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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Private Dennis Simon Levangie - A Canal du Nord Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: April 30, 1889

Place of Birth: Port Felix, Guysborough County, NS

Mother: Bridget Gerroir

Father: Philip Levangie (Levandier)

Occupation: Stoker

Marital Status: Single

Enlistment: March 20, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Regimental #: 3181772

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment; Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR); 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario)

Service: England & France

Next of Kin: Philip Levangie, Port Felix, Guysborough County, NS (father)

* The 1891, 1901 and 1911 Canadian census records and Dennis’ service file list the family surname
as “Levangie”, while 1921 census records the surname as “Levandier”.

Dennis Simon Levangie was the second of three children—two sons and one daughter—born to Philip and Bridget (Gerroir) Levangie of Port Felix, Guysborough County. According to family sources, Dennis spent several years in Boston, Massachusetts prior to the First World War. The 1911 Canadian census lists Dennis as a boarder in the New Glasgow, NS household of Ellise Gerrior—possibly a relative of his mother’s—while working in a local paint shop. It is not known whether he resided in the United States prior to or after this time.

Dennis (left) and Nellie Levangie with their youngest son Earl in Port Felix (1956).
Shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe, Dennis relocated to Halifax, where he worked for three years as a stoker on a Canadian naval ship. While his military attestation papers list his address as “Hopper Barge # 2, HMCS Dockyard, Halifax”, Dennis did not formally enlist in the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve. As a result, he was amongst the many young men of his generation deemed eligible for conscription after the Canadian Parliament passed the Military Service Act in August 1917.

The Canadian government commenced registering eligible males before year’s end and began “calling up” conscripts in January 1918. Dennis received his medical examination at Halifax on March 19, 1918 and completed his enlistment papers the following day. In less than three weeks, he was on his way across the North Atlantic Ocean, departing Halifax aboard SS Metagama on April 7 and arriving at Liverpool, England 12 days later.

Dennis was immediately assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion—the unit that serviced Nova Scotian battalions at the front—and reported to Bramshott Camp. He spent the summer months in England, crossing the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Le Havre, France on September 5. Dennis was initially assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). Within less than one week, however, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and left to join his new unit in the field on September 11.

The 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario) was formed at Valcartier, QC in August 1914. It drew its initial members from local militia units across the entire province of Ontario and parts of Quebec. The unit boarded SS Cassandra at Quebec City on September 22, 1914 and sailed to the Gaspé Peninsula, where the vessel lay at anchor awaiting further orders. The ship finally departed for overseas on October 3 as part of the First Canadian Contingent, arriving at Plymouth, England on October 25.

The unit spent several months training in England, during which time it was assigned to the 1st Canadian Division’s 1st Brigade, alongside the 1st (Ontario Regiment), 3rd (Toronto) and 4th (Central Ontario) Battalions. The 2nd Battalion officially “mobilized for war” on February 8, 1915, crossing the English Channel to France with its Brigade mates.

The battalion first entered the trenches near Armentières, France on February 19. Shortly afterward, its personnel relocated to Belgium’s Ypres Salient, receiving their first major combat experience during the Second Battle of Ypres (April 22 - May 25, 1915). An astounding 543 of its soldiers were killed or wounded during the month’s fighting.

After rebuilding its ranks, the 2nd served on rotation in the Ypres Salient for fifteen months, following the Canadian Corps south to the Somme region of France in the autumn of 1916. During the following year, its soldiers fought at Vimy Ridge, France (April 1917) and Passchendaele, Belgium (November 1917), returning to France for the winter of 1917-18.

After Allied forces successfully withstood the massive German “Spring Offensive” (March - April 1918), the 2nd Battalion was amongst the Canadian units launching a major counter-attack at Amiens, France on August 8, 1918. Before month’s end, its soldiers once again saw action during the battle of Arras (August 26 - September 3).

