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Friday, 31 July 2015

Private Henry Scott Hart - A 193rd Battalion Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: March 24, 1896

Place of Birth: Canso, Guysborough County, NS

Mother: Ella Blanche Smith

Father: Major George Wilberforce “Will” Hart

Occupation: Insurance Clerk

Marital Status: Single

Enlistment: March 20, 1916 at Truro, NS

Regimental #: 901389

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 193rd Battalion; 17th Reserve Battalion; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Service: England & France

Next of Kin: Major George W. Hart, Canso, Guysborough County, NS (father)

Scott’s older brother, Levi Martin “Lee” Hart, enlisted with the 152nd Battalion at Weyburn, SK on June 5, 1916 and was killed in action at Vimy Ridge, France on April 9, 1917 while serving with the 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry).

*****

Henry Scott Hart was the fourth of six children—three sons and three daughters—born to George Wilberforce “Will” and Ella Blanche (Smith) Hart of Canso, NS. A native of Guysborough County, Will served with the 66th Regiment, Princess Louise Fusiliers, rising to the rank of Major before retiring to Canso, where he established a mercantile business. Will and Ella’s first two children—Levi Martin “Lee” and Louisa—were born while the couple resided in Halifax, the remaining four arriving after they moved to Canso.
Private Henry Scott Hart.
The second of Will and Ella’s three sons, Scott left school at age 12 after completing Grade 6. Despite his limited schooling, Scott’s letters to his family during military service display competent writing skills and he was an avid reader throughout his life.

Sometime after 1911, Scott took up residence on Victoria St., Truro and commenced employment with W. P. King & Company, a local insurance broker. A town of considerable size in comparison to Canso, military recruiters seeking enlistments for Nova Scotia’s earliest infantry battalions visited Truro. The 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles), authorized on November 8, 1915, actually established its headquarters in the town. Scott attempted to enlist with the unit the following month but was declared medically unfit, due to poor eyesight.

Undaunted, Scott attempted to enlist with the 193rd Battalion, authorized on January 27, 1916 and also headquartered at Truro. On this occasion, he passed the initial medical examination and formally attested for overseas service on March 20, 1916. Subsequent correspondence with his parents, however, indicated that Scott continually worried that his vision problems would prevent service at the front.

On April 4, Scott informed his older brother, Lee—now a real estate agent in Weyburn, SK—of his enlistment. Perhaps spurred on by Scott’s example, Lee joined the 152nd Battalion at Weyburn on June 5, 1916. While the siblings communicated by letter during subsequent months, they were not destined to meet again face to face.

Meanwhile, Scott wrote to his mother, Ella, on May 17, informing her that he was spending considerable time at “A” Company’s Truro headquarters, while still working in King’s insurance office. He had received his Balmoral cap but was uncertain as to when the battalion would relocate to Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, NS. When the 193rd received orders to report to Aldershot for training at month’s end, Scott became a full-time soldier.

 *****

Initially conceived as a Cumberland - Colchester County unit, the 193rd Battalion became part of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade in February 1916, at which time its recruitment area expanded to include the remaining parts of northeastern Nova Scotia—Hants, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough Counties. Boasting a complement of 1459 “all ranks”, its four Companies reported to Aldershot for a summer of intense training. The Camp also hosted soldiers from the Brigade’s three other units—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (Annapolis Valley and South Shore) Battalions.

Throughout his time in service, Scott corresponded regularly with his parents and on occasion with his younger sister, Elsie. An August 23 letter to Will stated that he was “feeling well these days, [having] marched 21 miles last Wednesday with no ill effects.” As the battalion’s impending departure for England drew near, however, Scott was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital, Halifax for treatment of tonsillitis.

A letter to Will, written on September 12, expressed a mixture of frustration and concern with his circumstances:

“I am still here at the hospital and nothing has been done for my throat yet…. I feel anxious to get back to Aldershot before the Battn [sic] moves [to Halifax) but Gov’t [sic] employees take thier [sic] time. At any rate, I am warm, dry and well-fed and receiving $1.00 per day so ‘I should worry’ for a week or so. There are some troopships in now, one anchored right off the hospital. I wish I was aboard and am a little afraid that I may miss the 193rd[’s departure].”

