Contact Information


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Captain Lambert Douglas Densmore, MC - A Medical Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: March 26, 1878

Place of Birth: Maitland, Hants Co., NS

Mother's Name: Abigail 'Abbie' (Douglas) Densmore

Father's Name: Robert Faulkner Densmore

Date of Enlistment: May 12, 1916 - Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: None (commissioned officer)

Rank: Captain

Force: Canadian Army Medical Corps, CEF

Units: 9th Stationary Hospital; Standing Medical Board, Folkestone; Canadian Engineers, Sandwich; 3rd Canadian General Hospital; 1st Canadian Field Ambulance; 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Medical Officer; Canadian Corps Headquarters

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Medals & Awards: Military Cross, British War Medal & Victory Medal

Occupation at Enlistment: Physician & Surgeon

Marital Status at Enlistment: Married

Next of Kin: Jean Densmore (wife)

Many Canadians who volunteered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force found themselves learning skills and carrying out roles very different from their civilian lives.   This was not the case for Lambert Douglas Densmore, whose peacetime skills as a physician and surgeon were immensely valuable on the European battlefront.

Capt. Lambert Douglas Densmore, MC (photo courtesy of Patsy Hennessy)

Lambert Densmore was born in Maitland, NS on March 26, 1878, the eldest child of Robert F. and Abigail (Douglas) Densmore.  His father was a Master Mariner, a typical occupation for his home community and era.  Lambert's life took a different direction when he decided to pursue a career in medicine, graduating from Queen's University in 1901.

Apparently, Dr. Densmore came to Guysborough County quite by accident.  While visiting Sherbrooke with a friend who was attending to business, local residents asked if he was willing to establish a medical practice in the village.  The young doctor agreed, opening an office in Renova Cottage, which also served as his home.  On December 12, 1905, he married Sherbrooke native and resident Mary Jean Murdoch, age 21, daughter of William J. and Catherine A. Murdoch.  Their oldest child, Katherine 'Kate', was born in Sherbrooke, followed several years later by a second daughter, Grace.

Dr. Densmore settled comfortably into the life of his new community.  He was an avid horseman, participating in races on both track and ice.  A pre-war news item in the Morning Chronicle (date unavailable) describes his involvement in a March race on Sherbrooke Lake, sponsored by the Guysborough Ice Trotting Association.  For six years, Dr. Densmore - known locally as "Denny" - and his horse, Dr. K., had competed unsuccessfully for the Association's Silver Cup.  On this occasion the pair was triumphant, recording three victories and one second-place in the four-race, "free-for-all" class.
Dr. Densmore (right) at ice racing competition
With the outbreak of war in Europe, Canada committed numerous resources to the conflict.  As battlefield casualties reached unprecedented levels, there was a pressing need for skilled medical personnel.  More than half of Canada's qualified doctors served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at some point during the war.   Lambert Douglas Densmore was amongst those responding to the call, accepting an officer's commission as Captain in the CAMC in the spring of 1916.  Thus began almost three years of service that would take him far from his young family and Sherbrooke home to England and the battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

Lambert Douglas Densmore reported for military service at Halifax on May 12, 1916.  Coincidentally, Dr. James Fraser Ellis, who practiced medicine in Sherbrooke from 1900 to 1904 before entering politics as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Guysborough County, conducted his medical examination.  Dr. Ellis had enlisted with the No. 9 Stationary Hospital, CAMC - the unit to which Dr. Densmore was also attached - at Antigonish on April 11, 1916.

Captain Densmore left Halifax for England on June 19, 1916, arriving at Liverpool after a ten-day passage.  On July 10, he was assigned to "temporary duty" with the Standing Medical Board, Folkestone, a body that evaluated wounded soldiers' ability to return to active duty.  After five weeks' service with the Board, Dr. Densmore was attached to the Royal Engineers, Sandwich, as Medical Officer.  On September 23, he was transferred to the CAMC Training School on September 23, and three days later returned to No. 9 Stationary Hospital, where he served for ten and a half months.

