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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald - A "Military Cross" Soldier's Story (Part I)

Date of Birth: January 13, 1890

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Janie Gunn

Father's Name: William Henry Archibald

Date of Enlistment: February 6, 1915 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 50013

Rank: Captain

Forces: Canadian Army Medical Corps; Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: No. 1 Canadian General Hospital; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Location of service: England, France & Belgium

Occupation at Enlistment: Student

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. William Henry Archibald, New Town (father)

Dan's younger brother, Robert Edmund, attested with No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on January 18, 1918 and served at the front with 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery during the final days of the war.  His story was posted to this blog in August 2014.

A special thank you to Claudia Smith of Almonte, Ontario, Captain A. D. and Nursing Sister Mary (Graham) Archibald's grand-daughter, who graciously provided transcripts of letters, photographs, and information on her grandparents' lives. 

Claudia has written a book about her grandmother's service as a Nursing Sister.  The volume, in the final stages of production, illustrates their tremendous dedication and hard work during the tragic yet exhilarating years of the First World War. 

Once the book is published, a collection of letters, photographic albums, army cards and troop theatre programs from Nursing Sister Mary Graham's and Captain A. D. Archibald's war service will be displayed in the Huronia Museum, Midland, Ontario.  At present, a redwork signature quilt made by the Elmvale Women's Institute and sent to Mary during her service in France with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Mary's nursing uniform, boots and belts, and Dan's 85th Battalion hat and belt are housed in the museum.

The family is proud to have these historical items displayed in their home area, and delighted that Mary's and Dan's contributions to the First World War are being acknowledged and preserved.  For additional information about Nursing Sister Mary Graham's story, contact Claudia at: .

Author's Note: As Captain Archibald officially served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from February 6, 1915 to March 20, 1920, his story is presented in two consecutive posts.  This month's installment focuses on his service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.  The second chapter, to be posted in January 2015, focuses on his infantry service.

Alexander Daniel "Dan" Archibald was the fourth of seven children born to William Henry and Janie (Gunn) Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.  The third of the couple's six sons, Dan was raised in a family that placed a high value on education. After completing his local schooling, Dan enrolled in the Arts program at Dalhousie University, Halifax and contemplated entering the ministry.  Several months prior to completing his senior year, however, he made a life-altering choice, enlisting for overseas service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at Halifax on February 6, 1915.

Captain A. D. Archibald (photo courtesy of Colin MacKay, Riverton, NS).

Dan's decision comes as no surprise, as he was attending university in a city that became a bustling hub of military activity immediately after Great Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in August 1914.  Moreover, several of his Dalhousie classmates made the same decision within days of Dan's attestation.  Ralph B. Clarke of St. Stephen, NB led the way, joining the CAMC two days before Dan.  George Murray of River John, NS attested on the same day as Dan, while Neil E. "Mac" MacDonald of Framboise, Cape Breton enlisted two days later.  George Paterson of Grand River, NS was the last, completing his attestation papers and medical examination on February 15.  Their military service followed parallel paths, nurturing a bond that lasted well beyond the war years.

Dan and his colleagues departed Halifax shortly after enlisting and arrived in England on February 18, 1915.  Dan was briefly hospitalized for treatment of neuritis (an inflammation of one or more nerves) on Salisbury Plain before being assigned to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Netheravon.  His Dalhousie classmates also joined the unit, where all were designated for service as orderlies.

No. 1 Canadian General Hospital was initially organized at Valcartier, Quebec on September 3, 1914 and travelled to England in October 1914 with the First Canadian Contingent.  Before month's end, the unit opened a "Clearing Hospital" at Salisbury Plain and commenced providing medical services to Canadian battalions encamped in the area.  During the winter of 1914-15, No. 1 General treated patients in temporary huts with no floors and lacked the facilities necessary to provide long-term care. 