A second letter, dated September 29, reported little progress in resolving Scott’s situation:

“I am going out in a day or two. I’m very much disgusted at their methods of doing business down here and am going back without having my tonsils removed. Am afraid that the Battn. [sic] will go over without me if I wait any longer…. Had a letter from Lee to-day, telling me about the same re: his expected move…. He ought to be well on his way by now. He will likely come to Halifax to embark. Western Battns. farther away than Camp Hughes {Manitoba] are passing by every few days. Hope I’ll not be rejected when it comes to the final exam, however I can’t help that.”

Scott’s closing comments reflect his ongoing fear that health concerns might prevent overseas service. As for Lee’s departure, his unit actually broke camp two days prior to Scott’s letter. Lee managed to make his way to Mulgrave, where he met with his parents and several other family members before reporting to Halifax for departure. Will and Ella later made their way to the city and watched from the dock as their first-born departed for England on board SS Missanabie.

In early October, Scott was discharged from Rockhead without having his tonsils removed and made his way back to Aldershot, where he described the 193rd’s final preparations for departure in an October 6 letter to Will:

“We are busy filling in our trenches and cleaning up to move…. We will likely leave for Halifax Wednesday and if you can manage as you did with Lee it might appeal to you as best. Would like to see mother and you before I leave, altho [sic] I think I’ll be rejected in England on account of my feet [Scott had developed a boil on his ankle several weeks earlier, while training].”

In the end, Scott passed the final medical examination and was amongst the 193rd soldiers boarding SS Olympic at Halifax, NS on October 12. Six days later, the vessel arrived in England and Scott followed the battalion to Witley Camp, Surrey. He updated his parents on his circumstances in a letter dated October 21:

“Arrived in due course and little the worse for wear considering. Proved a much better sailor than I expected. Things are rather strange here and in some ways out of date but the camp is good and I anticipate being pretty comfortable here…. The ‘warmth’ of the English climate is decidedly chilly so far and I am somewhat disappointed. Have not been out of camp yet but hope to go out tomorrow and see what is going on.”

Scott was fortunate enough to obtain a six-day pass to London, describing his visit in an October 28 letter to Ella:

“Saw quite a lot of the city this morning…. We were lost for an hour or so at times but managed to get home again without asking the way. Am a little disappointed that the streets are so narrow and that there seems to be a lack of sky scrapers to match the Yankees’ but am perfectly satisfied with the ‘Bobby’ [-] he is the last word in dignity and impressiveness. Our N. S. police would fade into insignificance alongside of him. His attitude and expression as he halts the traffic has the Sergeant-Major ‘skeen a mile’ [sic] and I watch him with awe. The buildings altho [sic] not so awfully high go down into the ground quite a piece and are artistic and solid looking…. Sometimes the number in one row is quite impressive.

“Saw some of the Home Offices of the big Ins. [sic - Insurance] Companies this morning, which was interesting. The streets are crowded with motors and big horses and in and out among them the inevitable donkey…. The streets are all darkened at night and it is wonderful how accidents are averted but the drivers are very skilful and seem to get along.”

The 193rd’s soldiers and their Highland Brigade comrades trained at Witley Camp throughout the remainder of the year, rumours constantly circulating as to their departure for the front. Significant Canadian Corps casualties at the Somme during the autumn of 1916, however, created an urgent need for reinforcements and raised questions as to the future of battalions arriving in England at that time.

Scott speculated on the 193rd’s fate in a December 5 letter to Will, written after two week’s quarantine due to a case of chicken pox in its ranks. He hoped to leave for France within a week, and was “taking [his] final shooting or rather musketry training now, expect to complete it tomorrow.” The Highland Brigade “seems to be broken up” as military officials contemplated dissolving some of its battalions and reassigning their soldiers to existing units. Scott adopted an objective perspective on the 193rd’s fate:

“It would be nice to go as a unit in some ways but I think it unwise from a military standpoint to put a lot of raw men into battle together when they could be mixed with veterans just as well as not… I applaud the War Office’s action in drafting us and feel sure that more boys will go back [home] because of it.”

