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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan - A 'Stationary Hospital' Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: December 22, 1892

Place of Birth: Isaac's Harbour, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Jane Buckley

Father's Name: Stephen MacMillan

Date of Enlistment: March 3, 1916 at Antigonish, NS

Regimental Number: 534470

Rank: Sergeant

Force: Canadian Army Medical Corps

Name of Unit: No. 9 Stationary Hospital (StFX Unit)

Location of service: England & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Merchant

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mrs. Jane MacMillan (mother)

Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan
 Horace Goddard MacMillan was born at Isaac's Harbour on December 22, 1892, the youngest of six children - three boys and three girls - raised by Stephen and Jane (Buckley) MacMillan.  Horace's father owned and operated a general store, warehouse and wharf in their home community until his death on June 17, 1914 at age 76.  Their oldest son, Stanley, had established a medical practice in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, while the second-oldest son, Lorne, lived and worked in New Glasgow.  As a result, at age 21, young Horace assumed operation of the family business.

As with many other young men of his generation, Horace temporarily set aside civilian life to enlist for overseas service.  His slight physique - 5' 4", weight 57.6 kilograms (127 lb.), chest measurement 33" - may have affected his decision as he may not have qualified for infantry service.  Perhaps he may have wanted to assist the war effort in a non-combat role.  Whatever the case, Horace volunteered for service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps' No. 9 Stationary Hospital (St. Francis Xavier Unit) at Antigonish on March 3, 1916.

During World War I, a total of eight Canadian universities provided CAMC hospital units for overseas service.  While treatment of wounded soldiers was an obvious priority, CAMC personnel also focused on the prevention and control of infectious diseases and illness among Canadian soldiers in England, France and Belgium.  In a model established after the war's outbreak, universities recruited personnel from amongst students, faculty and alumni, while the Canadian government provided the necessary equipment and training. 

St. Francis Xavier University recorded an enrollment of 181 students for the 1914-15 academic year.  Despite its small size, the institution made a significant contribution to the war effort.  Almost 50 % of its male students enlisted for overseas service, reducing its average enrolment to 97 in subsequent war years.  A total of 350 Xaverians served in various capacities, 33 losing their lives while in uniform.

Memorial Plaque Honoring Xaverians Who Died In Uniform
No. 9 Stationary Hospital (StFX Unit) represented the university's main contribution to the war effort.  In the autumn of 1915, StFX's Board of Governors and its President, Rev. H. P. MacPherson, offered to create a medical unit for overseas service.  When the Canadian government did not respond to the initial offer, President MacPherson contacted authorities a second time, eventually receiving official approval on February 1, 1916 for creation of a stationary hospital unit. 

Dr. Roderick C. MacLeod, a 51-year-old StFX graduate with a successful family medical practice in North Sydney, was immediately selected as commanding officer.  In April 1916, Dr. H. E. Kendall, a Cape Breton surgeon with ten years' experience, was appointed second-in-command.  Miss Catherine Sarah 'Sadie' MacIsaac, a native of Antigonish and graduate of Mount Saint Bernard College and the nursing program at St. Joseph's Hospital, Glace Bay, was selected as matron.  Miss MacIsaac had overseen nursing services for St. Joseph's operating room for three years before completing post-graduate nursing training at Mercy Hospital, Chicago.  She was employed as Assistant Matron of Mount Zion Hospital, San Francisco when she returned to Antigonish to enlist with the stationary hospital.

The commanding officers immediately launched a recruiting campaign that attracted approximately 60 students, in addition to volunteers from the local area.  While the university initially hoped to staff the entire unit with Roman Catholics affiliated with the institution, it was quickly apparent that it lacked the resources to accomplish this goal.  As a result, individuals with no connection - religious or educational - to StFX were accepted into the unit.  Prominent among them were two medical doctors from Sherbrooke, James Fraser Ellis and Lambert Douglas Densmore, who were amongst the unit's ten captains.  Horace MacMillan's enlistment is further evidence of its religious diversity, as his family belonged to a Baptist congregation.  Throughout its overseas service, No. 9 Stationary Hospital maintained both a Catholic and Protestant chaplain, a standard practice for overseas units.

On May 4, 1916, Horace travelled with the unit's personnel to Halifax, where training for overseas service continued.  Its officers enrolled in a CAMC training course at the Cogswell St. Military Hospital, while nursing sisters were posted to local hospitals.  Horace's commitment to his duties must have impressed his supervisors, as he was promoting to Lance Sergeant prior to the unit's departure.

Sgt. Horace MacMillan (left) with Dr. J. J. MacRitchie (Native of Englishtown, CB)
On June 19, 1916, No. 9 Stationary Hospital boarded SS Missinabie at Halifax for the journey to England.  Its personnel consisted of 12 officers (all physicians), a matron and 26 nursing sisters, and 118 non-commissioned officers and 'other ranks'.  Upon arrival in Liverpool, England ten days later, male staff travelled to Shorncliffe Military Hospital for additional training, while nursing sisters were sent to London for service in various medical facilities.