On February 24, 1915, the unit's war diary recorded the arrival of 30 "rank and file" soldiers to the unit, amongst whom were Private Dan Archibald and is university chums.  "Archie", as his military colleagues came to know him, found himself part of a small but bustling facility, housing approximately 500 patients in huts, tents and a manor house.  Soldiers who had contracted venereal diseases constituted the largest number of cases under treatment.

Within one week of Dan's arrival, hospital personnel commenced preparations for a move to France.  The March 8 war diary entry commented: "Work of packing and cleaning being well advanced, the time of the men is being occupied by physical drill, stretcher exercises and instructional classes."  Later that evening, officials held a "farewell dance for [the unit's] nurses….  A large number were present and the rooms were very prettily decorated.  All enjoyed themselves."

At some time during his days at Shorncliffe, Dan was on Grounds Cleaning Detail when he noticed a copy of a Halifax newspaper tangled in a bush.  Upon perusing its contents, his attention was drawn to an item about his alma mater.  Dalhousie University had decided to grant degrees to all senior students who had enlisted for service and were thus unable to complete their studies.  Atop the list of names was "Alexander Daniel Archibald, New Town, Guysborough County".

Captain Archibald's Dalhousie University Medal.

Activities recorded in the war diary throughout the remainder of the month suggest a routine typical of military service.  On March 25, for example, "the Company did a route march of twelve miles.  Some of the men complaining of blistered feet."  Simultaneously, hospital staff gradually reduced its patient load.  By month's end, 350 soldiers remained in the hospital, "all venereal but twelve."

While patient evacuation continued into April, it was "drill and exercise for the men, as usual."  On April 22, "the men had a long route march under the O. C. [Officer Commanding]."  Personnel enjoyed a field day of sports and games, followed by an evening concert, on May 4 as final preparations were made to discharge the remaining 118 patients to a facility at Shorncliffe.  The following day, the patients were evacuated by special train, while No. 1 General's equipment was loaded onto ships at Southampton.

On May 11, personnel held a unit parade to place flowers on the graves of Canadians who died on Salisbury Plain, a total of 42 soldiers buried in three separate cemeteries.  Two days later, the unit moved out by foot at 10:00 a.m., arriving at Southampton at 2:10 p.m. "in the rain" and departing for France three hours later.  Their vessel anchored in Boulogne Harbour at 2:30 a.m. May 14, a group of its non-commissioned officers (NCOs) remaining on board while the equipment of their shipmates - No. 20 British General Hospital - was unloaded.

The following day, personnel began unloading No. 1 General's equipment, a task that was completed by mid-afternoon May 16.  The unit immediately departed for nearby Étaples, arriving at their destination on May 17.  Personnel hastily unloaded the unit's cargo during the morning of May 18 and immediately commenced erecting tents.  The following day, the hospital's Matron and 36 Nursing Sisters landed at Boulogne.

The men set about erecting tent wards and installing wooden floors, levelling the ground as they proceeded.  Within four days of the Nursing Sisters' arrival on May 22, personnel had constructed facilities for 158 patients.  A total of eight tent wards were almost complete by the end of the following day.

No. 1 General received its first admissions on May 31, 1915, a group of 51 patients who arrived at 9:30 a.m. by ambulance train from Boulogne.  The war diary noted: "Within an hour all patients… were bathed, fed and asleep in bed.  Two cases were reported as seriously ill."  Several days later, the war diary described the facility's mission: "This Hospital, though stylized a general hospital, is in reality a 'Clearing Hospital' and the smoothness and rapidity of our work is the criterion by which we will be judged."

The hospital accommodated its patients in tent wards, a practice given a favourable review in the unit's war diary:

"The Indian pattern Hospital tent has proved itself not only comfortable in the extreme, but weather proof.  Our system of placing these tents end to end, thus making a very spacious, cool and beautiful ward, was open to one objection, viz.: that in rainy weather the interspace would collect water[,] thus constituting a drip and leak.  This has now been disproved, but it is found that the cotton ropes swell and need constant attention."