Concerns about his vision still weighed heavily on Scott’s mind:

“Am a little afraid that I won’t see the front. The eye test is severe and I’ll likely get guard duty in England or France for a while at least, but hope to pass.”

The battalion spent another two weeks in quarantine as a result of a second chicken pox case in early December, being released from barracks just prior to the Christmas holiday. By that time, Scott had received news of Lee’s deployment with the 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry) in France, commenting that he “heard from him frequently.”

By year’s end, military officials decided to dissolve the 193rd, immediately transferring its most “battle ready” soldiers to several units at the front. Remaining personnel were assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit that serviced Nova Scotian battalions at the front. Scott officially joined the 17th on January 23, 1917 and continued training, in hopes of selection for a future reinforcement draft.

A March 22 letter to his sister, Elsie, described Scott’s military routine:

“I am drilling pretty hard, have been marching 15 miles a day with pack and rifle to the ranges for the last two weeks and am feeling a great deal stronger… but don’t seem to get any fatter…. Most of the time off parade is taken up cleaning up for the next one and when I crawl into my bunk I don’t spend much time in congitation [sic - cogitation]. We have to get up at 6:30 in the morning (5:30 while going to the ranges) and between fixing up beds and blankets and equipment, shaving, washing and shining we are pretty well occupied until ‘cook house’ at 7:00 a.m.. I usually do my shining and shaving the night before and that eases matters a little. Our parade hours are 7:45 to noon and 1 to 5. I get pretty tired of it all and wish I could get away to France quick… but the discipline is good for a lazy man and so ought not to hurt me.”

Scott remarked that he was awaiting receipt of a new pair of “Kitchener” boots that would require “breaking in” before he’d be considered for “overseas service”. The new equipment must have arrived shortly afterward, as Scott was assigned to the 85th Battalion on April 21. He crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Le Havre, France the following day, describing the experience in a later letter to Will:

“After a very enjoyable trip across the [English] Channel (more enjoyable than comfortable as we were pretty crowded)… we disembarked and marched to the Canadian base…. We were paid 25 francs at the base and issued with the final equipment, etc. [and] left the next day for ‘up the line’…. [We] had quite comfortable coaches and spent a couple of pleasant days in the train. France is very beautiful and the weather was fine[,] it hardly seemed possible that we were actually going to war. After we got to the rail-had we had a little walk around in a village[,] after which we marched to the Battn. [sic] billets.”

On April 25, Scott found a few minutes to update Ella on his progress:

“I’ve not been up to the firing line yet but I’m at the ‘front’ all right. We are billeted in a village or what must have been a village sometime in the past, perhaps it got hit by a cyclone or was wrecked in the war of 1870 [Franco-Prussian War]; I understand that there was some damage done at that time…. On the way over I met a chap from Lee’s Company and asked him to let Lee know that I was on my way to the 85th. I think I have a very good chance of seeing him.”

Unbeknownst to Scott, his elder brother had been killed on April 9, during the opening moments of the 5th Battalion’s advance at Vimy Ridge. It would be another month before Scott received the news in a letter from his parents. Meanwhile, he arrived in the 85th’s camp the following day. After more than one year’s training, Private Scott Hart was about to enter the trenches of the Western Front for his first “tour”.

*****

The 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was authorized on September 25, 1915, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Allison Hart Borden. Within one month of its creation, the unit mobilized at Halifax, its ranks 200 men “over strength”. Training continued at the Halifax Armouries and on the nearby Commons throughout the autumn and winter of 1915-16.

Nova Scotian recruitment activities expanded in early 1916 with the formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, an idea first proposed by Lt.-Col. Borden. In May 1916, the 85th joined its Brigade mates at Camp Aldershot for a summer of intense training. The four battalions boarded SS Olympic at Halifax on October 12, arriving in England six days later. While military authorities dissolved two of the Brigade’s battalions—the 193rd and 219th— during the winter of 1916-17, its two remaining units—the 85th and the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders)—were maintained.

