For the time being, however, this is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts that reflect a new direction. That brings me to the second reason for the change in focus—the fact that we are quickly approaching the one hundredth anniversary of events that are particularly relevant to the experiences of Guysborough County's First World War military personnel.
One such example is the formation of the 193rd Battalion, authorized on January 27, 1916 as the "Cumberland Highlanders" and headquartered in Truro, NS. The 193rd became part of the newly created Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on February 23, 1916. At that time, its initial recruitment area—Cumberland and Colchester Counties—expanded to include Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough and Hants Counties.
Within weeks, the battalion commenced recruitment in the newly added counties. For the first time since the war's commencement, miitary personnel travelled outside the province's major settlements, visiting small towns and villages a considerable distance from its railroad line. A future post will explore their efforts in Guysborough County, as the 193rd recruiters visited Sherbrooke, Canso and Guysborough town during late March and early April 1916.
Subsequent posts will similarly correspond to the one hundredth anniversary of similar events, highlighting their significance for Guysborough County's soldiers and military personnel. While this represents a new direction, it provides an opportunity to include information on First World War personnel whose names have not appeared elsewhere in this blog, thus acknowledging their contributions to the Great War.
Recent communication with fellow First World War and family history researcher Steve Clifford of Victoria, BC provided the inspiration for today's post. Steve maintains the "Doing Our Bit" military and family history research blog, a site brimming with information about First World War soldiers and events. Steve recently launched the Crowdsource: Valcartier 1914, an effort to identify the Officers pictured in a panoramic photograph taken at Camp Valcartier, QC on August 31, 1914.
Steve's project sparked an examination of data gathered on Guysborough County's First World War soldiers, specifically a search for individuals who were at Valcartier when the photograph was taken. While there are no Guysborough County natives in the panorama—only commissioned officers are pictured—there were several "other ranks" (OR) in camp at that time. This blog post provides a brief introduction to each soldier, followed by an overview of the war service and post-war life of two members of this distinguished group.
This post profiles two of the six "Valcartier Boys"—Orris Cooke, Isaac's Harbour and Alistair Fraser, New Glasgow. Profiles of the remaining four soldiers will follow in subsequent months.
Promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on December 29, 1916, Orris participated in the Canadian Corps’ famous April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge, France. During the fighting, he received a serious shrapnel wound to his head. He was evacuated to hospital at Wimereux, France, where surgeons removed shrapnel and bone fragments from the wounded area, leaving a triangular gap about the size of a 50 cent piece in the rear left, parieto-occipital region of his skull.
While doctors initially inserted a steel plate, they later removed parts of his ribs and used the bone to repair his skull. In later years, Orris took delight in scratching the spot on his head and joking, "Not many can scratch their ribs like this."
Listed as “dangerously ill” for several weeks, Orris was invalided to England on May 20 as soon as his condition allowed. As he recovered, Orris reported suffering from headaches, dizziness and impaired vision, and experienced agitation after any exertion. Invalided to Canada on September 13, he spent several months at Pine Hill Hospital, Halifax. Discharged as “medically unfit” on February 14, 1917, he returned home to New Glasgow.
A master carpenter, cabinet maker and gunsmith, Orris was also actively involved with the Boy Scouts of Canada. After Vera passed away in 1952, Orris married Florence Davidson, remaining in his Springville home until his death on September 1, 1971. He was laid to rest in Springville Cemetery.
After arriving in England with the 1st Contingent, Alistair received a commission as Lieutenant and attested with 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) at Sling Plantation on January 8, 1915. After the 17th was reduced to the status of a reserve battalion, Alistair received a transfer to Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry on May 24, 1915, crossed the English Channel to France, and joined the PPCLI's ranks in Belgium's Ypres Salient.