By June 11, the hospital's male personnel were "very comfortably housed, [their] huts… scrubbed every day and blankets folded regimentally."  Three days later, the war diary announced: "The hospital is now well established and the grounds neatly laid out."  The opening of a Convalescent Depot at nearby Étaples in mid-June provided a nearby facility for recovering patients.  The war diary described their various responses to the "clearing" process:

"Whilst it is necessary that men fit to return to the firing line be ultimately sent back through the medium of this camp, yet it is always a hard duty to perform.  The joy which comes to the face of a patient marked for transfer to England, [sic] is worth seeing.  But no patient sent to Convalescent Camp is ever heard to grumble though his face may show how keenly he wishes for a furlough.  The British soldier is a wonderful hero."

"Archie" and his comrades enjoyed a welcome break from hospital routine on July 1 - "Dominion Day" - as staff participated in an afternoon games and sports day at Caesar's Camp, "a natural amphitheatre east of our lines."  Activities included a football match, 100 yard dash, an egg and
spoon race for the Nursing Sisters, and an evening concert. 

The war diary's July 9 entry recorded 135 admissions and 117 evacuations, the culmination of a "record week" for the fledgling hospital.  The diary lamented that the unit's total complement of 235 Officers, NCOs and "other ranks" (OR) "does not allow sufficient rank and file for varied duties."  Bearer parties were required at all hours and several personnel had already suffered injuries in the performance of their duties.  While the diary suggested the addition of a regimental band from Shorncliffe to provide much needed help with patient transportation and simultaneously boost patient morale, there is no indication the suggestion was pursued.

The hospital's location close to the English Channel provided a welcome summertime diversion.  The July 10 diary entry described a common recreational activity: "As usual everyone who could get away to Paris Plage took advantage of the Saturday to have a plunge."  The facility also received its share of distinguished visitors.  Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, paid a visit on the evening of July 20: "He was received with a salute and then the ranks were opened and an official inspection made."  The accompanying party of dignitaries included HRH Edward, Prince of Wales.

The hospital site was of considerable historical significance.  A local Roman Catholic priest informed the Adjutant - whose duty it was to complete the daily diary entries - that the location was believed to be "the burial grounds for Roman officers" accompanying Julius Caesar on his march of conquest to England.  Centuries later, the French Emperor Napoleon encamped in the area as he contemplated an invasion of England.

Dan's college mates were not his only acquaintances amongst No. 1's personnel.  As one might expect, there was considerable camaraderie with the unit's nursing staff.  One relationship Dan formed during the unit's first months in France deserves particular mention.  Mary Graham, a native of Elmvale, Ontario and a graduate nurse, enlisted with the CAMC at London, England on May 12, 1915 and joined No 1 General's nursing staff in July 1915.  One of her co-workers, Eva Maude Mosher, a native of Moosehead, Halifax County, also enlisted with the CAMC in London on the same day. 

Shortly after arriving in France, Eva introduced Mary to the "Bluenose Boys", a group of Maritimers also serving with No. 1 General.  The "boys" happened to be none other than Dan and his Dalhousie classmates.  Unbeknownst to Dan and Mary at the time, this chance introduction was destined to blossom into a lifelong relationship.

No. 1 General Orderlies, Etaples.
 Neil MacDonald (standing); George Murray (2nd row, far right); Ralph B. Clarke (2nd row, second from right); George Paterson (1st row, far right) & Dan Archibald (1st row, second from right).

By mid-August, the hospital housed approximately 500 patients.  As it completed its fourth month of operation on August 31, the war diary reported a total of 3423 admissions and 3090 discharges since arriving in Étaples.  The last month was particularly busy, as might be expected due to the increase in combat during the summer season.  The hospital received a total of 1155 patients, while discharging 822 in August alone.

Demand for hospital space fluctuated through the year, according to the intensity of combat at the front.  On September 7, several recent offensives between Arras, France and the Belgian frontier prompted military authorities to order the evacuation of patients "to the fullest[,] in accordance with special instructions to clear the Hospital as far as possible." 

