end, James was admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital, London, for treatment of haemorrhoids. Medical records indicate that this condition developed during the winter of 1915-16 and persisted as the months passed.

James subsequently underwent surgery and spent three weeks recovering. On July 13, he was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, where he remained for the duration of the summer. James was discharged from hospital on September 29 and immediately reported for duty. Five days later, James joined the ranks of the 40th Reserve Battalion.

James’ time in reserve was brief. On November 20, he was transferred to the 25th Battalion and returned to France. Temporarily assigned to the 2nd Entrenching Battalion for the month of December, he rejoined the 25th’s ranks on January 6, 1917. At the time of James’ return, the unit was deployed in trenches near Angres, France.

During James’ absence, the 25th had relocated to Somme region of France in early September 1916 and participated in the Canadian Corps’ attacks on the village of Courcelette (September 15, 1916) and Thiepval Ridge (October 1916). In early November, the 25th moved northward to sectors near Arras, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916-17. As winter gave way to spring, the unit prepared for its role in the Canadian Corps’ impending attack on Vimy Ridge.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 25th occupied support positions while its 24th and 26th Battalion comrades launched the first stage of the 5th Brigade’s plan of attack—an assault on Zwischen Stellung, a German defensive line along the ridge. After their mates secured the location, the 25th’s soldiers passed through their lines and advanced toward Turko Graben, a second German defensive position near the village of Thélus. Once the Nova Scotians had captured their target, two British battalions completed the day’s advance, pushing German soldiers down the ridge’s eastern slopes and reaching the outskirts of Vimy village.

James’ performance in his first major battle earned him the Military Medal for “bravery in the field.” His medal citation described his actions in detail:

“For conspicuous gallantry and ability during the attack on Vimy Ridge [on] April 9, 1917. As a battalion scout, he was of very great assistance in maintaining proper direction. He bombed parties of the enemy in shell holes, captured single-handed a number of prisoners…[,] directed sections of his battalion against machine gun and bombing posts[,] and disposed of enemy snipers. His absolute disregard for danger, his energy…[,] resources and devotion to duty were exceptional.”

Following the capture of Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps served in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the spring and summer of 1917. On August 15, the 25th participated in the Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens. In early November, its personnel returned to Belgium and occupied support positions during the final stage of the Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. In the early evening of November 7—the day following the capture of the ridge’s last sections—the 25th entered front line positions, where its soldiers remained for 24 hours, enduring a fierce German bombardment before retiring from the line.

While his comrades made their way back to France, James received two weeks’ leave to the UK on November 12. Once again, he fell ill shortly as his leave came to an end. On November 27, James was admitted to Camp Bramshott Hospital for treatment of laryngitis. He remained under medical care until mid-January 1918, at which time he reported to 2nd Canadian Corps Depot, Bramshott. One month later, James was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit that provided reinforcements for the 25th and 85th Battalions.

While James may have anticipated rejoining his 25th Battalion comrades, a transfer to the front never materialized. In mid-August, he qualified as a 2nd Class Signaller, but perhaps due to his age did not return to France. On December 7, 1918—less than one month after the Armistice that brought combat to an end—James departed England aboard SS Olympic and arrived at Halifax six days later. A December 28, 1918 news item in the Canso Breeze described his homecoming:

“Word quickly spread over Canso that James Sullivan, Canso’s first soldier to enlist, had landed at Halifax from the steamer “Olympic” on 13th instant. While he was expected to return to Canso on Monday, [December] 16th, he did not arrive until Tuesday afternoon. A very large concourse of people waited at Whitman’s wharf for the arrival of the Robert G. Cann from Mulgrave and gave Mr. Sullivan a hearty welcome.”

While James’ return was a justifiably happy occasion, a significant number of the Canso area’s soldiers—29 in total—did not survive the war. Among the fatalities was James’ younger brother, Thomas, who was killed in action at Passchendaele, Belgium, on October 30, 1917, while serving with the 85th Battalion.

