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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron - A Nursing Sister's Story

Date of Birth: December 8, 1894

Place of Birth: Canso, NS

Mother's Name: Laura Condon

Father's Name: Frederick A. Cameron

Date of Enlistment: May 22, 1917 at Montreal, PQ

Regimental Number: n/a

Rank: Lieutenant (Nursing Sister)

Force: Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC)

Name of Unit: No. 4 General Hospital (University of Toronto Unit)

Location of service: Canada & England

Occupation at Enlistment: Nurse

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. Fred A. Cameron, Canso, NS (father)
Mary Lillian Cameron was the oldest of three children born to Fred and Laura Cameron of Canso, NS.  Her father operated a general store in the small fishing port, while her mother's parents owned a similar enterprise in Guysborough.  A person with a keen interest in travel and adventure, Mary's life choices took her to places far beyond the small community where she was born.

Nursing Sister Mary Lillian Cameron.
Mary's journey began with her decision to enroll in a Montreal nursing school during the early months of World War I.  Upon graduation, it is not surprising that Mary chose to serve with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC).  Montreal was one of several Eastern Canadian military ports where soldiers departed for and returned from Europe.  As the war progressed and casualties spiraled, there was an increasing demand for nursing services.  The pay - $ 4.00 a day - was attractive, as was the opportunity to serve one's country in its time of need.  There was also the possibility of overseas service, bringing with it the opportunity to experience distant parts of the world.

In December 1916 and January 1917, Mary worked with 8th Field Ambulance CAMC at Montreal, possibly as part of her nursing training.  The experience may have piqued her interest, as Mary enlisted for 'home service' with CAMC on May 21, 1917.  Her age at the time - 22 years, five months - suggests that she had only recently completed her training, as nursing schools of the day accepted only women 21 years or older.

Mary spent the next nine months working in a Montreal military hospital, one of the city's seven wartime facilities that contained a total of over 900 beds.  Canadian medical services provided accommodations and convalescent homes for officers and men 'invalided from overseas' due to illness or injury.  The size of the CAMC's Canadian operations at war's end indicates the scope of its activities.  As of November 11, 1918, its 59 hospitals were providing medical care for 9,784 patients.

As with many young nurses who enlisted with the CAMC, Mary no doubt hoped to serve abroad.  In total, over 2500 Canadian women served overseas during World War I, one thousand of whom saw duty near combat zones in France or Belgium.  The remaining Nursing Sisters were stationed at various facilities in England, providing medical care for soldiers 'invalided' from stationary and general hospitals located on the continent.

Mary's opportunity arose the following year when she officially attested for overseas service on March 2, 1918 and departed for England shortly afterward.  Prior to leaving, she assigned $ 25 of her monthly salary to her mother, Mrs. Fred A. Cameron, Canso, NS.  On March 25, Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron was 'taken on strength' by the CAMC Depot England, pending posting to a general or stationary hospital.  Two weeks later, Mary was assigned to the nursing staff of No. 4 General Hospital, Basingstoke, Kent, England.
No. 4 General Hospital was one of four similar units organized by Canadian universities offering medical studies programs at the time of the war's outbreak.  Sponsored by the University of Toronto, it was officially created on March 25, 1915 and embarked for England two months later.  Personnel remained in England until mid-October 1915, when the unit was selected to provide medical services to Allied soldiers fighting in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The unit stopped briefly at Alexandria, Egypt before establishing operations at Salonika, Thessaloniki, Greece on November 9, 1915.  Six months later, the hospital relocated to nearby Kalamaria, where it maintained a general hospital until its departure on August 17, 1917.
Park Prewett Hospital (date unknown).
Upon returning to England, the unit assumed responsibility for the operation of a recently established 1040-bed general hospital, located on the grounds of Park Prewett Asylum for the Insane at Basingstoke, Kent.  No. 4 General Hospital remained in this location for the duration of the war.  On April 10, 1918, its war diary recorded the arrival of "sixteen Nursing Sisters… from C. A. M. C. Depot".  Mary Lillian Cameron was one of the new additions to the hospital's staff, which consisted of 31 Officers, 88 Nursing Sisters and 191 'other ranks'.

At the time of Mary's arrival, the facility was operating at approximately 70 % capacity.  Two factors combined to increase the workload as the events of 1918 unfolded.  As in previous years, fighting intensified with winter's end, as spring and summer weather made large-scale military action possible.  In addition, German forces launched a major assault on Allied positions in March 1918, part of a plan to achieve a final victory. 

As a result, casualties increased dramatically, resulting in a sharp rise in hospital admissions.  The hospital surpassed its capacity on April 23 when it accommodated 1046 patients, although numbers declined slightly the following week.  Throughout the month, staff ministered to a daily average of 798 patients, "principally surgical cases" from the battlefields of France.

Total patient numbers remained well above 900 throughout May 1918, reaching more than 1000 on several days late in the month.  The daily average of 953 patients indicates the increasing demands placed on staff as "convoys from France [arrived] daily - many severely wounded cases."  The situation was complicated by the fact that ten Nursing Sisters were "ill and off duty" at various times during the month, although the hospital's Matron, Annie Jane Hartley, commented: "General health of Nursing Staff is good."

As spring gave way to summer, admissions continued to rise as staff cared for a daily average of 997 patients in June.  The arrival of two small groups of 'ill' patients placed additional demands on a nursing staff struggling to tend to wounded soldiers.  On June 25, Matron Hartley reported: "60 men from [the] Forestry Corps near Reading [were] admitted to Hospital with severe attack[s] of Influenza.  Ward isolated."  Two days later, 18 Nursing Sisters from another facility were attached to the hospital "for quarters and rations… [and] isolated for Measels [sic] and Mumps contact cases, many have colds."  Throughout the month, the hospital received "some severely wounded, tuberculosis [and] Gassed Cases", indicating the breadth of medical care provided by hospital staff.

By July 1918, the number of 'evacuations' [patients being discharged to convalescent homes or other facilities] gradually surpassed admissions, resulting in a reduced daily average of 820 patients, "principally Gas cases, Kidney, Influenza and Surgical cases."  By this time, the German offensive had ground to a halt.  The following month, however, an Allied counter-offensive once more generated a rise in admissions, increasing the daily patient average to 1038 and producing a single-day record of 1290 occupied beds.  Matron Hartley also recorded the arrival of 21 gas cases and 127 femur cases in the last two weeks of August.

Amidst the frenetic pace of nursing care, a variety of events provided Mary and her colleagues with the occasional opportunity for recreation during the summer months.  Each week, staff organized 'cinema performances' and concerts featuring local musical groups and staged on hospital grounds.  Matron Hartley observed: "Bicycle Riding and Tennis are [the] principal recreations enjoyed [by nursing staff]".  Her monthly report also commented that 36 Nursing Sisters "spent a very enjoyable picnic on the River Thames" on the afternoon of August 9. 

Mary Lillian Cameron (left) and two colleagues, Basingstoke, England (date unknown).
Another welcome diversion was a steady stream of dignitaries who interacted with patients and staff.  On June 11, for instance, "The Duke and Duchess of Wellington entertained 60 patients at tea at [their] Ewhurst [estate].  A very enjoyable afternoon was spent."  Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, and his Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp, visited all hospital wards on July 28. 

The following month brought more distinguished guests.  On August 2, CAMC Matron-in-Chief Margaret MacDonald visited the facility, while University of Toronto President Robert Falconer held an afternoon tea in the Nursing Sisters' quarters on August 8.  Four days later, Sir William Osler, renowned Canadian physician and co-founder of Johns Hopkins University, visited the hospital in the company of Lady Osler.  Perhaps the month's most impressive visitor - Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria - toured the hospital on August 30.

By September 1918, the Allied offensive launched in early August pushed the hospital's resources to the limit as patient numbers surpassed 1200.  In response, authorities increased bed capacity to 1540, effective September 9.  The newly available space filled quickly as staff ministered to over 1500 sick and wounded by September 22 and the month's daily patient average rose to 1390.  Admissions were "principally Fractured Femur… and Surgical Cases", with medical staff performing 186 operations, twice as many as the previous month.

