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Saturday, 30 April 2016

Guysborough's "Valcartier Boys"—Part III

This month’s post profiles the last two of six Guysborough County natives who travelled to Camp Valcartier, Quebec in August 1914 and attested for overseas services with the 1st Canadian Contingent the following month.


Leslie Seymour Mason was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County on January 12, 1893, the third child and second son of Wentworth and Louisa Caroline (Cook) Mason. Wentworth, a miner by occupation, relocated the family to Springhill, Cumberland County, sometime after 1901 but returned to Isaac’s Harbour prior to Leslie’s enlistment for overseas service.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Leslie moved to Pictou County, where he worked in the local coal mines and trained for one year with the 78th Regiment Pictou Highlanders, a local militia unit. When the 78th received a request for volunteers after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, Leslie offered his services and joined a group of young recruits that made its way by train to Camp Valcartier, QC in August 1914. He attested for service with the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) on September 26 and departed for England with the 1st Canadian Contingent on October 4.

Upon arriving overseas, the 17th was re-designated a “reserve” battalion, as it was approximately 200 soldiers under full strength. As a result, Leslie was transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) on April 1, 1915. Established at Valcartier from members of the 91st Canadian Highlanders (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders), 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders), the 16th had crossed the English Channel to France on February 14, 1915 and travelled northward to the trenches of Belgium’s Ypres Salient.

Leslie made his way to Rouen, France on April 24, his arrival coinciding with Germany’s infamous poison gas attack on Canadian units at St. Julien, Belgium. He reached the forward area in time to participate in the final stages of the Second Battle of Ypres, serving in the trenches until August 10, 1915, at which time he was admitted to No. 2 Canadian Field Ambulance with a case of enteritis (intestinal inflammation). Discharged after four days’ treatment, he returned to the line for the duration of the year, receiving a welcome four days’ leave on January 14, 1916.

Two months later, possibly due to his previous mining experience, Leslie was transferred to No. 3 Canadian Tunnelling Company. His new assignment proved no less perilous than infantry service, as Leslie received a gun shot wound to his right arm near Hazebrouk, Belgium on June 25. Admitted to No. 8 Stationary Hospital, Wimereux, France five days later, his injuries proved to be minor. He was discharged to a nearby Convalescent Depot the following day and returned to a nearby Canadian Base Depot on July 17.

Shortly after returning to the line, Leslie was once again wounded on August 4, this time in the left shoulder. As his condition was serious, he was invalided to England and admitted to Northumberland War Hospital, Newcastle on August 8. Five weeks later, Leslie was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bearwood Park, Wokingham, relocating to a second convalescent facility at Woodcote Park, Epsom at month’s end.

On November 1, Leslie was discharged to the Canadian Corps Depot, Shoreham, where he waited for almost four months before being assigned to 1st Canadian Railway Troops Battalion on February 16, 1917. He once again crossed the English Channel to France and served the remainder of the war with 1st CRT without incident, with the exception of three days’ hospitalization for treatment of conjunctivitis (pinkeye) in late July 1918.

Leslie & Phyllis (Willard) Mason
Returning to England in mid-January 1919, Leslie married Phyllis Elizabeth Willard, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 12. He departed for Canada aboard HMT Grampian on April 11 and was formally discharged from military service at Saint John, NB on April 24,1919. Leslie and his new bride returned to New Glasgow, making their home on Forbes St. and welcoming their first child, Eva, the following year. The family subsequently relocated to Timmins, Ontario. Two sons, Wilfred and Ernest, joined the family as the years passed. Leslie Mason passed away at St. Catherine’s, Ontario on June 14, 1966 and was laid to rest in Timmins Memorial Cemetery.


John Francis MacLean was born at Lakedale, Guysborough County on September 1, 1886 [his attestation papers list his DOB as September 3, 1887]. The youngest of John and Ann (McPherson) McLean's six children, John Angus departed for western Canada sometime prior to 1911, eventually finding employment as a hospital orderly in Kootenay, BC.

John Francis MacLean (front left) & extended family, Giant's Lake (c. 1907)
Shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe, John Francis commenced training with the 7th Battalion (East Kootenay, BC) on August 12, 1914 and travelled to Camp Valcartier, QC with the “East Kootenay quota” of overseas volunteers. Despite a lack of military experience. John Francis was transferred to the 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on September 2 and attested for overseas service with the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on September 26.

