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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Sapper John Robert 'Jack' Smith - A Divisional Train Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: January 2, 1890

Place of Birth: Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janet McKenzie

Father's Name: Robert Smith

Date of Enlistment: March 1, 1915 at Victoria, BC

Regimental Number: 430115

Rank: Sapper

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry & Canadian Army Service Corps)

Units: 48th Battalion; 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion; 123rd Pioneer Battalion; 3rd Canadian Divisional Train

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Teamster

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Janet Smith, Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County (mother)

Jack's younger brother, Charles 'Charlie' Edwin, enlisted with the 4th Divisional Train at Halifax, NS on April 29, 1916, and survived the war.  Charlie later served in Canada during the Second World War.

John 'Jack' Robert Smith was the fifth of seven children - five sons and two daughters - born to Robert and Janet (McKenzie) Smith of Upper Smithfield, Guysborough County.  The third of the couple's sons, Jack spent his early years doing chores on the family farm alongside his siblings.  Never one to be idle, Jack's descendants attribute the fact that remained active well into later life to patterns developed during his formative years.

Sapper John Robert Smith
On March 28, 1910, Jack's father, Robert, passed away unexpectedly.  Sometime after 1911, Jack relocated to British Columbia, where he found employment in the province's lumber and mining camps.  After the outbreak of war in Europe, the province's abundance of fit young men drew the attention of Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) recruiters.  In fact, British Columbia provided a significant number of soldiers for the CEF during the conflict's early months.
Jack was amongst the earliest recruits, attesting for overseas service with the 48th Battalion at Victoria, BC on March 1, 1915.  A teamster by occupation, he stood five feet six inches and weighed 147 pounds at the time of his enlistment.  Like many of his comrades, Jack had no prior military experience and thus no idea of what to expect.  Nor could he have anticipated that he was destined to return four years later, accompanied by a Scottish war bride and young son.

Authorized on November 7, 1914, the 48th Battalion established its headquarters at Victoria, BC and recruited its initial personnel across the entire province.  Jack spent two months training with his fellow recruits at Willow Camp, outside Victoria, before travelling across the country by train and embarking for England aboard the SS Grampian on July 1, 1915.  The 48th made its way to camp in southern England, where its soldiers spent the remainder of the year awaiting orders to proceed to the Western Front.

Shortly after arriving in England, Jack received a pass to London, where he met Jean MacDonald, a native of Scotland who had travelled to the city to visit her sister.  After a brief courtship, Jack was smitten and proposed marriage.  Jean accepted and the couple married in the County of Lambeth, London, England, on October 30, 1915.  Jack immediately assigned $ 20 of his monthly pay - a maximum of $ 34.10 - to Jean, who took up residence at 90 Ballater Road, Brixton.
On January 6, 1916, the 48th Battalion was re-designated the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, a decision attributed to its soldiers' physical fitness and suitability for manual labor.  British military authorities had established pioneer units within each infantry division in December 1914, assigning major construction tasks at the front to their personnel.  While the men received basic infantry training and could be called upon to fight in an emergency, Pioneer units focused primarily on building the massive infrastructure required to support the large numbers of soldiers in the battlefield - trenches, dugouts, roads and small-gauge tramways.

3rd Pioneer Battalion was attached to the 3rd Canadian Division and proceeded across the English Channel to France on March 9, 1916.  Jack was not amongst the initial personnel sent to the front, as he was admitted to hospital at Shorncliffe, England on March 4, 1916 with a case of the measles.  After several weeks' isolation and treatment, Jack was discharged on April 7, 1916.  He spent another six weeks in England before proceeding to France on May 25, 1916 and joining 3rd Pioneer in the field on June 1, 1916.

At the time of Jack's arrival, the battalion was located near Ypres, Belgium, where its personnel toiled at night, in an effort to avoid attracting enemy fire.  Jack arrived at the front in the midst of significant activity, as described in the unit's war diary: "Owing to intense enemy bombardment the work to which the Battalion was detailed for night 1/2nd [June] was cancelled."   

Artillery fire continued into the following day, when the war diary reported a "strong enemy attack".  Despite an abundance of shells landing it the vicinity, 3rd Pioneer dispatched parties of sappers "to assist the Engineers in work of strengthening positions to which the front line had retired".  By day's end, the unit suffered one "other rank" (OR) killed and 14 OR wounded.