Patient numbers remained at or above 1500 throughout October, reaching a peak of 1573 as staff performed a record 249 surgeries.  Nursing staff was increased to 118 to accommodate the increased workload.  Throughout the autumn months, in recognition of the demands placed upon its staff, authorities granted short leaves to small numbers of Nursing Sisters.  Having worked steadily at the Basingstoke facility for six months, Mary received 14 days' service leave on October 28.  Given her interest in travel, she quite likely took the opportunity to tour the attractions of London, only 60 kilometres away, before returning to work on November 10.

No. 4 General Hospital operated at capacity throughout November 1918, accommodating a total of 1593 patients at month's end.  Staff paused briefly on November 11, when a "great deal of excitement [was] shown on [the] report that [an] Armistice was signed".  There was little time for celebration, however, as casualties continued to arrive from the continent and medical staff performed 136 surgeries.  Fortunately, there were several diversions amidst the month's busy schedule.  On November 19, distinguished British surgeon, Sir Arthur William Mayo Robson, visited the facility.  That same day, perhaps in conjunction with his visit, the 'Hospital Orchestra and Concert Party' staged a 'Minstrel & Vaudeville Show' for the entertainment of staff and patients.

Patient numbers briefly exceeded 1600 in early December before declining to 1425 by month's end.  Several lectures on English points of interest - the Thames and Oxford - and contemporary events - the Russian Revolution - offered staff a welcome break from patient care.  Matron Hartley described December 25 as "the happiest day of the year spent in Hospital.  Wards and Dining Halls decorated and splendid dinner and supper served to all.  All expressed their happiness" that hostilities had finally ceased.

While fighting had ceased almost two months previously, admissions continued to outnumber 'evacuations' as hospital staff welcomed in the New Year 1919.  On January 16, 235 new admissions briefly pushed patient numbers above 1700.  The hospital operated above capacity for the remainder of the month as staff daily tended to more than 1600 patients.  The departure of 33 Nursing Sisters for Canada at month's end suggests that CAMC operations in England were beginning to 'wind down', but much work remained before they ceased completely.

No. 4 General Hospital operated at capacity throughout February as Matron Hartley reporting 35 cases of illness - mainly influenza - among nursing staff.   These numbers declined slightly the following month, when 28 Nursing Sisters were unavailable for work.  Mary's health appears to have been unaffected, as her name is not amongst the monthly lists of nurses absent due to illness.  By April, patient numbers began a steady decline, reaching 1219 by mid-month and dropping to 864 at month's end.  The cases of illness amongst nursing staff also decreased to 14, suggesting that the influenza epidemic was also waning.

May's patient numbers clearly indicated that the hospital was fast approaching the end of its mission.  On May 15, only 649 patients remained in the facility, a statistic that declined to 255 as of May 31.  The war diary recorded one marriage in addition to numerous leaves to France by personnel wishing to visit deceased relatives' graves before returning to Canada.  Mary was fortunate enough to receive a brief 'service leave' from May 27 to June 3.  By the time she returned to Basingstoke, staff had received notice that all patients were to be discharged to other facilities by June 6.

The deadline was subsequently postponed until June 7, when the hospital's war diary officially recorded: "Hospital closed for the reception of patients.  All wards cleaned out and all equipment turned in."  The final 32 patients were 'evacuated' by day's end as staff commenced the remaining tasks required for the facility's closure.  Two days later, word arrived that No. 4 General Hospital was "to proceed to Canada as a unit and not to leave Basingstoke" until their departure.  On June 10, the war diary provided an update: "Wards nearly all closed.  Ordnance to take every thing over and sell it at an auction sale."  The following day, medical staff was granted leave as auxiliary personnel completed the tasks required to close the facility.

A sale of hospital contents took place during a two-day, on-site auction held on June 26 and 27.  The following day, 92 Officers and Nursing Sisters were designated to proceed to Canada "with the Unit" on board the SS Olympic.  The remaining 70 Nursing Sisters - including Mary - were scheduled to leave England on July 5.  After the first group's departure, Mary was briefly transferred to No. 15 Canadian General Hospital on June 30.  One week later - July 7, 1919 - she boarded RMS Carmania at Liverpool for the journey home, arriving at Halifax eight days later.

The Cameron family home, Canso, NS.
On July 15, 1919, Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron was officially discharged from the Canadian Army Medical Corps, her proposed residence listed as the family home in Canso, NS.  Mary received the British War Medal in recognition of her service with the CAMC in England.  She was also awarded a War Service gratuity of $ 366.00 upon discharge.
Following her military service, Mary continued to work in health services, finding employment in New York City and Montreal as a public health nurse.  On June 7, 1927, she married Colin Andrew Chisholm, a native of Port Hood, NS and son of her parents' long-time acquaintances, Dr. and Mrs. Duncan M. Chisholm.  A World War I veteran who had served with the 7th Siege Battery, Canadian Field Artillery before joining the Royal Flying Corps, Colin graduated from Queen's University in 1924 with a degree in mining engineering after returning to Canada.

After their marriage, the couple briefly resided in Montreal and a small community near Ottawa before relocating to Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where Colin took a position as Assistant Manager with Macassa Mines, a gold-mining operation.  Here, Mary devoted her time to raising a family as the couple's first child - a daughter, Laura - was born on May 28, 1928.  Four more daughters - Dorothy Lee, Jean Marguerite, Carole Ann and Nancy Jane - followed as Mary balanced the tasks of motherhood and family with an active social life that included concerts, theatrical productions and bridge games.  The family remained in Kirkland Lake until 1951, when parents and children relocated to Stirling, Cape Breton, where Colin managed a base metal operation owned by Mindamar Mines.

In 1956, the Chisholm family temporarily returned to Montreal as Colin assumed a Manager's position with a base metals mining company at Beardmore, Ontario.  Shortly after returning to the city where her nursing career began, Mary suffered a sudden, severe brain hemorrhage, passing away unexpectedly on August 26, 1956.  She was laid to rest in Cote Des Neiges Cemetery, Montreal.  Following her death, Colin returned to Montreal, where he remained until his death on September 4, 1977.  He was buried beside his beloved wife, Mary.

Canadian Army Medical Corps Overseas Hospitals.  Canadian Great War Project.  Available online. 

Service Record of Nursing Sister Mary Lillian Cameron.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-92/166, Box 1411-8.  Available online.

War Diary of No. 4 General Hospital, CAMC.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5035, Reel T-10925, File: 854.  Available online.

A special thanks to Mary's daughters, Carole (Chisholm) Henschel and Nancy (Chisholm) Rogers, and Carole's husband Lyman, who provided information about Mary's life in addition to the family pictures displayed in this post.  This story would not have been possible without their invaluable assistance.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Canada's Nursing Sisters and World War I

While the vast majority of Canadians in military service during World War I were male, a small group of females made a significant contribution belied by their numbers.  During the conflict, over 3000 women served as nurses with the Canadian and British Army Medical Corps.  Their official title - 'nursing sister' - reflected the profession's traditional connection with religious orders, though none belonged to such organizations.  This cadre of women played a vital role in the war's events, simultaneously transforming their profession in ways that none could have imagined.

The integration of nursing into the armed forces traces its origins to the Crimean War (1854-56), when Florence Nightingale's efforts convinced military authorities of the need for its inclusion in an organized medical corps.  Before the war's end, the British government established a nursing service that operated under a separate administrative structure within its military.

Canadian women first provided such services in 1870, when four volunteer civilian nurses accompanied Canadian troops to Red River, where they tended to soldiers who were injured or became ill during the first Metis uprising.  Fifteen years later, a larger contingent travelled to Saskatchewan with Canadian troops in response to the Northwest Rebellion.  In this instance, the federal government requested the creation of a formal 'medical and surgical department' to accompany the expedition.  Seven nursing sisters and one matron spent four weeks tending to sick and wounded soldiers in field hospitals established at Moose Jaw and Saskatoon.