As the Brigade’s senior unit, the 85th’s soldiers had 16 months’ training under their belt as they crossed the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917. After completing preliminary tours in the trenches near Gouy Servins and Bouvigny, France, the unit moved into “reserve” positions in support of the Canadian Corps’ scheduled attack on Vimy Ridge.

As an inexperienced unit, the 85th’s soldiers were assigned a variety of “non-combat” duties—carrying ammunition, constructing dugouts, maintaining communication trenches—during the April 9, 1917 assault. As the battle unfolded, however, German soldiers tenaciously clung to Hill 145, the ridge’s highest and most strategic location. In the early evening, two of the 85th’s Companies received orders to move forward and executed a successful attack on the position without the benefit of artillery support.

The 85th’s performance at Vimy Ridge demonstrated its readiness for combat. Shortly after retiring from the firing line on April 14, the battalion was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division’s 12th Brigade, in place of the 73rd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), which was dissolved on April 19 to provide much-needed reinforcements its two “sister” units, the 13th and 42nd Battalions. The Nova Scotia Highlanders subsequently served alongside the 38th (Ottawa), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) and 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalions for the war’s duration.

At the time of Scott’s arrival on April 26, the 85th was deployed in the Zouave Valley, France, its soldiers occupying a section of the front line along the Lens - Vimy Railway. The unit was relieved two days later and moved into Brigade Support on the outskirts of Givenchy. During the afternoon, five of “D” Company’s soldiers were killed by an artillery strike, the first casualties recorded after Scott’s arrival.

Private Henry Scott Hart - 193rd Battalion Portrait.
Over the following days, the unit’s soldiers provided work parties for front line and road repair, its war diary commenting: “No training possible at all here [Givenchy] as billets are under direct observation so that there can be no movement by daylight.” Scott described his initial experiences in a later letter to Will:

“[I] had a couple of days rest before we went into the actual firing line. Of course[,] the billets are in the firing zone and exposed to artillery fire, if the enemy likes to bombard them. I was actually in the line three days. Went in on the night of April 30th, the next day I spent cleaning out German dug-outs and burying ‘Heinies’ taken from therein. We rested the next day… [and] tried to dig trenches the next night… It’s a funny feeling crouching down in a shallow trench[,] trying to dig out a little mud and chuck it out without attracting attention and every few minutes comes the ‘tack-tack-tack’ of a machine gun and up will go a German star shell for another look. The display is very beautiful and awe-inspiring and to add to the splendour, there were some large fires in nearby cities behind the enemy lines.”

Scott followed the 85th into the front trenches during the night of May 2/3, in relief of the 78th Battalion. The process was not without incident: “During the relief the enemy shelled the vicinity heavily with whizz-bangs [artillery shells].” While a subsequent war diary entry stated that “no casualties resulted”, Scott’s correspondence with Will indicates otherwise:

“I was hit at 3.30 a.m. in the morning [May 3], didn’t know I was hit at the time, had a severe pain in my side and shoulder but thot [sic] I was only bruised as I had been half buried a few minutes before by a shell; however[,] I found on enquiry that I was wounded and beat it for a dressing station.”

Scott was admitted to No. 8 Canadian Field Ambulance (CFA) and subsequently transferred to No. 12 CFA and No. 22 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) before day’s end. The following day, 2nd Ambulance Train transported him to No. 35 General Hospital, Calais, France, where he was admitted for treatment of shrapnel wounds to his back.

On May 5—his first full day in hospital—Scott wrote to his parents, informing them of his situation:

“I was slightly wounded. I got two little bits of shrapnel in my back on the morning of the 3rd and a pretty good shaking up but there is nothing to be alarmed at…. Can move myself around in bed but can’t sit up very well. Am getting the very best of care possible.”

After recovering sufficiently to travel, Scott was invalided to England on May 14 and admitted to General Military Hospital, Colchester the following day. Medical records describe the extent of his injuries at the time of his arrival:

“GSW [gunshot wound] Back, penetrating lung…. Small wound penetrating back lt. [left] chest, haemoptysis [coughing up blood] 5 days duration. X-ray does not show any F.B. [foreign body].”

