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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Pte. James Kendall Bright - A 'Black Watch' Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 19, 1894*

Place of Birth: Country Harbour Cross Roads, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Margaret Olive Fenton

Father's Name: John William Bright

Date of Enlistment: April 4, 1916 at Guysborough, NS

Regimental Number: 901531

Rank: Private

Name of Units: 193rd Battalion; 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada); 20th Reserve Battalion

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Gold miner

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. John W. Bright, Goldenville, Guysborough County

*: Attestation papers list date of birth as June 19, 1895.

Born at Country Harbour Cross Roads, Guysborough County on June 19, 1894, James Kendall Bright was the youngest of three boys raised by Margaret Olive (Fenton) and John William Bright and the only son to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Sometime during Kendall's childhood, the family relocated to nearby Goldenville, where he later found employment in the local gold mines.  On April 6, 1916, he responded to Nova Scotia's first concerted recruiting campaign, enlisting with the Highland Brigade's 193rd Battalion at Guysborough.

Pte. James Kendall Bright
Kendall spent several weeks training at Guysborough before relocating to Camp Aldershot, where the battalion passed the summer months preparing for overseas service.  On October 12, 1916, he boarded the SS Olympic for the voyage to England, arriving at Liverpool on October 18, 1916.  The battalion proceeded to Camp Witley, where the unit trained as it awaited transfer to the front lines.

Unfortunately, the 193rd suffered the fate of many battalions raised during 1916 and was dissolved before year's end, its soldiers dispersed to existing infantry or reserve battalions. On December 5, 1916, Private Kendall Bright was officially transferred to the 42nd Battalion CEF and immediately proceeded across the English Channel for service.


The 42nd Battalion CEF was the second of three units recruited during World War I by the 5th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, a Montreal-based militia unit affiliated with Scotland's famous Black Watch regiment.  As Canada's oldest Highland regiment, its three battalions - 13th, 42nd and 73rd - were commonly identified throughout the war as the 'Black Watch', although the title was not officially part of its name until 1930. 

The 42nd had arrived in France on October 9, 1915 and was assigned to the Belgian trenches of the Ypres Salient.  For two months, its soldiers provided work parties for trench construction and repair.  On November 21, 1915, the men were issued a second blanket, a pair of woolen mittens, a fur coat and 'trews' [trousers] as the battalion prepared for the arrival of winter.  The battalion war diary commented: "Kilts, hose tops and sporans were called in and sent to Paris to be renovated and stored until spring."  The men were no doubt relieved by the wardrobe change, as a kilt was hardly appropriate apparel for winter service in the trenches.

On December 12, 1915, the 42nd was officially assigned to the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division, serving alongside the Halifax-based Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and the Edmonton-based 49th Battalion.  The brigade commenced its first rotation 'in the line' on January 7, 1916 near Dranoutre, Belgium.  The 42nd served in the Ypres sector until early September 1916, when it relocated to the Somme region of France for its first major battle experience.

On September 15 and 16, 1916, the 42nd participated in the attack on Courcelette.  The impact on the battalion was devastating: one officer and 73 'other ranks' (OR) killed; 6 officers and 290 OR wounded, and 66 OR missing.  Only 266 'all ranks' reported for roll call the day after the battle.  The battalion spent the next several months in the Courcelette area training, providing work parties and receiving reinforcements while serving in a regular front line rotation.

The 42nd's war diary recorded the arrival of 250 'OR' on January 3, 1917.  Amongst their number was young Kendall Bright, who would spend the duration of his service at the front with the battalion.  At the time of his arrival, the unit was in Brigade Reserve at Neuville - St. Vaaste, France.  Five days later, Kendall received his first experience 'in the line' as the 42nd relieved the PPCLI in the front trenches.  As there was little fighting during winter, the men spent most of their time repairing trenches and the battalion recorded only 5 'OR' wounded during the tour.

Kendall spent the next several months serving in a rotation of front line duty, brigade reserve, and periods of rest and training.  Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden formally reviewed the 7th Brigade's four battalions on March 9, 1917 as the men trained over 'taped trenches' on a simulated battlefield.  When the battalion returned to the front lines on March 22, Kendall received his first significant experience 'under fire'. 

At 3:00 am March 23, German soldiers detonated a large mine located beneath the 42nd's position, seriously damaging a 30-yard sector of its front trenches.  The battalion managed to hold the resulting crater despite heavy enemy fire, suffering only light casualties under the treacherous circumstances.   The men spent the remaining time in the line rebuilding trenches and saps. closing the gap created by the explosion before being relieved on April 1.