Jack's father Robert Smith (1844-1910)
A total of 9 OR were killed and 143 wounded over the next six days as 3rd Pioneer's sappers laboured to maintain the heavily shelled trenches.  While casualties declined somewhat toward the tour's end, the battalion's war diary reported four OR killed, one officer and 29 OR wounded, and 6 OR missing on the night of June 12/13, 1916. 

Jack and his comrades retired to billets near Abeele and Steenvorde on the night of June 16/17, 1916.  In recognition of the demanding nature of their work, 3rd Pioneer adopted the practice of resting one Company each week during subsequent tours.  A draft of 198 much-needed OR reinforcements from the 75th Battalion arrived in camp as personnel commenced two weeks of physical training and military drill.  Meanwhile, Jack's wife Jean gave birth to the couple's first child, John Robert Smith Jr., on June 22, 1916.  As 3rd Pioneer returned to the "firing line" on the night of July 1/2, 1916 as the father of a young son, Jack no doubt contemplated the precarious situation in which he found himself.

3rd Pioneer's tasks during the month of July 1916 reflect its typical work at the front - deepening trenches, constructing and repairing tramlines and roads, building a cavalry barracks at Ypres, constructing dugouts and installing a water tank for a dressing station at Zillebeke Bund.  Sappers regularly worked under the supervision of Canadian military engineers, who designed and supervised their assignments from start to completion.  The July 8/9, 1916 war diary entry described one such project: "Water system in Pioneer Camp completed.  Dam was built to catch rain water and small creek water, then piped through filter to ablution tables and horse troughs."

Fortunately, casualties on Jack's second rotation were significantly lighter than the first, although the war diary entries recorded several such incidents.  On the night of August 6/7, 1916, one OR was killed and five wounded when a trench mortar shell landed in the midst of a work party at Mount Sorrel.  The war diary described the perils of work in this particular location:

"Conditions on this [trench] work are very trying.  The enemy daily pounds this trench with heavy trench mortars and enfilades from Hill 60 with H. E. [high explosive] Shrapnel.  To date it is due more to bad shooting than anything else that we have not suffered heavier casualties."

The August 12/13, 1916 diary entry described another peril: "Enemy discharged gas on the north of Ypres Salient.  Men all placed on gas helmets on alarm sounding.  No casualties from 'gas'."
Artillery fire represented only one of many challenges the sappers encountered daily.  The war diary's August 8/9, 1916 entry noted one of the more unpleasant aspects of their tasks:

"All of the work carried out by the Pioneers is in a part of the Salient that has constantly changed hands and the ground is none too sanitary.  Frequently bodies are discovered in old dug-outs or buried by shells in the trenches.  Where possible pay books or identity discs are removed and if found are returned to their unit or base."

On the night of August 25/26, 1916, 3rd Pioneer withdrew to billets between Poperinghe and Abeele.  Personnel once again engaged in two weeks training, on this occasion focusing on engineering-related tasks - trench siting and dugout construction - in addition to bombing, gas helmet and musketry drill, and route marches.  Eight OR and one non-commissioned officer (NCO) from each Company received training as "reserve gun crews", while a second group of eight OR trained as "signallers".

3rd Pioneer Map - Maison Blanche Redoubt (November 1916).
3rd Pioneer broke camp on September 8, 1916 and followed the Canadian Corps southward to the Somme region of France, arriving on the outskirts of Albert six days later.  The following night, its sappers commenced construction of dugouts for 3rd Divisional Headquarters as Canadian infantry units attacked the German line at Courcelette.  The new location proved no less treacherous than the Ypres Salient, with four OR killed and 32 wounded on the night of September 15/16, 1916.

3rd Pioneer focused on road repairs at Poziéres and laid communication cables as the Canadian advance was slowed by German machine gun fire.  A party of 200 sappers were "employed bringing out wounded from front line", while one officer and ten men were "detailed to dig out one of the Tanks of the Heavy Motor Section which had become stuck in a shell hole during the attack."

In the aftermath of the battle, 3rd Pioneer connected the old front line to the newly captured positions in the former German trenches, once again toiling amidst heavy shelling that inflicted daily casualties.  Its sappers dug and deepened front, support and communication trenches, laid communication cables, graded a tramline, repaired roads, and carried ammunition to the front lines.  On the night of September 26/27, 1916, 250 sappers once again served as stretcher-bearers during the "attack and capture of the ridge… north-west of Courcelette".