Two days later, the diary reported that the evacuation was "proceeding rapidly and no new patients coming in.  219 patients remaining at 12 noon."  The reason for the orders became apparent the following day, when a convoy of 118 patients arrived in the morning.  By September 17, the facility housed 341 patients, yet was once again ordered to evacuate as many cases as possible one week later.

In response, personnel discharged 282 patients, leaving only 60, "the lowest number we have had in the Hospital since opening."  Within days, 361 new patients arrived, although 336 were discharged by month's end.  For the first time since arriving in France, the war diary provided statistics on the average length of stay per patient: 10.4 days in July, 9.2 days in August, and a remarkable 1.8 days in September.  Medical staff performed a total of 156 operations under anaesthetic during the month's last five days, indicating the serious nature of the cases arriving from the battlefield.

The month also proved significant for Dan, as he received a promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal on September 2.  This was the first of several subsequent advancements, his superiors acknowledging the leadership skills he later displayed on the battlefield.

The summer's frenetic pace continued into October, as hospital staff processed 1623 patients - 823 sick and 800 wounded.  A total of 1601 were discharged, leaving a complement of 400 patients at month's end.  Simultaneously, non-medical staff began preparations for the unit's first winter at the front, building winter hut quarters for the nursing sisters and installing wood stoves in the tent wards.

The arrival of autumn weather was soon evident in the cases arriving for treatment.  The November 23 diary entry commented: "A large number of patients admitted recently have been suffering from trench feet from the cold weather in the trenches."  An early December 1915 entry also mentioned "a considerable number of cases of trench feet… being received."

On December 20, 1915, the hospital achieved a statistical milestone: "A total of 10,000 patients have been admitted to the hospital since opening here on May 31, 1915."  In keeping with the season, the hospital's 724 patients were treated to an appropriate feast on December 25:

"A dinner of turkey and plum pudding was provided for all patients by the Canadian Red Cross Society and was much enjoyed.  The Officers of the Unit provided the dinner of turkey, plum pudding, etc. for the N. C. O.'s and men… in the new hut which was first opened for use this day.  In the evening a Christmas Tree and supper was provided for the N. C. O.'s and men by the Nursing Sisters.  The wards and mess rooms of the personnel were very prettily decorated and a very pleasant day was spent by all ranks."

The month's end statistics provided a summary of the unit's work to date, in addition to details on cases currently under treatment.  A total of 10,621 patients had passed through its wards, 10,182 of whom were discharged to other facilities.  There were 139 deaths amongst its admissions, a remarkably low number considering the nature of wounds received at the front.  The hospital's surgeons had performed a total of 1991 operations.  Amongst cases currently in the hospital, 195 soldiers were receiving treatment for trench foot, 41 for parathyroid problems, and four for infective jaundice. 

As might be anticipated given the lull in fighting during the winter months, January 1916 was "the lightest month since… opening….  Of 805 cases admitted, 198 were wounded and 607 sick."  Considering the conditions the men endured in the trenches, it is not surprising that "the great proportion of cases… have been medical."

Similar circumstances prevailed the following month, as noted in the war diary's February 7 entry:  "As the number of patients arriving from the front has been less of late, the three week rule has been suspended and we are allowed to retain patients longer in the Hospital."  The respite also allowed personnel to perform several repairs to the facilities: "Old tent wards [were] cleared away, and floors removed which occasioned considerable levelling of ground.  New tent wards [were then] erected."

The month was not without its share of winter weather, the war diary specifically mentioning "heavy snow fall" on February 23.  It was "still snowing and freezing hard" the following day, but personnel nevertheless managed to erect a new tent ward.  The cold snap created problems on February 25: "Severe frost during the night.  As a result the water pipes were blocked with ice and burst in places, causing much inconvenience."  By month's end, the weather turned mild and wet, a change no doubt welcomed by personnel and patients alike.

As spring arrived, the hospital grounds received particular attention.  Personnel set about constructing a flower garden and tennis court, in addition to completing "nine new tent wards" by the end of March 1916.  The number of patients slowly but steadily increased from 309 on March 16 to 564 on March 29, as fighting at the front gradually intensified.