Horace was temporarily assigned to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe on August 8, before being transferred to No. 12 Canadian General Hospital - later re-named Bramshott Military Hospital - on September 15.  Bramshott's primary role was servicing the health needs of soldiers at nearby Canadian training bases.  Its staff treated such ailments as influenza, bronchitis and myalgia, with the occasional 'accidental injury' sustained in training. 

At first, it appeared that No. 9 Stationary Hospital would suffer the fate of so many other Nova Scotian units, its personnel dispersed to existing units.  In fact, several initial recruits, eager to serve in France or Belgium, volunteered for service with CAMC units at the front.  In November 1916, however, commanding officers received word that the unit would "be reformed in order to proceed overseas".  For Horace and the hospital's male staff, the decision did not bring any change in location.  Its remaining personnel supplemented by physicians and nurses from other units, No. 9 Stationary Hospital officially assumed operation of Bramshott Military Hospital on November 23, 1916.

The hospital unit faced its first major crisis early on January 4, 1917, when its commanding officer, Lt. Col. MacLeod, died from anthrax, believed to have been contracted from an infected shaving brush through a facial razor cut.  Dr. Kendall was immediately promoted to Major and assumed command of the unit.  Throughout the winter of 1916-17, the unit operated the Bramshott facility, where its resources were stretched to the limit by a widespread influenza outbreak amongst Canadian troops. 

Col. Roderick C. MacLeod, Commanding Officer, No. 9 Stationary Hospital
Horace fell victim to the epidemic and was admitted to hospital on January 28, 1917 suffering from a headache, cough and a temperature of 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit).  He was discharged on February 13 but symptoms quickly returned, resulting in his readmission two days later.  Quarantined as 'infectious', Horace spent the next eight weeks in hospital before finally returning to duty on April 9.

On July 3, Horace was granted leave 'with free warrant' for five days. No doubt, he took the opportunity to visit London during this welcome break.  Shortly after returning to Bramshott, he was once again admitted to hospital on August 2, suffering from diarrhea, cramps and a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).  While discharged after a six-day stay, his medical record indicates that he was not fully recovered: "Patient is debilitated, anaemic and dyspeptic [suffering from indigestion] and requires building up in health and physique."

Horace nonetheless resumed his duties with a dedication that once again earned his superiors' attention.  On October 1, 1917, he was promoted to Acting Sergeant with pay, followed by a promotion to full Sergeant with pay on December 5, 1917.  The latter appointment took place the same day as a milestone event in the history of No. 9 Stationary Hospital - its transfer to France.

Throughout the autumn of 1917, the stationary hospital's future was once again in doubt.  In fact, on October 12, 1917, military authorities ordered its dissolution, its personnel to be dispersed among existing CAMC units.  As a result, Horace was transferred to No. 12 Stationary Hospital, which re-assumed responsibility for the operation of the Bramshott facility.  University officials quickly protested this decision, an action that may have played a role in its reversal.  Whatever the case, on November 22, 1917, orders were issued for the unit to re-form and proceed overseas for service in France.  Horace was amongst the personnel who officially rejoined the unit on that day and began preparations for the next step in their military journey.

The No. 9 Stationary Hospital that crossed the English Channel to Boulogne, France on December 5, 1917 was considerably different in composition than its original ranks.  Only Commanding Officer Major Kendall, Matron MacIsaac, 11 nursing sisters and 66 'other ranks' had initially enlisted with the unit.  The remaining personnel consisted of CAMC individuals available for service - mostly from the staff of No. 12 General Hospital - at the time of its overseas passage.

Matron Sadie Catherine MacIsaac, No. 9 Stationary Hospital
After spending several days at nearby St. Martin's Camp, Horace and No. 9 Stationary personnel boarded a train for St. Omer, France on December 11.  Personnel passed their first night "in closed box cars which although quite cold enabled us to get up and warm ourselves".  The following day, they proceeded to the village of Longuenesse, adjacent to St. Omer, where staff immediately undertook the task of establishing a functioning hospital. 

Surgery was not a major focus at stationary hospitals.  Rather, their primary purpose was to admit and move patients as quickly as possible, either back to the front lines for combat or across the English Channel for treatment in 'long term care' facilities in England.  On-site surgeries mainly involved draining infected areas and extracting bullets and pieces of shrapnel.  Each facility maintained a large number of beds for emergency use. 

The Longuenesse facility could accommodate a maximum of 1040 patients, 700 housed in 'mission huts' with the remainder in tents.  The war diary describes the site, on the grounds of an old French chateau: "The hospital lies on a gentle slope, the hill, fringed on one side by the old trees of a neighbouring chateau, and on the other side by a diversified French countryside view."