On January 18, 1919, Private James Sullivan, MM, was formally discharged from military service and returned to civilian life. He resumed his former occupation, finding work aboard the trawlers that fished along the Nova Scotian coast. For almost two years, life proceeded without incident for the Sullivan family. James’ trip to Sydney, NS, aboard a French fishing vessel in mid-September 1920, however, changed their lives forever.

On September 23, 1920, the Sydney Post printed a short news item with the heading “Seaman in Serious State.” Its content described an unfortunate incident that occurred at a local dock:

“The seaman Joseph [sic—James] Sullivan, of the French trawler Rayondor who met severe injuries by falling over the coal pier on Tuesday night [September 21] is reported by the hospital authorities to be regaining consciousness but his condition is still precarious and it is not yet known whether he will recover. Sullivan with two other sailors was standing at the edge of the pier at a distance 25 feet above the water when he missed his footing and fell. On the way down he struck a beam and was rendered [unconscious,] reaching the water in this condition. He was fished out by his companions and was taken in the ambulance to the city hospital.”

The following day—September 24, 1920—James Walter Sullivan succumbed to his injuries. His death certificate identified the cause of death as “fracture of spine.” James’ remains were transported to Canso, where he was laid to rest in Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Remembering Corporal William Thomas Uloth, MM—Died Accidentally November 12, 1918

William Thomas Uloth was born at Whitehead, Guysborough County, on December 18, 1894, the youngest of Margaret Jane “Maggie” (George) and John Samuel Uloth’s nine children. Sometime prior to the outbreak of war, William relocated to Pictou County, where he found employment as a steelworker.

Corporal William Thomas Uloth, MM
On February 26, 1916, William enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at New Glasgow, NS. He completed his initial training with at Pictou before relocating to the unit’s Truro headquarters several weeks later. The 106th departed from Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain in mid-July and landed at Liverpool, England, before month’s end.

Shortly after the 106th’s overseas arrival, the Canadian Corps made its way to Albert, France, where it participated in the final two months of the Somme offensive. A pressing need for reinforcements soon resulted in the unit’s dissolution. William was part of large group of 106th soldiers transferred to the 26th Battalion on September 21, 1916. The New Brunswick unit had suffered significant casualties at Courcelette in mid-September. Further losses incurred at Regina Trench before month’s end reduced its fighting strength to “about 200.”

In response, military authorities organized a reinforcement draft of 251 soldiers from the 106th. Private William Uloth was part of a group that joined the 26th’s ranks near Bouzincourt, France, on October 9 and immediately commenced service in the forward area. In late October, the 26th made its way northward to sectors near Lens, France, where its personnel served a regular rotation throughout the winter of 1916-17.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, William and his 26th Battalion mates were part of the first wave of Canadian soldiers who attacked a section of the German’s Vimy Ridge defences known as “Zwischen Stellung.” In less than 30 minutes, the unit secured its objective and held its position as the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia)—one of its 5th Brigade mates—passed through its lines and continued the attack.

In the months following the Canadian Corps’ capture of Vimy Ridge, the 26th served a regular rotation in nearby sectors. On August 15, 1917, its personnel participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France. The battalion made its way to Ypres, Belgium, in late October 1917, and took part in the final stage of the capture of Passchendaele Ridge on November 6.

In the aftermath of his Passchendaele service, William was promoted to the rank of Corporal. Upon returning to France in mid-November, the 26th served a regular rotation south of Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18. While Canadian units were unaffected by a series of German spring offensives that commenced on March 21, 1918, their soldiers “stood to” in anticipation of an impending attack and maintained extreme vigilance throughout subsequent tours.

Routine rotations continued until late June, when the 26th and its 5th Brigade comrades retired to General Headquarters Reserve Camp at Grand-Rullecourt for a period of rest and training. For the first time since arriving overseas, health issues interrupted William’s service. Diagnosed with “disordered action of the heart” on July 5, he spent the remainder of the month at several field ambulances and was finally evacuated to hospital at Camiers, France, at month’s end.

