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Saturday, 31 January 2015

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

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 red-work 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: .

The 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was officially authorized on September 14, 1915.  Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonial Allison Hart Borden, the battalion launched a province-wide recruitment campaign, mobilizing at Halifax one month later 200 men "over strength".  The response to its appeals prompted Lt.-Col. Borden to propose the creation of a Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, a suggestion approved by military authorities in early 1916.

Captain A. D. Archibald's 85th Battalion cap badge.
In the meantime, the 85th's recruits trained at Halifax throughout the winter and spring of 1915-16, travelling to Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, in May 1916 for a summer of intense drill alongside three newly created Nova Scotia units — the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd (Blue Feather) and 219th Battalions.

The Brigade boarded the SS Olympic at Halifax on October 12, 1916, departing the following day for England.  Shortly after its arrival at Witley Camp, significant Canadian casualties in fighting at the Somme (September - October 1916) prompted military authorities to dissolve two of its units, specifically the 193rd and 219th Battalions.  While the 185th remained in England, training and providing reinforcements for units at the front, the 85th — the former Highland Brigade's senior unit — proceeded across the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917.

For two months, its personnel completed preparations for service at the front, moving to the lines behind Vimy Ridge prior to the Canadian Corps' attack on the German stronghold.  As the 85th was not attached to a specific Brigade and lacked combat experience, its personnel were assigned "support" roles in the upcoming battle — carrying ammunition, constructing dugouts, maintaining communication trenches, escorting and guarding prisoners of war.

As the fighting progressed on April 9, 1917, the 85th's role changed dramatically.   While Canadian units successfully captured the majority of their objectives by mid-day, several German positions resisted the onslaught, subjecting Canadian units to devastating sniper and machine gun fire.  Foremost amongst these locations was Hill 145, an elevated area on the Canadian Corps' left flank.

Fearing loss of the day's gains, Canadian commanders ordered the 85th's "C" and "D" Companies forward, with instructions to capture the recalcitrant German position.  That evening, its soldiers advanced up the ridge without benefit of artillery support, securing Hill 145 as darkness approached.  The successful maneuver demonstrated its readiness for combat and by month's end the 85th was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division's 12th Brigade, replacing a battalion that had suffered heavy casualties at Vimy Ridge.

A selection of Dan & Mary (Graham) Archibald's uniform buttons.
Throughout the months of May and June, the 85th served on regular rotation in the Lens Sector alongside its Brigade counterparts — the 38th (Ottawa), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders) and 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalions.  The unit was training at Suburban Camp, Villers au Bois on July 13, 1917, when its war diary recorded the arrival of several officer reinforcements.  Amongst their number was Lieutenant Alexander Daniel Archibald of New Town, Guysborough County.

Dan immediately commenced service as a platoon officer with "B" Company, entering the Zouave Valley's front trenches for his first tour on the night of July 25/26.  The 85th served on rotation in this sector for the next six weeks.  One particular tour provided Dan with his first exposure to the firing line's perils.

On August 9, "A" and "B" Companies relieved the 78th Battalion in the front trenches.  At some point later in the day, Dan was wounded in the face and evacuated for treatment to No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance.  Luckily, the damage was slight.  He was discharged to duty the following day, and proceeded on "General Course"" to the First Army School of Instruction on August 11.

The 85th retired to reserve positions on September 2 after serving 39 consecutive days in the line, it longest tour since landing in France.  The unit's war diary reported three Officers wounded, eight "other ranks" (OR) killed, 36 OR wounded — four accidentally — seven OR gassed and 14 OR wounded but remaining at duty, as the battalion made its way to Tottenham Camp in the Zouave Valley.

After several days' rest and cleanup, personnel commenced a daily training schedule.  The 85th returned to the line near Avion on September 11 for one week before retiring to Petit Servins for additional drill.  Four days later, Dan was admitted to No. 7 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, for treatment of his facial wound.  He was discharged on September 21, but spent almost two weeks in convalescent camp before rejoining the battalion on October 6.

During Dan's absence, the 85th returned to Tottenham Camp on September 27, where its soldiers rehearsed attack formations over a taped, simulated battlefield.  Casualties for the month — two OR killed and 15 OR wounded — reflect its tours' light combat, a stark contrast to the experiences that lay ahead.

The 85th broke camp on October 5, making its way northward toward the Belgian frontier.  Dan rejoined the unit at Guoy Servins the following day as personnel marched through Brouay and Steenbecque, arriving at Staples, France on October 13.  Personnel spent ten days training before travelling by bus to Brandhoek, on the outskirts of Ypres, Belgium.  Upon arrival, the battalion marched to nearby St. Lawrence Camp.  In the ensuing days, its Officers travelled to the forward area to view the Canadian Corps' next assignment —  Passchendaele Ridge — while its soldiers practiced attack formations "over the tapes".