A chlorinated water supply was stored in three large reservoirs holding 1600 gallons each.  The facility included a high-pressure sterilizer and Nissen huts with overhead horizontal lighting and ventilation, features that allowed staff "to do any work asked of us".  The first admissions - 50 patients from 59th General Hospital, twenty on stretchers and 30 'sitting' - arrived on January 2, 1918.  Most were "near the point of convalescence, except one tuberculosis [patient] who was transferred as soon as the diagnosis was confirmed".  Two days later, nine additional patients arrived at the hospital, which was "slated to receive mild cases (Medical and Surgical)" as the staff adjusted to their new assignment.

Col. Ronald St. John MacDonald, CO of No. 9 Stationary Hospital, 1918
By January 6, all major facilities were in place.  The war diary describes "two large rooms, heated by hot water in the Operating room block, which will be used as Admitting Rooms during the winter.  These rooms will supply a place to get patients well warmed up before being sent to the wards…. The heating apparatus for this building is admirable."

In the meantime, Horace and the NCOs organized a library and debating society as a recreational diversion.  The unit established a 'dry canteen' for NCO's and 'other ranks',  and obtained a piano and periodicals "in order that the men should have an enjoyable time during the winter evenings, otherwise there is nowhere to go and very little to do."

Mild weather during the last two weeks of January allowed staff to "make good headway in outside work".  An additional 67 patients, "mostly convalescent", arrived from No. 10 Stationary Hospital on February 4 as the new facility helped nearby units deal with overcrowding.  Two days later, the war diary provided a final inventory of the facility: one administrative building; one operating room with an 'ante' and 'post-op' ward, centrally heated; an annex with X-ray and laboratory equipment; 29 wards arranged in pairs, most in blocks of four; two kitchens - one for patients, the second for staff; one patient's dining room; one admitting room; two bath houses equipped with both showers and tubs; three ablution huts (two for patients, one for staff); one post-mortem hut; three mess huts for staff; and seventeen accommodation huts for officers, nursing sisters and 'other ranks'.

By March 1918, hospital staff was prepared to accept combat casualties.  On March 13, 47 'stretcher cases' arrived "by barge transport - three with wounds suitable for Deferred Primary Suture".  In the meantime, officers visited nearby casualty clearing stations to gain experience in primary wound treatment.  The facility received its first casualties direct from the front lines during the days prior to March 18.  The war diary describes their arrival:

"Two convoys of sick and wounded, principally the latter, have come in from the front during the week.  A number of these had wounds which had been excised at a Casualty Clearing Station and left open, were closed soon after arrival.  Some wounds closed in Casualty Clearing Stations had to be re-opened.  A few were extensive and septic, these being treated by the Carroll Dakin Method.  All are doing very well."

Horace and the staff of No. 9 Stationary Hospital quickly adjusted to the busy routine of caring for sick and wounded soldiers from the trenches.  Front line casualties increased significantly during the month of March 1918 as the Germans launched a massive 'spring offensive'.  Staff was instructed to prepare for a maximum number of patients and quickly set up beds in vacant wards.  By April 5, the was diary noted that the unit had accommodated as many as 579 patients in recent days, although only 288 remained at that time.  A significant number were stricken with 'Trench Fever'.  Six days later, the diary recorded "a steady stream of casualties… coming in, many of them light Gassed cases (Mustard Gas) with very sore eyes and a laryngical cough.  They promptly improved and many are ready for discharge to Convalescent Depot by the third day."

Interior of a Canadian Hospital, France (date unknown)
As the German offensive progressed, Horace and No. 9 Stationary Hospital found themselves in a precarious situation.  By mid-April, German forces were close enough to launch artillery attacks on St. Omer, although the unit's location was not targeted.  As a result, on April 12, personnel were instructed to prepare to evacuate all patients to base.  Staff spent the next several days packing in anticipation of relocation.  All patients were evacuated by April 16, while Matron MacIsaac and the nursing staff relocated to Etaples, where they were temporarily attached to other units.

On April 19, Horace and the remaining personnel loaded the unit's supplies onto lorries and boarded a train for Etaples, arriving at 3:30 pm.  The men spent the night on the train before relocating to the nearby village of Le Faux the following morning.  Staff soon received orders to establish a hospital for venereal disease patients.  The men immediately began unloading equipment, setting up tents and temporary kitchens at their new location on the outskirts of Etaples.  The war diary described the setting:

"The ground selected is a beautiful amphitheatre with sand drift bottom and surrounding sand hills well covered by pines.  The wind is well broken by the wooded hills and the bottom looks as if it would be dry in any except the most protracted wet weather.  The tents which are new and quite white are being tanned as rapidly as possible,"

Officers visited a nearby 'venereal' facility to observe its organization and procedures.  Horace and the other male personnel meanwhile set about the task of erecting the necessary wards, kitchens, latrines and access roads.  The soft sand posed a particular challenge, necessitating the import of chalk for road construction.  By April 30, the war diary observed that the unit's tents were "mostly set up and the permanent road is about half-constructed [despite] very cold [and] damp weather."