After 1885, nursing sisters were part of every Canadian military force sent abroad for service.  When Canadian authorities organized a contingent for service in the South African War (1899-1902), four nursing sisters accompanied the initial 1000 volunteers.  The women were awarded the rank, pay and allowances of an army lieutenant and wore army uniforms throughout their service.  At the same time, in June 1899, the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Army Medical Department (later re-named 'Corps'), with a mandate to provide a complete range of medical services to men in uniform.

Canadian Nursing Sister Minnie Affleck and wounded soldiers, South African War (1899 - 1902)

As Canada sent an additional 6000 volunteers to South Africa over the next three years, the director of the country's armed forces suggested the creation of an official nursing corps within the existing Medical Department.  In response, the federal government authorized the formation of the Canadian Army Nursing Service in 1901.  Four additional nursing sisters joined the South African contingent, treating diseases common in tropical climates and infections caused by unsanitary conditions in addition to combat wounds.

In the years following the South African War, the Canadian military implemented additional changes to its medical services.  In 1904, the fledgling nursing contingent was incorporated into the 'Reserves', a section of the Canadian Armed Forces consisting of 'semi-permanent' members who supplemented regular troops in time of need.  A total of 25 women were selected as the nursing contingent's initial members.

Four years later, the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Army Nursing Corps (CANC)*.  Its first matron, Georgina Fane Pope, established procedures for recruitment and operation in addition to managing nursing services at several military hospitals across the country.  Under Pope's leadership, navy blue dresses, white aprons and vales - attire that earned nursing sisters the nickname 'Bluebirds' - replaced the drab army khaki worn in South Africa.

As the above developments suggest, Canada was able to respond to the military's nursing requirements at war's outbreak, although its resources were limited.  The nursing corps consisted of five 'Permanent Force' nurses and approximately 60 reservists.  As events progressed, it was quickly apparent that this small group was ill prepared for the demands placed upon it.

Prior to World War I, nursing was undergoing considerable change, with the opening of nursing schools across the country and establishment of professional associations.  While the occupation represented only 2 % of the entire female work force, there were signs of significant growth.  In fact, by 1921, the number of nurses in Canada quadrupled.  The war played a significant role in this process, accelerating the pace of change and laying the basis for the emergence of a modern nursing profession.

Georgina Fane Pope, CANC's first Matron-in-Chief
In April 1914, Margaret C. Macdonald, a native of Bailey's Brook, Pictou County, was appointed CANC's second Matron-in-Chief.  A veteran of both the Spanish-American and Boer Wars and a member of the organization since 1906, Matron Macdonald had studied the organization of Britain's military nursing corps, adopting it as the model on which to built a Canadian equivalent. 

Despite Macdonald's wealth of experience and valiant efforts, the CANC was poorly prepared for the demands placed on its services at war's outbreak.  The organization hastily assembled a contingent of military nursing sisters for overseas service while launching a nation-wide appeal for additional recruits.  A total of 105 nursing sisters sailed for England with the First Canadian Contingent in September 1914.  By war's end, more than 3000 Canadian women served with the Canadian or British nursing corps.

Matron Macdonald dramatically revised the nursing selection process, which she considered an obstacle to the corps' growth.  She advocated the establishment of military nursing courses in Canadian hospitals and insisted that recruits work in soldiers' training camps and military hospitals prior to service.  Macdonald believed that significant differences existed between civilian and military nursing practice, a judgment soon verified by the CANC's experiences in Europe.

The majority of nursing recruits were born in Canada or the British Isles and raised in urban settings, where there was greater access to nursing schools.  For the most part, the women came from middle-class families whose fathers were 'professionals' by the day's standards - physicians, clergymen, accountants or businessmen.  They possessed a better level of education than average women of the time - most attended high school and some studied at university.  Some recruits previously worked as teachers, clerks or governesses before enrolling in nursing schools, which accepted only applicants 21 years or older.  The initial 1914 CANC recruits' average age was 24.

Priority was naturally given to women with civilian nursing experience, although their wartime duties proved to be dramatically different from such practice.  Candidates had to be single, in good health, and graduates of a recognized nursing school.  Upon selection, the women underwent four to six weeks' training in a military hospital - usually at Halifax, NS - where they received an introduction to the 'basics' of military nursing care.

Major Margaret C. Macdonald, CANC's Second Matron-in-Chief
Candidates subsequently completed a written and oral examination before becoming full-fledged members of the CANC.  While possessing the rank of Lieutenant, their authority as officers was limited to their hospital duties.  Unlike male medical officers, they could not make military decisions outside of a medical facility.  Despite their official rank, the women were commonly described as 'Nursing Sisters' throughout their service.  CANC nurses were the only Canadian women to hold a military rank and work under direct army control during the war.

There was considerable response to the CANC's recruiting efforts, as civilian salaries were low and job prospects in Canada poor at that time.  Enlistment promised regular employment at a respectable wage and appealed to young women's sense of patriotism and desire for 'adventure'.  While initial recruitment focused on members of the 'reserve' who already had experience working in military hospitals, increasing demand expanded the appeal to single women outside the military. 

As demand for nursing services increased, the CANC streamlined the recruitment process by waiving the initial examinations and six week's training.  As a result, 'military nursing' training was often limited to experiences on board ship during the short trans-Atlantic voyage, usually followed by a brief period of training in England.

During the course of the war, Canadian nursing sisters served in over thirty medical facilities in England, France and the Eastern Mediterranean (Gallipoli, Turkey, Alexandria, Egypt, and Salonika, Greece) as well as on board hospital ships.  The Canadian Army Medical Corps provided services at four levels, two of which actively involved nursing sisters.  The stages of care closest to the front line - field ambulance and casualty clearing stations - were staffed by male medical personnel and focused on 'first aid' treatment.  Nursing sisters occasionally worked at a clearing station in the company of a physician, but were never permanently assigned to this location.

Patients requiring further care or long-term treatment were evacuated to stationary hospitals relatively close to the front, mainly at locations in France along or close to the English Channel.   At each facility, a matron managed a staff of 16 nursing sisters who tended to patients in a facility designed to accommodate 250 patients, although actual admissions were often higher.

Canadian Nursing Sisters in working uniform, England.
Soldiers with serious injuries or requiring a lengthy convalescence were evacuated to general hospitals in England, facilities that held 500 or more beds and whose nursing staffs consisted of a matron and 72 nursing sisters.  It was common practice to rotate nursing staff between stationary and general hospitals, making service at several locations over the war's duration commonplace.  In some instances, a unit's nursing staff was dispersed to various locations in response to an urgent need.

Nursing sisters followed the same procedures as civilian hospitals in treating such conventional ailments as influenza, tuberculosis and dysentery.  In many ways, daily routines were also similar as staff disinfected wounds, changed dressings, served food, and tended to patients' hygiene and bodily functions.

Differences, however, greatly outweighed similarities to civilian practice.  Injuries never seen at home presented the greatest challenge as patients recovered from wounds caused by artillery shells, shrapnel and poison gas in addition to bullets.  Most nurses had neither training nor experience in providing such care.  Perhaps most challenging were the effects of prolonged exposure to combat on mental health.  "Shell shocked" soldiers suffered from insomnia, night terrors, incontinence and other symptoms caused modern warfare's impact on the human psyche.

Conditions at stationary hospitals presented another obstacle.  Unhygienic environments, limited quantities of potable water for basic hygiene and human consumption, and insufficient equipment were commonplace.  Personnel serving at the front also suffered the effects of unsanitary accommodations - trenches and occasionally hospitals were over-run with mites, fleas and rats.  Infectious diseases were responsible for almost 70 % of hospital admissions at a time when there were no antibiotics to combat infections or such conditions as meningitis.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of military nursing near the front was the volume and pace of work.  During an offensive, dressing stations were crammed with wounded soldiers.  When finally evacuated to a stationary hospital, patients were often spread across the grounds outside the facility due to lack of beds.  Nursing sisters roamed from stretcher to stretcher, working long shifts caring for bleeding wounds and broken bones until 'normal' accommodations were available.

