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Friday, 31 March 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments - March 1917

Three individuals with connections to Guysborough County enlisted for service with Canadian military units during the month of March 1917:

1. Vernon Foster Hendsbee:

Vernon Foster Hendsbee was born at Canso, Guysborough County on November 17, 1895. The third of Elias Grover and Ellen Amelia (Haines) Hendsbee’s four children, Vernon was living at Middle Country Harbour at the time of his enlistment with the “Field Artillery Howitzer Ammunition Column” at Halifax, NS on March 10, 1917.

Vernon departed Halifax aboard HMT Megantic on November 24, 1917 and arrived at Liverpool, England two weeks later. After spending the winter of 1917 - 18 in England, Vernon crossed the English Channel to France on March 8, 1918 and reported to the Canadian Field Artillery Reinforcement Depot. One month later, he was assigned to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column as a “Driver.”

Vernon’s time in service was plagued with health issues. On May 23, 1918, he was admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance, where his sputum was tested for tuberculosis. Transferred to No. 19 Casualty Clearing Station before day’s end, he was diagnosed with bronchitis and was transported to No. 5 General Hospital, Rouen for treatment on June 6. He spent one month in hospital, after which he was discharged to No. 13 Convalescent Camp.

On July 22, Vernon was released from hospital and reported to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp, Étaples. While he progressed to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre on August 5, a suspected case of dysentery prevented his return to the forward area. Vernon was admitted to No. 20 General Hospital, Camiers on August 14 and spent one month in its care. Discharged to No. 6 Convalescent Depot, Étaples on September 16, he was re-admitted to No, 56 General Hospital, Étaples on October 24 with influenza.

Due to his health record, Vernon was invalided to England on November 1 and admitted to 2nd West General Hospital, Manchester. Transferred to Woodcote Park Military Convalescent Hospital, Epsom on November 12, he was discharged two weeks later. Vernon spent the winter of 1918 - 19 in England. He was admitted to No. 9 Canadian General Hospital, Kemmel Park on April 5, 1919 for treatment of influenza and discharged one week later. Vernon spent the spring and early summer awaiting orders to return home.

On August 9, 1919, Vernon departed for Canada aboard HMT Caronia and was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS before month’s end. He eventually settled at Sand Point, near Mulgrave and married Mary Ann (Laurie) Hendsbee, a 28-year-old widow, on May 8, 1923. Vernon worked in the local fishery, while he and Mary Ann raised a family of four children, three sons and one daughter. Vernon was also an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Mulgrave.

Throughout his post-war years, Vernon was plagued by the same health problems that disrupted his military service. He passed away at Sand Point on April 9, 1964 and was laid to rest in St. James Cemetery, Melford, Guysborough County.

2. Andrew Haley:

Andrew Haley was born at Port Felix, Guysborough County on August 6, 1902. The youngest of six children born to John Adam and Matilda (Richards) Haley, Andrew was determined to follow in his older brother Simon’s footsteps. Simon attested with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916 and departed for England with the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on October 12, 1916.  Transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion in January 1917, Simon was assigned to the 85th Battalion’s ranks in July 1917 and immediately departed for France.

Several months prior to Simon’s arrival at the front, Andrew travelled to Saint John, NB, where he attested for service with the 216th Battalion on March 13, 1917. One of several “bantam” units recruited for overseas service, the 216th accepted men who did not meet the height requirements of regular infantry units. Andrew gave his date of birth as August 8, 1898 at the time of his enlistment, While his height - five feet two inches - and weight - 120 pounds - would not have been unusual for a “bantam” candidate, he was actually five months shy of his fifteenth birthday at the time of his enlistment.

While Andrew trained with the 216th for six weeks, authorities eventually realized that he was underage. On May 2, he was transferred to the “Details Company,” Military District 6 and placed on the “Composite Battalion” pay card. Two weeks later, Andrew was discharged at Halifax for “being under-age.” His military record recorded his age as 16 years, six months—one year older than his birthday indicates.

Undaunted, Andrew returned to Guysborough County, where he joined the ranks of the 94th Victoria Regiment, Argyll Highlanders. The unit was one of two militia units that guarded the Commercial Cable Company facilities at Hazel Hill and the location where the trans-Atlantic cable came ashore near Canso. After serving with the 94th for more than a year, Andrew successfully completed the required medical examination for military service at Hazel Hill on June 25, 1917.