The unit focused on road construction and repair during the first week of October 1916.  The war diary briefly described the location: "The point where the work is proceeding is a mess of crump holes which have to be filled in as it is impossible to go round them."  Jack and his comrades retired to billets near Albert on the night of October 7/8, 1916 having completed their first tour on French soil.

Once again, 3rd Pioneer's personnel trained for several weeks, returning to the line on the night of October 25/16, 1916.  With winter fast approaching, the men focused on "draining and duck boarding of the saps, [and] the draining of the firing line… in parts not yet done", in addition to working on small-gauge tramlines, trench maintenance, dugout construction, and protecting water supplies from frost.

Throughout the month of November 1916, Jack and his comrades toiled in trenches near Louez, northwest of Arras.  The sappers revetted trenches in response to several mudslides, and focused on "keeping the trenches in their respective areas in a state of repair."  Artillery fire was considerably lighter, as the war diary reported the month's first casualties - one OR killed and 1 wounded - on November 27, 1916.

After serving on rotation in this sector for another month and a half, 3rd Pioneer relocated to Écoivres, France on January 19, 1917.  Sappers immediately commenced work on a 60-cm. tramline to Grange Subway, a major tunnel complex being constructed behind Allied front lines at Vimy Ridge.  3rd Pioneer also built a 40-cm. tramline, recesses and dugouts inside the subway, laying the groundwork for the Canadian Corps' April 1917 attack on the strategic location.

Wintertime presented new challenges, as described in the war diary's January 23, 1917 entry: "Weather clear with hard frost….  Progress poor in some parts, owing to ground being frozen."  3rd Pioneer worked at the site for several weeks, retiring to Loringhem on February 16, 1917 for a period of training and recreation.  On March 9, 1917, the unit moved out to Bois des Alleux, where its sappers repaired artillery and ammunition roads in the forward area, constructed dugouts and machine gun emplacements, and laid track for small gauge tramlines inside Goodman and Grange Subways at Vimy Ridge.
Artillery unit using limbers to transport supplies.
As spring arrived and weather conditions improved, artillery activity in the area increased significantly.  German guns struck an area near the Pioneer Camp with eight-inch H. E. shells on March 24 and 25, 1917.  Two days later, a work site near Neuville St. Vaast "was heavily shelled during the afternoon… [with] 4 other ranks killed and 3 wounded."

On April 1, 1917, 3rd Pioneer's war diary reported an average Company strength of 135 "all ranks… for work up the line".  As the Canadian Corps made final preparations for its attack on Vimy Ridge, the battalion received instructions to make the Arras - Bethune Road "passable at once for horse traffic and as quickly as possible for lorries… [one] Company to carry out the extension of the road into the captured country after the assault."

As was the case in the Ypres Salient, sappers working in the trenches faced great challenges in completing their assignments.  The April 5, 1917 war diary entry described the situation at a location known as "Square St.":

"This trench is in such condition that for the past four nights it has become increasingly difficult to make any progress.  The damage by direct hits and from sliding in of sides has finally become more than can be repaired each night and the trench is getting worse.  There are over two feet of soupy mud on top of bath mats already laid and this muck runs back into the trench as fast as it is thrown out.  Several direct hits have been made and many hits on the sides of the trench during past four nights.  Casualties one other rank killed."

As the Canadian Corps launched its attack on Vimy Ridge in the early hours of April 9, 1917, Jack and his comrades continued their work on trench and road repairs.  By day's end, the unit's war diary reported eight OR killed and 20 wounded as personnel carried out trench clearing and repair work in a newly captured German "graben" (trench) and repaired roads leading to the area.

In the days subsequent to the successful capture of Vimy Ridge, all four Companies focused on road repair near Neuville St. Vaast, in addition to reclaiming a section of captured German 60 cm. tramline and improving the Lens-Arras Road.  By April 24, 1917, its war diary proudly reported: "There is now a 12 foot road fit for wagon traffic."

German artillery continued to target sappers' work sites.  On May 2, 1917, 3rd Pioneer's war diary described one incident: "Vicinity of Nos. 2-3-4 Companies' lines were shelled intermittently by a High Velocity gun.  Bombs were dropped by aeroplane at about 8 p.m.."   A second air raid occurred "at about 7:30 p.m." the following day.  Fortunately, the diary reported no casualties after either attack.

