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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.