Five weeks later, Andrew made his way to Camp Aldershot, where he once again attested for overseas military service on July 30, 1918. While he enlisted on a “Military Service Act” conscription form, the line that should have contained his “MSA” number stated that he was “transferred from 6th C.G. R. [Canadian Garrison Regiment].” On this occasion, he gave his date of birth as August 5, 1900. While his height and weight remained the same, military authorities did not challenge his stated age, although a note at the top of the form stated: “Not to be sent O/S [overseas] until 19 years [of age].”

Andrew departed from Halifax on August 2 and arrived in England after a 13-day voyage. He was “taken on strength” by the 17th Reserve Battalion at Camp Bramshott on August 16 and remained in England throughout the winter of 1918-19. Following the cessation of hostilities, the Canadian Expeditionary Force required personnel at the front to carry out work consolidating the various small graveyards scattered across France and Belgium into military cemeteries. On May 16, 1919, Andrew was assigned to the Canadian War Graves Detachment (CWGD) and made his way across the English Channel to France.

In the weeks following the November 11, 1918 Armistice, British military authorities turned their attention to the issue of the war’s fallen soldiers. While the recent battlefields contained the remains of soldiers killed during the final weeks of combat, officials also faced the challenge of dealing with numerous isolated graves and “a myriad of accidental inhumations.”

The Directorate of Graves Registrations & Enquiries (DGR&E) in co-operation with the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC)—established on May 21, 1917—commenced planning the establishment of cemeteries in all combat areas. An estimated 160,000 “isolated graves” required removal to cemeteries, while the two organizations set about combining smaller cemeteries into larger ones. Perhaps the greatest problem was locating and identifying an estimated 500,000 soldiers who were “missing, presumed dead.”

Exhumation work commenced on November 21, 1918 and continued throughout the winter of 1918-19, as weather conditions permitted. The Canadian government volunteered its services in searching battlefields in the Albert/Courcelette and Vimy Ridge areas, where large numbers of Canadian soldiers had served throughout the war. Australia presented a similar offer in relation to the Pozières and Villers Bretonneux areas.

Private Andrew Haley was amongst a group of 1000 Canadian soldiers who volunteered for duty with the Canadian War Graves Detachment in the spring of 1919. While his decision may have been inspired by a desire to see the battlefields where the war was fought, Andrew may have also planned to visit the grave of his older brother, Simon, who was killed near Dury, France on September 2, 1918 and laid to rest in Dury Mill British Cemetery.

The Canadian War Graves Detachment crossed the English Channel to France on May 18, 1919 and six days later proceeded to the Arras area by train. The unit’s two Companies commenced their work on June 2, one of No. 2 Company’s platoons assigned to the Courcelette area while remaining personnel assisted in burying the dead at Maroc British Cemetery and combed the “shelled areas” in search of human remains.

The soldiers toiled six days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the remainder of the day occupied with recreational activities. The widespread presence of unexploded shells on the battlefield made for treacherous working conditions. Despite repeated warnings, two “other ranks” (OR) died from injuries sustained in accidental explosions during the first two weeks of work, while several others suffered wounds.

For reasons not specified in the CWGD’s war diaries, the unit’s work ceased in early July 1919. Andrew returned to the United Kingdom on July 8 and departed for Canada aboard HMT Saturnia before month’s end. He was officially discharged from military service at Halifax on August 13, 1919. Andrew initially returned to Port Felix, where he worked in the local fishery. He eventually relocated to Halifax, where he was employed as a “seaman.”

Andrew married Helen Agnes LeCoff [LeCouffe], a native of Dalhousie, Restigouche County, NB. The couple remained in the Halifax area, where Andrew worked as an “air craftsman” during the early 1940s. He later became a Constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). His wife Helen passed away in 1973. No records exist as to whether the couple had any children. Andrew Haley died at Halifax in July 1979 and was laid to rest in Lower Sackville, NS.

3. Maynard Emerson Giffin:

Maynard Emerson Griffin was born at Goldsboro, Guysborough County on March 13, 1883. The oldest of Obed Chute and Theodora Ernst (Bezanson) Giffin’s six sons, Sometime after 1900,Maynard relocated to Halifax and was employed as a tailor. He married Ida May Levy on September 30, 1908. The couple had five children—three boys and two girls—when he enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on March 15. 1917.