William spent three weeks at No. 20 General Hospital before he was discharged to a convalescent depot at Étaples in late August. He was deemed “fit for duty” in mid-September and rejoined the 26th in the forward area on September 20, 1918. During William’s absence, the battalion participated in the opening stage of a major Allied counter-offensive at Amiens in early August, followed by an attack on the German Hindenburg Line east of Arras in early September.

On the evening of September 25, the 26th withdrew from the line after a particularly bloody tour in trenches near Inchy-en-Artois. Following several days’ rest, the unit entered support positions northwest of Cambrai in early October and prepared for its next assignment. On the evening of October 8, William and his mates returned to the forward area. The following morning, 5th Brigade’s 22nd and 25th Battalions launched an attack on the village of Escaudoeuvres, while the 26th followed in support.

Late in the day, the 26th’s soldiers passed through their Brigade comrades’ lines and advanced toward the village of Naves. When enemy machine gun fire halted their progress, the unit consolidated its position and settled in for the night. On the morning of October 10, 4th Brigade units passed through the 26th’s lines and continued the attack. After spending five days in support positions, the battalion retired to an area east of Marquion, where personnel established camp.

While his comrades commenced training, William departed for temporary duty at 5th Brigade Headquarters. Two weeks later, he rejoined the 26th at Aniche, west of Valenciennes, France, as HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, observed its soldiers training. During the first days of November, the battalion marched toward the Belgian frontier in the wake of attacking Canadian units, arriving at Quiévrechain, France, on November 7.

The following morning, the 26th advanced in support as the 22nd and 25th Battalions—two of its 5th Brigade mates—crossed the Belgian border and captured the villages of Élouges and Dour. On November 9, 4th Brigade units passed through the 5th Brigade’s lines and continued the advance toward the city of Mons. Meanwhile, the 26th withdrew to billets at nearby Wasmes, where the remainder of the 5th Brigade later joined them.

On the morning of November 11, 1918, orders to “move forward to a village near Mons” were cancelled, “as an armistice would be signed at 1100 hours. There was great rejoicing in the village…. Lots of wine and cigars for everyone.” Later that day, William received a 14-day leave and immediately departed for England.

In the ensuing weeks, the 26th made its way toward the German border as part of the “Army of Occupation” accepted by Germany under the terms of the Armistice. Two weeks later, William failed to return to duty, an entry on his service record stating: “Not yet rejoined Battalion.” For several weeks, his whereabouts remained a mystery. Finally, on January 17, 1919, military authorities held a Court of Inquiry into his disappearance.

Private John Rafferty, one of William’s 26th comrades, had accompanied him on leave. Following his return to France, a brief illness delayed John’s return to the battalion. When he finally rejoined its ranks, John was able to shed light on William’s possible whereabouts.

The pair had arrived at Arras around mid-day November 12 and “entered an estimanet [a French café that sold alcoholic drinks],” where they remained until the establishment closed. As the soldiers attempted to return to their billets, they became lost and unwittingly encountered a local canal. The soldiers fell into the water, John stated that William called out his name in the darkness as the pair thrashed about.

John had no recollection as to how he managed to get out of the canal, but remembered stumbling into a nearby shack, where two “Military Linesmen” gave him some fuel and led him to a nearby shack. He spent several hours warming himself and resting before finding his way back to his billet. When he awoke the next morning, William’s gear was “where he had left it on the floor.” Assuming that he would return for it later in the day, John departed for the train station and continued his journey to England.

Based on John’s testimony, the Court of Inquiry concluded that “Corps. Uloth W. T. is missing and it is believed that he was drowned at Arras.” William’s service file contains no details as to how or when his remains were located. The information provided by Pte. Rafferty, however, may have helped officials identify a body recovered from the canal. Whatever the details, a headstone in Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, bears William’s name and lists his date of death as November 12, 1918.

Subsequent to his passing, Corporal William Thomas Uloth was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. Unfortunately, neither the April 3, 1919 London Gazette issue in which the award was announced nor William’s service file contain the details of the actions that merited such a distinguished honour.