No. 9 Stationary Hospital was created in Antigonish, NS on March 3, 1916.  St. Francis Xavier University undertook the task of organizing the unit, appealing in particular to graduates with medical training and experience in its enlistment efforts.  The unit was officially authorized by the Canadian government in April 1916 and mobilized at Halifax the following month.  Personnel was not limited to graduates or Roman Catholics, as the presence of both Dr. Ellis and Dr. Densmore in its initial enlistment indicates.

9th Stationary Hospital Cap Badge
The unit sailed for England aboard the SS Missinabie on June 19, 1916, its personnel dispersing for training to various locations in England during the summer months.  On September 29, 1916, No. 9 Stationary was reassembled and assumed responsibility for Bramshott Military Hospital, attending to the medical needs of recruits stationed at Bramshott and Witley military training camps.

This assignment provided the unit's personnel with an opportunity to gain valuable experience administering to soldiers' medical needs.  During the winter of 1916-17, the hospital responded to a severe outbreak of influenza at Bramshott.  As the number of battlefield casualties increased, the demand for additional medical facilities at the front led to the unit's relocation to France in December 1917, where it served for the remainder of the war.

Captain Densmore's military career, however, took a different direction when he was selected for duty in France on July 17, 1917.  After spending several days with the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne, he was transferred to No. 1 Canadian Field Ambulance (CFA), the main unit to which he was attached for the remainder of the war.  Organized as part of the first Canadian contingent sent overseas in late 1914, No. 1 CFA had arrived in Plymouth, England on October 14, 1914 and departed for France on February 8, 1915.  It began serving at the front lines the following month and was located near Lens, France when Captain Densmore was assigned to the unit on July 26, 1917.

1st CFA Main Dressing Station, Vardencourt Chateau as depicted by David Muirhead-Bone (1916)
CAMC field ambulances provided the "first line" of response for wounded and sick soldiers in the front lines.  In each regiment, a CAMC Medical Officer supervised treatment , assisted by sixteen stretcher bearers and two orderlies.  This small team established a Regimental Aid Post (RAP) in a location close to front lines and as sheltered as possible from enemy fire.  Four stretcher bearers were attached to each regimental company, carrying out the most dangerous role on the battlefield as they proceeded back and forth, evacuating wounded soldiers to the RAP.  Their initial dressings were applied with such skill that they often remained in place until a wounded soldier reached a hospital.

The RAP administered any additional treatment required prior to evacuation.  A tag containing identification, wound and treatment information was attached to each patient.  Red tags identified cases requiring immediate attention.  As soon as casualties were ready for evacuation, the field ambulance's "bearer section" provided transportation to an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS).

The ADS was located as close to the front lines as possible, keeping in mind the need for safe passage to a Main Dressing Station (MDS) by horse ambulance 24 hours a day.  To avoid enemy fire, stretcher-borne casualties were usually transported to the ADS at night.  "Walking wounded" found their own way from the RAP to the ADS by following arrows that marked the route. 

A Regimental Aid Post
The MDS was the first facility capable of responding to cases requiring immediate, life-saving surgery.  Close to the field of operations and thus within range of enemy artillery fire, its primary role was to "classify" casualties based on the gravity of their wounds and evacuate them as quickly as possible by horse ambulance to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS).  "Milder" cases of illness or injury were held for 24 to 48 hours, after which time soldiers returned to duty or were sent to nearby rest camps until fully recovered.

The CCS provided the first level of care beyond the field ambulance unit's structure.  Equipped with personnel and facilities required for urgent, major surgery, the CCS administered to patients until they could be transported to a permanent medical facility for recovery.  It was located adjacent to a railway line that provided access to fully equipped ambulance trains for transporting patients to stationary and general hospitals a safe distance from the front.

