Place of Birth: Canso, NS
Mother's Name: Margaret Waterston (Simpson)
Father's Name: John Aitken Morrison
Dates of Enlistment: December 21, 1914 (initial enlistment) & January 6, 1916 (after receiving officer's commission)
Previous Military Experience: 94th Battalion (militia unit)
Regimental Number: 2012
Forces: Canadian Expeditionary Force; Royal Flying Corps
Names of Units: 2nd Divisional Engineers; 5th Field Coy. Canadian Engineers; 2nd Signal Coy. Canadian Engineers; 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles); 26th Reserve Battalion; 15 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps
Location of service: Canada, England & France
Occupation at Enlistment: Cable Operator
Marital Status at Enlistment: Single
|Lt. Sholto Douglas Morrison, Canso, NS|
Sholto received his early education in Canso and England and followed his father into the communication field as a cable operator. Like many young men of his day, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary force shortly after the outbreak of the war. On December 21, 1914, Sholto enlisted as a "sapper" with the 2nd Divisional Engineers, 5th Field Company, CEF at Ottawa. He spent the next year in the national capital - five months with the 2nd Division Signal Corps, followed by six months at the Engineers' Training Depot - preparing for an overseas assignment.
Unfortunately, health issues delayed a transfer to overseas duty. A case of acute appendicitis in May 1915 resulted in two operations and a period of convalescence that extended into November 1915. On November 30, Sholto was formally discharged from the Canadian Engineers, pending receipt of an officer's commission. He was appointed a Lieutenant in the 94th Regiment on December 16, 1915 and promptly re-enlisted at Truro, NS on January 6, 1916. Lt. Morrison was assigned to "light duty" until April 1916 as he continued his recovery.
On July 15, 1916, Sholto was transferred to the 106th Battalion - Nova Scotia Rifles - and appointed Signalling Officer in its Signal Corps. Two other Guysborough natives - Pte. R. J. Feltmate of Canso and Pte. Charles R. Keating of Mulgrave - were amongst the men under his command. The Maritimes' first rifle regiment, the 106th was founded in November 1915 and was based in Truro, with additional companies located in Springhill and Pictou.
|106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) portrait|
On July 31, Sholto was attached to the 1st Co. Signal Base, where he completed the "First Class 34 Field Telegraph Sig. Course" from August 16 to September 21. He then returned to the 106th Battalion on October 5 and was assigned to "1st CTB Signal Base". He spent the next three months at the battalion's Bedfordshire camp near Folkestone, nicknamed "Caesar's Camp" because of its proximity to the famous Roman Emperor's 55 BC encampment.
|Signal Corps, 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles)|
The Royal Flying Corps had been created in May 1912. By the end of the year, it consisted of one squadron of airships and three aircraft squadrons, each equipped with twelve planes. With the war's outbreak, its size increased rapidly, reaching a total of 166 aircraft by mid-1915. The Corps, however, was still significantly smaller than its French counterpart, which boasted a fleet of 1150 aircraft by that time.
RFC aircraft initially focused on directing artillery gunfire and taking aerial photographs for intelligence purposes. While its planes did engage in the occasional "dogfight" with German foes, such encounters were largely coincidental. Aircraft were primarily considered to be "forward eyes" for infantry units on the ground, observing German positions and movements and passing this information to military headquarters. As the war progressed, however, new roles emerged and specific planes were eventually designed for these purposes.
|RFC Pilot Training School, Gosford, England (c. 1917)|
By the spring of 1917, the RFC was losing nearly 50 aircraft a week. The month of April saw its greatest losses - 245 airplanes shot down, 211 air crew killed and another 108 taken prisoner - in what came to be known as the "Fokker Scourge", a reference to the famous German aircraft manufacturer. This dramatic increase finally prompted the development and adoption of aircraft designed for specific military tasks, particularly fighters and bombers. The situation improved significantly during the summer of 1917 with the arrival of the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Camel and Bristol Fighter, planes specifically designed for aerial combat. By year's end, the British and French had managed to achieve aerial superiority over their German opponents.
|RFC members with aerial photography cameras|
By the time of Sholto's arrival in France, RFC squadrons had been outfitted with a new aircraft, the R.E. 8 . Nicknamed the "Harry Tate" because of its initials' phonetic resemblance to a popular British comedian of the day, the two-seater biplane was designed to replace the widely used BE 2 (Bleriot Experimental). Its primary weapons were a synchronized, forward-facing Vickers machine gun operated by the pilot and one or two 303 calibre Lewis guns mounted in the rear gunner position. While it could also carry a small bomb rack under each wing, its primary role was aerial reconnaissance. By war's end, over 4000 "Harry Tates" had rolled off the assembly line, making it one of the most common aircraft flown on the Western Front.