As work on the new facility continued, the unit received new orders to prepare for the arrival of "cases for general treatment" only.  The war diary's May 9 entry explained that No. 9 Stationary "would probably only receive mild cases and we should work on the basis of a tented Hospital for the summer", with wooden floors to be constructed in patients' accommodations.  On May 17, the unit's personnel were told to expect their first admissions in about one week.  The events of the following day, however, brought a dramatic change to these plans.

While Allied troops had successfully halted the German advance, enemy forces were now considerably closer to Allied facilities along the English Channel.  The perils of this proximity became tragically apparent on the night of May 18, when German planes launched a major bombing raid on Allied camps in the Etaples area.  No. 9 Stationary Hospital's site at Le Faux was amongst the locations struck by enemy planes.  The war diary described the attack in its May 19 entry:

"Seven bombs were dropped last night by enemy Aircraft, four among the tents of the personnel and three in the Hospital proper.  Two… were killed and twelve other ranks wounded.  Fortunately, we had no patients, as eight marquees [tents] were blown to ribbons.  Most of the tents of the personnel were riddled by splinters." 

Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan was one of the two fatalities.  Struck in the head by debris, he was rushed to nearby No. 56 General Hospital, Etaples, where he "died of wounds received in action (Enemy Aircraft)" on May 19, 1918.

Damaged St. John Ambulance Hospital, Etaples (June 1, 1918)

In the aftermath of the bombing raid, No. 9 Stationary Hospital personnel were in shock.  The May 22 war diary entry commented: "So severe a baptism has made the Unit pretty uneasy especially as it is assumed with good reason that the Camp was seen clearly by aviators and signalled out for full punishment".  In an effort to mark the location as a medical facility, staff erected a 20-yard-square 'Red Cross' constructed from tarps sewn together, painted and tacked into the sandy soil.  The persistent wind, however, covered the symbol with sand, making it difficult to keep it visible.  A second aerial raid occurred in the Etaples area on May 31, but the hospital's location was not targeted.

No. 9 Stationary Hospital remained in the Etaples area during the summer of 1918.  While the unit maintained a full male medical and support staff, it did not actively provide any services.  Frustrated by the inactivity, Commanding Officer Major Kendall left the unit for another assignment in August 1918 and was replaced by Ronald St. John MacDonald, a Pictou County native and StFX alumnus who had initially enlisted for service with No. 3 Stationary Hospital.

The following month, the unit was once again instructed to construct a venereal disease facility.  Personnel moved to Camiers, France to begin preparations, but orders were once again rescinded and the unit once again relocated to Etaples.  No. 9 Stationary eventually returned to Camiers in February 1919, where it relieved No. 7 Stationary Hospital (Dalhousie Unit), which was operating a 1000-patient venereal disease facility there.  Re-designated a 'General Hospital' due to its size, personnel administered the facility for the next three months.

On May 21, 1919, the Camiers hospital officially closed and No. 9's staff travelled to Witley, England in preparation for demobilization.  On July 2, 1919, personnel boarded SS Olympic at Southampton for the journey home.  Of its initial staff, only 37 of its members - all 'other ranks' - still remained with the unit.  Its members disembarked at Halifax, where StFX's Dr. J. J. Tompkins and the Knights of Columbus held a reception in their honour.  The following day, No. 9 Stationary Hospital was demobilized after three years' service with the CAMC.

Sergeant Horace Goddard MacMillan was amongst the No. 9 Stationary Hospital soldiers who did not return to Canada.  He was laid to rest in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.  In the aftermath of his passing, his brother Lorne was appointed executor of his estate.  By the terms of his military will, Horace bequeathed the family store, warehouse, wharf and all contents to Lorne, while his oldest brother Stanley received the sum of $ 500 .  His three sisters received an equal share of $ 1000 inherited from his father, while Horace's bereaved mother received payment of a $ 2500 life insurance policy in addition to the balance of his army pay.

Etaples Military Cemetery


Hogan, David B.. "The Eventful History of the Number 9 Stationary Hospital (St. Francis Xavier University), Canadian Army Medical Corps (1916-1920)".  Annals of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Vol. 28, No. 6, September 1995.

Hunt, M S.. Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War - 1920.  Archive CD Books Canada, Inc., Manotick, Ont., 2007.

Regimental Record of Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan, No. 534470.  Library and Archives Canada: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7114 - 50.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diaries - 9th Canadian Stationary Hospital.  Library and Archives Canada: RG9, Militia and Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5034, Reel T-10923.  Available online.

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