On October 28, the 85th relocated to Potijze, completing final preparations and moving into the line by nightfall.  The battalion occupied the extreme right of the Canadian Corps line, along the Ypres - Roulers Railway.  As day broke, its Officers detected considerable manpower in the opposing line and requested an artillery barrage on the location prior to battle.  They also laid out tapes, marking the "jumping off" points for the following morning's attack.

The men received hot tea and rations during the night and assumed their attack positions at 4:50 a.m. October 30, sixty minutes prior to Zero Hour.  Allied artillery and the Brigade's machine guns opened fire at the appointed hour.  Several minutes later, "A", "B" and "C" Companies proceeded "over the top" toward the German line, while "D" Company, under the command of Captain Percival Anderson of Baddeck, NS, remaining in reserve.

The soldiers soon discovered that the pre-attack barrage had inflicted little damage along the German line, as "they were met by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire… all the way along our front."  Six machine-guns on their right flank provided the most devastating fire, killing or wounding nine Officers in the advance's opening minutes.

To complicate matters, the anticipated artillery barrage supporting the advance was "light…  very little if any of it fell on our side or on the enemy's trench."  The three Companies nevertheless advanced, "providing their own covering fire with rifle-grenades, Lewis guns and rifle-fire until they had passed our old front line.  Then, in No Man's Land a fierce fire fight took place… [in which] any one who attempted to walk upright instantly became a casualty."

The battle raged for almost thirty minutes before Captain Anderson led "D" Company forward in support, tipping the balance in the 85th's favour.  As Anderson's men reached their comrades, "the whole line swarmed across the hostile front line and pushed on to the final objective, sniping the fleeing enemy and dealing with those who remained in shell-holes behind his original line."

Officers reported that "casualties are heavy" as the 85th reached its final objective at 6:38 a.m..  Massive German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire concentrated on their position made consolidation very difficult.  Captain Anderson's men moved to the left, while "B" Company's Captain Campbell "proceeded along the line [to the right] and left Lieutenant A. D. Archibald getting together and consolidating what was left of his platoon.  Archibald was wounded shortly afterward but kept at duty."

While German forces appeared to regroup for a counter-attack, they took no such action as the 85th struggled to consolidate its position throughout the day.  Personnel endured a massive counter-barrage and repelled a subsequent counter-attack the following day, although "D" Company was "badly cut up" in the fighting.  The war diary described the day's closing action:

"Just at dusk in the night of the 31st a heavy barrage of high explosive, shrapnel and gas shells was placed in our front line and in the back areas about Battalion Headquarters.  Our artillery replied in a very effective manner and no counter-attack developed."

Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hayes' post-war history of the 85th identifies several Officers and soldiers who distinguished themselves at Passchendaele.  Dan was amongst those whose actions merited mention:

"Lieutenant A. D. Archibald was another young Officer to show great self-possession and resourcefulness during a barrage of artillery and machine guns [on October 30].  On going 'over the top' with his platoon he was wounded, still he carried on and by his vigorous efforts hastened the consolidation of the newly gained positions and enabled a counter attack which was formed on the left to be broken up."

The 102nd Battalion relieved the 85th on the night of October 31/November 1, allowing its personnel to retire to Burns Camps, Potijze.  While its war diary proclaimed that "the fighting spirit of the 85th Battalion was never better than on the day of relief", the victory came at considerable cost.  The unit entered the line with a complement of 26 Officers and 662 OR.  Twelve of its Officers were killed, eight wounded, and three — including Dan — remained at duty despite their wounds.  A total of 371 OR were killed or wounded in the firefight, a total casualty rate in excess of 50 %.

A. D. Archibald (left), George Murray & George Patterson.
In the battle's aftermath, Dan found a few minutes on November 2 to write his sweetheart, Mary Graham, his words reflecting Passchendaele's dramatic events:

"It seems an age since I have written to you and since that time we have all been through an experience which will never be forgotten and the few of us that remain feel thankful, and yet depressed, for many of our best friends paid the supreme sacrifice. 

"We had a glorious fight, gained our objective and held it.  Lost many of our officers and most killed.  Mr. Murr was killed before he advanced ten feet.  I was talking to him only seconds before we went over the top.  I went over first and he was to follow.  I was very lucky.  Had a few bad knocks with shell concussions and got a small wound in my hand but did not need to go out.  [George] Patterson came up in time and went over the top.  He is safe.