The day after admission, Scott wrote his parents, providing a more detailed account of his condition and the circumstances in which he was wounded:

“I am feeling pretty good now and I think I would be able to walk around, and hope to be up soon. My wounds are small and give practically no pain. I was hit by shrapnel in the back (was not running away, ‘Heinie’ slipped a shell over behind me), two entrances, one on each side. The one on the right side is just a skin wound and better already[,] the other no deeper and will take a little while longer to heal…. Neither one gives me much discomfort and I move all around the bed.”

Still unaware of Lee’s death, Scott planned to write his brother, describing his situation.

Ten days later, Scott received a visit from a local Red Cross volunteer, who informed the family that he was up and out of bed, “looking well and in no pain. The bullet which entered his back, also touched his left lung, but we know how thankful you must be to know that he seems to be progressing satisfactorily.”

Before month’s end, Scott told Will that he expected to move to a convalescent home in a few days and was “coming along fine”. After rising early, he passed the day on the hospital grounds, “which are very beautiful…. My wounds are practically healed now but my left chest where one piece of shrapnel penetrated is still sore and it will take a month or so to fix me up again.”

Scott was discharged to the Canadian Divisional Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom on May 31. That same day, letters from home finally caught up to him and Scott learned of his older brother’s fate. He described his feelings in a letter to his parents, written the following day:

“I feel absolutely stunned and don’t know what to write… but we must keep thru [sic] it all the thot [sic] uppermost in our minds that he died as behooved a Christian and a gentleman—in defence of the principles in which he believed and for which he voluntarily offered to make the supreme sacrifice if necessary.”

By coincidence, Scott received his wounds“at Vimy, about six miles from Fresnoy and about 1 to 2 miles (likely) from where Lee was killed.”

As the days passed, Scott slowly recovered his strength, writing to Will and Ella on June 10:

“[I am] feeling much better now and am wearing my uniform again insted [sic] of Hospital ‘Blues’. Was out to the town of Epsom (about 2 miles away) today for the second time. So you can see I’m pretty strong again.”

The following day, an earlier ailment returned as Scott was “transferred to Orpington [Military Hospital, Orpington, Kent] for removal of tonsils.” A medical report shortly after his arrival indicated that he was suffering from a sore throat, cough with phlegm and “poor” lung expansion. Scott had also lost weight during his hospitalization. His tonsils were “enucleated” and a subsequent test of his sputum showed no signs of tuberculosis.

Medical personnel at Orpington also conducted a series of X-rays, successfully locating “two minute particles of metal above the eleventh rib 1/2” from the vertebral articulation” and a “piece of foreign matter of low density 1/4” x 1/4” about 1 1/2” above” the first objects. Scott provided an update on his circumstances in a July 25 letter to Will:

“I am feeling much better as the days go on. I feared for a while that I might have to have an operation to remove some particles of shrapnel from my chest, but the danger is completely past now. I think I have a couple of more weeks rest and then I’ll be able to go back to duty again, but there is a chance that I would have to go on Active Service again.”

In mid-August, Scott penned a note to his sister, Elsie:

“The doctors here are of the opinion that I will not have to have any more metal removed. I never had any taken out of my left side and the wound on the right was only superficial and was cured in about 2 weeks. There are still two minute particles and one small piece (1/2 in. x 1/4 in.) of shrapnel in my left chest but the doctors here have decided that they will give me no trouble…. I feel no pain, am not even sore in any place, in fact I never felt better in my life; except that I’m soft.”

By this time, the likelihood of his returning to the line appear to have diminished considerably: “I’m told that I won’t likely be classed fit for General Service while I have a piece of Krupps steel in my person.” In the meantime, Scott was “working in the Medicine room… ward”, where he was “ learning a lot about sterilization, drugs and dressing wounds.”

Before month’s end, hospital personnel assessed Scott’s condition as “Improved, Class C”—free from serious illness and fit for home garrison service— and discharged him to the Canadian Convalescent Home, Bromley, Kent. Scott described his new surroundings in an August 29 letter to Will:

“It used to be a Hotel and a pretty swell one…. We have a fine billiard table, a couple of pianos, books, etc. and are allowed out from 2 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. so manage to pass the time pleasantly…. [The] Hotel Chef is still on the job and consequently our food is well cooked. I have had bad cooking so much since I joined the Army that I appreciate his work.”