Advance Dressing Station in action
Captain Densmore served the majority of his time on the front lines within the field ambulance structure - RAP, ADS and MDS.  The No. 1 CFA war diary entries for August 1917 provide a snapshot of the unit's operation.  At 1:30 am August 15, Dr. Densmore joined unit personnel in establishing a "walking wounded station" in preparation for an infantry attack scheduled for 4:30 am that morning.  The diary describes events as they unfolded:

"Walking wounded begin to arrive by 7 am and came in steadily throughout [the] day.  Everything at [the] station worked excellently - Patients were first fed,… afterwards patients were… directed to huts, first being re-dressed, where necessary, by Medical Officers and orderlies always in readiness, obtaining Field Medical Cards, receiving A. T. serum, then being entered in A and D books, passing out, boarding lorries, always in waiting, and proceeding at once to No. 22 CCS Bruay[, the dressing station] handling all 1st Canadian Division casualties."

1st CFA war diary diagram of evacuation route, Fosse de Sains (September 1917)
The RAP was "clear" of patients by 7 pm and closed by 7 am August 16.  During this operation, one officer and eight "other ranks" serving with No. 1 CFA were wounded in carrying out their duties, testimony to the constant dangers faced by field ambulance personnel at the front.

Five days later, the unit assumed responsibility for 1st Canadian Division Rest Station at Auchel, a facility equipped to accommodate 110 patients.  The war diary described the quarters as the "best Ambulance Station this unit has had since coming to France three years ago."  Fifty-five patients arrived during the first day of operation, with an additional forty-six admitted on August 23.  Three days later, No. 1 CFA relocated once more, relieving the 18th British Field Ambulance at a location the war diary described as "very unsatisfactory - ground low, very swamp-like in wet weather."

Typical Main Dressing Station, 3 kilometers behind front lines
Captain Densmore's service with No. 1 CFA was interrupted several times by temporary appointments to other units in the field.  On August 29, he was attached to the 63rd Heavy Artillery Group Headquarters for temporary duty as Medical Officer.  He rejoined the field ambulance by September 4 as it relocated to Fosse de Sains, near Lens, and was present when the unit's station was subjected to enemy artillery fire during the afternoon of September 9 and evening of September 10.

Throughout the month of September, Captain Densmore and No. 1 CFA attended to the medical needs of the 1st and 3rd Canadian Infantry brigades during their time "in the line".  A war diary entry described the route by which casualties were evacuated from the battlefield:

"By [stretcher] bearer from RAP to ADS, sometimes partway by train Push trucks.  By train with Gas tractor to Fosse II de Bethune Transfer Point [where Captain Densmore was one of several medical officers treating casualties]… there loaded in Motor Ambulance Cars and brought to MDS Fosse 10 de Saine-les-Mines….  Average number of daily casualties 42." 

On September 27, Captain Densmore was transferred to the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion, where he served as Medical Officer for seven months.  During that time, the battalion relocated to Ypres, Belgium and participated in final Canadian assault on Passchendaele in early November 1917.  Several weeks later, the 4th Battalion returned to the Lens-Arras sector, where it spent the winter months serving in the front lines.  Captain Densmore enjoyed a welcome break from duty when he received 14 days' leave on November 27, rejoining the battalion at the front on December 12, 1917.

Stretcher bearers evacuating a wounded soldier
No. 1 CFA's war diary entry for April 28, 1918 noted the return of Captain L. D. Densmore from the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  His stay, however, was cut short by illness.  On May 3, Captain Densmore was evacuated to the CCS suffering from PUO (pyrexia - fever - of unknown origin).  The unit's war diary lamented the loss of such "a valuable and reliable officer".  Captain Densmore was admitted to No. 20 General Hospital, where he spent  two weeks before he was discharged and attached to 1st Canadian General Hospital.  A challenging ten months at the front appears to have taken a toll on his health, as Captain Densmore was granted sick leave to England from May 25 to June 14, 1918.

On June 18, Captain Densmore returned to 1st Canadian General Hospital from sick leave. Eleven days later, he returned to No. 1 CFA, which was operating a MDS at Arlencourt at the time.  The unit relocated several times over the following month.  In each case, the war diary noted, "measures were at once taken to improve conditions found…. Protection was built for ground floor enhances [sic], rooms and quarters cleaned and whitewashed, and all sanitary measures completed."

