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Friday, 16 December 2011

Pte. Arthur Ellsworth Armsworthy - A Wounded Soldier's Story

Arthur Ellsworth Armsworthy

Date of Birth: March 2, 1897
Place of Birth: Canso, Guysborough County, NS
Mother's Name: Hannah Castella (Feltmate)
Father's Name: Sgt. William Alexander Armsworthy
Date & Place of Enlistment: December 24, 1915 at Truro, NS
Regimental Number: 715608
Rank: Private
Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force - Infantry
Name of Unit: 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) & 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion
Location of service: Northern France
Occupation at Enlistment: Farmer
Marital Status at Enlistment: Single
Next of Kin: Mrs. William (Hannah) Armsworthy (mother)
Arthur Ellsworth Armsworthy was born on March 2, 1897, in Canso, NS, the oldest of seven children raised by William and Hannah Armsworthy.  His father would also serve overseas during the First World War.  Arthur spent his early years in Canso before moving with his family to Belmont, Colchester County at the age of 12.  He spent his early adolescence working on the family farm before leaving the tranquility of rural Nova Scotia for the excitement - and danger - of the distant "great war".  On Christmas Eve 1915, Arthur enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Thus began a three year journey during which Arthur would participate in several of World War I's most significant events.

No. 1 Platoon, 106th Nova Scotia Rifles (Arthur E. Armsworthy is number 9)

Before departing for overseas duty, Arthur completed a will, dated July 12, 1916, bequeathing all real and personal property to his mother.  Three days later, he boarded the SS Empress of Britain in Halifax, along with the other members of the 106th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles, for the perilous journey across the North Atlantic.  On July 25, the ship safely docked in Liverpool, England, where the regiment continued to train in preparation for deployment in Europe.

Pte. Arthur E. Armsworthy (portrait from platoon photo)
On September 27, 1916, Arthur was transferred to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick Regiment), the unit which he would receive all of his combat experience.  When he reached the 26th in northern France on October 13, the battalion was on the move.  As part of the 2nd Canadian Division, it has fought in the Battle of the Somme, which commenced on July 1 and lasted into November 1916.  The first major Allied offensive of the war, its purpose was to break the stalemate in northern France.

By autumn, it was clear that the Somme offensive had failed.  In the two weeks before Arthur's arrival, the 26th participated in two unsuccessful attacks on a section of the German lines known as "Regina Trench", near Courcelette, France.  Relieved of front line duty in mid-October, the regiment was reassigned to a "quieter" section of the front lines between Arras and Lens, leaving a final, successful assault on the German position to the men of the 4th Canadian Division.

Regina Trench, October 1916
Source: Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919.

While the battalion's relocation brought welcome relief from the bloody combat of the Somme, their new location soon became the focus of another major Allied offensive.  In the spring of 1917, Allied commanders developed plans for an assault in the Arras sector.  The Canadian Corps was given the task of capturing the most well fortified German position, an area of high ground known as Vimy Ridge.

Throughout the spring, Canadian soldiers trained for an assault scheduled for early April.  The 26th Battalion war diary describes the men "practicing over tape trenches", a model of the ridge - complete with markings indicating the location of German defences - laid out in fields behind the front lines.  On April 7, training ceased and the men prepared to leave for the front trenches.  The following day - Easter Sunday - Arthur and the men of the 26th were issued rations and supplies in preparation for battle, and by evening had moved into position in the "jumping off trench" assigned to their unit.

At 5:30 am Monday, April 9, the Allied artillery opened its barrage of the German front lines.  Arthur and the men of the 26th Battalion went "over the top", advancing up the ridge toward the German front lines.  Executing the "Vimy walk" they had so carefully rehearsed, they followed the artillery barrage as it "rolled" across the battlefield, trapping the enemy soldiers in their bunkers until the Canadians reached the German front lines.  The battalion's war diary observed that "casualties in the attack were slight".  Arthur, however, was among the wounded, struck in the right arm by a bullet as the battalion advanced toward the German front lines. 

After receiving initial treatment at the 26th Battalion Field Clearing Hospital, Arthur was sent to England on April 14, arriving at the Clearing Hospital in Eastleigh, Hampshire the following day.  After a stay of eight days, he was moved to the Fulham Military Hospital, St. Dunstan's Rd., London, where he spent a month recovering from his wounds.   On May 25, 1917, medical records indicate that Arthur was discharged from the military hospital and sent to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bromley, Kent for further rehabilitation.