Map of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Etaples (June 1915).
Patient totals reached 645 by April 2 as patients and personnel endured several weeks of damp weather.  By April 23, the war diary reported "an agreeable change in the weather…, the sun was shining all day from an almost cloudless sky."  While the arrival of spring produced increased numbers of wounded, the improved weather also brought a new and unexpected danger from above.

At approximately midnight April 25/26, 1916, a German zeppelin passed overhead:

"The zeppelin was travelling in a north-west direction, apparently bound for England; it passes [sic] directly over No. 1 Canadian General Hospital.  About one mile south-east two explosive bombs were dropped amongst the trees in the vicinity of the Reinforcement Camp.  No damage was done excepting the trees in the immediate neighbourhood of the explosion being damaged.  The crater left by each was from 12 to 15 feet in diameter and about four feet deep.  Two incendiary bombs were dropped in the Isolation Hospital lines, about one-half mile from here, close to an outbuilding, one destroyed a stove.  No further damage was done."

Four other incendiary bombs landed on either side of No. 1 General's lines, but caused no damage.  The war diary described the response on the ground: "Strict order was maintained and no confusion took place."  The raid was not a "one-time occurrence".  German aircraft later revisited the Étaples area in May 1918, with tragic consequences.

The improved weather provided an opportunity for hospital staff to enjoy a break from daily routine on May 1 as officers organized an afternoon Field Day of sports and recreational activities.  A "great number" of personnel participated and observed, and "keen interest was manifest."  The practice of dignitaries visiting the facility also resumed with the milder weather.  Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces, visited the hospital on May 18, expressing "great pleasure… [at finding the facility] in such excellent condition."

Before month's end, the Canadian Red Cross opened a recreational hut on grounds located between the unit and its neighbour, No. 26 British General Hospital.  May 31 marked the one-year anniversary of No. 1 General's first patient admissions.  During that time, a total of 16,597 cases passed through its wards.  While justifiably proud of its record, hospital staff no doubt realized that greater challenges lay ahead with the onset of another "fighting season".

The past year had also been particularly eventful for Dan in several ways.  During that time, he had become friends with Mary Graham.  Their relationship, while in its early stages, would grow as the months of war stretched into years.  Spring brought a promotion to the rank of Corporal on March 1, 1916.  Dan also spent four days as a patient of No. 1 General, when he was admitted on June 5 for treatment of "neuritis torticollis" (inflammation of the nerves in the neck), the same ailment for which he received treatment in England.

June 9, 1916 - the day following Dan's discharge from hospital - proved to be the most significant one of Dan's service to date.  The daily war diary entry reported the news: "No. 50013 Cpl. Archibald, C. A. M. C., having made application for a commission in His Majesty's Army, was today ordered to proceed to 25th Canadian Battalion for one month's attachment."


The 25th Canadian Infantry Battalion was officially authorized on November 7, 1914 and recruited its personnel from across the province of Nova Scotia.  The unit organized at Halifax on March 15, 1915 and departed for England aboard HMTS Saxonia two months later.  Shortly after arriving in camp at East Sandling, the 25th was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division's 5th Brigade, where its personnel served alongside the 22nd (Quebec's famous "Van Doos"), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions for the war's duration.

The 25th crossed the English Channel to France with the 2nd Division in September 1915 and was immediately deployed in the trenches of the Ypres Salient, Belgium.  Its personnel served on rotation in this area throughout the winter of 1915-16, receiving their "baptism by fire" in April 1916 when the unit entered the "St. Eloi craters".  Exposed to ferocious enemy fire from three sides, its soldiers withstood numerous German attacks on their position during a six-week rotation.

The 25th was holding the front trenches at Zillebeke, Belgium on the day that Corporal Dan Archibald joined its ranks.  The circumstances at the time of Dan's arrival provided an appropriate introduction to the "firing line": "Enemy artillery very active on our front and support trenches.  Fourteen OR wounded."  The bombardment continued the following day as high explosive artillery shells, trench mortars, machine gun and rifle fire struck the unit's lines, killing one Officer and 12 OR and wounding four Officers.