The 13th Battalion was the first of three units recruited by the 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) during the First World War. Based in Montreal, the militia unit was affiliated with Scotland’s famous “Black Watch,” although the connection did not become official until after the war. The 13th departed Quebec aboard SS Alannia on October 4 as part of the 1st Canadian Contingent. The unit trained in England for four months, crossing the English Channel to St. Nazaire, France on February 15, 1915.

The 13th made its way to Belgium’s Ypres Salient with the 1st Canadian Contingent—subsequently re-designated the 1st Canadian Division—and was assigned to its 3rd Brigade. Its soldiers received their first major combat experience during the Second Battle of Ypres (April 22 - May 25, 1915), during which German forces subjected Canadian soldiers to a poison gas attack at St. Julien, Belgium on April 24. John Francis served with the 13th throughout the remainder of the year, receiving a welcome nine days’ leave in late November.

Following this brief rest, John Francis returned to the Belgian trenches. On February 3, 1916, he was attached to the 3rd Brigade’s Machine Gun Company, an appointment that became permanent on March 8. John Francis received eight days’ leave to England on May 25, rejoining his new unit on June 2. Three days later, John Francis was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

John Francis’s return coincided with the Battle of Mount Sorrel, Belgium (June 2 - 14), the Canadan Corps’ first major combat of 1916. The 3rd Brigade relocated to the Somme region of France with the Corps in early September 1916, its units conducting their first offensive action at Courcelette on September 15. Following the village’s capture, Canadian soldiers launched a six-week campaign against German positions along the adjacent Ancre Heights.

On October 9, during an assault on the German line, a piece of shrapnel struck John Angus in the left arm, resulting in his evacuation to field ambulance. He was subsequently transported to England aboard HS Antwerpen and admitted to Graylingwell War Hospital, Chichester. An x-ray detected a small shrapnel ball located in the anterior part of his left arm. Surgeons removed the “foreign body” on October 21, reporting: “No involvement of important structure.”

John Francis made a complete recovery and was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Epsom on November 17. Two days later, he reported to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps (CMGC) Depot, Crowborough. He remained there for more than a year, receiving a promotion to “Acting Sergeant with pay” on September 22, 1917. Longing to return to the front, John Francis “reverted” to the rank of Corporal on December 27 and proceeded across the Channel to the CMGC Pool, Camiers, France the following day.

On January 1, 1918, John Francis was “taken on strength” by the 3rd Canadian Machine Gun Company (CMGC) and returned to action in the forward area. He subsequently received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant on February 22. The following month, his new unit was absorbed into the 1st Battalion, CMGC. John Francis remained in the line throughout the spring and summer of 1918, with the exception of a month’s training at Army Musketry Camp, Metheringham, England from June 19 to July 16.

John Francis’s unit participated in the Canadian Corps’ major counter-attack on German forces, launched at Amiens, France on August 8. The offensive continued into the autumn, Allied forces making significant gains in a series of battles. On October 14, days after the fall of Cambrai, John Francis was wounded a second time when shrapnel struck him in the left leg. He was evacuated to No. 2 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment and admitted to No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station two days later.

John Francis was transferred to No. 3 Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, but on this occasion did not require long term care. He was discharged to No. 5 Convalescent Depot, Cayeux on October 23, remaining there for the duration of combat. John Angus received 14 days’ leave on December 14. While he crossed the Channel to England on January 14, 1919, illness delayed his return to Canada. On August 9, he boarded HMT Caronia at Liverpool, and was discharged from military service at Halifax on August 24, 1919. In acknowledgement of his lengthy overseas service, John Angus McLean received the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory service medals.

After the war, John Angus worked in the mining industry in northern Ontario and Quebec. He never married, returning in his later years to the Giant’s Lake area. Poor health eventually resulted in his admission to the R. K. MacDonald Guest Home, Antigonish, where he passed away on December 1, 1975. John Francis was laid to rest in St. Francis DeSales Cemetery, Giant’s Lake, NS.



Service file of Leslie Seymour Mason, number 47018. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6014 - 15. Attestation papers available online.

Service file of John Francis MacLean, number 24972. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: Rg 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7046 - 17. Attestation papers available online.

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