William’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembering 2nd Lt. Alexander William McHardy—KIA November 10, 1918

Alexander William McHardy was born at McLellan’s Mountain, Pictou County, on June 3, 1894, the oldest of Alexander Campbell and Isabella (Fraser) McHardy’s six children. Billy, as he was known during his childhood years, was raised on a prosperous farm on the outskirts of New Glasgow. According to family sources, he was employed as a teacher in nearby Guysborough County prior to his military service.

2nd Lt. William Alexander "Bill" McHardy
Like many of his generation, as the war progressed, Bill felt it his duty to serve. Unlike many of his peers, however, he chose a different path, enlisting with the fledgling Canadian Aviation Corps in 1917 and completing his cadet training at Fort Worth, Texas. He received his wings on April 18, 1918 and a commission as Second Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force one week later.

As fighting on the ground intensified during the German Spring Offensive (March - April 1918) and subsequent Allied summer counter-offensive, air combat followed suit. Following his overseas arrival, Bill was posted to No. 2 Fighter Squadron on August 7, 1918, and commenced service as a Bristol fighter pilot in northeastern France. One month later, he was transferred to No. 154 Fighter Squadron, but following its dissolution was subsequently re-assigned to No. 20 Fighter Squadron on September 18.

Needless to say, service as a First World War fighter pilot was extremely perilous. On October 6, Bill was officially reported “missing” following a routine mission. His parents in distant Pictou County soon received a telegram, informing them of the situation. Thankfully, several days later, a second cable confirmed that Bill had safely returned to his squadron. According to a later news item in the Eastern Chronicle, Bill explained in a letter to his parents: “While in an air flight his engine went bad and he had to descend at a great distance from his headquarters and the trying cable had been dispatched to the father before he was able to report to his own command.”

The relief at Bill’s safe return was short-lived. On November 10, 1918, Bill departed from Iris Aerodrome, near present-day Clary, France, at mid-morning, in the company of seven other Bristol aircraft. In the observer seat with Bill was 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Rodger, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, who had commenced his service in France barely one month previously. Their mission was to support a group of De Havilland D.H. 9 bombers as they executed a “bombing run” near the city of Charleroi, Belgium.

As the planes made their way toward their target, they encountered a large formation of German Fokker DVII aircraft from Justa 50 Squadron. Approximately 35 miles northeast of Froidchapelle, the aircraft engaged in a “dogfight.” While four of the German Fokkers were destroyed, the RAF lost two Bristol fighters and five De Havillands during the skirmish. According to German records, 2nd Lieutenant Alexander William McHardy’s aircraft fell victim to Lt. Commander Hans von Freden’s Fokker at approximately 11:35 a.m.

Gaston Descartes, a five-year-old resident of Martinsart at the time. later recalled that Bill’s plane crashed in a field approximately one kilometre from his home, becoming  Freden’s 20th and final victory of the First World War. Unverified sources claim that 2nd Lieutenant McHardy and his observer, Lt. Rodger, were the last Royal Air Force crew lost during the First World War.

For more than a week, Bill’s fate remained a mystery. Finally, on November 19, 1918, a military official wrote the following note on his RAF file: “In view of… lapse of time, death has been accepted as having occurred in action on or since 10 - 11 - 18.” Military authorities subsequently located the crash site and recovered the crew’s remains. 2nd Lt. Alexander William McHardy and 2nd Lt. Alexander Rodger were laid to rest in Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension, Tourney, Hainaut, Belgium.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Remembering Private Percy Feltmate—KIA November 7, 1918

Percy Feltmate was born at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, on September 20, 1893. His parents’ names remain a mystery to genealogical researchers familiar with the Feltmate family tree. Adam and Mary Alice (Rhynold) Feltmate adopted Percy at an early age. The couple also raised a second adopted boy and three children of their own in their Hazel Hill home.
Private Percy Feltmate
On December 1, 1915, Percy enlisted with the 94th Victoria Regiment (Argyll Highlanders), a Cape Breton-based militia unit whose soldiers guarded several strategic locations in the Canso area throughout the First World War. Within months, an opportunity to serve overseas presented itself when recruiters for the 193rd Battalion visited the small fishing community. Percy attested with the unit on April 1, 1916 and departed for Camp Aldershot with other local volunteers in late May 1916.