Hard-hit by two major engagements in such a short time period, the 2nd retired from the firing line on September 4, relocating to Agnez-lès-Duisans, France for re-organization and training. On September 10, a group of 45 “other ranks” (OR) reinforcements arrived in its camp. Five days later, the unit relocated to Croissilles, its war diary observing: “From 9:30 [p.m.] to the early hours [of the morning] enemy machines were dropping bombs in the vicinity of the camp.”

The battalion spent the following day preparing to return to the line, once again enduring considerable German fire: “At night the enemy put over a large number of gas shells, and in addition, bombs were dropped by him. Hot and misty during day, heavy thunderstorm at night.”

2nd Battalion CEF badge.
On September 17, personnel engaged in Lewis Gun, musketry and anti-gas training as three new OR joined the battalion. Two days later, a larger party of 30 OR reinforcements arrived in camp. Private Dennis Levangie was amongst the 33 new arrivals and settled into the daily training regimen as the 2nd prepared to return to the line later in the month.

After a break for Divine Services and baths on September 22, the 2nd’s soldiers practiced attack strategies and carried out physical training the following day and attended an evening band concert. Meanwhile, the unit’s Officers visited the front area in preparation for their next assignment—an attack on the strategic Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of Cambrai, France.

During the subsequent days, “special attention was paid to the different battle formations, intervals, time, etc..” At 7:30 p.m. September 26, personnel moved off to the Assembly Area in preparation for combat. Its war diary reported “very little hostile shelling…[,] the move completed without casualties.”

Each soldier was outfitted with two bottles of water, two sandbags, 220 rounds of ammunition and two days’ rations in preparation for the following morning’s attack. The 1st Brigade’s orders instructed its battalions to “break the enemy defensive line on the Canal du Nord, east of Inchy[-en-Artois], and advancing northeast, establish a position on the high ground which runs north from the north-eastern spur of Bourlon Wood, astride the Arrras-Cambrai Road.” Dennis was about to receive his first combat experience on the Western Front.

Plans for the initial stage “resembled a trench to trench attack, but the nature of the ground and the incomplete conditions of the enemy defensive lines seemed to determine that the attack would very rapidly develop into open warfare fighting.” The 2nd Battalion was assigned a reserve role, following the advancing 4th and 1st Battalions until the latter had captured its second objective. At that point, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were scheduled to attack the third objective and “exploit to the Yellow Line.”

Light rain fell during the night, but conditions “became clear during the morning.” At precisely 5:20 a.m. September 27, the supporting artillery barrage “fell exact to the second and the attack commenced.” The unit’s war diary described the battle’s opening moments: “The intensity of our fire and the vigorous shelling of hostile battery positions permitted only a feeble retaliation. Battalion moved forward in ‘Diamond Formation’ by Companies at 10 minutes interval commencing at 6:40 a.m..”

A report appended to the month’s war diary provided a detailed description of the day’s fighting, observing that “Bourlon Wood could be distinctly observed” as the soldiers advanced. No. 1 Company set the pace, the whole battalion managing to cross the canal “without heavy loss” and gathering in a 2nd Assembly Area, in preparation for the attack’s second phase.

By 9:00 a.m., “the advance was… being harassed considerably by enemy shelling and machine gun fire…. The battalion however passed through the 4th [Battalion], on its objective, following closely upon the heels of the 1st. The shelling and machine gun fire increased in intensity and casualties were numerous.”

The 2nd’s soldiers moved forward at 10:00 a.m. as planned, “leap-frogged through the 1st Battalion and continued [the] advance.” In response, German forces established themselves along a railway embankment. The report described the ensuing fighting:

Canal du Nord today (April 2015).
“On the low ground west of the Railroad[,] the Battalion was suffering severe casualties by the infernal machine gun and trench mortar fire. This affected No. 1 Company particularly, who, having no Officers [remaining], and very few N. C. O.’s [non-commissioned officers,] were in a difficult situation.”

