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Friday, 27 June 2014

Pte. Amos Cashin - A Forestry Corps Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: January 16, 1898

Place of Birth: West Port Felix, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Suzanne Meagher

Father's Name: William Cashin Jr.

Date of Enlistment: July 3, 1916 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 1033073

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force

Units: 237th Battalion; 97th Battalion; No. 23 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps; Royal Canadian Regiment

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Fisherman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mrs. Suzanne Cashin, West Port Felix, NS (mother)


Denis Amos Joseph Cashin was the fifth of six children - five boys and one girl - born to William and Suzanne Cashin of West Port Felix, Guysborough County.  As was the custom in his small coastal community, Amos went to sea at an early age, working on inshore fishing vessels that made occasional visits to Halifax.

Within months of the Britain's August 4, 1914 declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, the provincial capital was abuzz with military activity.  A key Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) port, Halifax also became a departing point for thousands of Canadian infantrymen headed to England.  Sometime during the conflict's early months, Amos became part of the war effort when joined the crew of the RCN patrol ship 'Speedy', although he did not formally enlist with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Throughout the winter of 1915-16, military recruitment reached a fever pitch across Nova Scotia as authorities organized and trained no fewer than five infantry battalions for overseas service.  As the majority of RCN vessels operated out of Halifax, Amos and other young men from the Port Felix area were caught up in the excitement.  On July 3, 1916, Amos and his older brother Dennis enlisted with the 237th Infantry Battalion at Halifax.

Pte. Amos Cashin (left) and Pte. Arthur Freeman Levangie.
Two other Port Felix natives joined the same unit. Arthur Freeman Levangie attested with the 237th at Saint John, NB one week prior to the Cashin brothers, while Neil David enlisted at Halifax on August 1, 1916.  While they served together for the next three months, the quartet parted ways shortly after they arrived in England.  At war's end, only the Cashin brothers returned home to Port Felix.


The 237th Battalion was one of several "American Legion" units organized across Canada in early 1916, with the goal of attracting young Americans for overseas service.  The battalion established its headquarters in Sussex, NB, but Amos's enlistment indicates that recruitment efforts extended into neighbouring provinces.  Partly due to the controversy surrounding the recruitment of foreign nationals from a neutral country, military authorities dissolved most "American Legion" battalions before they departed for England.  Shortly after the four Port Felix natives enlisted with the 237th, the unit was disbanded and its personnel absorbed by the 97th Battalion, an "American Legion" unit that managed to avoid a similar fate.

Initially organized in Toronto, the 97th Battalion had relocated to Camp Aldershot, NS for training in June 1916.  Its proximity explains why the 237th recruits were transferred to the unit on September 15, 1916.  Three days later, the Cashin brothers, Neil David and Arthur Levangie boarded the SS Olympic with their new unit for the journey to England.  Upon disembarking at Liverpool on September 25, 1916, however, the 97th was plagued with problems.  A number of its American enlistments deserted upon landing, and its Commanding Officer was accused of embezzlement, charges that were later disproved.

Seeking to avoid further controversy, British authorities dissolved the 97th Battalion on October 31, 1916 and transferred its personnel to existing units.  The four Port Felix recruits accompanied a large group of the 97th's personnel to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR)/Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Depot at Seaford, England, where they awaited further orders.

Within hours of arriving at Seaford, the Port Felix lads' military paths began to diverge.  On November 1, 1916, Neil David was transferred to the 7th Reserve Battalion, where he spent the winter awaiting an overseas assignment.  On April 25, 1917, he was transferred to the PPCLI and served at the front with the veteran unit throughout the summer months.  Neil was killed in action at Passchendaele on October 30/31, 1917.  Arthur Levangie was also transferred to the PPCLI on December 13, 1916.  He and Neil never reunited, however, as Arthur was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on April 9/10, 1917.

Amos's brother, Pte. Dennis Cashin.
Amos's brother Dennis became the third to depart Seaford when he was assigned to the 2nd Labour Battalion on January 15, 1917.  Later re-designated the 12th Battalion Canadian Railway Troops, Dennis served with the unit behind the front lines throughout the war.  The last to receive an active assignment, Amos was transferred to No. 23 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, Smith's Lawn, Windsor Great Park, Surrey, England, on February 12, 1917.