The 193rd was one of four battalions that formed the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade. The 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions completed the Brigade’s ranks. The four units departed for England on October 12, 1916. Their overseas arrival coincided with the Canadian Corps’ service during the Battle of the Somme. The high number of casualties incurred at Courcelette (September 1916) and Regina Trench (October 1916) created a pressing need for reinforcements and resulted in the dissolution of two of the Brigade’s units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—before year’s end.

On December 29, 1916, Percy was transferred to the 185th Battalion, one of two Brigade battalions to avoid dissolution. He spent several months with the unit before receiving a transfer to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) on May 27, 1917. Percy immediately crossed the English Channel to France and joined his new unit in the forward area in mid-June.

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1917, Percy served a regular rotation in the line with the 25th. The battalion participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful August 15, 1917 attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France, and occupied support positions during the final stage of the Corps’ successful capture of Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium, in early November 1917.

The 25th spent the winter of 1917-18 in sectors near Lens, France, and was unaffected by a series of German spring offensives that commenced in late March 1918. Following a month-long, early summer break from the line, the 25th travelled southward to the outskirts of Amiens in late July and prepared for its role in an imminent Allied counter-offensive.

On the morning of August 8, 1918, the 25th occupied support positions while its 5th Brigade mates participated in the second stage of an attack on German positions east of Amiens. The following day, its soldiers continued the attack, securing the villages of Vrély and Méharicourt before days’ end. The battalion remained in the line until mid-month before retiring to a nearby camp. While Percy enjoyed a welcome two-week leave to the United Kingdom, his comrades returned to the Arras area, where they participated in an August 26 attack on German positions east of the town.

Percy rejoined the unit on September 2 and trained alongside his mates for several days before returning to the trenches at mid-month. While no major combat occurred during a tour near Inchy-en-Artois, both sides wrestled for control of No Man’s Land, with almost daily skirmishes resulting in daily casualties. While the 25th retired from the line on September 26, it assumed positions near the recently captured Canal du Nord two days later.

After spending a week and a half in support positions near Sailly, the unit participated in a successful attack on Canal de l’Escaut, north of the city of Cambrai, on October 9. Personnel remained in the line for five days before withdrawing to billets at nearby Tilloy. In subsequent weeks, the 25th’s 5th Brigade advanced northeastward toward the Belgian border, following in the wake of attacking Canadian Corps units.

On the night of November 6/7, Percy and his comrades returned to the front line near Rombies-et-Marchipoint, France. The following day, the 25th crossed the frontier into Belgium and advanced through the villages of Baisieux and Élouges. At day’s end, the unit’s war diary reported eight Officers wounded, 10 “other ranks” (OR) killed and 41 OR wounded.

While Percy had managed to escape injury during the first two months of the Allied counter-offensive, he was among the 25th’s November 7 fatalities. According to his “circumstances of casualty” card: “ During an attack on Élouges, he was shot through the head by an enemy sniper’s bullet and instantly killed.” Private Percy Feltmate was laid to rest in Élouges Communal Cemetery, Belgium.

Percy’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937," available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Remembering Private Lewis Walker Kelly, MM—DOW October 25, 1918

Lewis Walker Kelly was born at Caledonia, Guysborough County, on May 21, 1895, the eldest of George Walker and Laura Emma (Fulton) Kelly’s three children. Lewis spent his childhood years on the Kelly family farm, relocating in early adulthood to Pictou County, where he worked as an “auto driver.”
Pte. Lewis Walker Kelly's 193rd Battalion portrait
On March 7, 1916, Lewis enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at New Glasgow, NS. Two months later, he made his way to Camp Aldershot, where the 193rd trained alongside its Nova Scotia Highland Brigade comrades—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions. On August 2, Lewis was admitted to military hospital at Halifax for treatment of pneumonia. Discharged three weeks later, he recuperated for several weeks before being assigned to the Special Services Company, Halifax, on September 30.