Jack's service with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion came to an end on May 17, 1917, when the unit was withdrawn from the 3rd Division and replaced by the 123rd Canadian Battalion (Pioneers).  The unit's war diary explained the decision to dissolve the battalion: "British Columbia was unable to furnish a sufficient supply of recruits to keep the British Columbia units in the field up to strength, due to the fact that the majority of British Columbian manhood had enlisted during the early parts of the war."

3rd Pioneer's personnel was dispersed amongst three British Columbian infantry battalions, while its transport section, horses, vehicles and 25 OR were transferred to its replacement unit.  Jack was amongst the sappers assigned to the 123rd Battalion, suggesting that he may have been part of its transport section.  His occupation at attestation - teamster - certainly supports this conclusion.  Whatever the case, Jack was about to begin a new chapter in the story of his First World War service.

Sapper John Robert Smith was officially transferred to the 123rd Pioneer Battalion on May 8, 1917.  He spent only ten days with the unit, at which time he was "attached to the 3rd Canadian Divisional Train for duty".  His assignment was no doubt connected to his pre-war occupation.  Jack spent the remainder of his time in uniform with the "3rd Train", where his familiarity with horses was put to good use.

Part of the Canadian Army Service Corps, 3rd Canadian Divisional Train organized at Shorncliffe, England in late 1915 and arrived in France with the 3rd Canadian Division on January 23, 1916.  Its commanding officer was Lieutenant-Colonel William Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne Findlay, a native of Nairn, Nairnshire, Scotland. 

Lt.-Col. Findlay was fifty years of age the time of his enlistment with the Canadian Army Service Corps at Salisbury, England on January 5, 1915.  A widower whose six-foot frame no doubt conveyed an element of authority, he proved to be a demanding but fair taskmaster, basing his standards on a thorough knowledge of horse and harness maintenance.

Sustaining infantry units in the Western Front's forward areas required a complex infrastructure of support units behind the lines.  Divisional Trains were a vital part of this network, tasked with providing forward units with basic daily supplies - "food, forage, ammunition, equipment, clothing and engineering material and stores".  Each Canadian Division possessed one such unit, equipped with numerous horses and "limbers" (two- and four-wheeled wagons) and occasionally supported by a small number of "lorries".

Pack mules and limbers near front lines.
Standard-gauge trains transported each Division's supplies to a "railhead", usually located well behind the front lines and outside German artillery range.  "Train" personnel then loaded and transported the items in daily "convoys" to units in the line or supply dumps.  As horse and limbers provided the main means of transportation, each "Train" contained several stables, in addition to facilities for wagon maintenance.  In most cases, horse and wagon teams delivered supplies to a "refilling station", from where items moved forward as required by pack mule.

"Train" personnel moved a variety of goods to the front area daily - water, straw, field ambulance supplies, coal, rations and hay.  The last two items were particularly crucial in maintaining large numbers of men in the trenches, along with horses that carried out much of the heavy work.

Similar to infantry battalions, each "Train" possessed four Companies whose personnel were tasked with loading and hauling supplies, in addition to stabling horses and maintaining their harness and wagons.  Personnel also established and maintained the supply lines over which they travelled daily. 

The quality and condition of a "Train's" horses was a constant concern.  Lt.-Col. Findlay frequently expressed concern over the quality of the stock provided for his unit.  Following a June 1916 visit to a "horse show" involving teams from several transport units, for example, he compared his animals to British units' stock and concluded:

"I cannot help thinking… [that] Canadians are getting a raw deal…. Recent remounts are of a shockingly poor class….  [However,] I am convinced our horses are as clean if not cleaner than any [Imperial Train's horses].  Harness I consider in better condition and they had nothing on us in care of wagons."

Such sentiments became an oft-repeated theme in his daily war diary entries.

At the time of Jack's arrival, 3rd Train was located at Barlin, France, where German artillery fire was "pretty lively and close" throughout the month.  On occasion, enemy guns disrupted daily operations.  On July 13, 1917, for instance, Lt. Col. Findlay reported: "Enemy shelling [railhead]… with fair accuracy….  Convoys [ordered] to remain on side of main road until safe to enter the railway yard."

The August 24, 1917 diary entry described a typical shipment's arrival at the railhead:

"On pack train no petrol or oil of any kind came up.  Hay 9000 lbs. short, oats 8000 lbs. short, 75 tons of coal, coke and charcoal to clear, on top of wagons having to return from railhead empty and having to draw from Barlin."