On February 16, 1916, the British government formally asked Canada to provide a corps of men to cut and process timber in England.  The following month, the Canadian government created the first of several units for "harvesting and processing timber resources overseas".  By year's end, over 3000 Canadian lumbermen enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces' Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC).  Eleven Companies were operating in Britain, while three units had crossed the English Channel for deployment in the forests of France.

Lumber was a basic necessity on the Western Front.  CFC Companies produced beams and board lumber for dugout and trench construction, 'sleepers' for small, medium and regular gauge railways, telegraph poles, pickets (stakes similar to fence poles) for trench revetment, and scrap wood for fuel.  Company personnel carried out the entire process - harvesting logs, transporting them to mills, manufacturing and shipping the finished products.

Amos's unit - No. 23 Company CFC - organized in England in February 1917 and was assigned to the Central Group, one of four CFC Districts established in France.  Given the task of harvesting forests to the west of Paris - particularly the Normandy region - Central Group arrived in France in mid-December 1916, establishing its headquarters at Conches-en-Ouche.  By the end of January 1917, four CFC Companies consisting of 40 officers, 700 'other ranks' (OR) and 133 horses were harvesting and milling lumber in the District.

On February 23, 1917, Private Amos Cashin crossed the English Channel to Havre, France with No. 23 Company CFC.  Its personnel departed for the Central Group on March 2, 1917, arriving at Conches-en-Ouche the following day.  By month's end, Amos and his comrades were harvesting and milling timber in the forests near Rouvray, approximately 40 kilometres northeast of District Headquarters.

The size and scope of Central Group's operations grew steadily throughout the first half of the year, consisting of 12 Companies with a total of 79 officers, 2118 OR and 551 horses by June 30, 1917.  As a result, authorities created two separate Districts within the Central Group.  No. 1 District, officially authorized on July 26, 1917, initially contained four Companies and assumed responsibility for forestry operations in the Alçenon area.  No. 2 District, consisting of 92 officers, 2396 OR and 1029 horses, was created on October 1, 1917 and operated in the areas of Conches-en-Ouche and Rouvray.  Amos's unit was part of the second, larger district's operations.

While CFC soldiers were not exposed to combat, their daily work was nevertheless demanding and hazardous.  Personnel worked six days a week year-round, regardless of weather conditions.  The District's war diaries recorded at least two fatalities during its first year of operation.  On July 22, 1917, Private Arthur Martin (attestation number 904302), No. 38 Coy. CFC, was killed in a "lorry accident near Sées, France".   Private Thomas Sheppard (attestation number 754884), No. 15 Coy. CFC, was killed at Lyre "while driving a logging truck.  Two logs rolled off the truck[,] carrying Sheppard with them, one log landed on top of him, and crushed his skull."

While not as harsh as typical Canadian winters, the weather nevertheless turned "cold and clear" by year's end, with occasional snowfall during the months of December 1917 and January 1918.  Central Group Headquarters' war diary reported a "general thaw and transport difficulties" on January 10, 1918, describing conditions three days later as "fine - sun brilliant - much milder."  Other than a brief cold snap in early March 1918, the winter was considerably less challenging than what Amos and his comrades may have anticipated, based on their experiences at home.

As was the case in the war's first years, the arrival of spring brought a significant increase in combat.  While CFC's Central Group operated at a considerable distance from the front lines, the launching of a major German 'Spring Offensive' in March 1918 soon impacted its operations.  As German forces made initial gains in several sectors along the Western Front, Allied units hastily set about constructing a network of new trenches behind existing front lines as 'fall back' positions in the event of retreat.  As a result, on March 25, 1918, Central Group received an urgent request for 300,000 pickets - a key component of trench revetment - for each of the next two weeks, with an additional 100,000 required for the third week.

Typical trench revetment using pickets and boards.
Increased picket production was not the only impact on CFC Central Group's operations.  On March 28, 1918, its Headquarters "received [a] telegraph with instructions… to get one Company ready to move on short notice with tools for making pickets, also tools for 200 men, extra tents, rations for 5 days, and [to] have all available pickets and shovels assembled with [the] Company."  Commanders were requested to "advise by wire if [the] Company can be ready to move tomorrow by motor lorries, also have as many pickets and shovels [ready] as you can supply."

Central Group's officers selected Amos's unit for the assignment.  No. 23 Company's officers received orders to "prepare to move at a minute's notice.  They were to 'stand to' with tools for making pickets, also 50 shovels, 30 picks and 5 days' rations."  No. 2 District also received orders for an additional three Companies to "prepare to move into [the] Army area [behind the front lines]" with the same equipment as No. 23 Company.  All four units were ready to move by 3:00 pm March 28, 1918.

The following day, Amos and his comrades travelled to nearby Rouen, where they were "equipped with gas masks and steel helmets".  No. 23 Company CFC departed for Lucheux, France on March 30, 1918, where its personnel immediately set to work, assisting labor and infantry units in frantically constructing new trenches.  The fact that Central Group's officers simultaneously met "to discuss formation of two Battalions of Infantry from the Group" reflects the seriousness of the situation.

Amos's unit returned from Lucheux on April 7, 1918 and resumed its work at Rouvray.  While
Central Group's officers commenced "musketry practice in each District" two days later and received instructions on April 12, 1918 "to start training 1200 men in this Group", the orders were rescinded the following day and personnel once again turned their focus to timber and lumber production.  This was not the last time that events at the front impacted Amos's war experience.

Weather in the Central Group area became "very hot" by mid-May 1918.  The German offensive continued to affect operations as Headquarters issued frequent "air alarms" in late May and early June, warning of potential bombing raids.  Authorities issued similar warnings in late June and early July, but no attacks materialized.  During this time, 60 men - 20 from each of three Companies - commenced an Infantry Training Course at Central Group Headquarters, a reminder that CFC personnel were not exempt from military service.

Central Group CFC celebrated Dominion Day with a July 1st sports competition at Conches-en-Ouche.  No. 2 District's war diary commented: "All… companies in the District were represented and a party of American Doctors and Nurses from the American Hospital at Évreux were visitors."  One week later, "trial mobilization of No. 2 Company of [the] proposed New [Infantry] Battalion took place", indicating that preparations for military service at the front continued.

A party of Canadian journalists visited No. 2 District's Conches forest operations in late July, while No. 23 Company relocated to Forêt du Bord by month's end.  Headquarters Staff attended a commemoration service marking the fourth anniversary of the British declaration of war on August 4, 1918.  Four days later, Allied forces launched a major offensive against German forces at Amiens, France.

In response, German aircraft once again conducted bombing raids behind Allied front lines.  Authorities issued "air alarms" on several occasions throughout the month, while No. 2 District's war diary's August 13, 1918 entry described a raid in which "hostile aircraft dropped four bombs about three miles from 34 Company's operations at Beaumont-le-Roger."  The following day, the diary reported:

"19 Company's operations in Dreux Forest was bombed by hostile aircraft at 11:45 pm.  Seven bombs were dropped beside their Railroad.  There were no casualties."

While the threat of aerial bombardment receded by month's end, another danger surfaced on August 17, when "fire broke out in [the] forest behind Conches on the Rouen Road."  Personnel succeeded in dousing the blaze by 7:00 pm, although the  "fire started again" the following day before it was permanently extinguished.

Central Group Headquarters' September 1, 1918 war diary entry reported August production statistics for each District, the first such data in its records.  Amos's No. 2 District produced 15,173 tons of sawn lumber, 6162 tons of round lumber, and 10,191 tons of byproduct for a total in excess of 31,500 tons.  During the same period, the District shipped 10,268 tons of sawn lumber, 1682 tons of round lumber and 487 tons of byproduct.  

In mid-September 1918, Central Group's Commanding Officer inspected a 10-hectare pine forest near Bernay and concluded: "On account of the urgent demand for telegraph poles [I] consider that we should make application for this plot."  Production totals for the month were somewhat lower at 28,991 tons, but shipments rose considerably, exceeding 25,000 tons.

By early October 1918, the Allied offensive commenced almost two months earlier was progressing favourably, although at considerable cost.  A dramatic rise in casualties forced military authorities to identify all potential sources of reinforcements.  On October 3, 1918, CFC Central Group Headquarters received orders to dispatch three officers, six non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 150 OR from each of its two districts to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Center (CCRC) at Aubin-Saint-Vaast, near Hesdin, France. 

The NCOs and men were "to be selected from those who have the most Infantry training, and who are Category 'A'. "  The NCOs would remain with the men at the CCRC, while the officers were to return to their CFC duties.  "Other Ranks [are] to be fully equipped, less rifles and ammunition."

Dennis Cashin's First World war helmet.
Upon receiving instructions, No. 2 District officers brought "190 men… into HQ the same day and prepared [them for military service]."  Private Amos Cashin was amongst the individuals chosen for service at the front.  His selection is not surprising, considering his age and time spent training with the 237th and 97th Infantry Battalions.  No. 2 District's war diary described the last-minute routine as the group prepared to depart for Aubin-Saint-Vaast:

"The morning was taken up with kit inspection and Medical inspection.  Only 133 men were fit for the line.  The draft paraded at 11:30 am.  The OC [Officer Commanding] addressed the men and… thanked them for their good work with the Forestry Corps and assured them that he knew they would give just as good account of themselves in the line.  They proceeded by lorry to Rouen."

On October 4, 1918, three officers, six NCOs and 150 OR departed No. 1 District CFC Central Group at Alçenon for CCRC Aubin-Saint-Vaast at 6:00 pm.  Thirty minutes earlier, three officers, six NCOs and 133 OR from No. 2 District left Conches-en-Ouche for the same destination.  The day after arriving at CCRC with the latter group, Private Amos Cashin was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment.  Amos was about to commence the final - and most perilous - period of his military experience.


Initially formed on December 21, 1883 as part of the newly created Canadian Permanent Force, the Royal Canadian Regiment was originally called the "Infantry School Corps".  As its name suggests, its primary role was to train officers and non-commissioned officers who in turn acted as instructors at Militia Camps across Canada. 

In 1892, the regiment changed its title to "Canadian Regiment Infantry".  The following year, Queen Victoria officially approved its formation, thus permitting the addition of "Royal" to its name.  At the same time, the "Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry" officially adopted Victoria's cypher - VRI - and Crown as its insignia.  After the withdrawal of Imperial troops from Canada in 1902, the unit shortened its name to "Royal Canadian Regiment" (RCR) and its Companies, previously stationed in several locations across the country, all relocated to Halifax.

The only group of "regular troops" available in Canada when Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on August 4, 1914, the RCR was sent to Bermuda, where it relieved the British garrison and remained on duty for eleven months.  In August 1915, the RCR proceeded to France by way of England, landing at Boulogne on October 31, 1915 and moving into the front lines at Messines, Belgium with the 1st Canadian Division shortly after its arrival on the continent.

In early 1916, the RCR was assigned to the newly formed 3rd Canadian Division's 7th Brigade, where it fought alongside the PPCLI, 42nd (Royal Highlanders of Canada - Montreal, also known as the "Black Watch") and 49th (Edmonton Regiment) Battalions for the duration of the war.  The RCR served on rotation in the Belgian sector near Ypres until September 1916, when it followed the Canadian Corps southward into France and participated in attacks at Courcelette (September 1916) and Regina Trench (October 1916).

Having sustained significant losses in the two engagements, the RCR moved north to Neuville-Saint Vaast, France, where it reorganized and served on rotation throughout the winter of 1916-17.  The following spring and summer, the RCR fought with the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Avion (June 1917) and Hill 70 (July 1917) before relocating to Belgium for the Corps' successful attack on the village of Passchendaele (October/November 1917).

Returning to France for the winter of 1917-18, the RCR played a significant role in the Allied forces' late summer offensive, seeing action at Amiens (August 1918), Monchy (August 1918) and Cambrai (September 1918).  The battalion endured significant losses in the last engagement, where 3 officers and 310 OR were killed in action, 16 officers and 185 OR wounded, and 53 OR missing.

Badly in need of reorganization, the RCR retired to a rest camp near Queant, France on October 1, 1918.  Twelve days later, a party of "51 OR reinforcements from CCRC" - a group that included Private Amos Cashin - arrived in camp.  The new recruits trained with the battalion for ten days before moving to the "forward area" near Cantaing-sur-Escaut, southwest of Cambrai, on October 27, 1918.

For the next ten days, personnel continued training while providing work parties for local road construction.  On November 6, 1918, the RCR marched in heavy rain through the recently liberated village of Valenciennes, where the "canal bridge had been blown up by the enemy in retreat, [along with] practically every cross-road and bridge along the way."  The following day, with German forces in retreat, the PPCLI - one of its 'sister' 7th Brigade battalions - advanced rapidly toward the city of Mons, Belgium, the RCR following in close support. 

Amos's son Ernest, a Second World War veteran.
The location of the British Expeditionary Force's first major action in August 1914, Allied commanders considered the liberation of Mons a significant objective.  On November 9, the PPCLI reached Jemappes, on the city's western outskirts, and received orders to attack the following day.  The RCR was part of the action as the battle unfolded in the early hours of November 10, 1918.  Its war diary provided a description of its role:

"The morning was misty and no trouble was experienced until the mist cleared, when we found that the high ground north of Ohlin, the railway banks and canals north of Mons and the bridge crossing into Mons on the Mons-Ohlin road were heavily manned by machine guns."

