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Friday, 30 September 2016

Remembering Sergeant Harold Edwin Barss - KIA September 30, 1916

Harold Edwin Barss was born at Canso, Guysborough County, NS on July 20, 1885. The second of Isaac Elnathan and Lucy Ann (Embree) Barss’ six children, Harold was the couple’s only son. By 1911, Harold had headed west, finding employment in Alberta. On June 8, 1915, Harold enlisted with the 2nd Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) at Calgary, AB.

Shortly after the unit arrived in England on October 9, 1915, military authorities reorganized the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s CMR units. Initially intended for deployment as mounted infantry soldiers, the static nature of trench warfare on the Western Front rendered such units ineffective and resulted in their reorganization into standard infantry battalions.

Four news battalions—1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th CMR—constituted the newly formed 3rd Canadian Division’s 8th Brigade. Harold was transferred to 2nd CMR on January 28, 1916 and crossed the English Channel to Havre, France the following day. Harold joined his new unit in Belgium’s Ypres Salient earl the following month.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1916, Harold served a regular infantry rotation with 2nd CMR. He proved a competent soldier, earning promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal on May 12, Corporal on June 9, and Sergeant on July 8. In early September, 2nd CMR followed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions to the Somme region of France, where its soldiers first entered the line near Pozières on the night of September 11/12.

While 3rd Division units did not participate in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Courcelette (September 15), its soldiers played a crucial role in the next phase of Canadian involvement in the Battle of the Somme—a series of attacks on Regina Trench, the longest German trench located on Thiepval Ridge. Several well-fortified positions lay between the target and the Allied line, requiring Canadian units to advance toward their final goal in several stages.

On September 29, 1916, 2nd CMR was one of several 3rd Division units ordered to attack the first line of German defenses in front of Regina Trench. Fierce fighting raged for two days, during which time the unit suffering heavy casualties. As 2nd CMR retired from the line on the evening of October 2, its war diary reported two of its Officers killed, five wounded and one missing, while 50 “other ranks” (OR) were killed and 140 OR wounded.

Memorial Plaque, Central Alberta United Church, Calgary, AB
Sergeant Harold Barss was “killed by enemy shell fire, when in the from trenches in the vicinity of Pozières” on September 30, 1916. He was laid to rest in Regina Trench Cemetery, Grandcourt. In the aftermath of the battle, an appendix to 2nd CMR’s monthly war diary listed soldiers “mentioned for their splendid and courageous work during the tour [of September 22 to October 2].” Among those acknowledged was Sergeant Harold Barss, praised “for conspicuous bravery during the fighting of September 29.”

Harold’s story is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available from .

Photograph of Memorial Plaque, Central Alberta United Church, Calgary, AB, courtesy of Marika Pirie, Calgary, AB.

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