Two weeks later, Lewis’s Highland Brigade mates departed for England, its overseas arrival coinciding with significant Canadian Corps casualties incurred at the Somme. As a result, two of its battalions—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved before year’s end and their members dispersed to other units. Meanwhile, Lewis remained in Nova Scotia, where he was transferred to the 246th Battalion—the Highland Brigade’s reinforcement unit—on December 9. He spent the winter of 1916-17 at Camp Aldershot, NS, while the 246th attempted to recruit its ranks to full strength.

While the 246th began dispatching its recruits to England in “reinforcement drafts” during the spring of 1917, a second health issue delayed Lewis’s overseas departure. On March 31, 1917, he was admitted to military hospital with diphtheria. Discharged to duty two and a half weeks later, Lewis finally boarded SS Olympic at Halifax on May 31 and arrived at Liverpool, England, nine days later. Transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) on June 11, he spent the remainder of the year at Camp Witley with his new unit, awaiting the opportunity to proceed to France.

When military authorities disbanded the 185th in February 1918, its ranks were gradually assigned to existing units. On March 8, 1918, Lewis was assigned to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) and immediately departed for France. Eight days later, he reported to his new unit’s camp at Raimbert, France.

Throughout the spring and early summer, Lewis served regular rotations in the line with the 25th. In late June, the battalion entered Divisional Reserve, its soldiers spending the following month training and rebuilding its ranks. On July 30, the unit made its way southward to Briquemesnil, near Amiens, France. Following a week’s preparation, the 25th assembled on the outskirts of Cachy during the evening hours of August 7. The following morning, its personnel participated in a massive Allied counter-attack on the German line east of Amiens.

On the first day of fighting, the 25th occupied support positions behind two of its 5th Brigade mates, the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos”) and 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) Battalions. The following day, the 25th participated in an attack on the village of Méharicourt. The unit remained in the line until mid-month and received several days’ rest before making its way northward to the Arras area on August 21.

On the evening of August 25, the 25th’s soldiers assembled at Beaurains and prepared for their second combat engagement in less than a month. The following morning, the 5th Brigade moved forward in reserve as Canadian units launched an attack on German positions east of Arras. Two of its battalions—the 24th and 26th (New Brunswick)—led the attack on August 27 and 28, while the 25th occupied support positions behind their comrades on both occasions.

On August 30, the unit retired from the line and spent the first two weeks of September training while rebuilding its ranks. Lewis came through the August engagements without injury and returned to the forward area with his comrades at mid-month. Prior its departure for the line, the 25th’s war diary reported that 23 of its “other ranks” (OR) had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery, while five other OR received a bar to the Military Medal, “in connection with the operations in front of Amiens.” Private Lewis Walker Kelly was one of the recipients, although the details of his actions on the battlefield were not recorded.

From September 19 to 26, the 25th completed a particularly challenging tour near Inchy-en-Artois, as its soldiers wrestled with their German foes for control of advance posts in No Man’s Land. Upon withdrawing from the line, the soldiers received a day’s rest before occupying trenches near the recently captured Canal du Nord on September 28. The 25th remained there for several days, awaiting orders to advance. On the afternoon of October 1, its personnel moved into support positions near Sailly, where they remained one week, “digging trenches” along a nearby railway line under cover of darkness.

At 1:30 a.m. October 9, the 25th participated in an attack on Canal de l’Escaut, located on Cambrai’s northern outskirts. During the early morning hours, it soldiers successfully captured their final objective on the city’s eastern side, while several Canadian units to the south passed through the city itself. The unit’s war diary later reported 15 “other ranks” (OR) killed and another 85 OR wounded during the day’s advance.

Private Lewis Walker Kelly was one of the day’s casualties. Evacuated to a nearby clearing station with “wounds [in his] back,” Lewis was initially described as “dangerously wounded.” By October 12, Lewis was stable enough to permit transport by ambulance train to No. 55 General Hospital, Boulogne. At the time of his admission, medical staff identified his injuries as “GSW [gunshot wound] back and head.”