The welcome break was short-lived as two of the battalion's companies moved back into the front trenches near Villers au Bois on the night of April 5/6.  The arrival of spring made conditions increasingly uncomfortable: "The weather was wretched cold and wet.  The men were put to work cleaning out assembly trenches, which had fallen in badly owing to the wet weather."  Two days later, the battalion's remaining companies moved into the line as the Canadian Corps prepared for it assault on Vimy Ridge.  The war diary described the final preparations:

"Getting platoons into their proper places for moving into their assembly trenches and distribution of material to be carried over with the attacking waves.  By Sunday midnight, final preparations were completed, and the men were waiting [sic] the order to move out."

'Black Watch' Recruitment Poster.
Kendall was amongst the 722 members of the 42nd Battalion who moved into assembly trenches at 4:00 am April 9, the Princess Pats to their right and the 102nd Battalion, a British Columbia regiment, to their left.  All soldiers were in position by 4:45 am awaiting the opening barrage, scheduled for 5:30 am.  The battalions moved out as scheduled, following the artillery's 'creeping barrage' up the ridge's steep slope.  The war diary noted that "visibility was very low, [and] the men had to advance in drizzling rain changing to sleet."  The 42nd reached its initial objective by 8:15 am, but the 102nd to its left was held up by stiff resistance.  As a result, the battalion was subjected to "sniping and rifle fire" on its left flank as well as from an elevated location called Hill 145.

By 10:10 am, the battalion had suffered an estimated 200 casualties and was experiencing difficulty evacuating its wounded.  At noon, the war diary commented that "after three different calls for stretchers none have arrived yet."  Plans to launch an attack on points of enemy resistance were postponed, subjecting the men to heavy shelling as they attempted to 'dig in'.  Fortunately, the battalion suffered only one 'direct hit' as it settled in for the night.

At 8:25 am the following morning, 25 wounded soldiers still awaited evacuation as personnel were unable to move the wounded due to a "scarcity of stretchers".  By 11:45 am, the battalion received confirmation that Hill 145 had been captured.  For the remainder of the day, the men worked on consolidating the new line and overcoming remaining points of resistance on their left flank.

At 5:45 am April 11, "what was left" of D Coy., 42nd Battalion was relieved in the line, followed by the remaining companies as the day progressed.  The war diary recorded 5 officers killed or 'died of wounds', with 291 'OR' killed or wounded.  Amongst the casualties removed from the battlefield for medical treatment was Pte. Kendall Bright.


Kendall suffered a shrapnel wound to his leg during the April 9 assault on Vimy Ridge.  He may well have been amongst the wounded awaiting evacuation on the first day of fighting.  Kendall was admitted to 2nd Australian General Hospital, Wimereux, France on April 14 before being transferred to the 1st Convalescent Depot, 32nd Stationary Hospital, Wimereux six days later.  The length of his hospital stay suggests that his injuries were not serious, as Kendall was discharged to a nearby rest camp on April 21.  One week later, he was 'taken on strength' by the Canadian Base Depot, where he passed the next six weeks awaiting orders to proceed to the front lines.

A second health issue prevented Kendall's return to the line when he was admitted to 7th Canadian General Hospital, Etaples with 'trench fever' (influenza) on June 12, 1917.  He was invalided to England and admitted to the General Military Hospital, Fort Pitt, Chatham on July 3.  Kendall was discharged after ten days' treatment and transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, where he spent an additional week regaining his strength.  A note on his medical records stated "no disability from influenza[,] recovered" upon discharge.

On July 20, Kendall was assigned to the 20th Reserve Battalion, Epsom and given ten days' sick furlough with full transportation.  Upon his return to camp, he spent almost four months in England before being reassigned to the 42nd Battalion on November 10.  Arriving in France the following day, Kendall left to rejoin the unit in the field on November 15, 1917.

By that time, the 42nd had returned to Belgium, where it participated in the Canadian Corps' attack on Passchendaele.  When Kendall arrived on November 21, 1917 as one of 146 'OR' reinforcements, the battalion was located in Bourecq, France, where it spent one month training and recovering from its recent assignment.  The war diary commented that "the battalion was fortunate enough to have [access to a] 75 yard rifle range, a Lewis Gun range, and bombing and rifle grenade pits, and daily use was made of each."  On November 30, the diary entry recorded that "the Battalion, pursuant to a request received some time prior from the 1st Battalion of Imperial Black Watch, adopted the Red Hackle as part of its Head-dress."