The cockpit contained a small radio and photographic equipment. On a typical mission, the pilot operated the camera and directed artillery fire using a Morse code key connected to the plane's radio. Meanwhile, the observer in the rear seat scanned the skies for enemy aircraft and strafed enemy positions on the ground. One can imagine the strong bond that formed between the air crew during combat. Family sources state that "the pilot-observer partnership of Sholto Douglas Morrison with [observer] Ted Wrelton Smith became a life-long friendship". It also explains the "strong allegiance" that Sholto felt to 15 Squadron in the years after the war. A pilot's survival was indeed dependent on the individuals who repaired and maintained his plane, in addition to the observer who quite literally "watched his back".
|Aerial photograph of Passchendaele battlefield, November 1917|
It was not long before Sholto and Ted experienced the dangers of reconnaissance flying. On November 25, the crew suffered its first plane crash while participating in the attack on Cambrai. Sholto was "rendered unconscious…, being hit on the head and back". Later medical reports state that he was "unconscious for several hours". He quickly recovered and was back in the air, only to endure a second "bad crash" on December 12.
Despite these incidents, Sholto continued to fly reconnaissance missions throughout the early months of 1918. During the German "Spring Offensive" of March 1918, 15 Squadron was constantly in the air, primarily carrying out artillery observation. Pilots recorded positions hit by Allied shells and reported their observations to artillery batteries by Morse code, all the while receiving anti-aircraft fire from the ground. On one occasion in late March, the squadron was forced to relocate its airfield three times as German forces advanced through Allied positions. By mid-April, the German offensive ground to a halt, allowing Sholto and other RFC pilots an opportunity for a much-needed rest. On April 28, he was granted 7 days' leave to the UK, no doubt a much-appreciated break from the strains of combat.
|The R. E. 8 ("Harry Tate")|
The Royal Flying Corps continued its operations throughout the remaining months of the war. On April 1, 1918, the Corps amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force. By war's end, it consisted of over 114 000 personnel operating 4000 combat aircraft. Its pilots logged over 900 000 combat hours as part of the Allied war effort. Its contribution came at the cost of 9375 men lost, 1563 of whom were Canadians. An additional 7245 men were wounded as a result of aerial combat.
Sholto returned to his pre-war occupation in civilian life, working with the Commercial Cable Company in Hazel Hill. He married Meta Frances Morris of St. John's, Nfld. and they raised a family of two children, daughter Joan and son Douglas. Sholto worked at the Cable Company's St. John's office during the Second World War and eventually retired to Carritt House, Pleasant St., Guysborough.
In civilian life, Sholto was an active member of the Guysborough community, serving as master of Canso Lodge, president of the Guysborough Board of Trade, a warden of Christ Church, and a member of Guysborough Memorial Hospital's board. From 1950 to 1965, he held the position of High Sheriff for Guysborough County. In 1971, he attended a reunion of surviving RFC/RAF World War I pilots hosted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, London.
|Vintage R. E. 8 (restored)|
15th Sqn Royal Flying Corps. Great War Forum.
Canadians in Service with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Navy Air Service. Canada at War.
No. 15 Squadron RAF. Wikipedia.
RE.8 Reproduction. The Vintage Aviator.
R.E. 8. Rise of Flight.
Regimental Documents of Lt. Sholto Douglas Morrison. Library and Archives Canada. RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6414 - 17 .
Royal Flying Corps. Spartacus Educational.
The Royal Flying Corps. History Learning Site.
XV Squadron Association History. XV Squadron Association.
Photographs and family information provided by daughter Joan Morrison, Halifax, NS.