Three days later, Lewis was invalided to England and admitted to Endell Street Military Hospital, London. While the evacuation suggests that his condition had stabilized, an October 24 note on his medical chart indicated that Lewis was “seriously ill,” suffering from paraplegia and incontinence. During the night, his condition “gradually got worse—delirious unconscious.” Private Lewis Walker Kelly died of wounds at 5:30 a.m. October 25, 1918, and was laid to rest in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.
Pte. Lewis Walker Kelly's headstone, Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey
Lewis’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Monday, 22 October 2018

Remembering Private Randolph Murray Giffin—KIA October 22, 1918

Randolph Murray Giffin was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, on June 27, 1896, the third of John MacMillan and Emma Maria (MacMillan) Giffin’s eight children. During Randolph’s early years, the family resided at Isaac’s Harbour, where John worked as a bookkeeper, but relocated to Halifax around 1908.
Pte. Randolph Murray Giffin's 219th Battalion portrait
On February 29, 1916, Randolph and an older brother, Lester Douglas, enlisted with the 219th Battalion at Halifax. At the time, the siblings were five feet, two and a half inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. Randolph and Lester spent the next seven months training, first at Halifax and later at Camp Aldershot, before the 219th departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12. Also on board the vessel were the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 193rd Battalions, the four units constituting the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

Before year’s end, two of the Brigade’s units—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved and their members transferred to other battalions. Lester was assigned to the 85th Battalion on December 28, 1916, while Randolph joined the unit on March 16, 1917. By that time, Lester had already crossed the English Channel to France with the battalion. Following a brief stint with the 4th Entrenching Battalion, Randolph joined the 85th’s ranks in the forward area on April 5.

Throughout the next 18 months, the brothers served side by side in the forward area. The pair were in the line during the 85th’s service at Vimy Ridge, France, and followed the battalion to Belgium for its Passchendaele assignment in late October 1917. On several occasions throughout his time with the 85th, Randolph served as a “batman” (male servant) to Lieutenant George Murray, a native of River John, NS, while Lt. Murray attended officers’ training courses.

The Giffin brothers served with the 85th throughout the spring and early summer of 1918, and were in the line on the morning of August 8, 1918, as the battalion participated in the launch of a major Allied counter-offensive on the German line east of Amiens, France. Four weeks later, its soldiers took part in a September 2 attack on the Drocourt-Quèant Line east of Arras, a section of the Germans’ Hindenburg defensive system. The 85th suffered an estimated 260 casualties—approximately 35 % of its “trench strength”—during the day’s fighting.

While Randolph and Lester came through both engagements without injury, the physical and mental strains exacted a price on their diminutive frames. Lester was particularly affected—on September 14, he reported to a nearby field ambulance, suffering from “debility.” Described by medical staff as “completely tired out,” he was subsequently invalided to England, where he remained in hospital for the duration of the war.

Meanwhile, Randolph continued his service in France, participating in the 85th’s September 27 attack on Bourlon, on the outskirts of Cambrai. Five days later, he followed his remaining comrades out of the line, the unit suffering more than 100 casualties during the tour. The battalion spent the first three weeks of October in reserve, training and re-organizing its ranks as the Canadian Corps advanced north of Cambrai, toward the Belgian border.

On the morning of October 22, the 85th was once again on the move, marching from Boeulx to Bessemer, on the outskirts of Denain, France. After a brief rest, personnel continued toward Rouvignies, southwest of Valenciennes. While the day’s war diary entry makes no mention of artillery fire during the march, Randolph became a casualty before day’s end: “While with his Battalion in the vicinity of Rouvignies, and during a halt waiting for greater density of darkness before proceeding further into the line, he was instantly killed by an enemy shell which exploded nearby.” Private Randolph Murray Giffin was laid to rest in Denain Communal Cemetery, Nord, France.
Pte. Randolph Murray Giffin's headstone, Denain Communal Cemetery
Randolph’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .