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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald - An Artillery Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 14, 1896

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

Date of Enlistment: January 18, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 2101004

Rank: Signaller

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Artillery)

Units: No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery; 16th Battery, 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery

Location of service: England, France, Belgium & Germany

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: William Henry Archibald, New Town, Guysborough County (father)

Edmund's older brother, Alexander Daniel Archibald, enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on February 6, 1915.  After rising through the non-commissioned ranks, Alexander received a commission as Lieutenant and joined the 85th Battalion at the front in July 1917.  Before year's end, he was wounded twice but remained at duty.  A third wound, inflicted by an artillery shell at Cambrai in September 1918, resulted in the loss of his right leg and his subsequent return to Canada.

Robert Edmund Archibald was the second youngest of seven children born to William Henry and Jane (Gunn) Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.  The fifth of the couple's six sons, Edmund was a student at Dalhousie University, Halifax when he was conscripted under the Military Service Act (1917).  He underwent the required medical examination on October 16, 1917 and was subsequently called to service with No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on January 18, 1918.

Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald.
Initially authorized on October 1, 1916, No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery recruited a total of 85 officers and men within two months.  Personnel were accommodated at the South Barracks, Halifax while undergoing their initial training.  Three groups of trained recruits - a total of 185 officers and men - departed for England during the first half of 1917, followed by an additional 200 "all ranks" in November 1917.

By that time, the demand for reinforcements for artillery batteries and brigades already in the field was so great that No. 10's personnel were reassigned to No. 10, 11 and 12 Siege Batteries and the 3rd Brigade Canadian Garrison Artillery.  No. 10 Siege Battery's Halifax Depot continued to operate, however, providing training for almost 800 men conscripted under the Military Service Act and sending drafts to England to serve as reinforcements for artillery units in the field.

Edmund was part of a draft that departed for England on board SS Missinabie on March 22, 1918 and landed at Glasgow, Scotland twelve days later.  The group made its way south to Camp Witley, where the men spent the summer training and awaiting orders to proceed to the front.  Perhaps because of his time at Dalhousie University, Edmund was selected for signaller training. 

Working in pairs, signallers were deployed in forward positions, one man with a telescope acting as a "spotter" while the other relayed and received messages.  The soldiers provided information on enemy targets to artillery units, allowing personnel to adjust trajectory and direction accordingly.  Signallers sent and received Morse Code messages via landline, when available.  Sun and mirrors during daylight hours and Lucas Lamps at night-time provided alternatives where landlines were damaged or non-existent. 

Needless to say, operating in forward positions placed signallers in considerable danger, as they were constantly exposed to enemy artillery fire.  Edmund's specific role with his battery cannot be fully ascertained.  He may have been trained to serve in a forward location, or - perhaps more likely - recieve and transmit messages on behalf of his artillery battery.

On October 9, 1918, Edmund completed his training and was designated a "reinforcement" for units in the field.  Three days later, he was "taken on strength" by the Canadian Artillery Pool.  On October 14, 1918, he crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC), where he awaited orders to proceed to an active unit in the field.  On November 4, 1918, Edmund was posted to the 16th Field Battery, 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, 2nd Canadian Division and immediately left to join the battery in the field.

The 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) was initially organized at Fredericton, NB and included personnel from all three Maritime Provinces.  Its first recruits departed from Halifax on board the SS Megantic on February 22, 1915.  Upon arriving in England, the unit was re-designated the Canadian Reserve Artillery.  Several months later, its personnel were assigned to the 8th Brigade CFA, authorized on September 19, 1915.  The unit returned to its original title of 6th Brigade CFA in November 1915.

On January 10, 1916, 6th Brigade CFA proceeded to France as part of the 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery.  By November 1918, it represented one of the 2nd Division's two artillery units, consisting of the 15th, 16th and 25th Field Batteries, the 22nd Howitzer Battery, and the 2nd Division Ammunition Column.

At the beginning of the war, each field battery contained four "60 pounder" guns that became the 'work horse" of British and Canadian artillery.  In 1916, military authorities increased the number of guns per battery to six.  The British-designed and manufactured Ordnance BL 60-pounder, developed from 1903 to 1905, fired a five-inch (127 mm) shell and accommodated both horse and mechanical transport.  The weapon served throughout the war on all fronts and was the mainstay of British artillery units until 1942.

Ordnance BL 60-pounder - Amiens, August 1918. (Library & Archives Canada)
When Edmund reached the 6th Brigade CFA on November 5, 1918, the unit was in reserve at Valenciennes, France, "men and horses all under cover and very comfortable."  The 2nd Division, to which the unit was attached, played a crucial role in a major offensive launched in late summer and referred to as "Canada's 100 Days".  In a series of engagements commencing at Amiens on August 8, 1918, Canadian and Allied forces broke the stalemate in northern France and steadily drove German forces back toward the Belgian frontier.