Canadian Nursing Sisters 'under canvas - No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Treport, France.
Nursing sisters were also affected by the high mortality rate among patients, as compared to civilian experience.  Witnessing the tragic deaths of so many young men produced considerable stress, compounded by the fact that these young women worked far from family and friends.  Nursing sisters commonly suffered from exhaustion and mental fatigue, problems that often necessitated a leave from service.

Nursing sisters worked and lived under the conditions of war.  Rationing and shortages reduced the availability of such basic goods as sugar, butter, coffee and chocolate.  While personnel in England and parts of France were billeted in houses - and occasionally in villas or castles - nurses close to the front were usually accommodated in canvas tents or wooden huts. 

Working in a war zone also placed nursing sisters 'in the line of fire'.  Stationary hospitals sometimes found themselves within range of enemy artillery, particularly during enemy offensives.  The most significant incident occurred near Etaples and Doullens, France in May 1918, when enemy aircraft dropped bombs on five Canadian stationary hospitals, killing six nursing sisters. 

The greatest loss of life among nursing sisters occurred on June 27, 1918, when a German U-boat spotted the British hospital ship Llandovery Castle off the coast of Ireland as it was returning to Liverpool, England after transporting wounded soldiers to Halifax, NS .  The German submarine torpedoed the ship, surfaced and fired its machine gun at survivors huddled in lifeboats.  Of the 258 Canadian crew and medical staff on board, only 24 survived.  Fourteen nursing sisters were amongst the dead, by far the largest number killed in a single incident during the war.

An additional twenty-two nursing sisters died of sickness or disease during the war years.  The total number of casualties remains a matter of considerable debate.  In the years immediately following the war, military authorities reported a total of 47 deaths amongst nursing personnel.  Since that time, this statistic has been frequently revised, recent sources claiming that the total may be as high as 76.

Funeral procession of Gladys Maude Mary Wake, one of six Nursing Sisters killed at Etaples, France - May 1918
In the midst of such challenges, nursing sisters formed a bond of solidarity, friendship and loyalty.  Their rank permitted them to fraternize with military officers, providing another level of support.  Perhaps most rewarding was the high regard in which their patients held them.  Soldiers frequently referred to the young women who tended to their needs during the most difficult of circumstances as 'angels of mercy'.

Nursing sisters stationed in England were able to enjoy a variety of diversions when not working.  Dancing, dining and sports were common, with tennis a particularly popular activity.  Nurses also adopted the British tradition of  'afternoon tea' as a welcome break from the daily demands of hospital work.  Others took the opportunity to travel to various parts of Europe during leaves.  Such activities no doubt helped the women cope with the stresses of wartime nursing.

By war's end, a total of 3,141 Canadian women enlisted with the CANC, 2,504 serving overseas.  Their performance in dangerous circumstances did not go unnoticed.  Nursing sisters received a total of nine Military Medals for 'gallantry under fire', the majority of which were awarded for actions during the May 1918 Etaples bombings. 

Nursing sisters' contributions during the war demonstrated their critical role in delivering military medical care.  Their work also had a dramatic impact on public attitudes at home, earning their occupation recognition as a legitimate profession.  While many nursing sisters married and raised families after returning home, some remained single and continued to work in health care.  Whatever their post-war paths, nursing sisters's significant contribution to Canada's war effort is widely acknowledged today by historians and citizens alike.

*: Various sources refer to the 1904 organization as the Canadian Army Nursing Service (CANS), although most use the term 'Corps'.  For the purpose of this overview, the latter term and acronym CANC are employed from that year forward.


Allard, Genevieve.  The Call of Duty: Canada's Nursing Sisters.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa.  Available online.

"Angels of Mercy" - Canada's Nursing Sisters in World War I and II.  McMaster University.  Available online.

Canada and the First World War: Nurses.  Canadian War Museum.  Available online.

Canada's Nursing Sisters. Veterans' Affairs Canada.  Available online.

Canadian Nursing Sisters.  Canadian Great War Project.  Available online.

For further information on Canada's nursing sisters, visit the following websites:

Canadian Nursing Sisters Index.  Canadian Great War Project.  An alphabetical index of nursing sisters who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War I.

Finding the Forty-Seven: Canadian Nurses of the First World War.  Author Debbie Marshall's blog endeavours to present the stories of nursing sisters who lost their lives while serving overseas.

National Film Board of Canada: Images of a Forgotten War - Hospital Bombed by German Planes.  This six-minute film records the funeral procession, ceremony and burial following the May 19, 1918 bombing of two stationary hospitals at Etaples, France.  Six Nursing Sisters were amongst the personnel killed in the attack. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Sgt. James Alexander Fogarty - A 'Croix de Guerre' Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: December 8, 1887

Place of Birth: Canso, NS

Mother's Name: Catherine 'Kate' Horne

Father's Name: John Fogarty

Date of Enlistment: February 11, 1915 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 68223

Rank: Sergeant

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Name of Unit: 25th Battalion

Location of service: England. Belgium & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Ironworker

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. John Fogarty, Hazel Hill PO, Canso, NS (father)

John and Kate Fogarty raised a family of eight children - three boys and five girls - in their Hazel Hill, NS home.  All three sons - their oldest children - served in uniform during World War I.  The youngest, Ernest Vincent, enlisted with the Divisional reserve Cycling Platoon at Regina, Saskatchewan in November 1916 and was later transferred to the 28th Battalion.  The oldest, John Michael, enlisted at Halifax in April 1918 and served with the 260th Battalion in Siberia.  James Alexander, the 'middle' son, was the first to enlist, joining the 25th Battalion at Halifax on February 11, 1915.  His time in uniform eclipsed both siblings and merited two prestigious awards.

Sgt. James Alexander Fogarty
The 25th Battalion was authorized on November 7, 1914 and spent the winter of 1914-15 recruiting its initial roster.  While headquartered in Halifax, the battalion drew recruits from across the province, in addition to Maritime, Central and Western Canadian provinces, Newfoundland and the British Isles.  James was amongst 100 men recruited to replace a group discharged as "medically unfit and undesirable".  He spent three months at Halifax in training before boarding HMT Saxonia on May 20, 1915 for the passage to England. 

The 22nd Battalion, Quebec's famous 'Van Doos' regiment, accompanied the 25th on the trans-Atlantic voyage.  The Saxonia docked at Plymouth in the early hours of May 29, its passengers travelling by train to East Sandling later that day.  Both units were assigned to the 2nd Division's 5th Brigade, along with New Brunswick's 26th and Montreal's 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada) Battalions.  Three and a half months of intense military training followed as the recruits prepared for service at the front.

On September 2, His Majesty King George V and Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of War, inspected the battalions of the 2nd Division on the grounds of Beachborough Hospital, Folkestone.  Thirteen days later, the 25th left Folkestone Harbour at 9 pm, arriving in Boulogne, France at 1 am September 16.  James's journey to the front began later that same day as the battalion travelled by train to Saint-Omer, France and then marched to a camp at Lynde, arriving shortly after midday September 17.

After several days' preparation, James followed the 25th into the trenches of Kemmel sector, near Heuvelland, Belgium for his first combat experience on the evening of September 22.  The men immediately set about improving the front line trenches.  It was only a few days before the battalion recorded its first fatality.  On September 25, a sniper was killed and three 'other ranks' (OR) wounded in gunfire exchanges.  Three days later, the battalion was relieved, bringing its first 'tour' to an end.

When James returned to the line on October 4, he and his comrades endured a heavy artillery bombardment that killed one and wounded 14 OR.  The most notable event of the second tour occurred on October 8, when the Germans detonated two mines adjacent to the battalion's front line, "entirely destroying the trench, leaving a crater 65 x 35 feet and 25 feet deep" in one location.  Despite its lack of experience, the unit's war diary proudly observed that "the battalion behaved nobly under fire" over a six-day stretch in the trenches.