During Scott’s recovery, a Medical Board regularly assessed his condition, placing him into one of several categories. On September 18, Scott updated Will on the most recent report:

“[I] had a ‘Medical Board’ and am classified ‘B 3’ - Clerical Work in England or France. I will probably stay in England but would just as soon go to France [as] it would be interesting over there and amounts to precisely the same thing as far as hazard is concerned. I am not able to carry a pack or do manual labor and had I not been rated as a Clerk I would have been invalided to Canada.”

A second Medical Board, convened at Bromley on September 25, described Scott’s condition at the time: “Soldier feels well except for slight pain or soreness in left chest after exertion, shrapnel still in chest.” While he had a “slight cough”, his lungs were “normal and healthy”. The Board concluded that Scott was “not likely to be raised in category inside of six months” and classified him as “C III”—“Fit for temporary Base Duty.”

Scott remained at the Canadian Convalescent Hospital throughout the following month, taking the opportunity to visit the nearby towns of Catford and Lewisham. He described several recent experiences in an October 2 letter to Elsie:

“I can always go down… [to Catford and Lewisham] for an evening if I find the time hanging on my hands, heavy. We are in the period of the harvest moon just now and are having an air-raid nearly every night. ‘Fritz’ was over the last three nights in succession and I expect he’ll come tonight again. They give him a pretty hot reception and the sky is very pretty with bursting shells from the ‘anti-aircraft’ guns. He has to pass right over us to get to London so we see all the fun. At the same time we are in practically no danger as he does not waste his bombs on a small town.”

Scott was discharged from hospital on October 30 and reported to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot. Apparently, military authorities had decided not to assign him to clerical duties in England or France, as five days later he was transferred to the Canadian Discharge Depot, Buxton, where he awaited “embarkation to Canada.”

Scott departed England shortly afterwards, arriving in Halifax on November 14 via SS Olympic and immediately proceeding to the Military Hospital Convalescent Center’s “B” Unit. Before day’s end, he sent a telegram to Will: “Arrived Hfx the morning more later love to all, H. Scott Hart.”

A Medical Board convened at Halifax described Scott’s disabilities: “GSW [gunshot wound] back puncturing left lung. Weak eyes.” He still experienced pain in his side when breathing deeply or after exertion. His eyes also caused severe pain when reading. While there was a small scar three inches below his left scapula, “no physical signs [are] evident. Shrapnel still present.” Scott wore glasses and had experienced visual difficulties previously, “but not to [the] same extent”.

The Board assessed Scott’s “degree of incapacity” as 30 %, stating that it was due to his military service and “indefinite” in duration. As a result, the Board concluded that Scott was “permanently unfit for Military Service” and recommended placement in a Convalescent Home, pending discharge.

After a brief visit to Canso, Scott was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax as an “in-patient” on December 1. Five days later, Scott and his hospital mates gathered in their ward’s Common Room in the morning, having just finished breakfast. According to an account provided by family, Scott was standing near a window when he heard a whining rush of wind. Familiar with such sounds from his days in the firing zone, he instinctively covered his face with his hands and dove for cover.

A massive, explosive force struck the building, knocking out its windows. Remarkably uninjured, Scott managed to get to his feet and clamber through the debris into the street. His immediate thought was the safety of family members who lived nearby—Reuben Proctor, an uncle by marriage, lived at 192 Gottingen Street, close to North Street Station. As he made his way toward the neighbourhood, he recognized none of the familiar landmarks.

When Scott arrived at Reuben’s house, he found the structure completely flattened and apparently empty. Searching among the rubble, he came across his cousin, Ralph, who was attempting to get the family car out of the garage. Amazingly, the structure had not been damaged in the blast. Upon retrieving the vehicle, Ralph and Scott made their way along the streets, where passable, and were soon commandeered to carry wounded civilians to a first aid station hastily erected on the Commons.

