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Friday, 10 June 2016

Pte. Archie McIsaac, 25th Battalion - KIA June 10, 1916

On June 10, 1916, Private Archie McIsaac was killed near Zillebeke, Belgium when an artillery shell struck a dugout in which he and seven other 25th Battalion soldiers were taking shelter. Born at Canso, Guysborough County on May 30, 1890, Archie enlisted with the 25th at Halifax, NS on November 18, 1914 and first entered the Belgian trenches with the 25th on September 22, 1915.

The unit served in the Belgian Ypres Salient throughout the autumn and winter of 1915-16, receiving its first introduction to combat on April 15, 1916, when German forces attacked its positions in the St. Eloi craters, south of Ypres. Two days prior to Archie’s death, the 25th relocated to the Zillebeke area, where German forces had captured Mount Sorrel, a significant area of high ground, on June 2. Archie was killed during a massive June 10 bombardment of the 25th’s line, and laid to rest in nearby Bedford House Cemetery.

Pte. Archie McIsaac's grave, Bedford House Cemetery.
The 25th went on to serve with distinction at the Somme (September - October 1916), Vimy Ridge (April 1917) and Passchendaele (October - November 1917), and participated in the massive Allied counter-offensive (August - November 1918) that led to the November 11, 1918 armistice. As no thorough history of the 25th’s role in the war currently exists, its role in the Canadian war effort has often been overshadowed by the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), which did not land in France until February 1917, almost a year and half after the 25th’s Belgian deployment.

Two excellent books are available on the 25th’s war experience, edited/authored by Brian Tennyson, Department of History, Cape Breton University. The first, Merry Hell: The 25th (Nova Scotia) Battalion, 1914 - 1918, contains the memoirs of Captain Robert N. Clements, MC, who served with the unit throughout its time on the Western Front. The second, Percy Wilmot: A Cape Bretoner At War, chronicles the experiences of a 25th Battalion soldier. Both volumes are available online from Cape Breton University Press.

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