The 25th served in the Kemmel sector south of Ypres throughout the autumn and winter of 1915-16.  One notable event took place on October 27, when His Majesty King George V and Edward, Prince of Wales visited Loker, where the battalion was training at the time.  The 25th provided "a guard of honour" while its remaining personnel lined the streets as the special guests passed through the Belgian village. 

The following day, it was back to the front, where the "trenches [were] in [a] dreadful state" due to wet weather.  November's cooler temperatures brought some relief, freezing the oozing mud.  Winter also ushered in a lull in fighting as men on both sides endured the snow and cold.  Activity gradually increased in March, resuming in full force the following month.  James's service in the line must have drawn the attention of his superiors, as he was promoted to Lance Corporal on January 24, 1916, the first of several promotions.

On April 1, 1916, the 25th moved into billets at Berthorn for its first extended break since arriving in Belgium.  James was one of several soldiers granted eight days' leave in the field, a welcome break from the front.  The battalion returned to the trenches on April 12, where two days later a party of 200 German soldiers attacked its line.  While the assault was repelled, it came at a cost - 18 OR killed and 42 wounded in addition to 2 officers hospitalized with 'shell shock'.  The battalion was relieved later that night.

'C' Coy., 25th Battalion - Halifax Armouries.
For the next three months, the 25th served on rotation in the Belgian trenches.  On June 9, the battalion briefly moved to Zillebeke, near Ypres, where its men were subjected to intense artillery bombardment that left one officer and 12 OR dead, 75 OR wounded and 1 missing.  Five days later, James's unit relocated to Hill 60, where the shelling continued unabated.

James was promoted to Corporal on July 8, 1916.  As summer drew to a close, he was temporarily attached to the 5th Field Company, Canadian Engineers on August 31, returning to the 25th on October 7.  During his absence, the battalion relocated to the Somme region of France, fighting at Courcelette (September 15) and Regina Trench (September 28), two battles that took a major toll on its personnel.

At the time of James's return, the 25th was camped at Berteaucourt les Dames.  The battalion relocated to Bully on October 15 for further training before returning to the line on October 21.  A period of relative "quiet" allowed the men to focus on trench repair in preparation for a second winter in the line.  Other than occasional exchanges of sniper and trench mortar fire, there was no significant action over the next several months.  On December 16, 1916, James was promoted to Sergeant, further acknowledgement of his leadership ability and performance in uniform.

In December, a potentially tragic incident interrupted James's service at the front.  He was admitted to hospital on December 27, 1916 suffering from a gunshot wound to his right upper arm and breast.  Initial assessments described his condition as "serious", stating that his injuries "could" impede a return to duty.  A subsequent military investigation described the circumstances in which James was wounded:

"Injured on December 26, 1916 at Bully Grenay while proceeding on duty as Sergeant of 5th Brigade Wiring Party.  Sergeant Fogarty was not in any way to blame for the accident….  Just previous to leaving for [the] trenches, Lt. D. Anderson, 25th Canadian Battalion, was inspecting his revolver.  In attempting to 'break' the revolver to make sure it was loaded[,] he apparently pressed the trigger, a shot being fired.  Sergeant Fogarty[,] who was standing by[,] was wounded by the shot."

James was transferred to a 'Special Hospital' at Busnes, France for further treatment before being admitted to 8th Stationary Hospital, Wimereux on January 12, 1917.   A second assessment described his injuries as "trivial" and concluded that they would not interfere with a return to duty.  James was discharged five days later and spent one month at Canadian Base Details, Boulogne before rejoining the 25th in the field on February 26.

25th Battalion cap badge.
By that time, the battalion was in Divisional Reserve at La Folie, France.  On March 1, James returned to the line for two weeks before spending the remainder of the month at Bois des Alleux preparing for an impending attack at Vimy Ridge.  On April 2, the men trained "over taped practice trenches, [the] same being [an] exact duplicate of the trenches to be taken by this Brigade in the [upcoming] Offensive."

On April 8, the 25th moved to the assembly area, advancing to its assigned 'jumping off point' at 8:00 pm that evening.  At precisely 5:30 am the following morning, James and his platoon left their trenches under cover of barrage fire as part of the Canadian Corps' famous attack on Vimy Ridge.  The 25th's objective was a location known as 'Turks Graben', a trench at the ridge's summit stretching a distance of 750 yards, from Bois des Bonval to the village of Les Tilleuls. 

The battalion's war diary provided a concise summary of the day's events:

"Considerable machine gun fire was encountered all the way, but the enemy artillery fire was directed on the trenches we had vacated and did not interfere with the advance.  After hard fighting with enemy machine gun posts and bombing posts, 2 hours and 10 minutes after zero, the battalion successfully entered, cleared and consolidated the captured positions."

The 25th held the newly captured trench as part of a new front line until the 13th Brigade passed through later in the day, capturing a German position in beyond its location.  Its casualties were considerable:  Major James Arnold DeLancey, the officer commanding the attack, was killed, 5 officers wounded and an additional two remained at duty despite their wounds.  43 OR were killed, 4 died of wounds, 105 were wounded and 90 missing by day's end.

Sgt. James Fogarty's actions on the battlefield at Vimy earned him the Military Medal "for conspicuous gallantry".  The details of his actions are described on his medal card:

"His courage, resource [sic] and devotion to duty were most marked.  He personally led sections of bombers at enemy Machine Gun and Bombing posts, although under heavy fire at all times.  His personal example was instrumental in overcoming all checks to the advance of his platoon."

The battalion remained in the trenches at Turko Graben for three days before being relieved.  James's service at the front, however, was once again interrupted when he reported to a field ambulance station on April 11 suffering from 'PUO' - a 'fever of unknown origin'.  He was admitted to 7th Convalescent Depot, Boulogne on April 16 and spent the remainder of the month in care before being discharged.  On May 31, he was officially 'reinstated' as Class A - fit for service - and rejoined the 25th in the field on June 7.

By that time, the battalion was camped at Gouy-Servins, where it spent the remainder of the month training before returning to the front line near Lens on July 3.  The 25th's trenches were heavily shelled during a three-day tour, resulting in 11 OR killed, 33 wounded, and 7 remaining at duty while injured.  The unit served in this sector for two weeks before retiring to Bouvigny for another period of rest and training.

D Coy., 25th Battalion (location unknown).
James was granted 10 day's leave on August 10, rejoining the battalion in the field two weeks later.  During his absence, the 25th participated in the August 15 attack on the German position known as Hill 70.  Casualties were significant - 50 killed, 165 wounded and 2 missing after a week-long tour.  The battalion once again retired to Gouy-Servins on the night of August 21/22 for a month-long period of rest, training and reorganization as it recovered from its recent losses.

For unknown reasons, James was transferred to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp on September 15, spending one month there before rejoining the 25th at Chelers on October 17.  The battalion had recently returned to the line at Neuville St. Vaast, its trench strength having recovered to 25 officers and 628 OR.  The men spent the next two weeks training before returning to Belgium on November 4.

The following day, the 25th moved into Brigade Support at Potijze, enduring considerable artillery shelling as the Canadian Corps prepared to attack Passchendaele.  At 6:00 am November 6, a massive artillery barrage marked the beginning of fighting and continued until midday.  James and his comrades remained in support positions throughout the day, carrying water and rations to units in the front lines and sustaining only 'light' casualties.

At 5:30 pm November 7, the 25th relieved the 26th Battalion in the front trenches as German artillery heavily shelled the support lines.  Its position consisted of "a series of disconnected posts in 'shell holes' " that the men worked to connect into a solid line.  The battalion was relieved on the night of November 8/9 and retired to billets at Potijze.  Two days later, James's unit left Belgium for a second time, arriving at Winnipeg Camp, Neuville St. Vaast on November 17.  Having endured the mud of Passchendaele, the men enjoyed a welcome bath and provided nightly working parties in the front line.