The 42nd relieved the 16th Canadian Battalion in Brigade Support at Lievin, France on December 23, 1917, providing nightly work parties to wire nearby support trenches.  Six days later, Kendall returned to the front trenches as the battalion relieved the 49th in the line near Lens.  On the night of January 4/5 1918, the unit retired to Divisional Reserve at Souchez, having suffered only two slight casualties - one accidental - during its short tour.  The men enjoyed 'postponed' Christmas and New Year's dinners while camped at Souchez.

'Black Watch' World War I sporan.
On January 9, 1918, perhaps due to his previous mining experience, Kendall was temporarily assigned to the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company.  He returned to the battalion on January 22, only to be assigned to 'Duty at Petrol Siding' two days later.  On February 19, 1918, he rejoined the battalion at Nieux Les Mines, France, where it was training and providing work parties.  Two days after his return, the battalion relocated to Villers au Bois before moving again to Neuville St. Vaast, where training and work party activity continued.

The 42nd returned to the line for its first tour of 1918 near Vimy on the night of March 6/7.  Kendall and his comrades served in rotation in this location for the next several months.  While there was little activity on its line, the battalion 'stood to' on March 28 as German forces launched a major attack on British and French forces to the south, from Oppy to the Scarpe River.  Its position was not attacked and the battalion's light casualties for the month - 1 officer wounded (poison gas), 1 OR killed, 16 OR wounded - indicate the limited fighting in its sector in front of Vimy Ridge.

On April 30, the 42nd's fifty-fifth consecutive day on rotation - "the longest continuous tour which the Battalion had ever done in the front line" - the battalion and its sister units moved into Brigade Reserve.  It casualties for the month were once again light: two officers wounded, 5 OR killed, 25 OR wounded and transferred to hospital, 6 OR wounded but remaining on duty, and 1 OR missing (taken prisoner during an enemy night raid). 

The men spent the next two months in camp near St. Hilaire, following a schedule that included training, sports and recreational activities.  On the night of June 28/29, the 42nd returned to the front trenches at Neuville Vitasse.  Once again, there was little fighting in its sector as Kendall and his comrades served one month on rotation.  On the night of July 30/31, the unit relocated to Dury, near Amiens, the battalion's furthest point south since arriving in France.  The war diary remarked that "much interest was displayed by the French troops and civilians in the Highland dress of the Battalion." 

July casualties continued to be light by comparison to earlier tours, with 2 OR killed, 2 OR dying of wounds, and 1 officer and 10 OR wounded.  The subsequent months, however, brought a dramatic increase in these numbers as the Canadian Corps participated in a major Allied offensive.  The 42nd spent the first week of August preparing for a scheduled attack at Amiens, moving by night to Gentelles Wood on August 7/8.  The attack was launched in the early morning along approximately 30 kilometres of front line, the Canadian Corps occupying a central position with French troops to its right and the Australian Corps to its left.  The objective was to capture a strategic section of the main rail line between Amiens and Paris.

The 42nd was one of three 7th Division battalions selected to participate in the initial assault, which commenced in the early hours of August 8 without preliminary artillery bombardment to preserve the element of surprise.  The 7th Brigade moved into its 'jumping off' positions as 6: 00 am, an hour and a half after the attack commenced, and moved out at 8:20 am despite a "heavy mist which hung over everything", obscuring visibility.  The unit reached its objective by 10:20 am, with the 4th Canadian Division passing through its lines at 2:00 pm as scheduled.  Casualties were light considering the scale of the assault: 12 OR killed, 2 OR died of wounds, 2 officers and 29 OR wounded.

The following day, the battalion rested near Claude Wood before moving to the newly captured village of Folies in the evening.  The location was bombed by enemy aircraft the following day, killing 3 OR and wounding 12.  On August 11, the battalion occupied positions on the newly established front line at Parvillers.  The trenches it occupied were part of the old British line captured by German forces during its Spring 1918 offensive.  A strip of 'No Man's Land' varying in width from 150 to 300 yards separated the battalion from enemy forces.

On the night of August 13/14, members of the 42nd participated in a 10-hour attack on German trenches, involving "hand-to-hand fighting during which the attack was many times pressed home with the bayonet."  The battalion was relieved in the line on the night of August 15/16.  Two officers and 30 OR were killed, 5 officers and 101 OR wounded and 10 OR subsequently died of wounds in the fighting at Amiens and Parvillers.  The 42nd retired to Hamon Wood for several days' rest and training after one of the most challenging tours of its war service.