Eastleigh Clearing Hospital, about 1915

On May 31, 1917, Arthur was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Depot, where he spent an additional ten weeks recuperating before being assigned to the 13th Reserve Depot.  He would pass the next twelve months in England with the 13th and the New Brunswick Regimental Depot, before returning to active duty with the 26th Battalion on August 22, 1918.  Arthur proceeded to France the following day, rejoining the battalion in the field on August 28.

By this time, the war was entering a new phase.  A major German spring offensive had been repelled, and Allied forces launched a successful counter-attack at Amiens in early August.  By the end of the month, Canadian regiments were moving into position for a new assault on German positions in the Arras-Cambrai region.  When Arthur arrived at the front, the 26th was once again on the move to Raillencourt, near Cambrai.  After several weeks of rest and training in reserve, the battalion returned to the front lines on September 19.

In early October, the battalion prepared for a major attack on the German positions at Cambrai.  Arthur and his comrades moved into position on October 8, and the attack was launched the following day.  The battalion's war diary noted that a 5:30 pm advance was "held up by machine gun fire" that resulted in 4 fatalities and 78 wounded.  Arthur was among the casualties, sustaining wounds to his neck, left thigh and left ankle. 

Once again, Arthur was evacuated to England and admitted to the Barry Road Primary Military Hospital, Northampton on October 12.  One month later, he heard the news of the armistice that ended the war at 11 am November 11, 1918 while being treated at Barry Road.  On November 16, he was transferred to a regional hospital where he continued to recuperate and was discharged to a military convalescent home in Epson on December 4.  Two days before Christmas 1918, Arthur was released from hospital and placed in the 13th Reserve Battalion, where he spent the remainder of his time overseas.

SS Belgic, part of the famous White Star Line

On February 22, 1919, Arthur boarded the SS Belgic for the return voyage to Canada, arriving in Halifax on March 2, 1919 - his twenty-second birthday.  He was discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 22 and returned to the community of Belmont, Colchester County.  In recognition of his military service in Europe, Arthur was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. 

Returning to civilian life, Arthur married Sadie Florence Brunt on December 24, 1924.  They raised fourteen children on their farm in Belmont, until Arthur's deteriorating health led to their relocation to nearby Truro in the early 1950s.  Arthur Ellsworth Armsworthy passed away on September 12, 1955, as a result of complications related to heart disease, and is buried in Belmont, NS..  He had participated in several of World War I's most significant events and twice recovered from severe wounds, a remarkable story of adventure for a young man whose life story began in Canso, Nova Scotia.


1. Nicholson, Colonel G. W. L.. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919.  Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, 1962.  Available online.

2. Obituary of Arthur E. Armsworthy,  Chronicle-Herald, September 14, 1955.

3. Service file of Arthur Ellsworth Armsworthy.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.  RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 240 - 3.   Available online.

4. War Diary of the 26th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.  Available online.

5. Information provided by family relatives Daryl Armsworthy and Garth Staples.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Soldier's Wage

Each soldier who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force was paid a wage according to rank and location of service.  Throughout the entire war, the daily pay rate by rank was:

Colonel or Lt-Colonel: $ 5.00
Major: $ 4.00
Captain: $3.00
Lieutenant (qualified or provisionary): $ 2.00
Paymaster, Quartermaster: $ 3.00
Adjutant, in addition to pay of rank: $ .50
Brigade, Regimental or Staff Sergeant Major: $ 1.85
Brigade, Regimental or Staff Sergeant Major (if Warrant Officer): $ 2.00
Brigade, Regimental or Staff Sergeant Major (if Quartermaster Sergeant: $ 1.60
Orderly Room Sergeant: $ 1.50
Pay Sergeant: $ 1.60
Squadron Battery Troop or Company Sergeant Major: $ 1.60
Squadron Battery Troop or Company Quartermaster Sergeant: $ 1.50
Farrier Sergeant: $ 1.50
Sergeant: $ 1.35
Corporal: $ 1.10
Bombardier or Second Corporal: $ 1.05
Private, Gunner, Sapper*, Driver, Batman**: $ 1.00

In addition to regular pay, a soldier serving overseas received a "field allowance" based on rank:

Colonel: $ 1.50
Lt-Colonel: $ 1.25
Major: $ 1.00
Captain: $ .75
Lieutenant: $ .60
Warrant Officer: $ .30
Staff Sergeant: $ .20
Sergeant: $ .15
Rank and file (Corporal, Bombardier or Second Corporal, Private, etc.): $ .10