The 25th served in the Mericourt sector throughout the following month as it prepared for its third winter in the trenches.  On December 20, the unit retired to billets at Enquin les Mines for a period of rest and training.  Five days later, "all ranks enjoyed a special Christmas dinner in the afternoon".  Training extended into the New Year, when the battalion relocated to Villers au Bois on January 18, 1918 before returning to support trenches the following day.

The battalion war diary described the circumstances in the line: "Owing to… recent heavy rains the trenches were found in poor condition".  The men focused on improving the facilities, as there was little combat activity.  Later that month, the 25th endured several days of intermittent artillery and gas shelling.  Otherwise, the situation was quiet as both sides endured yet another winter in the trenches.

Postcard of trenches near Zillebeke, Belgium.
The war diary described the morning of January 31 in these words: "Frosty and foggy.  Observation very poor.  Situation quiet."  During the day, 2 officers and 8 OR "reconnoitred [the] Avion sector from Givenchy forward with a view to possible reinforcement later".  While the diary entry stated that there were "nil" casualties, James's service record provides contradictory information.  Several documents state that James received a gunshot wound in the left leg "near Lens" that same day.  He may have been one of the above-mentioned officers and was wounded while at Avion, or perhaps he was injured in an unrecorded incident.

Whatever the circumstances, James was carried by stretcher to # 57 Casualty Clearing Station, where he was diagnosed with a fractured fibula.  Evacuated by train after two days, he was admitted to No. 4 General Hospital, Dannes, near Camiers, France on February 3.  Six days later, James crossed the English Channel, arriving at Horton Company of London Military Hospital, Epsom on February 10.
Doctors noted an entrance scar on the outside and exit scar on the inside of James's left leg.  He was unable to walk, spending two months at Horton recovering from a compound fracture of the fibula.

On April 6, James was transferred to the Military Convalescent Hospital, Epsom, where medical records provide further details on his condition.  The upper third of his left fibula was "not quite healed" and his leg was swollen from the sole of his left foot to the base of his toes.  Therapists applied mild electrical current to the area, noting that "contraction [was] slow on account of swelling".

After one month's treatment, James was able to put weight on his foot.  However, his leg was still not fully healed as he experienced stiffness and soreness in his left calf muscle.  On May 13, doctors reported that the ligament was completely healed, but James was still unable to put weight on his toes, forcing him to walk 'heel first'.  Subsequent records indicate that his condition was "improving" with application of regular massage treatment.

It gradually became apparent that James's days as a soldier had come to an end.  Any amount of walking resulted in swelling, particularly around his left ankle.  He continued to experience numbness in the back part of the sole and outer part of the dorsum of his left foot.  He walked with a limp and flexion of the foot was only "1/4 complete".  Medical personnel concluded that he was no longer fit for active duty but could carry out "base duty", predicting full recovery from his injury in six months.

James was discharged from Convalescent Hospital on August 21, at which time he received a 12-day furlough.  Ten days later, he was officially awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, in recognition of his outstanding military service and the gunshot wound that ended his service at the front.  Upon returning from furlough, James was assigned to the Canadian Depot at Buxton, where he awaited orders to return to Canada.

Sgt. James Alexander Fogarty's Croix de Guerre Medal.
On September 23, 1918 - eight days after the third anniversary of his departure - Sergeant James Alexander Fogarty landed at Halifax and was assigned to Casualty Camp.  A final medical board assessment, dated November 4, 1918, confirmed that he had not yet fully recovered from his wounds.  Left leg function was still impaired and James experienced tenderness when flexing the limb.  Swelling still occurred after walking, particularly around the left ankle.  The numbness in the back of his sole and outer dorsum of the left foot continued.  Ankle flexion, while improved, was still only 50 % of full capacity.

Doctors noted that James "tires quickly[,]… walks with cane and has slight limp… [and is] unable to put weight on front part of [his] foot."  While he was capable of walking a distance of one mile before resting, the scars on his leg were painful after exertion.  Doctors also described a scar the size of a dime on his right chest and two small scars on his upper right arm, remnants of the earlier, accidental gunshot wound.  The duration of his injuries were now deemed "permanent" and medical examiners recommended that James be discharged as Category E - "unfit for service".

Military staff accepted the medical board's recommendation.  After 3 years and 9 months' service with the 25th Battalion, Sergeant James Alexander Fogarty was discharged on November 18, 1918.  Official documents described his character as 'Very Good', a reflection of his exemplary service throughout his time in uniform.

After his discharge, James found employment as an ironworker in the Halifax area.  On November 17, 1919, he married Dartmouth native Mary Elizabeth Myatt and established residence at 18 Erskine St., Dartmouth.  Their only child, Donald Wilfred, was born in 1921.  James later found employment at Imperial Oil Co.'s Dartmouth refinery, where he worked for the next two decades.

In 1943, James's health began to deteriorate.  He retired in January, having suffered from chronic bronchitis for several years.  By May, he was receiving treatment for additional health problems.  He died suddenly on July 18, 1945, the result of a heart attack.  Two days later, his funeral was held at St. Peter's Church, Dartmouth, the same location where he had married his beloved wife.  Following the service, James Alexander Fogarty was laid to rest in Mount Hermon Cemetery, Dartmouth.


McDonald, F. B. & Gardiner, John J..  The Twenty-Fifth Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force - Nova Scotia's Famous Regiment in World War One.  City Printers Ltd., Sydney, NS: 1983.

Regimental Record of Sergeant James Alexander Fogarty, # 68223.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/155, Box 3165 - 20.  Attestation papers available online.

Photographs of Sgt. James Alexander Fogarty and his Croix de Guerre medal courtesy of grandchildren Colleen Fogarty (Lower Sackville, NS) and Terry Fogarty (North Sydney, NS).

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Croix de Guerre

During World War I, recognition of Canadian soldiers' bravery on the battlefield was not limited to British Imperial awards.  Both Belgium and France conferred similar honours on individuals serving with Allied armies, perhaps the most famous being the Croix de Guerre, an award for bravery established in each country during the war.

In December 1914, a member of the French Assembly first proposed the creation of a "Croix de la Valeur Militaire" (Cross of Military Honour) in recognition of courageous action on the battlefield.  When legislation to create the award was introduced the following month, its title was amended to "Croix de Guerre" ("Cross of War").  Approved by the Assembly on April 2, 1915, the law authorized the awarding of a medal to both French and Allied soldiers for acts of gallantry in combat. 

The medal consisted of a Florentine bronze cross with two crossed swords behind its arms.  The centre of its obverse side displayed a young woman wearing a Phrygian cap - the traditional symbol of the French Republic - surrounded by the words "Republique Francaise".  The reverse displayed the dates of the conflict - initially 1914-15, later changed to reflect the war's subsequent years.  A green ribbon with seven narrow vertical red stripes was attached to the top of the medal.

France's Croix de Guerre
Unlike its later Belgian counterpart, the French Croix de Guerre was not an exclusively individual award.  In special circumstances, it could be conferred on an entire military unit, such as the crew of a naval vessel that performed a significant act of bravery in battle.

The Belgian Croix de Guerre was created by royal decree on October 25, 1915.  It was awarded primarily for acts of "bravery or other military virtue on the battlefield" and was presented only to individuals.  In the war's later years, the Belgian Croix was issued to soldiers with three or more years' service at the front as well as individuals deemed inactive due to severe wounds.

The Belgian medal took the form of a Maltese Cross, with small balls at its eight points and crossed swords between its arms, topped by a royal crown.  The center of the obverse displayed the image of a lion, while the reverse bore the royal cypher of Belgium's King Albert I.  The medal was attached to a red ribbon with five light green stripes.

Belgium's Croix de Guerre
While many famous military figures, such as Canadian Corps Commander Sir Arthur Currie and British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig, received this honour, it was also bestowed on infantry soldiers whose heroic actions on the battlefield earned the attention of their commanding officers.  As both medals were  "foreign awards", Canadian soldiers wore the Croix de Guerre to the right of service medals and awards (as one views the medals) received from the British Imperial government.