Similar conditions prevailed on the third day, when two Officers and 15 OR were wounded and 10 OR reported missing before the 25th retired to billets during the night of June 11/12.  Personnel arrived in camp "very fatigued after having undergone a particularly heavy bombardment."  The soldiers rested the following day, enduring rainy weather in a "camp [that was] in very poor condition."  Such was Dan's initiation to infantry service.

Dan's parents, William Henry & Janie (Gunn) Archibald (courtesy of Vi Fraser, Sherbrooke).
At 7:30 p.m. June 14, the battalion marched off to Hill 60, where personnel encountered "normal" artillery activity and "very active" machine gun and rifle fire.  Two OR were killed and six wounded the following day, while "great [artillery and trench mortar] activity" took place on June 16.  On this occasion, the unit's war diary gratefully reported: "We… came through without any casualties."

The same could not be said for the following day: "Enemy bombarding with great violence, in retaliation to our artillery."  Eight OR were killed and 47 wounded in the day's shelling.  Casualties declined somewhat over the tour's final three days - one OR killed and nine wounded - as the 25th retired to billets at Reninghelst on the night of June 20/21.

Dan spent a week in Divisional Reserve with his new comrades, training during the day and participating in sports each evening.  The unit moved out to Brigade Reserve at Dickebusch - Scottish Woods on June 28, as personnel supplied large working parties nightly for one week.  The artillery fire experienced during the previous tour continued unabated: "Artillery shelling Dickebusch during the night and day.  No casualties."

On the night of July 6/7, the 25th once again "proceeded to the trenches".  Daily exchanges of artillery, mortar, rifle grenade, machine gun and rifle fire continued throughout the tour, the war diary's July 11 entry reporting: "Our front lines and communication trenches were fired upon almost continually throughout the day."  The battalion was relieved on the evening of July 15 and retired to Kenora Camp, arriving in the early hours of July 16.

Upon relief, Dan made his way back to No. 1 General Hospital, Étaples.  During his absence, the pace of work had increased considerably.  The hospital housed a total of 668 patients on July 17, but numbers steadily increased.  A convoy of 251 patients - including 150 "stretcher cases" - arrived four days later,  the war diary proudly noting that the men were processed in a record one hour and 27 minutes.  By the following day - July 22 - 1046 patients were crammed into the hospital's tent wards.
Statistics for July 1916 reveal the increasing intensity of fighting brought on by summer's arrival - No. 1 General received 4363 patients, 3808 of whom were wounded cases.  A total of 3768 patients were discharged to other facilities, while 51 soldiers died at the facility.  The war diary reported an average stay per patient of 4.37 days.

The following month opened with a pleasant surprise when His Majesty, King George V, made an "unannounced visit" to the Étaples area on August 3.  "While in the district he called at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, and walked through two or three of the wards, also the Canadian Red Cross Recreational Hut.  This was a very pleasing surprise visit…."

The unit narrowly avoided catastrophe on the morning of August 21, when a fire broke out in one of its tent wards.  "The fire piquet [watch] and others were very quickly on the scene and the fire was soon under control."  As the hospital's wards housed 1186 patients at the time, the prompt response averted a tragedy of considerable proportions.

The number of patients reached a peak of 1285 on August 24, declining slightly by month's end.  In total, personnel processed 2768 admissions, transferring 1284 to hospitals in England and 92 to duty.  The remainder were admitted to the nearby Convalescent Depot.  A monthly total of 40 deaths was a decline from July, but still significantly higher than earlier months.

The frenetic pace continued into the following month, the hospital receiving 644 admissions on September 5 alone.  The September 18 war diary entry suggests that staff and resources were stretched to the limit, as casualties continued to arrive from the summer-long Somme offensive: "Today has been a record day in almost every department.  Sixty four major operations were performed and no less than 156 X-rays taken."  The facility contained 1252 patients at day's end, its capacity stretched to the limit.