All day long, the cousins made trips from the devastated areas along the waterfront to the Commons. Late in the afternoon, the sound of a baby’s cries drew them into a damaged building. Scott entered the premises and found a severely injured, five-month-old infant. As he carried the baby from the house, it died in his arms. Exhausted from the day’s physical and emotional toll, Scott collapsed on the sidewalk.

Ralph managed to load Scott into the car and the pair drove to their maternal grandmother’s home on Edward Street. They found the house intact, having sustained only a few broken windows. Mrs. Martin Smith—Ella’s mother—and her daughters, Olive and Claudia, put an exhausted Scott to bed.

Meanwhile, in Canso, Ella and her daughter, Narrie, were cleaning up after breakfast as the day began. The dishes and windows suddenly rattled, a tremor shook the floor, and the faint echo struck their ears. When news of the Halifax explosion reached the community shortly afterward, Ella frantically attempted to contact Scott and her Halifax family, without success.

For two days, the fate of her son, mother, sisters and in-laws remained unknown. Finally, a telegram arrived at the Hart household late in the afternoon of December 8: “Reuben badly cut rest of us virtually uninjured scott [sic] quite safe city virtually wrecked.” Scott carried the memory of that experience—particularly the baby’s death in his arms—for the remainder of his days.

Scott remained in Halifax following the explosion, awaiting a final decision on his future. A Case History Sheet, dated February 28, 1918, summarized the results of his most recent medical examination. Scott still experienced chest discomfort—a “dull pain over 5th rib (rt.)”—although there was no tenderness to pressure. The pain worsened after physical exertion. Doctors also noted that Scott had a “marked myopia.”

A final medical report, dated March 2, remarked that his “eyes are quite comfortable” when Scott wore his glasses. The report concluded:

“No muscular weakness can be demonstrated. This man has also a well marked myopia, which is corrected by glasses, and which does not contribute to his incapacity to any appreciable extent.”

While the report recommended that Scott be retained for military service at home, superior officers apparently did not concur. On March 13, 1918, Private Henry Scott Hart was discharged at Halifax, “being no longer physically fit for war service.”

*****

Despite an offer of employment in Halifax, Scott returned home to Canso, where he bought some cattle and—following in his father’s footsteps—operated a local general store. On January 10, 1933, he married Mary Casey, a native of Port Felix. Together, they raised a family of five children—four sons and one daughter—in their Canso home. His children have fond memories of a kind, patient father who possessed a dry sense of humour and a gigantic heart.

Mary and Scott Hart at daughter Phyllis's wedding.
Scott’s business venture struggled through the Great Depression’s hard times and he eventually accepted a position as Canso’s town clerk and magistrate. His eldest son, Sidney, eventually assumed control of the business, Scott returning to assist after he retired from his municipal position.

As a former soldier who had lost an older brother in combat, Scott was particularly interested in preserving the memory of those who served and assisting veterans who had returned to civilian life. He played a prominent role in the establishment of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Canso Branch, serving as its first President. His wife, Mary, was active in the Ladies’ Auxiliary, later earning the organization’s Meritorious Service Award.

An avid reader, Scott obtained a personal set of law books and quickly earned a local reputation as a “self-educated lawyer”. Residents regularly visited the Hart home in search of legal advice or information. All who called upon Scott received a most cordial welcome.

Scott became a respected member of the community, easily identified by his daily attire of shirt, tie and hat. His daughter, Phyllis, reports that he even kept a can of salmon in reserve for Roman Catholic visitors who might happen to arrive at mealtime on a Friday!

Henry Scott Hart passed away at Aberdeen Hospital, New Glasgow, on August 30, 1974, five months past his seventy-eighth birthday. He was laid to rest in Fourth Hill Cemetery, Canso.

*****

Sources:

Service file of Private Henry Scott Hart, number 902389. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4118 - 46. Attestation papers 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.

A special thank you to several of Scott Hart’s descendants and relatives who provided valuable resources and information for this post. His daughter, Phyllis Hart Kupsch, Drayton Valley, AB contributed a post-war photograph and information on Scott’s post-war life. Relatives Jean (McPhee) Doane, South Maitland, NS, Diana (Bushell) Geil, London, ON and Andrea (Geil) Lee, Markham, ON graciously provided access to the Hart family correspondence.

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