Each soldier was paid on a monthly basis.  For example, Robert Burns' service record indicates he earned $33.00 for the month of June 1915, when his unit was posted on the front lines near Ypres, Belgium - the standard $ 1.00 per day ($ 30.00 total) paid to all CEF privates and an additional $ .10 per day ($ 3.00 total) for service overseas.  Robert thus received a cash payment of $ 26.75, with a balance of  $ 6.25 carried forward as a credit.  The following month - July 1915 - Robert received $ 40.00 - $34.10 for the 31 days of July and an additional $ 5.90 of his unpaid June wages, leaving a credit of $ .35 .

Robert received a cash payment of $ 34.06 in August 1915, but only $ 5.35 of the $ 33.00 earned in September, $ 2.61 of $ 34.10 earned in October and $ 5.30 of the $ 33.00 earned in November 1915, the month of his death.  It is reasonable to assume that there was little need for money while stationed at the front, thus the small amounts of cash drawn over these months.  A note after November's pay record states: "Killed in action 25/11/15… Over-credited 5 days in Nov.", for which $ 5.50 was deducted from the credit balance owed.  On May 29, 1916, a total of $ 82.41 was sent to Ottawa for settlement and forwarded to Robert's listed next-of-kin, his sister Annie Burns of Salmon River Lakes.

A soldier was permitted to assign a portion of their monthly pay - up to 80 % - to a relative or dependent.  Pte. Edward Burns of Salmon River Lakes, Guys. Co., 236th Overseas Battalion, CEF - a younger brother to Robert - assigned pay to his mother, Mrs. Ellen Burns, beginning on November 1, 1917 and lasting for the duration of the war.  Over the remaining 12+ months of the conflict, Edward received $ 255.00, while $ 495.00 was forwarded to his mother, for a total salary of $ 750.00 .  (Note: The amounts paid exceed the monthly stipend of $ 34.10 as Edward's salary was "in arrears", and therefore an additional $ 40.00 was added to each month's wages.)

A soldier could also draw upon any money owed to him at any time during the month by requesting funds from the paymaster.  These payments were recorded in an "Active Service Pay Book" that was issued to each soldier.  This document was stored in his breast pocket of his tunic.  

Pay Book of Pte. Edward Burns, Salmon River Lakes

Instructions on the first two pages outlined the rules and regulations concerning its use.  For example, if wounded and sent to a hospital, instructions stated that the pay book must remain in his possession.

Instructions for Pay Book Use

A pay book also contained basic information about its owner - his name, address, next of kin, the name of the person to which a portion of salary was assigned and the amount, the soldier's unit, regimental number, rank, occupation, attestation date and religion. 

Information pages from Edward Burns' pay book

The majority of the remaining pages were devoted to recording pay advances requested by the soldier.  Edward Burns' pay book lists several such payments, including one made on December 18, 1918 prior to "Leave to Brussels". 

Record of pay advances from Pte. Edward Burn's pay book

The final pages of the pay book contained a sample will, along with instructions on the process for writing both a "formal" and a "military" will.  A "formal" will dealt with the soldier's property and possessions at home and was to be completed using an appropriate form in the presence of two witnesses and a "testator", likely a commanding officer.  A "military will" referred to a soldier's personal effects, including any wages owed at the time of death.  Edward's pay book indicated that on October 29, 1917 he completed a "Military Will" that was forwarded to the "Officer, i/c Estates Branch" in Canada for safekeeping.  A final page at the end of the pay book was used to record vaccinations and other preventive medical services administered to the soldier.    

 Instructions for Writing a Formal Will

At the end of the war, every soldier with at least six months overseas service or one year service in Canada received a gratuity based upon length of service and rank.  Payment to a private who had served overseas ranged from a maximum of $ 420 for three years or more service to $ 210 for less than one year service.  Pte. Edward Burns was eligible for a War Service Gratuity of $ 280.00.  This sum was paid in four monthly installments of $ 70 beginning on March 15, 1919, the date of his discharge.  Soldiers also received a separation allowance of $ 120.00, divided into four monthly payments.  In total, Pte. Edward Burns received the balance of his salary owed on discharge ($ 133.74), a War Service Gratuity of $ 280.00 and separation allowance of $ 120.00 , for a respectable total of $ 533.74 .
* Sapper: A combat soldier who performed an engineering or construction task related to military activity.  For example, sappers built bridges, laid or cleared minefields, constructed field defences, billings, roads and airfields in addition to carrying out necessary repairs.  They were fully trained infantry soldiers who could be placed in a combat role when required. (Source: Wikipedia)

**: Batman: A soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. (Source: Wikipedia)


1. Campbell, Brenda.  "Lest We Forget: Reliving the Life of a Canadian Soldier".  Learning Centre, Library and Archives Canada.  (List of pay by rank obtained from this source.)

