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Saturday, 17 September 2016

Remembering Private Lester Conwell O'Hara - KIA September 17, 1916

Lester Conwell O’Hara was the fourth of 15 children born to James Alexander and Alina (Sangster) O’Hara of New Harbour, Guysborough County. The third of the couple’s six sons, Conwell, as he was known to family, enlisted with the 64th Battalion (Maritime Provinces) at Sussex, NB on August 31, 1915.

Private Lester Conwell O'Hara
Conwell spent the winter of 1915-16 training with the 64th, which relocated to Halifax in January 1916 and departed for England on March 31, 1916. The unit was disbanded shortly after arriving in England and its soldiers dispersed among several existing battalions. Conwell was transferred to the 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles, Montreal) on June 28 and crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France the following day. He arrived at the 24th’s camp near Dickebusch, Belgium in mid-July 1916.

The 24th Battalion was part of the 2nd Division’s 5th Brigade, which also included the 25th (Nova Scotia) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions. The Brigade followed the Canadian Corps’ 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions to the Somme region of France in early September, arriving at Brickfield Camp, Albert on September 10.

Four days later, Conwell and his mates entered the Somme trenches for the first time. On September 15, 1916—their first full day in the line—the 24th’s soldiers provided support to its three Brigade units as they attacked the village of Courcelette, the Canadian Corps’ first offensive action since arriving in France. Throughout the fighting, personnel carried bombs, ammunition, rations and other supplies to the front lines and evacuated the wounded.

Two days later, the 24th received orders to continue the attack on the German line, its soldiers going “over the top” at 5:00 p.m. September 17. The supporting artillery barrage landed behind the German front trenches, doing little more than warn the enemy of an impending attack. As a result, German forces successfully repelled the advance, the 24th’s three attacking Companies suffering 10 Officer and 320 “other rank” (OR) casualties.

While Conwell’s Company did not participate in the attack, he was among the soldiers listed as “missing” following the evening’s action. Battalion officials later confirmed that Conwell was “killed while taking a message to the Battalion holding positions to the right of his unit.” While his remains were initially buried in the vicinity of Sunken Road, southwest of the village of Martinpuich, his grave could not be located after the war.

Lester Conwell O’Hara’s name is engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, one of more than 11,000 soldiers who were killed on the battlefields of France and who have no known grave. His story is among the 72 detailed profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at .

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