At the time of Edmund's arrival, Canadian infantry units were advancing toward retreating German forces as the 6th Brigade CFA's war diary observed: "From present indication, the end is drawing near daily."  On November 6, 1918, the Brigade "moved forward to positions of assembly in the vicinity of Onnaing….  [Batteries] arrived at 11 am and at 2 pm moved into action…."  Later that evening, "the 2nd Division relieved the 4th… and are to attack in the morning."

The following day, the Brigade's batteries "fired crashes at 6:30 and 6:45 am and [the] attack was launched.  At 8:00 am infantry approache[d] Élouges [Belgium] and at 8:30 am had crossed [the] Honelle River between Quievrain and Baiseux."  The 15th and 16th Batteries moved forward with the advancing infantry units, although "machine gun fire prevented the batteries from moving farther up….  Harassing fire was carried out during the night."

On the morning of November 8, 1918, the Brigade once again fired crashes from 7:30 to 8:10 a.m., but refrained from harassing fire as "the infantry keep feeling forward during the night".  When scouts observed the enemy in retreat the following morning, "all batteries started forward".  The 16th provided "close support" for the advancing 18th Battalion, "going into action at 2:45 [pm]….  Other batteries followed[,] going into action about 5 pm."  By day's end, Canadian units had advanced an incredible ten kilometres into Belgium.

The attack continued on November 10, 1918 as the 6th Brigade CFA left Frameries, Belgium and crossed over Mount Eribus, the 16th Battery moving forward at 6:00 p.m..  As the 6th Brigade reached the outskirts of Mons at 8:15 a.m. November 11, 1918, its officers received word that "hostilities would cease at 11:00 am and the line would remain as at that hour."  Later that morning, the 3rd Canadian Division passed through Mons, the 15th Battery in support.  The 6th Brigade's remaining batteries advanced through "joy-possessed Mons" by day's end, camping at Havré for the night.

The first day after the cessation of hostilities found Edmund and his comrades "in comfortable billets[,]… being treated royally by the inhabitants, who are very pleased at their deliverance."  On November 13, 1918, the Brigade's officers were notified that the 2nd Canadian Division had been selected as part of the "army of occupation" scheduled to enter Germany under the terms of surrender.  Personnel immediately began preparations "to have men, horses, harness and vehicles put in shape for the march."  In the afternoon, "one section per battery went to Mons… to participate in the official entry by the Army."

The following day, the unit's war diary described British, French and Belgian prisoners of war "drift[ing] through on their way back from German bondage under the terms of the Armistice.  They are as a rule sorry sights after their sojourn with the [Germans]."  Preparations for the impending move continued for several days as officers received word that the march into Germany would commence on November 21, 1918, at a daily pace of 20 kilometres.  On November 18, 1918, the unit received instructions to accompany the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade as part of the "army of occupation".

On November 21, 1918, the 16th Battery moved forward with the advance guard, departing Havré at 4:00 a.m..  The remainder of 6th Brigade CFA followed three hours later, reaching Gouy-lez-Piéton by mid-afternoon.  Personnel remained there for two days, during which time they were "treated royally by the civilian population."

The advance resumed on November 24, 1918, reaching Sombreffe, Belgium by 5:00 p.m..  The soldiers were "again comfortably billeted, most of the men sleeping in beds during the night."  The following day, the unit passed through Vedrin and encamped at Champion, where personnel once again rested for two days.  The war diary noted one location of interest in the vicinity: "There is a zeppelin aerodrome near here in one of which are about 100 [German] planes left under the terms of the armistice.  Many…are badly damaged and practically none in working order."

Recruitment poster. (Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University)
On November 28, 1918, 6th Brigade CFA followed the northern bank of the Meuse River to Thon.  Once again, the war diary described a remnant of the recently concluded conflict:

"Anchored in the river here is a barge, loaded with wine which the [Germans] had brought from France, apparently on its way to Germany.  The trip along the banks of the Meuse is very interesting.  Great walls of rock tower over both sides of the river."

The advance continued over the next three days, the war diary commenting: "Although the marches are rather longer than at first[,] the horses are standing up well and are in very good shape."  Personnel arrived at Vaux Chevanne "about 4.30 pm [December 1, 1918] in a down-pour of rain" after a difficult day.   The unit's war diary described the journey:

"On the way we passed through some of the hilliest country we have experienced during the whole trip.  One climb during the day was nearly five miles long and the summit was more than 500 metres above sea level."

The men enjoyed two days' rest after the ordeal, the war diary noting with a tone of concern that "there is quite a lot of 'flu' in the Brigade."

The unit resumed the advance on December 4, 1918, crossing the German border at 11:30 a.m. the following day.  By late afternoon, the soldiers reached the village of Rodt, a "small farming village… in one of the poorest parts of Germany."  The war diary observed that "the natives do not appear to be belligerent but on the other hand do their best to make the soldiers comfortable and show the required respect to British officers."

After one day's rest, the march continued through a "part of the country [that was] very hilly[,]… the soft weather [creating] rather a hard task for the horses."  On December 7, the convoy reached Kronenburg, "a small town walled all round and very old, being situated on the summit of a small[,] steep hill, the approach was too sheer for the drawing up of guns and wagons so the[y] were parked and the horse lines situated in the valley below."  After another one-day pause, the journey continued, the war diary anticipating arrival at the final destination within the next two days: "We are bound for Bonn where a bridgehead is to be established."

At 3:30 p.m. December 11, 1918, the 6th Brigade CFA reached Mehlem, on the left bank of the Rhine River, seven kilometres from its final destination.  Personnel spent the following day preparing to cross the Rhine into Bonn, where Canadian Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, was scheduled "to inspect us as we cross the bridge."  Once again, the war diary mentioned the worsening epidemic: "Quite a number of the 22nd Battery are sick with influenza."

The column moved out at 8:30 a.m. December 13, 1918, passing through Bonn and crossing the Rhine at mid-day.  The war diary described the symbolic occasion:  "It was a very trying march, being very cold and pouring rain all day.  The Corps Commander inspected, taking the salute at the eastern end of the bridge."  Personnel moved into billets at Hangelar, four and one half kilometres east of Bonn, where they were ordered to remain "until the peace terms are arranged."

Three days later, as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig passed through the 2nd Division area,  "[6th Brigade CFA's] troops were on the Road and gave him a rousing reception as he passed."  In the meantime, personnel commenced a schedule of morning training, with sports and recreational activities in the afternoon.  On December 25, 1918, "all Batteries had their Christmas dinner [during the] evening and they were a huge success….  The boys all appreciated the fact that this would be the last Christmas away from their homes."

On December 28, 1918, the 16th Battery - Edmund's unit - relocated to billets at Berlinghaven, where accommodations were "very crowded" and "poor", as personnel shared a space with an Infantry Company.  On New Year's Eve, the battery travelled to Bonn to attend a performance of the "See Too Concert Party", an entertainment troupe from the 2nd Canadian Division.

Canadian troops entering Bonn, Germany.
Throughout the early days of the New Year, personnel engaged in the "usual routine work… [while] officers and OR's [other ranks] are appreciating the opportunities of visiting Bonn and Cologne on pass."  On January 9, 1919, "all ranks" of the Brigade attended another "See Too Concert Party" performance at the Stadt Theatre, Bonn.  The war diary described the event:

"About 500 'all ranks' went and very much enjoyed the show.  A special feature was the attendance of HRH [Edward,] The Prince of Wales and most of the Canadian Corps and 2nd Division Staff.  The prince joined in the mess songs between acts and created a most favourable impression."

On January 23, 1919, military officials organized the "International Games", a sport competition between the 42nd Division USA and 2nd Division Canadians held in Bonn.  The war diary proudly reported that the Canadians were "victorious on all points, although the Americans put up a good fight.  In the evening all ranks of the Brigade about 450 [once again] attended the Stadt Theatre Bonn to see the See Two Concert Party."

Three days later, the 6th Brigade CFA's batteries received notice of impending relief by an Imperial Division and immediately began preparations to move.  On January 27, 1919, the 16th Battery entrained at Wahn, Germany, arriving at Namur, Belgium at 6:00 p.m..  The Brigade's remaining personnel arrived the following day as personnel moved into billets in the villages of Moustier and Mornimont.  The war diary described the unusual space used to quarter the horses:

"[A] large chemical factory in Mornimont… used as a German Ammunition Barge or Railhead and thousands of rounds of all calibres are stored there.  Stringent orders were issued and posted against smoking or lighting fires, as the danger of explosion is recognized.  People here are very hospitable but poor."

On February 2, 1919, officers issued a physical training regimen to all ranks, in addition to football, baseball and hockey schedules.  The war diary noted that the weather was colder than conditions in Bonn, as officers developed plans for equipment return and prepared nominal rolls for demobilization.  Personnel also participated in classes on "educational work subjects" - Book-keeping, Arithmetic, French, Shorthand and Business Law - as the men prepared to return to civilian life. 

Weather conditions remained cold throughout the month, with occasional light snow.  Nevertheless, the men remained in high spirits, participating in baseball, football, tug of war and boxing competitions.  The war diary noted the positive impact on personnel:  "These sporting events have created a splendid feeling amongst the men and greatly relieves the monotony of waiting for the return to home, in such a small place as Moustier."

On February 20, 1919, 2nd Divisional Artillery attended another performance of the "See Two Concert Party" at a local hall.  Three days later, the war diary described precautions implemented to reduce the spread of sickness amongst the men:

"Owing to [the] increase of Influenza, all Public Places for Entertainment, Cinemas and Halls are out of bounds to troops….  Fortunately, we have only a very few cases in the Brigade, although there is a number of cases amongst the civilians here[,] some fatal."

Brigade officers initiated demobilization rolls in all batteries on February 25, 1919 as educational classes continued amidst improving weather conditions.  At month's end, Brigade officers organized a "mounted sports" event that included racing and wrestling competitions.

Edmund's service with 6th Brigade CFA abruptly ended on March 6, 1919, when he was admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment of scabies.  By day's end, he was transferred to No. 55 Casualty Clearing Station, where he was also diagnosed with influenza.  Six days later, Edmund was admitted to No. 32 Stationary Hospital, Wimereux for treatment of both ailments.  On March 16, 1919 he was "invalided sick" and transported across the English Channel to No. 16 Canadian General Hospital, Orpington.

Medical records indicate that Edmund was suffering from headaches, a slight cough, chills and general weakness at the time of admission.  Within four days, his temperature had returned to normal, although a rash remained on his face and right chest.  A thorough medical examination concluded that his "lungs are both clear, [with] good expansion [and] heart [problems] negative."

One week after Edmund's arrival at Orpington, medical records described his condition: "Skin lesions on face and chest fading.  Much improved."  On March 28, 1919, doctors determined that he had made a "good recovery" and was once again "fit for duty".  Edmund was discharged from hospital on April 1, 1919 and reported to the Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Depot (CARD), South Ripon.

On May 5 1919, Edmund was transferred to Military District No. 6, Rhyl in preparation for his return to Canada.  He left England nine days later and was formally discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on May 29, 1919.  In recognition of his military service, Edmund received the British War and Victory Medals shortly after the war.

Edmund briefly returned to New Town before resuming his studies at Dalhousie University.  He graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1925 and opened a medical practice at Melrose, Guysborough County.  On July 28, 1926, Edmund married Ethel Rae Grant, a 19-year-old schoolteacher who was a native of Melrose, in a ceremony held at the bride's family home.

Edmund & Ethel (Grant) Archibald family wedding photo.
In 1929, Edmund and Ethel relocated to Kingston, Massachusetts, where Ethel's sister resided.  Edmund completed post-graduate studies in Public Health at Lansing, Michigan, and joined the staff the State of Massachusetts Department of Public Health as a District Health Officer in May 1930.  Edmund was also employed as an Instructor at the Harvard University School of Public Health. 

Edmund and Ethel did not have any children.  Edmund Archibald passed away at age 79 in Melrose, Massachusetts on June 21, 1975. 


Service file of Private Robert Edmund Archibald, number 2101004.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 213 - 15.  Entire file available online.

War Diary of 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4970, Reel T-10794, File: 545.  Available online.

Photograph of Signaller Robert Edmund Archibald courtesy of Colin McKay, Riverton, Pictou County, reproduced by his daughter Jennifer McKay, Truro, NS.

Edmund & Ethel (Grant) Archibald's wedding photo courtesy of Vi (Archibald) Fraser, Sherbrooke, NS.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Twitter Feed and Research Update

As you can see along the right side of this blog post, I have created a Twitter account with the handle @brucefmacdonald .  As we mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War's events, I plan to post tweets related to the stories of Guysborough County's First World War veterans.  The first tweets (August - December 1914) will focus on the war's early events and the County's first enlistments, while later tweets will honor the 131 veterans who lost their lives during or shortly after the war, from causes related to their service.  All tweets will carry the hashtag #guysboroveterans .

My research into the stories of Guysborough County's 131 war dead is steadily progressing.  I expect to complete profiles of the 71 veterans who died from 1915 to 1917 before year's end and hope to have a manuscript ready for publication sometime early in 2015.  I will provide further details on the blog later this year.

Something that may be of interest is CBC Radio's re-broadcast of the First World War Series, "The Bugle and The Passing Bell", first aired in 1964.  Each program combines the actual voices of veterans relating their stories, supplemented by actors reading from soldiers' diaries and letters.  The series provides a chronological overview of Canadian soldiers' war experiences.   The episodes air weekly on Thursday mornings at 9:30 am Atlantic Time.  All episodes are also available online at The Bugle and The Passing Bell immediately after broadcast.