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Monday, 30 May 2016

May 30, 1916: Guysborough's 193rd Battalion detachment departs for Camp Aldershot

On May 30, 1916, the Guysborough detachment of the 193rd Battalion departed the town for Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, NS. The unit, authorized on January 27, 1916 with its headquarters at Truro, NS, became part of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on February 13.

May 30, 1916: Marching to the docks.
The “brainchild” of Lieutenant-Colonel Allison Hart Borden, Commanding Officer (CO) of the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), the Brigade consisted of four battalions. The 85th, its senior unit, was authorized on September 14, 1915 and recruited to full strength within two months. The overwhelming response to its formation convinced Borden that the province’s population could provide the additional three units required to form a brigade. Upon receiving approval from military authorities, the 193rd joined the Brigade’s ranks, alongside two new battalions. The 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) was authorized on February 1, 1916, followed by the 219th Battalion (Halifax - South Shore - Annapolis Valley) shortly afterwards.

Throughout the months of March and April, military recruiters visited towns and villages of Nova Scotia in search of volunteers for the three new battalions. The 193rd’s officials canvassed northeastern Nova Scotia—Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough and Hants Counties—visiting smaller settlements such as Sherbrooke, Canso and Guysborough town for the first time since the war began in early August 1914.

The entire Brigade was recruited to full strength within three weeks, the new units establishing detachments and immediately commencing training in the province’s larger towns and villages. During the last week of May 1916, the Brigade commenced its mobilization at Camp Aldershot, marking the beginning of a summer-long schedule of military drill and route marches. On May 30, the Guysborough detachment marched along the town’s main street to the pier, boarded the coastal steamer LaTour and travelled to Mulgrave for the train ride to Aldershot.

May 30, 1916: 193rd recruits departing Guysborough.
At the height of training, Camp Aldershot contained more than 7000 soldiers, the four units gradually whittling their numbers down to the standard strength of approximately 1,000 “other ranks” (OR). In August, military officials authorized formation of the 246th Battalion. The new unit accommodated soldiers released from Brigade units, but still considered suitable candidates for infantry service, pending additional training. The 246th subsequently attempted to fulfil its role as the Brigade’s designated “reinforcing battalion,” soliciting recruits across the province.

On August 25, Aldershot opened its doors to the public for two days. Over 8,000 Nova Scotians flocked to the camp, HRH the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, reviewing the Brigade’s troops in a March Past held the following day. Personnel commenced preparations for their overseas departure the following month, Lt.-Col. Borden departing for England on September 9, eventually making his way to France to observe conditions at the front. In his absence, Lt.-Col. John Stanfield, the 193rd’s CO, assumed command of the Brigade. On September 26, Lady Borden, wife of Sir Robert Borden, Canadian Prime Minister and the Brigade’s Honorary Colonel, presented the King’s and Battalion Colours to each unit.

At month’s end, the Brigade staged a “grand gymkhana,” consisting of “interesting and amusing sporting events” traditionally referred to as “Scotch Games,” according to Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hayes, the 85th’s Medical Officer and post-war chronicler. Having fulfilled its ceremonial, public relations and recreational duties, the Brigade commenced final preparations for its overseas departure. Amongst the various tasks was the assembly and publication of A Short History & Photographic Record of the Nova Scotia Overseas Highland Brigade, C. E. F., containing a brief description of each unit’s origin and portraits of its initial personnel.

Four Guysborough County 193rd soldiers at Camp Aldershot.
Above: Tommy Suttis, killed at Passchendaele, Belgium with 85th Bn., Oct. 30, 1917;
Matthew "Mack"Manson, wounded at Scarpe, France with 85th Bn., Sept. 2, 1918;
Frank Burton McLane, served with 2nd Cdn. Tunnelling Coy. in Belgium & France;
Blair Archibald, discharged as medically unfit on October 9, 1916.

 On October 11, the 85th travelled to Halifax by train, marching directly to the docks and boarding HMT Olympic as it lay at anchor in Bedford Basin. Sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic, the vessel’s hull bore a camouflage design, intended to hinder detection by German U-boats as it crossed the North Atlantic. The 185th came aboard before day’s end, while the 193rd and 219th arrived the following day. Just before dusk on October 13, HMT Olympic weighed anchor and departed Halifax for England.

Unfortunately, military authorities disbanded the Brigade before year’s end, due largely to the significant numbers of Canadian Corps casualties incurred at the Somme, France during the months of September to November 1916. Two of the Brigade’s four units—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved, their soldiers reassigned to existing units in the field. Before war’s end, however, virtually all of the 193rd’s initial recruits saw action at the front. Some did not return home, while others were wounded in combat or became ill during service and were “invalided” to Canada. Even those who came through the fray without physical injury carried the psychological effects of the 20th century’s first modern war for the remainder of their days.

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