On August 23, Kendall and the 42nd relocated to Manin, where they prepared for a scheduled attack east of Arras.  The advance was launched at 3:00 am August 26, the 42nd occupying a reserve position in the attack formation.  The battalion advanced at 10:00 am but was held up by the RCR's inability to keep pace with its progress.  Heavy artillery shelling in the late afternoon inflicted several casualties.

Pte. Charles Albert Batten, 42nd Bn. (KIA August 28, 1918) in khaki Highland attire.
The advance continued the following day, with the 42nd moving into positions along the newly established line on the night of August 27/28.  The battalion occupied a salient that jutted about 500 yards into enemy lines.  Heavy fighting took place late in the day as the unit advanced, capturing another section of enemy trench.  The battalion was relieved later that night, retiring to billets near Arras. 

In total, the 7th Division had advanced 9000 yards, gradually expanding a 3000-yard front to 7000 yards of trenches, crossing five German lines of defence, and securing six French villages.  Considering the intensity of the fighting, the 42nd's casualties were relatively light: 3 officers and 60 OR killed, 12 OR died of wounds, 12 officers and 225 OR wounded at tour's end.

The 42nd returned to the line on the night of September 5/6, taking up positions west of Cagnicourt.  Three days later, the unit relocated to trenches near Canal du Nord.  Daytime movement was impossible as the battalion occupied a reverse slope facing the canal and was thus exposed to direct enemy observation.  German infantry unsuccessfully attacked their position at 1:20 am September 10 and a second time at dusk the same day.

The 42nd was relieved on the night of September 11/12 and passed the next week in Division Reserve.  Their strength was bolstered by the arrival of 78 OR to compensate for their recent losses.  On September 19, the unit relocated to Dainville, where the men completed a second week of training before returning to the trenches on September 26 in preparation for an attack on German positions at Canal du Nord.

The battle commenced at 5:20 am September 27, with the 3rd Division occupying support positions north of Moeuvres, behind the other three Canadian Divisions.  The 7th Brigade was the first 3rd Division unit to advance following the initial attack, with the 42nd supporting its three sister battalions.  The 42nd crossed the canal in the early afternoon via an infantry bridge constructed by Canadian engineers and spent the night in the open, enduring heavy bombardment with gas shells. As a result, "the men were compelled to sleep with their Box Respirators adjusted."

The following morning, the battalion occupied a position behind a railroad embankment east of Bourlon Wood.  While the men were subjected to heavy artillery barrage, the position was well protected, although a steady rain ensured that "everybody got thoroughly wet".  The 42nd was placed in reserve once more as the other three 7th Division battalions advanced, encountering "heavy opposition".  As a result, Kendall and his comrades spent the day sheltered behind the railroad embankment.

On September 29, the battalion received orders to capture the railroad embankment and establish bridgeheads along St. Quentin Canal.  The war diary commented: "The morning was fine with a heavy ground mist which prevented any visibility….  It was feared that direction might be difficult to maintain."  As the attack commenced, "a withering fire from Machine Guns at point blank range… [that] caused very severe casualties" slowed the advance.

Under heavy fire, four advance parties succeeded in crossing the Douai - Cambrai Road and establishing a forward post.  Despite a supporting artillery bombardment at 12:30 pm, the battalion was unable to advance due to heavy machine gun fire and was forced to 'dig in' behind whatever shelter was available.  The advance resumed the following day, once again encountering fierce resistance in addition to an unsuccessful counterattack.  On October 1 - two days after its initial advance - the 42nd finally captured the high ground near the railroad embankment and withdrew from the line later that night.  The battalion suffered significant losses in the fighting: 6 officers and 55 OR killed, 11 officers and 221 OR wounded.

Once again, Kendall was amongst the wounded, suffering from the effects of exposure to poison gas during the second day's fighting.  He was admitted to the 14th Canadian Field Ambulance on October 1 and then transferred to the Canadian Casualty Recovery Station (CCRS) the following day.  Thankfully, the gas did not seriously impact his health and he rejoined his unit in the field on October 10, 1918. 