Pack mule train near the front lines.
Lt.-Col. Findlay was direct in describing the kind of man required for "train" work:

"[He] must be able-bodied, able to lift weights and march for loaders.  For drivers, they must know something about care of horses, hear and see well, although not able to march far."

The condition of Company lines was an ongoing concern, particular after periods of rain.  The September 7, 1917 war diary entry reported:  "Companies' lines are bad, very muddy but all that can be done is being done, horses all round in very good shape."  As the comment suggests, Findlay kept a keen eye on the condition of his "Train's" stock and their related equipment, once again reflected in his September 25, 1917 diary entry:

"Train horses are sweating a little after haul from railhead, but they are looking very fit and in good condition, wagons and harness carefully kept and well repaired, breechings not as well fitted as I should like, the tendency is to keep them too high and hip strap too far forward."

3rd Train personnel regularly moved to new locations to facilitate transportation to its Division's front-line units.  A September 12, 1917 move nearer to personnel at Mont St. Eloy, France prompted Lt.-Col. Findlay to protest the lack of facilities at their designated camp location: "Absolutely no shelters of any kind for man or beast, only bare Mother Earth."  Personnel immediately set about constructing new "refilling stations" and clearing "roads to new refilling points", making the best of a poor situation.

Unlike infantry and pioneer battalions, Jack and his new comrades enjoyed no "relief" from their assigned tasks, as Lt.-Col. Findlay explained on September 26, 1917:

"We get no rest like Battalions, they feed when out at rest just the same.  We make roads for ourselves, erect refilling points and are sort of general delivery agents for the Division.  We do the drudgery and get no chance of winning honours, there is only one thing to do - that is grin and bear it."

On October 13, 1917, 3rd Train's personnel began a journey north into Belgium with the 3rd Canadian Division, arriving at Caëstre, France, near the Belgian frontier, on October 14, 1917.  The unit proceeded to Ypres, Belgium the following week as the Canadian Corps made final preparations for its attack on Passchendaele Ridge.  The area designated for camp facilities was poor, to say the least: "It is all a sea of mud, no standings or shelter of any sort and it would be criminal to put horses there."

German artillery regularly shelled the Ypres area.  The October 24, 1917 war diary entry reported: "Shells in last night at intervals of 6 minutes, 10 to a dozen in number."  Two days later, Lt.-Col. Findlay described another incident: "Poperinghe getting shelled hard last evening and again this morning….  This is the day we are after Passchendaele Ridge and it is cold and raining hard all day."

The morning of October 27, 1917 "broke bright and clear, [but] the boys taking the ridge are having a hard time."  At month's end, Lt.-Col. Findlay proudly reported that his Companies "were at one time feeding as much as 58,764 men and 19,732 horses and we did it without any fall down."

On October 30, 1917, Jack was "granted permission to marry", and received 14 days' leave to London, effective November 2, 1917.  While he and Jean had wed prior to his departure for France, official permission entitled Jack's young bride to a monthly separation allowance of $ 25, a payment that commenced on December 1, 1917.  Jack rejoined 3rd Train in the field on November 19, 1917 as its personnel made their way back into France, arriving at Lillers, northwest of Lens, shortly after his return.
Jean (McDonald) and Jack Smith's wedding photo.
 The unit's war diary entry for November 27, 1917 contained the first statistics on "train mileage".  Its four Companies travelled a total of 4808 miles during the previous week, with No. 1 Company's wagons accounting for 2560 miles on its own.  Lt.-Col. Findlay reported that "everything [was] going smoothly" on December 1, 1917 as the unit's wagons covered a distance of 3749 miles during the first week in its new location.

The December 24, 1917 war diary entry described the situation on the eve of Christmas celebrations: "Everything running well; re-filling twice today to give men more time off to-morrow [sic].  All quiet around here."  A light snow fell on Christmas and Boxing Day as "…men all well provided for.  Nothing out of the ordinary happening except the Christmas festivities."

At the end of the month, 3rd Train personnel were preoccupied with an outbreak of mange among several horses in two Companies.  The problem was brought under control early in January 1918 "through [the application of an] anti-mange dip at Barlin", although officers kept a close eye on their stock for several weeks to ensure that the problem did not re-occur.

Lt.-Col. Findlay reported a total of 5627 miles travelled for the first week of 1918.  Fluctuating temperatures throughout the month resulted in "freeze-thaw" cycles that created challenges for the Companies' wagons.  The January 7, 1918 war diary entry observed: "Very mild again today and roads in bad condition."  Five days later, "all the snow [is] gone, a fine rain falling; a high wind and result, mud, mud, mud."