"The boys were splendid.  I never saw such courage.  I would not have been afraid if I had to ask them to advance to the mouth of a cannon for I feel confident they would come with me.  Words cannot do justice to them."

After several days' rest and clean-up, the 85th relocated to Borre, near Hazebrouck, France, on November 3, its men billeted in "excellent quarters all round."  Three days later, "regular routine work started" as the battalion began the task of rebuilding.  A group of 146 OR reinforcements arrived from the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) on November 7 as personnel completed a daily training regimen.  The battalion relocated to Reimbert, near Bethune, France, on November 19, a group of 21 Lieutenants and 222 OR joining the battalion there four days later.

Training at Reimbert continued for four weeks as the new arrivals prepared for the 85th's return to the line.  The weather was "snowing and freezing" as the battalion made its way to Guoy-Servins in the afternoon of December 17, marching "over Vimy Ridge through Givenchy to [the] support line of [the] left Avion sector" and relieving the 2nd Battalion the following day.

The 85th spent Christmas Day 1917 in the trenches, its war diary providing a brief summary of the day's events:

"Cold, turning fine, then snowing and strong wind.  Quiet except evening strafe and some 'pineapples' [German trench mortar shells] with gas sent on right half of Battalion front, stopped by Artillery retaliation."

Personnel retired to Niagara Camp, Château de la Haie, on December 29, its OR partaking in Christmas dinner at 1:00 p.m. New Year's Day 1918.  That evening, the battalion paraded to a nearby theatre, where the 4th Divisional Troupe's "Maple Leaves Concert Company" presented the pantomime ,"A lad in France". 

The 85th returned to support positions near Souchez on January 3, serving on rotation in the Mericourt sector for the next two weeks.  A mid-month thaw made conditions particularly difficult: "Trenches falling in very badly….  Every available man employed in cleaning out trenches."  Personnel were no doubt relieved to withdraw to Divisional Reserve at Niagara Camp on January 19.

The break in the action also proved beneficial to Dan, as he was granted 14 days' leave in France the following day.  Not surprisingly. he made his way to Étaples for a visit with Mary and the staff of No. 1 General Hospital.  As Dan made his way back to the firing line, he paused on the eve of his return to pen a letter to his sweetheart:

"Only a line tonight as I feel I cannot go to rest without writing you.  See what a hold you have on me.  We left at 5:30 today and did not arrive at our horse lines in time to go up the line to the Battalion.  We will have to join them tomorrow.  I don't know what changes there have been in B Company so I will not know where I shall fit in until I get with them.

"Mary darling, I miss you so tonight.  I feel that I must go and see you again, but we are so busy preparing to go into the trenches and you are so very far away.  We intend leaving in the afternoon and I am in my trench garb already.  I suppose you will be hard at work this morning.  I hope you slept well these past nights my dearest….

"I will write you as often as possible and will look longingly for yours.  I was going to say my heart goes with this but it would not be true for I have left it in your keeping.  Goodbye my own true Love."

The 85th returned to the line on February 4 — two days prior to Dan's return — retiring to billets at Petit Servins one week later.  Its personnel spent the next four weeks in training, re-entering to the line near Bully Grenay on March 13.  The soldiers focused on "cleaning out communications trenches,… wiring and constructing temporaries blocks in [the] Front Line" throughout the tour, moving into to Divisional Reserve at Colonne on March 24.

The massive German spring offensive launched on March 21, 1918 resulted in the 85th's temporary assignment to a "Composite Brigade" under the command of Brigadier General V. W. Odlum on March 28.  When the anticipated attack on the Canadian sector failed to materialize, the new unit was disbanded and the battalion returned to the line on March 29 near Gavrelle, southeast of Lens, France.

The ensuing days saw a gradual increase in activity, particularly in the skies above the trenches.  The 85th continued to serve in the Lens area, entering the line near Arleux on April 16 for a tour of particular significance for Dan, as he led his platoon into a trench raid four days later.  The unit's war diary described the event:

"Raiding party consisting of Lieutenants Ernst and Archibald and 24 OR raided [a German] post… with the object of obtaining identification.  As the occupants of the post ran after throwing bombs, Lieutenant Ernst with three OR followed up Arleux Loop about 100 yards… without seeing any signs of the enemy.  They returned and followed down Arleux Loop South until they came up with a party of the enemy….  After a short sharp fight two of the enemy were killed and the others ran….  Ernst obtained a shoulder strap on one of the men who had been killed.  Dugouts were bombed on the way back.  Party then returned to our lines.  Shoulder strap was that of the 102 RIR.  Smoke bombs were used during the raid with good success.  Two slight casualties (at duty)."