1st CFA relocated to White Chateau near Amiens on August 6, assuming responsibility for a Canadian Corps MDS.  Patients began arriving on August 8, with "walking" cases followed by "stretcher-borne" casualties.  By day's end, 250 stretcher cases had arrived at the station, "lined up on the lawns with no prospect of getting away for hours" due to lack of transportation to CCS.  Fortunately, by morning the backlog was cleared and the unit prepared for what the next day would bring.

Wounded from Battle of Amiens awaiting treatment at 10th CFA Dressing Station
August 9 was another busy day for Captain Densmore and No. 1 CFA, as Canadian infantry units launched an attack on German positions at Amiens.  There was "considerable congestion" at the station by early afternoon, once again due to lack of "MAC cars" for casualty evacuation.  The situation was further complicated by the long distance to the nearest CCS.  The war diary noted that "the average duration of [the] run, going and coming, of a car to these stations was five hours, and where there was much more traffic on the roads, more frequently seven."  Officers expressed concern that such delays could result in unnecessary deaths.  Fortunately, the situation at the station returned to normal by midnight. 

The five days at Amiens were busy ones for Captain Densmore and 1st CFA.  A total of 268 officers and 5104 "other ranks" were admitted for treatment from 5 am August 8 to 4 pm August 10.  The unit was relocated to Beaucourt for a period of rest, spending the next three weeks in reserve before relieving the 5th CFA "in the line" at Wancourt in support of an August 29 attack.  Fortunately, on this occasion casualties were "moderate" as the Canadian infantry captured its objective - "all units were cleared as they arrived.  No congestion."  On September 4, 1st CFA was once again relieved on the line by 5th CFA.

On September 9, Captain Densmore "proceeded to 8th Army Brigade CFA to relieve [a] Medical Officer who is proceeding on leave".  He rejoined 1st CFA on September 26 as it prepared to support attacks at Bourlon Wood and Cambrai the following day.  The war diary reported "considerable casualties passing through in the course of the morning.  Motor Ambulance cars had no respite whatsoever.  Capt. L. D. Densmore, CAMS, supervised the evacuation of the Forward Area… while two other officers took charge of the ADS." 

Destroyed tank at Bourlon Wood, September 1918
The unit remained in the Arras-Cambrai area for several days, clearing casualties from the battlefield.  Its dressing station near Heynecourt was struck several times by enemy shelling, resulting in one casualty.  On October 2, 1st CFA was relieved on the front lines by 2nd CFA.  Captain Densmore's actions under fire at Bourlon Wood did not go unnoticed.  The London Gazette, October 4, 1919 announced that he had been awarded the Military Cross "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the Bourlon Wood operations, 30th September 1918.  He went forward to collect and evacuate considerable numbers of wounded who were lying in the vicinity of the Douai-Cambrai road, east of Heynecourt, and succeeded in evacuating them to the advanced dressing station."

On October 6, 1st CFA assumed control of an MDS in Arras, where the situation was much less demanding than their previous assignment.  Over a period of one week, the station admitted 8 officers and 150 "other ranks" in addition to treating 60 dental patients.  After briefly operating a dressing station at Dury, 1st CFA moved to Dechy, near Canal du Nord, on October 18.  Allied forces had captured this strategic location earlier in the month, pressing on to Cambrai in an offensive that would eventually bring an end to the war. 

Casualties continued to mount throughout the advance, and 1st CFA was heavily involved in their evacuation.  Several factors made this a difficult task.  The bridges across the canal had been destroyed during the fighting, and the roads in the area were in poor condition.  Retreating German soldiers also placed land mines on the roads, making their use treacherous.  1st CFA's October 21 diary described the challenges the unit faced in evacuating wounded soldiers.  Casualties were brought from the forward ADS to the canal bank at Cantaine, then "hand carried" to the rear ADS, from where they were evacuated by motor ambulance to Headquarters and relayed to the MDS at Somain.  Such details reveal the challenges that Captain Densmore and his colleagues faced in carrying out their duties.