German artillery fire continued to pose a hazard for 3rd Train's personnel: "Quite a lot of H. E. and shrapnel came in this morning [January 12, 1918] from 6.00 a.m. to 11 a.m..  Some damage done and some casualties, but not to the Train; we had had great luck and I touch wood."  On January 15, 1918, 22 shells landed near the unit's location, but "little damage [was] done".  The following day, Lt.-Col. Findlay personally experienced a particularly close call: "While at lunch, a big bit of shell came plump [sic] into the wall of house next door, it must have come three hundred yards, and spent its force on the way, for it did no damage."

Lt.-Col. Findlay reported that Company wagons travelled a daily average distance of 9.52 miles per wagon during the week prior to January 20, 1918.  Two days later, 3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Barlin, its four Companies stationed nearby.  At month's end, the unit war diary reported that the unit had provided rations for a daily average of 20,039 men and 5692 horses, travelling a total of 22,354 miles "all duties".

In late February 1918, 3rd Train relocated to La Targette, where several horse teams engaged in "ploughing… on [the] Divisional Farm".  The Train also cultivated a ten-acre plot of its own.  Improving weather conditions resulted in greater mileage, as wagons travelled a total of 6400 miles - 9.7 per team daily - for the week ending March 11, 1918.  Two weeks later, the Train's wagons covered 7868 miles over a similar period.

A major German offensive launched in March 1918 produced a dramatic increase in artillery fire.  The unit's March 28, 1918 war diary entry reported: "Shells dropping fast and furiously all round, in dumps and in Companies' lines."  The following day, "two of the Train [personnel were] hit, but not enough to keep them from duty after being dressed."  By month's end, the situation quieted down somewhat, as 3rd Train's Commanding Officer reported delivery of rations for a daily average of 22,123 men and 5268 horses.

First World War harness repair kit (Sherbrooke Village display).
Lt.-Col Findlay reported heavy artillery fire in 3rd Train's vicinity during the afternoon of April 10, 1918.  One shell struck No. 4 Company's wheeler's shop: "How it did not kill the whole lot is a marvel.  The whole place was wrecked but [the] fire squad was instantly on duty and prevented any outbreak of fire", despite "shells… falling thick, fast and close."

During the first week of April 1918, unit personnel covered a total of 7442 miles - a daily average of 8.13 miles per wagon - as potato planting commenced at the Divisional Farm.  Later in the month, personnel added a second crop - cabbage - as weather conditions improved.

The unit's weekly mileage reached a peak of 8743 miles - 10.15 per wagon - in mid-April, and ranged from a low of 5940 to a peak of 7662 miles over the next six weeks.  Personnel provided rations for a remarkable total of 654,165 men and 137,413 horses during the month of May 1918.

3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Berlencourt-le-Cauroy on June 25, 1918, drawing supplies from a railhead at nearby Gouy-en-Artois.  This was the first recorded instance in which lorries transported goods to refilling points, from where horse-drawn wagons loaded and delivered the items to the front lines.  The unit received instructions to keep wagons loaded overnight "ready for emergencies".  As a result, personnel adopted a procedure whereby the wagons delivered their loads in the early morning hours, returned to the refilling station, and loaded supplies for next-day delivery.

By month's end, 3rd Train Headquarters relocated to Gouy-en-Artois, nearer to its railhead and refilling stations.  In early July 1918, Lt.-Col. Findlay reported: "All Companies more or less affected with 'Spanish Influenza', but no cases very serious."  Several weeks later, the unit moved its Headquarters to Dury, arriving on July 31, 1918.  Along the way, personnel passed through the historic city of Amiens, leading Lt.-Col. Findlay to comment:

"[The city has been] evacuated by civilians, and in places terribly smashed up.  So far the beautiful historic Cathedral with its world-famous Flamboyant Rose Window has hardly a mark."

Throughout the month of July 1918, the unit provided rations for a a daily average of 19,820 men, 482 heavy draft horses and 3541 light draft horses.  The August 7, 1918 war diary recorded a total of 11,096 miles travelled during the previous week.  The greater distances prompted Lt.-Col. Findlay to express concern: "The present long haul over very bad roads is telling very much on my horses, and they should be given a spell."  That same day - August 8, 1918 - Allied forces launched a major counter-offensive on German positions near Amiens, marking the beginning of a 100-day campaign that eventually brought the war to end.