Black Watch pipe band on parade in Mons, Belgium - November 11, 1918.
By that time, the 42nd was training at Queant, where the battalion received an informal visit from HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, on October 17.  The following day, the unit was granted leave for 20 OR for the following week, "a considerable increase on the recent allotment which the Battalion had been receiving."  Kendall was amongst the fortunate soldiers granted 14 days' leave on October 20. 

When Kendall returned in early November, the battalion was training at Fosse de Prussien,Vicoigne.  Over the following week, the 42nd moved by route march through recently captured enemy territory as German forces retreated toward Belgium.  The journey to Jemappes was particularly noteworthy:

"Throughout the whole march the streets were lined with cheering civilians who gave the Battalion a tremendous reception."  By now, there was no doubt a sense that the war was approaching some sort of conclusion. 

On November 10, the 7th Brigade launched a major attack on the city of Mons, Belgium.  The 42nd's war diary recorded a tragic incident on what proved to be the last full day of the conflict:

"An H.V. shell burst in the Farrier's workshop killing two men outright and wounding ten others, four of whom afterwards died of wounds.  The majority of these men had come with the Battalion from Montreal and had been with it for thirty-seven months in France."

By the early morning hours of November 11, the 7th Brigade had established total control of the city.  The 42nd's war diary captured the excitement of what proved to be the final hours of the war:

"The [battalion] Pipe Band played itself into the city about 07.00 Hours and created tremendous enthusiasm.  Thousands of civilians lined the streets and the Grand Palace, and the Battalion was given such a welcome as it had never seen before.  Men, women and children vied with one another in expressing their hospitality - hot coffee, cognac and wines were distributed with the utmost generosity.  Soldiers were everywhere embraced and kissed.  In a few moments the whole city was bedecked with flags, flying from every window."

By 9:00 am, the battalion received official notification of the impending ceasefire, scheduled to take place at 11:00 am.  At that precise hour, the Mayor presented the Commander of the 7th Brigade with keys to the city in honour of its role in liberating Mons.  The war diary described the ceremony marking the occasion:

"Such elements of the Brigade as could be withdrawn from the line were formed up en masse and after the celebrations were completed there was a formal march past which was led by our Pipe Band…. The great square was filled with civilians and the troops got tremendous applause as they marched out…. The day was the most memorable in the history of the 42nd Cdn. Battalion by virtue of the fact that it was our good fortune to have the honour to capture the most historic City in the annals of the war."

The battalion spent the next several days resting, cleaning up, and enjoying the hospitality of the newly liberated city.  Kendall's time with the battalion, however, was cut short by the return of illness on November 15.  He was admitted to the 1st Stationary Hospital at Rouen for treatment, spending three weeks there before being discharged on December 7 and assigned to the nearby Canadian Base Details.  Health issues continued to plague him as he was readmitted to 5th General Hospital, Etaples on December 19, 1918 and then transferred to 7th Stationary Hospital, Camiers on January 23, 1919.

On February 7, 1919, Kendall was finally discharged from medical treatment and returned to the Canadian Record List of soldiers.  He was posted to the Quebec Regional Depot, Ripon, England on March 7 only to be transferred to Kimmel Park, Rhyl for return to Canada two days later.  On March 29, 1919, Kendall boarded HMT Caronia, arriving at Halifax on April 5.  He was formally discharged from military service on April 13, 1919.


Kendall returned to civilian life at Sherbrooke, where he married Mary Viola Jordan, a native of Goldenville, on July 20, 1920.  He and his wife subsequently raised a family of four children - two boys and two girls - in the small village where Kendall spent the remainder of his years.  During the Second World War, he served in the Veterans' Guard.  Amongst his occupations, he served as caretaker of the local post office.  Sadly, his wife, Mary Viola, passed away in 1957 at age 54. 

Kendall Bright died at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax on January 9, 1970 and was laid to rest in St. James Anglican Cemetery, Sherbrooke.  He was one of only a few Guysborough veterans to have served with the war's most distinguished Canadian Highland battalions.

Gravestone of Mary & Kendall Bright, St. James Anglican Cemetery, Sherbrooke, NS.



Regimental Record of Pte. James Kendall Black, No. 901531.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1067 - 28.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of 42nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada).  Transcribed by Michael Thierens (2012).  Available online.

Photograph of Pte. James Kendall Bright obtained from A Short History and Photographic Record of the Nova Scotia Overseas Brigade, CEF, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax.  Reproduced with permission of PANS.

Photograph of James Kendall Bright's gravestone courtesy of Winn (Manson) Campbell, Kingston, NS.

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