2. Nicholson, Col. G. W. L.. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1962.  Available online.

3. Service Record of Pte. Edward Burns, Regimental No. 1030709.  Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, Accession 1992-923/166, Box 1300 - 11.

4. Service Record of Pte. Robert Burns, Regimental No. 57983.  Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1306 - 47.

Images from Pte. Edward Burns' pay book courtesy of his nephew Rod MacDonald, Salmon River Lake.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Private Robert Burns—My Great Uncle's Story

Today, I am posting what is the first of a series of biographies of various Guysborough County World War I veterans.  Each month, I plan to choose a soldier for whom I have gathered sufficient information to present a summary of their life and wartime experience.   Several will be veterans to whom I have a personal connection through family, marriage or personal acquaintance with living relatives.  Others will be chosen in an effort to represent the variety of veterans' military experiences or the particular nature of their stories.  I hope that you find them informative, and that I do justice to the stories of their lives.

The following post describes the life and brief military career of Pte. Robert Burns.  I have chosen to begin with this posting for several reasons.  Firstly, Pte. Burns is my great-uncle - a brother to my grandmother.  Secondly, I have over time gathered considerable information about his life and in particular the battalion in which he was enlisted.  This has allowed me to reconstruct the story with what I believe to be an accurate account of his wartime experience.  Finally, this is the 96th anniversary of Pte. Burn's death - a fitting date on which to remember and reflect upon his sacrifice.

Subsequent posts will not be as detailed as this one.  I was fortunate to have access via the Internet to the 20th Battalion's daily war diary.  That fact, combined with the brief duration of Pte. Burns' military service, made it possible to present an overview of his experience from the moment of his arrival in France to his death.  The details describing trench life also provide an appropriate background for later biographies.
 Pte. Robert Burns (Center) 

Date of Birth: May 13, 1891(1901 census lists date as May 15, 1891) 
Place of Birth: Salmon River Lakes, Guysborough County, NS 
Mother's Name: Ellen J. (Long) (1865 - 1944) 
Father's Name: Robert E. Burns (1843 - 1919) 
Date of Enlistment: January 8, 1915 at Toronto, Ontario 
Regimental Number: 57983 
Rank: Private 
Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force - Infantry 
Regiment: 1st Central Ontario Regiment 
Name of Unit: 20th Infantry Battalion 
Location of service: Belgium 
Occupation at Enlistment: Miner 
Marital Status at Enlistment: Single 
Next of Kin: Sister Annie named on attestation papers
Robert Burns was the third child - second son - in a family of 11 children, two of whom died in infancy.  (The second youngest child – Rose Ellen – was my grandmother.)  Two of Robert’s younger brothers also served in the Canadian military.  Edward saw service in World War I and Joseph served in World War II.

After the departure for England of the First Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force in October 1914, the Canadian government commenced recruitment of a Second Contingent during the winter of 1914-15.  Robert’s enlistment date – January 8, 1915 – indicates that he was part of this campaign. Like many young men of his day, Robert left Nova Scotia in search of gainful employment elsewhere.  When he enlisted in Toronto, he gave his occupation as"miner", suggesting employment in the "hard rock" mines of northern Ontario before volunteering for overseas military service. 

Unlike the First Contingent, which had crossed the Atlantic in one large convoy, the Second Contingent sailed for England in the spring of 1915 in separate, unescorted vessels.  Robert’s transport, SS Megantic, owned by the famous White Star Line, departed Montreal on May 16 and arrived in England on May 24, 1915.  Robert and his comrades spent the summer training at Shorncliffe, near the coast of Kent, England.  The 20th Battalion was amongst the units reviewed by H. R. H. King George V and Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of War, on September 2.  This must have been a remarkable experience for a 24-year-old from the heart of Guysborough County! 

The 20th Battalion departed Folkestone, England for France at 10:15 pm September 14, on board the Duchess of Argyle.  The Battalion’s war diary describes the journey as a “short, rough passage”.  The unit disembarked at Boulogne, France at 12:30 am.  Robert and rest of the battalion then marched for three miles before arriving - exhausted - at a rest camp at 2 am, September 15.