Lt. Col. Hayes later described Dan's role in the trench raid: "Lieutenant Archibald with his party… did very valuable work in blocking off the Hun line to the north", while Ernst and his party "traversed some two hundred and fifty yards of the enemy front line".

The 85th moved into Brigade Support on April 22, allowing Dan to find a few minutes to write to Mary three days later:

"Would you like to see my surroundings this afternoon?  It is such a warm spring day that I must try and give you some idea.  Slept all morning until twelve and came up to the surface for a shave and clean up.  Now I have crawled into a nook in the trench where I am not in view of the Fritz [sic] and wish to chat with you.

"At present everything is pretty quiet expect for some iron rations we are sending into Fritz's back area.  These go whining overhead as if weary of their journey.  Others travel with a slower speed and sound like a railroad train.  Now and again our light guns send their quick messengers which seem to land at their destination almost as soon as you hear the report of the gun.

"Now and again shells pass overhead going in the opposite direction but fortunately not at present or I'd be in the dugout!  The country here was once beautiful fields.  Now the grass is green and dotted here and there with dandelions, but as you survey them the thing that strikes you the most is the red or brown trail winding its way amongst the green grass.  The trenches…

"Our company had a nice diversion yesterday.  We went out to the horse-lines for a bath.  It was quite a long way out but we had the day to ourselves and we certainly enjoyed it….  I had a large parcel of socks from people back home last night also a box of fudge.  The socks are for the boys but the fudge is for myself.  Have a piece will you?

"Excuse my handwriting as my knee serves for a writing desk.  Thunder is beginning to roll back of Fritz line.  I had better get down under Mother Earth before the rain begins.  Cheerio my little girl."

The battalion returned to the front trenches on April 28, its war diary describing the day as "quiet".  Upon relief one week later, personnel retired to Le Pendu Camp, Mount St. Eloi, marching out to billets at Monchy-Breton on May 6.  The withdrawal marked the beginning of more than two months' rest and training, the 85th's longest break from service in the line since arriving in France.

The war diary's May 7 entry described one of the location's benefits:  "This is splendid country about here, and the men can get lots of milk and eggs, a pleasant change from line fare."  Personnel commenced a schedule of training from 7:00 a.m. until noon, followed by afternoon sports.  The 85th's football team captured the Brigade title in a May 14th match, while personnel participated in a Brigade Sports Day at Ferfay on June 12, its football and baseball teams winning all of their contests.  Both squads were victorious in Divisional Semi-finals two days later, the baseball team capturing the Divisional title on June 15 before losing the Canadian Corps semi-final game on June 26.

The war diary also described another event of considerable significance to a Nova Scotian battalion:  "[May 17th was] a Red Letter day for the Battalion, for today the authorization for the kilt — Argyle and Sutherland — came through and the 85th became officially a Highland Battalion."  The June 8th entry provided an update:  "The remainder of the kilts have arrived, and by night practically the whole Battalion was kilted — after nearly three years of promise and disappointed expectation."

The month of May also proved significant for Dan, as the May 24, 1918 edition of the London Gazette listed his name amongst several Nova Scotian soldiers "Mentioned in Despatches" (MID).  The distinction acknowledged the inclusion of a soldier's name in superior officers' official reports to High Command.  The individual subsequently received a certificate and a set of bronze oak leaves, later pinned to a service medal's ribbon.  Considering its timing, the communication most likely referred to Dan's role in the April 1918 trench raid.

Captain A. D. Archibald's bronze oak leaves pin.
The 85th relocated to Lozinghem in late May, continuing its training and recreation schedule throughout the following month.  Personnel participated in a Canadian Corps sports Day at Tinques on July 1 in honour of Dominion Day, marching to Ferfay the following day for an inspection by Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden.  Its pipe band participated in a massed band concert on the evening of July 4.  Training continuing for another week, at which time the battalion broke camp on the afternoon of July 11 "in a downpour of rain" and boarded a train for Écoivres, west of Arras, France.

After one week's final preparation, the battalion entered Divisional Reserve at Sterling Camp in the Fampoux section, northeast of Arras, on July 19, ending a ten-week break from service in the line.  The war diary had considerable praise for the unit's location:  "[An] excellent place… built on the side of a huge railway embankment on the Lens - Arras railway, and there is all sorts of cover.  Baths are here, a lake for bathing and a good indoor ball ground."

Over the next several days, the battalion endured several gas shell bombardments before moving into the Fampoux sector's front trenches on July 25.  The following day, the war diary reported four OR killed, two wounded and 29 gassed in an artillery bombardment — "whiz-bangs and 5.9's, with some gas shells" — launched in retaliation for a trench raid by a neighbouring Canadian battalion.

