|25th Battalion Cap Badge|
The 25th was not officially considered a "Highland" battalion, despite the fact that it included a kilted pipe band, nor was it was part of the "Highland Brigade" later recruited in Nova Scotia. Military officials later prohibited its members from wearing kilts, a decision that became a sore point with many of its members. In fact, the battalion possessed a strong "Highland" element. It had a historical connection to the British army's Seaforth Highlanders - the "Ross Shire Buffs" - a unit originally recruited by the chiefs of Clan MacKenzie. The 25th's official tartan was MacKenzie of Seaforth, proudly worn by its pipe band, and its members referred to themselves as the "MacKenzie Battalion" throughout the war. Its regimental march and assembly tune was the air "Mackenzie Highlanders" , leaving no doubt as to the unit's Scottish character.
Officially organized on March 15, 1915, the 25th Battalion mustered in front of Province House in April 1915 for a ceremony at which the people of Nova Scotia presented the regiment with two fully equipped field kitchens and the sum of $ 2500 . On May 20, 1915, its members boarded HMTS Saxonia, disembarking at Devonport, England nine days later. The men traveled by train to Westenhanger, Kent, at which point they marched to East Sandling Camp, Shorncliffe in the early hours of the morning.
|Officers' Collar Badge|
On the night of September 22-23, 1915, the "Mackenzie Battalion" took up combat positions near Ypres, Belgium, becoming the first Nova Scotian battalion to see combat in the war. The regiment spent its first "tours" in trenches H and I of the Kemmel Sector of the Ypres Salient, a strategic piece of high ground that protruded into German lines. Its members passed the autumn and winter of 1915-16 in this precarious location, gaining valuable experience "in the line". Their military skills would be severely tested in several 1916 battles.
In April 1916, the 25th was assigned to defend the front lines in a sector referred to as the "St. Eloi craters". The battalion moved into several large depressions created in late March 1916 when British forces detonated several large mines planted beneath the German front lines. The 25th occupied this precarious location in a rotation that lasted for almost six weeks. The lack of properly constructed trenches left the men dangerously exposed as they were subjected to hostile fire on three sides. German forces attacked one crater five times during one particular night, but the battalion successfully repelled each assault. When finally relieved, the unit's manpower had been reduced to the point where soldiers from other regiments were brought in to assist in evacuating wounded personnel.
|25th Officers Capt. William A. Livingstone, MC & Bar (left) and Major Guy McLean Matheson, DSO, MC, MM|
The "Mackenzie Battalion" spent 339 days in the treacherous Belgian trenches, 164 of which involved front line duty. Its reassignment to the Somme region of France in September 1916 may have come as a relief to the men, but this new locale proved to be just as treacherous as the muddy trenches of Belgium. On September 15, 1916, the 25th participated in an attack on Courcelette, moving through the town, establishing and holding new forward positions for several days before being relieved. In the early days of October 1916, the 25th Battalion took part in a series of attacks on Regina Trench, one of the most fortified German positions on the front lines. The price of its Somme engagements was costly. By the time the battalion left the area, less than 100 of the men who had initially arrived in France with the unit were still available for duty. The regiment relocated to Lens, where it was reconstituted with reinforcements and undertook training in preparation for a return to the front.
The 25th spent the autumn and winter of 1916 - 17 in the Lens sector, where its soldiers honed their skills as "trench raiders". Its personnel captured enemy positions at Fresnoy and Arleux, France in February 1917, suffering severe casualties in the attacks. Several months later, the unit participated in the April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge, as well as the Second Battle of the Scarpe later that same month. On August 15, 1917, it played a key role in the Battle of Hill 70, withstanding a ferocious German counter-attack after participating in an advance near Cite St. Laurent. As part of the 5th Brigade, the battalion also took part in the final assault on the Belgian town of Passchendaele in November 1917.
|25th Battalion brass buttons|
By late summer, a major Allied assault was launched on German positions in northern France. The 25th was "in the line" at Amiens on August 8, participating in an attack that advanced a remarkable 12 miles in two days. Relocated to Berneville, near Arras, its personnel fought in the advance that continued throughout the month. After a brief two-day break in early September, the battalion returned to the front lines, where it remained until after the fall of Cambrai on October 9, 1918.
On November 9-10, 1918, the members of the 25th participated in what became its last combat action of the war - an attack on Elouges, a small mining town near Mons, Belgium. The battalion was scheduled to participate in an assault on Mons the following day when news of the 11 am armistice arrived. Eight days later, the 25th began a lengthy march to the Rhine River as part of the Allied "army of occupation". The regiment crossed the German border at 10:08 am December 5, continuing to Bonn, where it crossed the Rhine at 10:47 am December 13, 1918.
Altogether, 263 officers and 4829 "other ranks" served with the 25th Battalion on the battlefields of France and Belgium. A total of 156 officers and 2557 "other ranks" were invalided as wounded or sick to England, and an additional 32 officers and 686 "other ranks" were killed in action during its tours of duty. Of its original personnel, only 2 commissioned officers and 96 "other ranks" were still with the unit at war's end. Unlike the other two Nova Scotian battalions that saw action in France and Belgium, the 25th Battalion was not perpetuated after the war. Its service record at the front remains as impressive proof of the sacrifices endured by the first Nova Scotian battalion to see combat in "The Great War".
25th Battalion. The Matrix Project. Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Available online.
Hunt, M. S. Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War. Archive CD Books Canada, Inc., Manotick, Ontario (2007). Available online.
MacNintch, John E. (Ted). "The Brother Keepers" - Nova Scotians in the Great War. Originally published in Celtic Heritage Magazine, Nov/Dec 2007. Available online.