As daylight broke, the battalion continued its journey eastward toward the front on foot, with the exception of one short train ride.  By nightfall on September 16, 75 % of the battalion had arrived in Eecke, a small French town close to the Belgian border.  The daily war diary entry notes that “a great many fell out from sore feet and exhaustion”, a problem the officers blamed on “English boots [that] are made differently from the Canadian [ones]”.  Robert and his colleagues underwent additional training in the Eecke area in cloudy but warm weather, as the men regained their strength after the arduous journey from the coast.

The 20th Battalion was assigned to the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division, and given the task of defending a section of the front line near the village of Messines, in the Ypres Salient.  By September the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April – May 1915) had resulted in small but significant changes to the combatants’ battle positions.  The Germans now held the higher ground in the regions of Passchendaele and Messines, and the battle had significantly reduced the size of the Ypres Salient held by Allied troops.  As summer gave way to fall, the two sides settled into a routine of enemy trench bombardment, sniper fire, and perilous night raids in an effort to inflict whatever damage possible - physical or psychological - on their opponents.

By late September, 20th Battalion units occupied positions along the front line in the areas of Dranoutre and St. Quentin, Belgium, southwest of Ypres.  On September 28, the battalion took its first casualties under heavy shelling – one killed and three injured.  By this time, temperatures had dropped and rain worsened the already poor living conditions in the Allied trenches.  Sniper and artillery fire were a constant danger as Robert and his Canadian colleagues attempted to repair the dilapidated trenches when weather conditions made it possible. 

Direct verbal exchanges with the enemy were not uncommon.  The September 29th War Diary entry noted a plea from the enemy, whose supply lines had been interrupted by Allied machine gun fire.  When German soldiers offered to surrender “the whole bloody trench for some bully beef [and bread]”, a Canadian soldier replied, “Sure, we’ll give you bread”.  He then emptied two ammunition clips in their direction, saying: “Take the crust first”. 

Shelling and sniper fire continued into October as living conditions became increasingly “muddy and uncomfortable”.  The unit was finally relieved of front line duty on October 2, falling back to the relative comfort of Dranoutre.  One week later, Robert was back on the front lines at St. Eloi, where the trenches were in poor condition.  Action was less intense than the battalion’s first week at the front, although sniper fire remained a constant threat. Robert no doubt took part in the battalion’s efforts to improve their living conditions.

The war diary describes considerable activity on October 13 as the men feigned an attack, complete with smoke bombs and “rapid bursts of fire”.  The Germans responded with artillery fire, including “incendiary shells” that inflicted burns on several men.  One comment of interest – underlined for emphasis – was that “the jamming of rifles was frequent”. This was a common problem with the Canadian manufactured Ross Rifles that were standard issue to Canadian troops at this time.  By the end of the day, the situation had returned to the relative calm of previous days. 

The October 14 diary entry recorded the death of a Private Mitchell from sniper fire.  Otherwise, the situation was quiet.  The following day, the battalion was relieved once again by the 21st.  The men spend the next few days training, bathing, attending religious service, engaging in football [soccer] games between rival companies, and enjoying the battalion band’s musical talents.  Despite the relative normality of life behind the front lines, the psychological impact of combat was evident in the war diary’s comment that one of its captains “was suffering from a nervous breakdown, and will not be back here for duty”.

On October 21, the men relieved the 21st Battalion and Robert returned to the front lines at Dickebusch.  Considerable aircraft activity occurred over the next few days as weather conditions were clear.  Aside from two casualties caused by enemy gunfire and the occasional artillery shell, the week passed without incident and the battalion was once again relieved on October 27.   The men spent the week repairing the condition of their reserve accommodations, which had deteriorated due to the weather and poor soil consistency.   
Robert Burns
20th Battalion was part of 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade.
Click image to enlarge.
(Source: Nicholson, G. W. L. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919.)

After only four days’ rest, the battalion was unexpectedly ordered back to the front lines at Dickebusch. Once again, Robert and his comrades set about improving the wretched living conditions.  As the weather was damp and cold, the men welcomed receipt of “goat skin coats and waterproof capes”, although there was a dire shortage of rubber boots.  A spell of wet weather wreaked havoc, causing trenches and dugouts to collapse due to lack of proper drainage.