Unfortunately, Jack would not be part of 3rd Train's efforts to provide supplies to the 3rd Division's units as they advanced into captured territory.  On August 10, 1918, Jack "was suddenly seized with severe gastric pain and straining[,] frequent diarrhea, [and] much blood in [his] stool".  His body temperature soaring to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 Celsius), he was admitted to No. 14 Canadian Field Ambulance on August 16, 1918.  Doctors diagnosed the illness as "bacillary dysentery", most likely contracted by ingesting contaminated water. 

Jack was evacuated to No. 16 American General Hospital, Le Tréport, where he was placed in isolation and given fluids to avoid dehydration.  Once doctors determined that he was "non-infectious", Jack was transferred to England via the Hospital Ship Guildford Castle on September 4, 1918 and admitted to Berrington War Hospital, Shrewsbury, the following day.

Divisional Train Farm Plots (March 1918).
Shortly after his arrival, doctors reported that Jack's diarrhea had "subsided".  Anecdotal records indicate that he was "much better" by October 11, 1918, resulting in a transfer three days later to Princess Patricia's Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Bexhill.  Jack was released from hospital on October 21, 1918 and granted a ten-day "sick furlough". 

No doubt, Jack spent his leave with Jean and his young son, Jack Jr..  On November 15, 1918, medical personnel determined that Jack was "fit for duty".  As the fighting across the Channel had ceased by this time, Jack was assigned to the Canadian Engineers Reinforcement Depot, where he spent the next two months.

On January 16, 1919, Jack was attached to Canadian Corps Depot, Buxton for return to Canada.  He departed England on February 21, 1919 aboard SS Melita, arriving at Saint John, NB on March 2, 1919.  Jean and Jack Jr. also made their way across the Atlantic Ocean and accompanied Jack to Calgary, Alberta, where he was formally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 26, 1919.  In recognition of his First World War military service, Jack later received the British War and Victory Medals.

Shortly after arriving in Alberta, Jack obtained a tract of land at Owl River under the Soldier Settlement Act, which provided returning veterans with a free quarter section of land and a $ 2500 interest-free loan.  He built a log house for his young family on the property and set about farming the land.  The couple's second child, Margaret (Peggy), was born in their new home on December 16, 1919.

Fire later destroyed the log house and its contents, but the Smiths thankfully escaped unhurt.  The family relocated to the nearby town of Lac La Biche, where Jack purchased a storage building and renovated it as accommodations for his wife and children.  Having tried his hand at farming, Jack decided to pursue an occupation more in keeping with his wartime experience.  He landed a job with the Northern Alberta Railroad, the beginning of a life-long career in transportation.

Jack Smith, railroad engineer.
Jack and Jean's third and last child, James Alexander Smith, was born at Lac La Biche on April 18, 1923.  Six years later, the family relocated to Edmonton, where Jack worked as a railroad engineer.  Jack and Jean returned to Smithfield, Guysborough County for a visit during the early 1940s, but Jack spent the rest of his life in Western Canada. 

Jack retired from work in the mid-1950s, relocating with Jean to Penticton, BC in 1956.  Jean passed away on June 13, 1965 after a brief illness, prompting Jack to move into his daughter Peggy's home at Ladner, near Vancouver, BC.  Throughout his retirement years, Jack travelled to Edmonton each summer to visit his sons and the many friends he made during his time there.

In later life, Jack was diagnosed with prostate cancer and admitted to a health care facility for treatment.  He passed away at Delta Hospital, Delta, BC on January 28, 1981 at the age of 91 years.  Jack's remains were cremated and later interred in Lakeview Cemetery, Penticton, BC, beside his beloved war bride, Jean.


Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force: Canadian Army Service Corps.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON.  Available online.

Service file of Sapper John Robert Smith, number 430115.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 9076 - 42.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of 3rd Canadian Divisional Train, CASC.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5020, Reel T-10904, File: 769.  Available online.

War Diary of 3rd Pioneer Battalion, CEF.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5010, Reel T-10858 - 10859, File: 723.  Available online.

A special thank you to three of Jack's relatives - Doreen Sproule (Edmonton, AB), Marilyn Burbridge (Vancouver, BC) and Darlene Corkum-Parkington (Tide Head, NB) - who provided valuable information on Jack's life, in addition to family photographs displayed in this post.