Belgian War Cross.  Hendrik's Medal Corner.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre.  Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre (Belgium).  Wikipedia: The Free Encclopedia.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre (France).  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Available online.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War, Part 12: Medals.  The Regimental Rogue.  Available online.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Skipper Isaiah Walton Horton - A Royal Canadian Navy Officer's Story

Date of Birth: December 31, 1891

Place of Birth: Sandy Cove [now Dort's Cove], Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Isabelle Maude Crane (1869-1946)

Father's Name: Freeman Whitfield Horton (1860-1938)

Date of Enlistment: April 12, 1915*

Regimental Number: OFF VR-426

Rank: Skipper

Force: Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve

Location of service: Halifax & Sydney, NS

Occupation at Enlistment: Mariner

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single**

Next of Kin: Mrs. Gwladys Mary (Jenkins) Horton (wife), 32 1/2 S. Clifton St., Halifax, NS**

*: Official date of enlistment as recorded in Royal Canadian Navy personnel file.  Isaiah began service with the RCN on February 4, 1915.

**: According to family sources, Ike and Gwladys were married in June 1915, shortly after his enlistment.
Skipper Isaiah Walton 'Ike' Horton
While the vast majority of Canadians who enlisted in military forces during World War I served with various branches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Canada, England and continental Europe, a small but significant number made a vital contribution at home.  Approximately 1800 individuals joined the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) and played a crucial role in defending Canada's coastal waters during the war years.

Isaiah Walton 'Ike' Horton was one of such individual, the oldest son and third of six children born to Freeman Whitfield and Isabelle Maude (Crane) Horton of Guysborough, Nova Scotia.  Ike's family traced its Nova Scotia roots to his namesake, who was one of Guysborough's 'Nine Old Settlers'.  It is not surprising that Ike pursued both a civilian and military career at sea.  His father was a master mariner who also served as an officer with the RNCVR during the war, and all of his paternal uncles earned a living on the water.

Ike with sisters Gertie and Hilda (l to r), parents Isabelle and Freeman Horton.
Ike began his career with the Fishery Protection Service, a branch of the Canadian Department of Marine & Fisheries.  On July 25, 1913, he joined the crew of the Canadian Government Ship (CGS) Constance as a Carpenter, a 'rating' traditionally responsible for the maintenance of a ship's hull and masts.  Originally built for the Department in 1891 as a fisheries cruiser, the Constance served several years with the Department of Customs' "Preventive Service" (anti-smuggling patrol) before betting refitted as a minesweeper in 1912.

In the years prior to World War I, the RCN's lack of resources meant that Royal Navy ships and Department of Marine & Fisheries' 'Dominion Cruisers' such as the Constance provided most of Canada's coastal protection.  In fact, the first Director of the Naval Service of Canada - later re-named the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) - was the Marine & Fisheries Department's former head, Rear Admiral Charles Kingsmill.

Ike had served in the Canadian coastal defence service for more than a year when Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914.  The RCN immediately assumed responsibility for the Department of Marine & Fisheries' operation, as its vessels formed the nucleus of its coastal defence resources.  The Constance was absorbed into the naval service and assigned to patrol and 'examination' duties on Canada's Atlantic coast.

HMCS Constance
In later correspondence, Ike dated the commencement of his RCN service from February 4, 1915, although his personnel file records the date as April 12, 1915.  Whatever the case, as a member of the Constance's crew, Ike was 'unofficially' a part of the RCN from the war's early days and served for the duration of the conflict on various ships operating on Canada's eastern coast.

On June 25, 1915, Ike was officially promoted to Mate, serving with HMCS Canada for two months.  A former CGS vessel that conducted patrols as part of the Fisheries Protection Service, HMCS Canada is considered the nucleus of the modern-day RCN due to its central role in training naval officers and asserting Canadian sovereignty.  Commissioned into service for the war and refitted as a naval patrol vessel, its forecastle was raised and four guns - two 12-pounders and two 3-pounders - were mounted to its decks.  HMCS Canada was anchored in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, sustaining only minor damage and one slight casualty in the famous explosion.  Decommissioned in 1919, it returned to service as CGS Canada before being retired in 1920.
Crew of HMCS Canada (Ike Horton not identified in photo).
On September 1, 1915, Ike was transferred to HMCS Sable Island, a steamer that made regular runs between Halifax and St. John's, Nfld. prior to the war before being commissioned into the RCN as a coastal patrol vessel.  Three months later, Ike was assigned to HMCS Hochelega.  Formerly the private yacht Waturus, the vessel became part of the RCN's coastal patrol fleet in 1914.  After the war, Hochelega served as the Pictou-Charlottetown ferry.

HMCS Hochelega
During his service with HMCS Hochelega, Ike was officially assigned to base depot on HMCS Niobe.  One of two initial RCN vessels purchased from the British Navy, the Niobe was designated a depot ship on September 6, 1915.  For the next two years, Ike served as mate and acting commander on three coastal patrol vessels - HMCS Starling, Premier and Wilfred C. - operating out of Halifax.  He also transported two vessels - Paragon and Meredith - from Saint John, NB to Halifax and was mate on CD (Coastal Defence) 81 during its passage from Montreal to Quebec.

Crew of HMCS Sable Island (Ike Horton above the letter 'E').
In June 1915, Ike married Gwladys Mary Ann Jenkins, a native of Wales. Gwladys resided at 23 1/2 South Clifton St., Halifax while Ike was posted in Halifax.  On September 25, 1916, Ike was granted unscheduled leave, as an infant son had passed away the previous day and his wife was 'dangerously ill'.  Sadly, the couple lost two more sons in infancy, although Gwladys gave birth to two healthy daughters in later years.

Ike's service record contains several letters written during his time in Halifax, relating to two matters discussed at length with his superiors.  In a letter dated August 20, 1916, Ike stated that he had served 18 months as Mate with the RNCVR at a pay rate of $ 2.50 per day.  As he had been in charge of several patrol vessels during this time, he requested an increase to 'Command Money'.  Navy Headquarters initially denied his request, noting that his navy pay was considerably more than his $ 45.00 monthly salary as a Fisheries Protection Officer.

A second letter dated February 9, 1917 again requested payment of 'Command Money', noting that Ike had served as commander of HMCS Starling for nine months and HMCS Premier for three months.  Upon reconsideration, Naval Headquarters approved a raise in salary to 'Command Money' effective December 19, 1916.

Ike's father Freeman Whitfield Horton (left) & unidentified crew.
The second topic discussed was the question of promotion.  In a letter dated March 26, 1917, Ike referred to his service as Mate with the RCN since February 4, 1915 - a period of more than two years - as well as his recent completion of the examination for Master's Certificate 'Coastwise' in requesting a promotion to 'Skipper'.  A Royal Navy Captain wrote a letter to Admiral C. E. Kingsmill in support of Ike's request, stating: "He [Ike] has carried out his duties in every way to my satisfaction, and I consider he is deserving of advancement". 

Once again, Naval Headquarters in Ottawa initially rejected Ike's request, stating that while his service was "well known", at this point in his career Ike lacked "the necessary experience and cannot be offered appt. [sic] at present while there are so many older men with years more experience."  Meanwhile, on January 17, 1918, Ike was appointed Mate of the tugboat Gwennith, operating out of Halifax Harbour.  Almost exactly one month later - on February 18, 1918 - he was promoted to the rank of Skipper.
Subsequent events, however, did not unfold as Ike may have desired.  The Gwennith was involved in a minor collision with another RCN vessel - C.D. 4 - shortly after Ike's promotion.  After investigating the incident, naval authorities concluded that, "although C. D. 4 might have avoided a collision, the 'Gwennith' was entirely in the wrong.  Mr. Horton is to be so informed, and cautioned to be more careful in the future."
On May 8, 1918, Ike and the 'Gwennith' were transferred to Lansdowne, the newly created RCN base at Sydney, NS.  While the RCN had operated out of Sydney Harbour since the beginning of hostilities, activity there increased dramatically in the last year of the war for two reasons.  By mid-1917, several German submarines were active in waters along the North American Atlantic coast.  At the same time, Allied Countries implemented a convoy system for the transport of supplies and troops across the Atlantic.