The November 3rd diary entry recorded “a cessation of rifle fire” due to a “sort of mutual agreement".  This was a welcome relief to the men, considering the terrible condition of the front line’s parapet and communication trenches.  A break in the weather allowed the men to undertake much-needed repairs and commence construction of a breastwork behind the front line trenches, tasks in which Robert no doubt participated.  The battalion was once again relieved by the 21st on the afternoon of November 7.

During their week in the support trenches, the officers conducted a foot inspection.  While the “general condition of the feet is good, …there are a few who show signs of Trench Foot” from the mud, cold and water endured during the previous week.  The men participated in physical drill, machine gun and bomb training sessions, weather permitting.

On November 14, one soldier was killed and two wounded as the 20th once again relieved the 21st Battalion in the Dickebusch section of the front line.  The men continued work on the breastwork behind the front line trenches.  The war diary noted: “The front line is in very bad condition and offers very little resistance or protection”.   Under heavy shelling for several days, the battalion suffered its “worst day” of battle experience on November 17, when five men were killed and two wounded in four separate incidents.  By now, no doubt the harsh realities of trench warfare were becoming apparent to Robert and his comrades.  The battalion was relieved once again by the 21st on November 18th.

A spell of colder weather brought unexpected relief, solidifying the mud and making living conditions more bearable.  Despite frequent artillery fire, the men continued training and trench repair, before returning to the Dickebusch trenches on November 22.  One soldier was killed by sniper fire while working on the breastwork, an incident that proved to be an ominous occurrence for Robert.  Mist, fog and showers made conditions uncomfortable for the next several days.

On November 25th, the weather was “fine all day with showers at night”.  The men placed 20 knife rests along the front of “O” trenches early in the morning, an activity in which Robert may well have participated.  If so, it would be his last contribution to the Canadian war effort.  The War Diary entry tersely noted that “Pte. Burns, No. 4 was killed while on working party”, a probable victim of the deadly sniper fire that took the lives of so many Canadian soldiers.

On the following day - November 26th - the 20th Battalion was relieved by the 21st.
Robert Burns is buried in Ridge Wood Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, 5 kilometers southwest of Ypres.  His death is commemorated on Page 7 of the First World War Book of Remembrance on display in the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa.  He posthumously received the British War Medal in recognition of his overseas service.  While records indicate that Robert was also eligible for the Victory Medal and 1914-15 Star, neither medal was issued.  His mother, Mrs. Ellen Burns, received the Memorial Cross medal in memory of her deceased son, along with a commemorative plaque and scroll sent to all families who lost a member in combat.  The location of these items today is a mystery.  Only the British War Medal has survived in the possession of Robert’s nephew, Rod MacDonald of Salmon River Lake.

Grave of Pte. Robert Burns    
1.  Nicholson, Colonel G. W. L.. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919.  Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, 1962.  Available online. 

2. Service record of Private Robert Burns.  Library and Archives Canada.  Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1306 - 47. Available online.

3. War Diaries – 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  Library and Archives Canada.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Stories To Tell

Every human life tells a story.  Some of these stories – the lives of the rich and famous – are very familiar to us.  Many others remain untold, yet have much to reveal about the human experience.

My goal is to share the life stories of Guysborough’s World War I veterans, some through the medium of this blog and the remainder in the form of a future publication.  At present count, there are approximately 900 stories to tell.  Some will contain a great amount of detail; others will remain frustratingly incomplete.   Some will exhibit bravery and determination; others will seem mundane and routine.  Some will end in triumph, others in tragedy.   All stories will reveal something about the experience of participating in what is perhaps the most significant event of the 20th century – certainly, one that shaped the world in which we live.

The task of collecting the fragments of these stories and combining them into a coherent narrative is a challenging one, as some pieces of information are simply not available.  It is my hope to make each story as complete as possible, given the available sources of information.

I plan to share several veterans’ stories on this blog – as well as updates on the project’s progress – over the upcoming months.  My goal is to complete biographical sketches of all Guysborough Great War veterans as we mark the commemoration of the centenary of the war’s events from 2014 to 2018.  The final format remains to be determined.  Whether print or web format, my goal is to make these stories available to all interested in reading them.

I will begin shortly by posting the story of the veteran whose life story brought me to this project – my great-uncle, Robert Burns of Salmon River Lake.   In the meantime, please contact me if you have any information to contribute to this project.  I would also be pleased to answer any questions you may have about individuals of interest to you, should such information be available.