Personnel engaged in nightly working parties "getting [the] line in better shape", while "actively patrolling both by day and night — patrols consisting of one officer and from two to four other ranks."  As the battalion retired to Aubin on July 31, the war diary hinted that the 85th's relatively light schedule was about to end:  "The whole [Canadian] Corps is moving in a few days…. For where — no one knows but it looks like a big scrap ahead."

Indeed, the Canadian Corps was about to embark on a massive Allied counter-attack in response to Germany's failed "spring offensive".  After years of combat, Dan and his comrades could scarcely imagine that the "100 Days" following its launch would bring hostilities to an end.

On August 2, the 85th boarded a train and travelled to Hangest-sur-Somme, near Amiens, France.  Upon arriving early in the morning, the battalion marched to the village of Vergies.  Its war diary noted that people were"not as hospitable as in the North where the Canadians are better known."  The battalion immediately began preparations for an attack on the German line at Amiens, "to take place in a few days." 

Personnel marched 17 miles to Briquemesnil during the night of August 4/5.   After a day's rest, the battalion moved out  under cover of darkness to Bois de Boues, a wooded area "teeming with artillery, infantry and cavalry[,] a large number of tanks in the near vicinity."  Its soldiers assembled to the left of Gentelles Wood at day's end August 7, ready for the following day's attack.

The 85th's Companies advanced in the face of withering machine gun fire at 12:10 p.m. August 8, achieving their objectives by nightfall.  The battle continued the following day, its Officer Commanding (OC), Lieutenant-Colonel James Layton Ralston, wounded by machine gun fire while proceeding to the front line.  His younger brother, Major Ivan Steele Ralston, MC, immediately replaced him as OC.

The 85th participated in the third day's fighting, moving forward at 10:10 a.m. and encountering particularly stiff resistance at Rosières-en-Santerre.  Major Ralston did not live to see the outcome — he was killed by German machine gun fire before his soldiers secured the village at day's end.

The battalion remained in the line for three more days, retiring to support positions at Caix Wood on August 13.  The toll at Amiens, while significant, was not as great as one might anticipate, considering the battle's duration.  Three Officers — including Major Ralston — and 22 OR were killed, while seven Officers and 100 OR were wounded.  The unit immediately reorganized its platoons as106 reinforcements arrived from CCRC on the day of its relief.  Dan received a promotion to Temporary Captain as part of the post-battle restructuring.

On August 18, the 85th moved into Divisional Reserve near Rouvroy, the men providing working parties for support and communication trench repairs for several nights.  During this time, Dan completed a course in Lewis Gun operation.  The 85th once again retired to camp at Aix Wood on August 23.  The following day, the battalion proceeded to Gentelles Wood, making its way on August 17 to Monchy le Proux by foot and train, in preparation for "future operations".

The 85th returned to the front line on the night of August 31/September 1, its soldiers completing preparations for an attack slated for the following evening.  Artillery bombardment commenced at 8:40 p.m. September 1, after which "C" Company advanced 150 yards in the face of heavy machine gun fire.  Unable to fully dislodge German forces from the position, personnel took shelter for the night.

The following morning, 743 of the battalion's OR prepared for an assault on the Drucourt - Queant line, with the objective of breaking through the German front and support trenches, capturing and consolidating the position, and establishing an outpost line.  Officers organized the soldiers into six waves, each consisting of two lines.  "A" and "D" Companies were chosen to spearhead the assault, while eight tanks and two machine gun sections provided support.

The attack commenced at 5:00 a.m. September 2, the soldiers advancing approximately 600 yards despite the tanks' late arrival.  The 85th's war diary described the opening minutes' toll:  "In passing over the first 300 yards of the advance, the Battalion losses amounted to approximately 50 % of our total casualties throughout the whole action, both in officers and men."

The 85th found itself face-to-face with two well-armed German posts possessing an estimated 18 machine guns.  Personnel reached their first objective by 6:15 a.m. after "severe fighting" and secured their second objective by 7:30 a.m..  In an effort to counter the overwhelming machine gun fire, rifle grenadiers moved forward and provided a "smoke barrage".  The tactic allowed the soldiers to capture their final objective by 8:40 a.m..

While the attacking wave "suffered heavy casualties", the 85th secured the position and established forward posts by 9:30 a.m..  In the aftermath, personnel held the location throughout the day despite massive artillery barrage and gun fire, retiring to Divisional Reserve that night.