The ferocious fire stalled the unit’s progress until the 72nd Battalion—on its right flank—finally caught up to the advance and sent one of its Companies across the railway embankment. Its soldiers “enfiladed [the German] guns and permitted the advance to continue.” The 2nd’s soldiers moved forward at 12:30 p.m., No. 3 Company passing through No. 1, which retired to reserve.

At 6:00 p.m., approximately 200 German soldiers assembled for a counter-attack but were quickly dispersed with Lewis Gun and rifle fire. Fifty minutes later, the battalion received orders to “stand fast on their objective, and move forward the following day.” The remainder of the night passed quietly, allowing all wounded soldiers were evacuated for treatment by 10:00 p.m..

At 6:00 a.m. the following morning, the 4th Canadian Division passed through the 2nd Battalion’s outpost line and resumed the attack. The unit reported 15 field guns, 14 machine guns, two trench mortars and 75 prisoners captured in the previous day’s action. Its casualties consisted of one Officer killed and 15 wounded, while 24 OR were killed and 175 wounded during the September 27 advance. After spending the day “reorganizing and equipping”, the 2nd Battalion retired to reserve positions on September 29.

Dennis was amongst the 175 OR wounded during the fierce fighting at Canal du Nord. After receiving initial treatment at a regimental aid post and field ambulance, he was admitted to No. 33 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) on October 1, suffering from a gunshot wound to his right arm and shoulder. Hospital records described his condition: “Bullet entered arm near shoulder, came out past chest opp. [opposite number] 10 rib.” Dennis reportedly “spit… blood for eight days… [and] blood was drawn off [his] chest twice.”  He also experienced shortness of breath, constant pain on his right side and rapid pulse.

The following day, Dennis was transferred to No. 7 General Hospital at Le Tréport, near Étaples, where he remained for 10 days before being evacuated to England. On October 13, Dennis was admitted to Nell Lane Military Hospital, Didsbury, Manchester, where he continued his recovery. Dennis was transferred to Woodcote Military Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Epsom on November 2, where medical records reporting a full recovery by month’s end: “Feels fit. G. C. [general condition] good. Cat. [category] A.”

The November 11, 1918 Armistice meant that Dennis’ days at the front were over. He was formally discharged from hospital on December 4 and assigned to the 6th Reserve Battalion, Witley Camp, one week later. Dennis reported to Military District 6, Kemmel Park, North Wales, on December 27, “pending return to Canada.”

On January 9, 1919, Dennis boarded SS Olympic for the journey home. Upon arriving in Halifax eight days later, he reported to a local “Casualty Company”. On February 16, Dennis was formally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force, listing his intended address as 2 Hurd St., Halifax as he returned to his pre-service occupation of “stoker”.

The 1921 census lists Dennis residing in his parents’ Port Felix home with his younger brother, James. He may have briefly been home for a visit, as provincial records indicate that on July 26, 1921, he married Nellie George, a native of Queensport, Guysborough County, in a ceremony held at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Halifax. The couple eventually returned to Port Felix, where they raised a family of seven children—four sons and three daughters.

Remembered by his family as a “joker” with a great sense of humour, Dennis worked at the local Co-op store and did carpentry jobs in the area to support his growing family. During the Second World War, he once again enlisted, although age made overseas service impossible. Instead, he served as a military driver in the Halifax area.

Dennis' First & Second World War service medals.
In his later years, Dennis suffered a stroke and endured a lengthy hospitalization. He passed away at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax on September 9, 1974 and was laid to rest in Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Lower Sackville, NS.


Service file of Private Dennis Levangie, number 3181172. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5605 - 22. Available online.

War Diary of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4914, Reel T-10706, File: 355. Available online.

Special thanks to Dennis’ grandson, Captain Douglas Levandier of Oromocto, NB, who contributed background information, the post-war photograph and picture of Dennis’ medals.