Canadian ADS at Canal du Nord, September 1918
After being relieved by 9th CFA on October 22, 1st CFA enjoyed three weeks of light activity, mainly treating ill civilians and "slightly sick" soldiers.  The unit was honoured with a visit from HRH Edward, Prince of Wales - the future King Edward VIII - on October 28.  Two weeks later - November 11 - news of the armistice reached the unit as eight patients were admitted to its facilities.  The following day, orders were received to "evacuate all patients and keep the hospital clear".  Several "other ranks" members were awarded leave over the following days as the unit focused on treating outbreaks of illness amongst soldiers of the 1st Brigade.

By mid-November, 1st CFA was once again on the move, heading toward the Belgian border.  On November 25, personnel covered 25 miles in "one of the longest marches in the history of the Unit", arriving at Scalyn, Belgium amidst an "almost continual downpour of rain".  One week later - December 2 - 1st CFA crossed the "German frontier" at 13:42 hours in another long march under "miserable" conditions.  The war diary observed that the "attitude of the people does not seem hostile[,] although we had expected such."

As Captain Densmore and the members of 1st CFA pushed further into Germany, they noted that "people seemed well-disposed".  After spending three days in the German village of  Falkenlusterhof, the unit moved onto Koln (Cologne) on December 13, "cross[ing] the Rhine with 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, passing [a] new bridge at 14.15 hours".  Two days later, the "other ranks" of 1st CFA settled into quarters at Wahn Artillery Barracks, while Captain Densmore and his fellow officers were accommodated across the street at the Hotel Waldeck.  On December 16, 1st CFA began setting up a hospital in the Artillery Barracks quarters.

Canadian soldiers marching to Koln, Germany (November 1918)
Captain Densmore's stay in occupied Germany was short-lived.  On December 18, 1918, he was attached to the office of the Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS) at Canadian Corps Headquarters, where he served until mid-February 1919.  One month later - March 18, 1919 - he proceeded to England, where he spent a month awaiting further orders.  On April 14, 1919, Captain Densmore boarded SS Olympic for the voyage home.  Two weeks later, he was officially discharged from military service.

With the return of peace, Dr. Lambert Densmore returned to his Sherbrooke medical practice for a short time before relocating with his family to Bathurst, NB, where he resided for the remainder of his life.  He served as President of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and was named a Freeman of the City of Bathurst in recognition of his service to the local community.  In 1948,  Dr. Densmore's life-long commitment to health care was acknowledged when he was named a "Serving Brother" in the Venerable Order of St. John, a royal order of chivalry whose mission is to "prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world".  He continued practising medicine until his retirement in 1966.

Lambert Douglas Densmore passed away at Bathurst, NB on August 16, 1968 at age 90, and laid to rest in Bathurst Presbyterian Cemetery.  His story provides another example of the dedication with which Canadians from many walks of life supported their country's war efforts.


Hunt, M. S. Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War.  Manitock, Ontario: Archive CD Books Canada Inc., 2007. 

Regimental record of Captain Lambert Douglas Densmore.  Library and Archives Canada.  RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 2760 - 25.  Available online.

War Diaries - 1st Canadian Field Ambulance.  War Diaries of the First World War.  Library and Archives Canada.  RG9, Militia and Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5027, Reel T-10913, File: 822.   Available online.

Who were the Doctors in Sherbrooke from 1840 to 1920?  Nova Scotia Museum.  Available online.

A special thank you to Patsy Hennessy, Bathurst, NB, who provided a picture of Dr. Densmore and information on his life after the war. 


  1. My mother , Lucy Jarratt of Bathurst N.B. was Dr.Densmore's secretary in Bathurst from 1935 to 1968. She remembers the doctor had a soft spot for the First World War veterans who came to his office. She is still alive as of this day (Nov 25, 2016) and will be 100 years old next June.

  2. John, I was able to locate the photograph of Dr. Densmore through a contact with connections to his Bathurst medical practice - it may have been somebody who knows your mother. I can tell you that Dr. Densmore is still fondly remembered in Sherbrooke so many years later. Please pass along my best wishes to your mother!