The 85th suffered 62 soldiers killed, 162 wounded and 36 missing in what became known as the Battle of the Scarpe.  While costly in human terms, the victory was significant as it marked a third major setback for German forces, which now found themselves back in the Hindenburg Line's trenches, the location from which they had launched their March 1918 offensive.

Once again, the battalion reorganized, its war diary describing personnel as "pretty well fagged out after the recent show and moves."  Reinforcements arrived in camp as the unit relocated to billets at Wailly Huts on September 8 for a period of training, "breaking the new men who recently joined the Battalion into new methods of modern warfare and the weapons used."  Its war diary commented on their abilities:  "Very few men of the late draft have had more than four or five months training but are a good class of men and seem to be quick to learn."

On September 17, the 85th received notice of plans to attack Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai.  Its task in the operation was "the capture of Bourlon town, with its objective on its western outskirts on a frontage of about 750 yards [sic]."  A draft of 50 reinforcements arrived in camp the following day, the battalion continuing its schedule of morning training and afternoon recreation throughout the following week.

The 85th marched to the Arras train station on the afternoon of September 25, taking up quarters in "one of the large freight sheds in the station, with the rest of the Brigade in the surrounding buildings."  The war diary describes a tragic incident that occurred later that night:  "At about 11:30 p.m. enemy aircraft came over and dropped a bomb in the yards about two feet from the edge of the building where the Battalion was quartered, killing one officer and nine other ranks and wounding one officer and 56 other ranks."

The battalion's train finally arrived at 2:00 a.m. September 26 and carried its personnel to Bullecourt.  Upon disembarking, the unit marched to camp at nearby Quéant, where it established quarters under bivouac in makeshift trenches.  By day's end, its soldiers were outfitted with "bombs, ammunition, fireworks, extra water bottles and rations and solidified alcohol" as the 85th completed final battle preparations.

Personnel moved to the assembly area near Inchcy-en-Artois at 1:00 a.m. September 27.  The war diary noted that, since the night of September 24/25,  "the only rest the men… had was what they had been able to get on the very torturous journey on the train, and any sleep they had during the afternoon and evening of outfitting in the assembly area."

The battalion entered battle with a complement of 25 officers and 605 OR.  Heavy rain made the march forward "extremely disagreeable" according to Lt. Col. Hayes, but the Companies were in place, ready to "jump off", by 3:00 a.m..  The 85th's soldiers moved forward in attack at 5:55 a.m., fifteen minutes after the Zero Hour artillery barrage.  "B" and "C" Companies led the attack with "A" and "D" Companies close behind, all advancing in single file. 

The early morning weather was "fine but a thick mist obscured the vision beyond 300 yards."  The battalion advanced toward the strategically important Canal du Nord on the outskirts of Cambrai.  Fortunately, its point of crossing was "dry", partly excavated but mainly consisting of elevated earthen and concrete walls, thus presenting a much less challenging obstacle than the structure's water-filled sections.

A report appended to the month's war diary described the action's opening minutes:

"The Battalion encountered considerable quantity of gas near the Canal, necessitating the S. B. R.'s [single box respirators] being worn for ten of fifteen minutes.  No casualties resulted from the gas."

Personnel made their way across the canal and climbed a slope south of Quarry Wood, where intense German machine gun fire struck their formation, resulting in "frequent casualties".  As Dan led his "B" Company charges up the slope, a piece of shrapnel from an artillery shell struck him in the right leg.  He fell to the ground, immediately incapacitated. 

Meanwhile, the battle raged around Dan and the other wounded as they lay on the battlefield.  The war diary summarized the morning's events:

"The advance continued and considerable machine gun fire was experienced from the height in front of Bourlon Wood on the right, and the Battalion reached the Red Line at about 7:45 a.m….  The forward Companies at once pushed on to make their objective….  They were led by the Tanks and seemed to have no difficulty as far as the barrage was concerned and pushed forward."

"A" and "D" Companies passed through their comrades' positions and continued the advance toward the village of Bourlon.  Shortly afterward, the supporting artillery barrage resumed, striking the 85th's location and causing "numerous casualties".  The men immediately found whatever shelter they could, waiting for the barrage to pass before resuming the advance.  The war diary reported that "very little resistance was encountered in the Town" as personnel reached the Green Line on its outskirts by 9:45 a.m..

German artillery shelled the town throughout the day, causing "severe casualties particularly in 'A' Company".  Meanwhile, personnel attempted to connect with adjacent units.  Having secured its final objective, the battalion set about consolidating its position, the attack scheduled to resume the following morning.  Officers estimated total casualties in the morning fighting at eight officers and 75 OR.

Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald's service in the line ended that day at Canal du Nord.  Dan was carried to a regimental aid post as the fighting continued and evacuated to No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) for treatment before day's end.  His condition, as described in his medical records, was serious: "Shell fragment right femur, tissues badly torn.  Femoral artery torn."

As Dan was experiencing considerable blood loss, No. 1 CCS personnel immediately amputated his right leg.  As he lay on a cot awaiting evacuation to hospital, Dan found the strength and presence of mind to write a letter to Mary, dated September 29:

"Dearest Mary,

"Just a note if you can make it out as I am on the broad of my back in the 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station.  I got wounded on Friday morning in the advance.  Hit with a shell on the right leg.  Got down here at dark and lost my leg about four inches below the thigh.  Had it dressed this morning.  The M. O. [Medical Officer] says it is as good as can be expected.  Met quite a number of old No. 1 orderlies and sisters here.  It's awful nice to get into a Canadian hospital.  Don't know how long I shall be here.  Shall let you know whenever I leave.

"Cheerio.  I hope everything is O.K.."

The following day, Dan was transferred to No. 18 General Hospital, Camiers, France, where medical staff carefully monitored his recovery.  He was invalided to England on October 4, crossing the English Channel aboard the Hospital Ship Ville de Liege.  The following day, Dan was admitted to Southern General Hospital, Hyde Park, Plymouth, where he spent the next four months in care. 

During Dan's lengthy hospital stay, the November 11, 1918 armistice brought fighting to an end. Almost one year prior, Mary had returned to England in December 1917, taking up a position at a convalescent hospital in Folkestone.  On February 8, 1919, Dan once again wrote to his sweetheart from his hospital bed, signing the correspondence with his military nickname:

"My dearest Mary,

"Just received your nice long letter.  I just feel like going down to Basingstoke and see you without permission from the hospital.  The only thing keeping me is that I must get measured for a peg this week by order of the M. O. and try to get used to it.  I go over to the hydro every day for massage.  The sister helps me.  We have so much snow here and the sidewalks are so slippery that I dare not trust myself on crutches at all.  Don't know what I'll do in Canada with all the ice and snow to contend with. 

"…I am still leaving my mind open to the opportunities Canada might offer after our return.  Study does not appeal to me now.  I just feel I can never settle down to anything like indoor life and yet I know that is the only life for me….  I always thought it nice to be married over here and go home together, but then on the other hand, I would like to know definitely what I am to do before that happy day….  We must decide these things when I see you.  Let me know your opinion….

"With all my love,


Dan was transferred to Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton on February 14.  The following day, he officially received the Military Cross for bravery at Canal du Nord.  The medal citation described the actions that prompted the prestigious award:

"For most conspicuous gallantry during the Bourlon Wood operations in front of Cambrai.  On September 27, 1918, in advancing to the attack his company came under heavy shelling and intense machine-gun fire.  He personally went forward to reconnoitre the enemy position, locating two enemy machine-gun nests, and came back."

Captain A. D. Archibald's Military Cross medal.
In the days following Dan's hospital transfer, Mary made her way to Buxton for a visit while on leave.  Meanwhile, the couple discussed their post-war plans by letter, Dan once again writing Mary on March 3, 1919:

"Just a wee note tonight to tell you how everything is moving.  I've been boarded to Canada.  I also got the X-ray and there is another operation in store for me.  There is quite a growth on the bone, also a small foreign body that is causing the pain at present but since it is all healed they won't operate here.

"I will apply for leave on Saturday.  That will give you time to get yours.  I hope my stump will keep good while we're on Leave.  As you say, marriage over here would do away with all the fuss and worry of a civilian wedding and I hate everything of that nature.  Anyway, be thinking about it as we may have to decide in a hurry. 

"I think I shall have to be in Toronto part of next summer as they say the hospital there has more than it can handle for months.  So I expect to be in the Army, some time yet….  We'll see what develops with my leave."

As events unfolded, Dan and Mary obtained leave and were married at Basingstoke, England on March 12, 1919.  The newlyweds immediately headed off to the Isle of Wight for their honeymoon.  They had barely arrived when a March 14th telegram addressed to "Captain Alexandra Archibald" interrupted their holiday:

"Your attendance is required at Buckingham Palace on Saturday next the 15th inst. at 10:20 o'clock a.m. service dress, please telegraph acknowledgement."

Buckingham Palace telegram.
The couple hastily returned to London and made their way to the Palace for Dan's Military Cross presentation.  Mary described the occasion in her memoirs:

"London, March 15, 1919

"Archie's big day.  Major [Roderick Colin] Jackson and I accompanied him to Buckingham Palace for 10:20 o'clock.  It was all so grand!  After presenting our special tickets we were seated in a large elegant room.  In the loft above the front of the room was the Silver Band Orchestra, the Buckingham Palace Band.