Skipper Isaiah Walton Horton (left) with father, Freeman Whitfield Horton.
Sydney provided an ideal location from which to patrol the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence for German submarines as well as provide convoy protection.  The much smaller Continental Shelf along the Cabot Strait significantly reduced the threat of mines, in comparison to the extensive shallow waters along Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast.  As a result, in 1918, Allied convoys began forming in this area.

In response, the RCN rented facilities on the Sydney waterfront and established Lansdowne base early in 1918.  By year's end, almost 100 RCN coastal patrol vessels, 1500 crew and shore personnel operated out of Sydney, patrolling the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence.  A "Mobile Patrol Flotilla" consisting of several divisions, each outfitted with one or two former CGS vessels and a pair of trawlers, patrolled the Gulf of St. Lawrence and waters along the Newfoundland coast ready to respond to reports of German submarine sightings and assist convoys as they departed Halifax and Sydney.

The remainder of the RCN trawlers and 'drifters' located at Sydney were assigned to the "Forming Up Escort & Outer Patrol Flotilla" and tasked with acting as a screen protecting 'HS' (slow-moving) convoys as they left Sydney and formed up in the Cabot Strait prior to crossing the Atlantic.  The first convoy departed from Sydney in early July 1918, escorted by three United States submarine chasers, vessels considerably faster than any RCN craft.

Meanwhile, Ike and the Gwennith operated out of Sydney, hauling a small supply barge capable of navigating tiny coves to various locations on the Newfoundland and Labrador coastline.  Robert H. Worthen, a Captain with whom Ike worked in this area, described him as having "a studious, rather locked-in face, which belied his real self.  He was as riotous as sea captains of myth."  According to the Captain's memoirs, throughout the last months of the war, Worthen and Ike sailed along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast while their wives passed the time in Sydney pursuing a fascination for fortune-telling.  Worthen recalled at least one occasion on which Ike guided their vessels to safety into a tiny cove after sighting a German submarine.

Skipper Isaiah Walton Horton (back row, 3rd from right) with unidentified crew.
Upon cessation of hostilities, Ike and Gwladys returned to Halifax, where he was discharged from the RNCVR on April 15, 1919.  The RCN provided him with transportation money to Guysborough, a subsistence allowance of $ 3.75, and the first installment of his war gratuity - the sum of $ 108.50 - as he transitioned to civilian life.  Returning to his home community, Ike converted a workshop and double house on Guysborough's Main Street into a single-family dwelling and set about earning a living in coastal shipping.

A government notice the following year provided the opportunity for funds to finance such an endeavour.  It was a long-standing Royal Navy tradition to pay 'prize money' to ships' officers and crews for capturing or sinking enemy vessels in wartime.  A similar reward was provided for saving or salvaging ships and cargo. 

On October 4, 1920, Ike wrote to the Department of Naval Service, claiming his share of "prize money".  He cited his service as "watch keeping officer" on the vessels Canada, Sable Island and Hochelega as well as his role as mate and commander of Sterling and Premier before his promotion to Skipper, adding that "about all my time was on patrol duty".  While there is no record of the sum received, in later years his daughter Gertrude recalled that Ike used the funds to purchase the Westport III, one of two ships with which Ike established a coastal freight and passenger business.

Coastal steamer Westport.
Built in Shelburne in 1903 and powered by steam engines manufactured in Yarmouth, the SS Westport first operated as a passenger and freight ferry between Yarmouth, Digby and Saint John, New Brunswick.  Its lower deck contained a spacious "ladies' cabin" with twelve berths, complete with oak trim, red plush upholstery and a large lavatory with the latest enameled fittings.  A spacious dining room, cook's galley and gentleman's toilet completed the deck's facilities.  The upper deck consisted of a large pilothouse, captain's cabin, and staterooms for the first officer and engineer in addition to crew accommodations in the forecastle.  Large fore and aft holds provided considerable space for freight.

Ike's second purchase was the SS Elaine, initially built as a coastal defence (CD) boat in Montreal in 1917.  Slightly smaller than the Westport - 84 feet in length in comparison to the Westport's 101 feet - it was the namesake for Ike's first post-war business venture.  The Elaine Steamship Company initially operated at 32 Hollis St., Halifax and Guysborough before focusing exclusively on passenger and freight traffic in the Strait of Canso.  Ike refitted the Westport with two Fairbanks, Morse & Co. gas-powered engines after securing the contract to move freight and passengers between the towns of Mulgrave and Canso.

On its operating days, the Westport travelled from Canso to Mulgrave, arriving prior to 11:30 am, the departure time for Canadian National's train to Truro.  The vessel remained dockside until the afternoon train arrived at 2:30 pm, at which time it made its return run, stopping at Queensport en route.  As owner and Captain, Ike maintained this service throughout the 1920s, eventually selling the Company and Westport III to the Eastern Canadian Steamship Co., a Saint John business that gradually purchased and operated virtually all Maritime coastal shipping routes.  The Westport continued to operate along the Strait of Canso until March 1934, when it ran aground near Oyster Ponds/Hadleyville and was crushed in sea ice during a spring storm.  All on board safely reached shore, but the vessel was damaged beyond repair.

Ike (right) with siblings Aubrey, Hilda and Maud (left to right) in later years.
During his time in Guysborough, Ike was an active member of the community.  He became a Freemason, serving a term as Master of Eastern Light Lodge, No. 72, Guysborough.  He was also one of eight local individuals involved in the establishment of the Guysborough Heat, Light & Power Company.  Founded in 1927, the company used a small power plant - constructed by Ike's father Freeman - to provide electricity to the town's residents from one hour prior to sunset to one hour after sunrise.  It operated until 1939, when its assets were sold to the Nova Scotia Power Commission.

In 1936, Ike relocated his family to Halifax, where he established "Horton & Co. Ltd., Ship Brokers".  The Company sold marine engines and supplies in addition to buying and selling ships in the Atlantic region and beyond.  A March 1958 letter to Ike from Commercial & Shipping Agency, Kingston, Jamaica inquiring about "a list and particulars of small ships which you have for sale" indicates that his clientele extended as far as the Caribbean Islands.  A second letter from the Jamaican Ministry of Trade, dated November 28, 1960, provided addresses for two Jamaican shipping brokerages, suggesting that Ike's company was actively pursuing business on the small island.
Letterhead of Horton & Company Ltd.
During these years, Ike also worked as a salesman for Fairbanks, Morse & Co. and occasionally drafting plans for ship construction.  Upon retirement, he and Gwladys remained in Halifax.  One of his two daughters, Gertrude (Mrs. O. W. Crummey), married and returned to Guysborough, while his second daughter, Ruth (Mrs. W. M. White), resided in Porter's Lake, as her husband was employed with Ike's ship brokerage.

Isaiah Walton Horton passed away at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax on August 17, 1979.  Pre-deceased by his wife Gwladys, who died in 1969, Ike returned home to Guysborough, where he was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery beside his beloved wife.

Gravestone of Gwladys & Isaiah Horton, Evergreen Cemetery, Guysborough, NS.

Cook, Christopher A.. Along the Streets of Guysborough, 2nd Edition.  Antigonish, NS: The Casket Printing & Publishing Co., Ltd., 2003.

RCN Ledger Sheet for I. W. Horton, OFF VR-426.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, 1992-93/170, Volume 27.

RCN Service Record of I. W. Horton, OFF VR-426.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 24, 1992-93/169, Box 100.  Copy provided by Mrs. Maureen Horton Taylor, Spruce Head, Maine.

Tennyson, Brian & Sarty, Roger.  "Sydney, Nova Scotia and the U-Boat War, 1918".  Canadian Military History, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1998, pp. 29-41.  PDF copy available online.

A special thank you to Maureen Horton Taylor, Spruce Head, Maine, who provided valuable information on Ike's life accumulated from a variety of sources, in addition to the family photographs displayed in this post.