Officers called in artillery fire on key German positions as action by several RCR Companies prevented the destruction of railway tracks and bridges across the city's canal.  The following day - November 11, 1918 - 'A' Company of the 16th Battalion 'Canadian Scottish' accompanied the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada into Mons from the south, connecting with Allied forces from the north in the early morning hours.

At 9:00 am, RCR officers received news of the ceasefire to be implemented two hours later.  The battalion's war diary entry acknowledged the location's historical significance:

"Thus for us the war ended in almost exactly the same ground that the British Army had made their first stand in 1914.  Our men were in Mons.  One platoon of 'A' Company… had been the first to reach the square in the morning and the platoon commander had inscribed his name in the 'Golden Book of Mons'."

The following day, Amos and his comrades moved into billets within the city.  In the ensuing days, personnel participated in thanksgiving parades and church services while awaiting further orders.  On November 27, 1918, the RCR provided 76 OR "to line the streets" as King Albert I of Belgium visited the newly liberated city.  Meanwhile, the men took part in recreational football matches, training competitions, route marches and classes on returning to civilian life.

On December 11, 1918, the RCR relocated to Bourgeois, where training and recreational activities continued.  Over the next several weeks, small groups of OR received several days' leave to nearby Brussels.  The men celebrated Christmas 1918 with an open air church service and dinner at Bourgeois before relocating to Estaimbourg at month's end.  Sometime during his stay in Belgium, Amos assisted a Roman Catholic priest in the re-interment of Canadian soldiers buried in makeshift cemeteries on the battlefields where they had fallen.

At 9:45 am February 1, 1919, RCR personnel clambered aboard German box cars for the journey to Havre, France.  Upon arriving in the early morning hours of February 3, the men made their way to the Canadian Embarkation Camp.  Three days later, the unit boarded the SS Mons Queen for the voyage to England.  The war diary described the poignant event:

"As the Battalion reached the boat the Band played 'Tiperrary' and when everybody was on board and the boat ready to leave the bugler blew the last post as a tribute to the men who were left behind on the battlefields."

Upon landing at Weymouth, England at 11:30 am February 7, 1919, the RCR marched to a nearby rest camp.  The following day, personnel travelled by train to Bramshott, where all ranks underwent dental and medical examinations and completed the required discharge documents.  Personnel then received eight days' leave, a final opportunity to take in the sights before leaving England.

The RCR departed for Canada on March 1, 1919.  Upon landing in Halifax eight days later, the men spent several days in camp awaiting the much-anticipated end of their military careers.  On March 15, 1919, Private Amos Cashin was formally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He later received the British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his overseas service.


Upon returning to civilian life, Amos remained in Halifax, where he found employment as an "oil worker" at a local refinery.  Like many returning soldiers, he was eager to settle down and start a family.  On July 2, 1919, Amos married Beatrice Smith, a native of Port Felix whose family had relocated to Halifax.

Amos Cashin (right) with grandson Kenny (left) and son Ralph.
The newlyweds eventually returned to their home community, where they raised a family of five boys and three girls while Amos earned a living in the inshore fishery.  One of their sons, Ernest, served overseas with the Canadian Army during the Second World War.

Amos was an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion and proudly participated in Remembrance Day ceremonies well into his later years. Amos Cashin passed away on December 30, 1985 and was laid to rest in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Port Felix.



Hyatt, Glenn E..  97th Battalion, The Lost Legion - American Volunteers for the CEF.  Over There: The Illustrated Journal of the First World War, Autumn 1996.  Available online.
Service file of Amos Cashin, number 1033073.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1563 - 18. 

War Diary of Central Group Headquarters, Canadian Forestry Corps.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5016, Reel T-10867-10868, File: 751.  Available online.

War Diary of No. 2 District Headquarters, Canadian Forestry Corps.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Series III-D-3, Volume 5017, Reel T-10868, File: 755.  Available online.

War Diary of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Series III-D-3, Volume 4911, Reel T-10703, File: 345.  Available online.

A special thank you to Amos's grandson Gary Cashin and great-niece Cynthia Creamer, who provided photographs and information on Amos's family and post-war life.

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