"All medal recipients waited in a small reception room.  Then they had to walk in toward King George from one side of the room and pass in front of him.  Each soldier stopped briefly for His Majesty to hang the ribbon of the medal on a little hook that had been put on the uniforms while the men waited in the anteroom.

"When Archie came up before the King on his crutches he stopped and they has a short conversation.  Major Jackson and I wondered what they were talking about.  It was such a noticeable thing.  The King hadn't stopped any of the others like that!

"With the ceremony over and the band playing, we joined Archie among the crowds of soldiers and guests.  Emerging from the Palace and out the gates we were greeted by mobs of people taking pictures and more pictures.  We couldn't get away from them.  We'd just get away from one gang, only to be overtaken by another.  We were laughing joyously in the confusion and celebration.

"Finally we did break away and the three of us had a splendid luncheon at Claridge's.  Archie told us that the King had asked him if he was getting his artificial leg in England and how he was getting on and if he knew when he was returning to Canada.

"We sat admiring the silver medal on the purple and white ribbon nestled in its box and conversation ran lightly and happily into the late afternoon."

Maj. R. C. Jackson (left), Capt. Dan & Lt. Mary (Graham) Archibald outside Buckingham Palace.
Dan returned to hospital after his leave, and was discharged to the Hospital ship Essequibo for passage to Canada on March 31.  Upon arriving in Halifax ten days later, he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital.  Mary returned to Canada on RMS Scotian shortly afterward and made her way home to Elmvale, Ontario.  She re-united with Dan in Halifax several weeks later.

While in Nova Scotia, Mary and Dan travelled to New Town for a visit with Dan's parents.  When his mother Janie asked what the King had said to him while pinning the medal to his uniform, Dan quickly replied, "Oh, he asked, 'How is your leg and when will you be going home, and how is your mother?"

On June 12, 1919, Dan and Mary departed for Toronto.  While Dan registered with the Dominion Military Orthopaedic Hospital two days later, he received "outpatient" treatment for the majority of his time in the city as he and Mary took up residene on Cambridge Avenue.

Shortly after his arrival, medical staff administered "gymnastic treatment of [Dan's] stump" and took measurements for artificial limbs.  A "peg leg" arrived on July 9 and was deemed "satisfactory", medical records commenting that Dan was "not ready for measuring for artificial leg yet for about a month."

Upon completing physiotherapy in late August, staff took final measurements for Dan's artificial leg, which arrived in mid-September.  Personnel help Dan adjust to his replacement limb, noting on October 21: "Leg fits well, but the shortness of stump gives insufficient leverage of the thigh segment of the new leg."

Finally, on March 3, 1920, medical staff judged the artificial leg "satisfactory", and notified military authorities that Dan was ready to return to civilian life.  Nine days later, Captain Alexander Daniel Archibald was formally discharged from military service.

Upon returning to civilian life, Dan first found work as a book-keeper.  Meanwhile, Mary gave birth to two daughters, Phillis and Jean, during their time in Toronto.  In 1924, Dan was one of four returning soldiers awarded a War Service Memorial Scholarship to attend the Ontario College of Education.  Upon completing its teacher training program, the family moved to nearby Belleville, where Dan taught school for 30 years.  When not attending to matters at home, Mary volunteered with the local Red Cross for 31 years before retiring.

Dan and Mary were devoted members of the Presbyterian Church and participated in the lively post-war Church Union discussions.  They became dedicated followers of the United Church of Canada after its formation.  The couple also actively supported the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), whose socialist ideology reflected their strong sense of social justice.

Dan & Mary (Graham) Archibald at Gray Arches (circa 1960).
In later years, the family spent their summers on the shores of Round Lake, Renfrew County, where they built "Gray Arches", the property's title —  inspired in part by the grey pine limbs hanging overhead —  a clever combination of their surnames.  The lake's flat shoreline provided Dan with easy mobility while using either artificial leg or crutches.

The couple celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1969.  In the subsequent years, Dan's health began to fail.  He died on September 13, 1971 and was laid to rest in Belleville, Ontario.  His beloved wife Mary spent her remaining years in the community, passing away on June 28, 1984.


Hayes, Lt.-Col. Joseph.  The 85th in France and Flanders.  Halifax: Royal Print & Litho Ltd., 1920.  Available online.

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 the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4944, Reel T-10751 - 10752, File: 454.  Available online.

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