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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.