Admissions nevertheless continued to rise, reaching a peak 1594 patients in the tent wards on September 27.  While the total declined to 1332 patients by month's end, September's statistics describe a challenging workload.  The unit admitted 4750 patients, transferring 3112 to England, 1114 to the Étaples Convalescent Depot, and 19 to duty.  The average hospital stay for the month was 6.92 days.

Admission and occupancy numbers remained high throughout October and into early November, before winter's arrival once again produced a lull in the fighting.  Dan, however, was not present to witness the decline.  The October 5, 1916 war diary entry stated in part:  "No. 50013 Corporal A. D. Archibald, C. A. M. C., having been granted a Commission proceeded to England on duty this day."  The second major chapter of Dan's war experience - his infantry service - was about to begin.


Dan was not alone in making the transformation from hospital orderly to infantry soldier.  All of his Dalhousie friends - Clark, Murray, Paterson and MacDonald - made the same transition at various times after arriving in France with No. 1 General.  In a letter written to Mary shortly after he returned to England in October 1916, "Archie" provided insight into the reason why he and his friends made such a significant decision:

"Mary, it is certainly good to be back to… civilization.  A good bed felt very nice after 20 months of nothing to sleep on but a blanket.  Active service was so hard and dull with a lot of waiting around.  No bugle call to wake me this morning and now I will go down to the War Office to await my fate….  I never realized how much you were to me until I am far away and know only too well how long it will be before I see you again.  Thank you for the snap.  It cheers me to gaze upon your loving smile."

On October 7, 1916, Dan was "taken on strength" at Chariton, near Southampton, England, "pending admission to Cadet Corps".  Three days later, he received a one-month furlough.  Upon returning to camp, he waited another month before receiving orders to proceed to Cadet Military School, Dilgate "for course of instruction". 

Upon completing his cadet training, Dan received a promotion to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant on February 24, 1917.  He was officially appointed to the commissioned rank of Lieutenant on April 9 and assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit that provided reinforcements for Nova Scotian battalions at the front.  Dan attended "Gas School" at Camp Aldershot in late June, thus completing preparations for active combat.  He returned to the 17th Reserve Battalion's camp, where he awaited orders to proceed to the front.

Nursing Sister Mary Graham, Etaples, France (1916).
The call was not long in coming.  On July 9, 1917, Dan was transferred to the 85th Battalion, the other Nova Scotian unit serving "in the line".  He crossed the English Channel to Boulogne, France the following day and awaited orders to proceed to the front.  As Étaples was nearby, Dan took the opportunity to visit his former comrades at No. 1 General, particularly Nursing Sister Mary Graham.
Dan departed for the 85th's camp on July 12, finding time that evening to write a letter to Mary.  Its content reveals the level to which their relationship had developed:

"My Dearie,

To think that last night at this time I was with you while this evening we are so far apart.  I am not so many miles from the firing line.  It is such a beautiful evening and just to be on those old sand dunes [at Étaples] Mary would be bliss.

We left the base at 8:20 this morning and were on the train in toward the line until three or four p.m..  I am billeted for the night with a French family.  I cannot talk to them except in a broken way, assisted by signs etc..  The room is decorated with numerous crucifixes and paintings of the Virgin Mary so that my thoughts are very religious tonight.

The part of France we passed through today was beautiful.  So many nice places for picnics.  I am so glad you thought of having a picnic last Tuesday.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.  Patterson said he enjoyed it too.

If I had anything to do with love I'd make it contagious.  Goodnight honey and here is a kiss for you.

With much love,

Your Soldier Laddie."

The following day - July 13, 1917 - Lieutenant Alexander Daniel Archibald reported for duty at the 85th's camp near Villers au Bois, France, and commenced the second chapter of his military service.


Service file of Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald, number 50013.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 211 - 5.  Available online.

War diary of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5034, Reel T-10924, File: 851.  Available online.

Photographs courtesy of Claudia Smith, Almonte, Ontario (unless otherwise indicated).

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