Maynard’s father, Obed, went to sea at an early age and became a renowned Nova Scotian mariner. He enlisted for service with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in July 1917. Despite his age—he was 66 years old at the time of his enlistment—Obed served as Skipper aboard several RCN vessels during fourteen months of military service.

Maynard was promoted to the rank of Sergeant shortly after his enlistment. While he passed his initial medical, a second, more thorough examination at Camp Aldershot determined that his “vision [was] very defective. Left eye absolutely useless. Can only read D 200 at 30 feet with right eye.” As a result, Maynard was discharged as “medically unfit’” on May 31 1917.

Maynard returned to his work as a tailor and remained in the Halifax area following his military discharge. A set of twin girls joined the family in 1921. Maynard Emerson Giffin passed away at Spryfield, NS on December 26, 1970.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Remembering Private John James Ignatius "Jimmy" Fraser—Died of Wounds March 24, 1917

John James Ignatius “Jimmy” Fraser was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County, NS, the second of of John James and Elizabeth “Lizzie” (O’Neil) Fraser’s five children. While census records indicate that Jimmy was born on October 12, 1899, he reported his year of birth as 1896 when he attested with the 106th Battalion at Antigonish, NS on December 7, 1915. A younger brother, Colin Francis (DOB June 5, 1901) similarly misrepresented his age when he joined the same unit six weeks later.

Jimmy departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 16, 1916 and landed in England nine days later. Transferred to the 40th Reserve Battalion on October 5 following the 106th’s dissolution, Jimmy spent little more than a month with his new unit. On November 10, 1916, he was selected for service with the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) and five days later crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Le Havre, France.

Jimmy joined the 87th’s ranks at Frévillers, France on December 7th and before month’s end entered the Zouave Valley trenches, near Vimy Ridge, for his first “tour in the line.” The 87th served a regular rotation in the forward area throughout the months of January and February 1917. The arrival of spring weather brought a noticeable increase in artillery, mortar and gun fire. During a tour that commenced on March 18, the 87th sustained daily casualties, its greatest losses occurring on March 23 and 24, when five “other ranks” (OR) were killed, six OR wounded and one OR died of wounds.

Private Jimmy Fraser was wounded by gunfire on March 23 and rushed to No. 18 Casualty Clearing Station for treatment. He died of his wounds at 10:00 a.m. the following day—March 24, 1917—and was laid to rest in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Jimmy was seven months shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his death.

Jimmy’s younger brother, Colin Francis, had accompanied him to England but remained in England with the 26th Reserve Battalion throughout the winter and spring of 1916-17. On June 20, 1917, Colin was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). The following day, he crossed the English Channel to CBD Le Havre and was temporarily assigned to 3rd Entrenching Battalion on July 11.

About this time, officials in France discovered that Colin was actually 16 years old when he was transferred to the RCR. A family member, no doubt distraught over Jimmy’s death six weeks earlier, submitted a copy of Colin’s baptismal records—completed at Mulgrave by Rev. John Fraser, Parish Priest, St. Lawrence Church on May 7, 1917—to the Department of Militia & Defence, Ottawa. Military authorities subsequently notified officials in France, who immediately sent Colin back to England. He departed for Canada on August 26 and was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on September 26, 1917.

A detailed version of Private Jimmy Fraser’s story is among the 72 profiles included in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available for purchase online.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Remembering Private Louis John Burns: Died of Sickness March 1, 1917

Louis John Burns was born at Sonora, Guysborough County, NS on June 2, 1896. The oldest of Helen “Nellie” (Cass) and John Penney Burns’s four children, Louis enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 23, 1917.

Authorized in August 1916 as a “reserve” unit for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, the 246th’s initial members consisted of personnel deemed “unfit for service at the Front” after the Brigade’s four units finalized their nominal rolls. Military authorities planned to provide the soldiers with additional training, and recruit sufficient personnel during the winter of 1916-17 to bring the unit to full strength.

Louis Burns was one of the 246th’s “winter recruits.” Unfortunately, response to the unit’s appeals fell short of expectations. Officials therefore decided to send the battalion’s soldiers overseas in two “reinforcement drafts.” Louis never departed for England. While his medical examination failed to detect any health concerns, he was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital, Halifax, on February 27, 1917 for treatment of “acute nephritis” (inflammation of the kidneys).

On March 1, 1917, Private Louis John Burns died of kidney failure and pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs). Military authorities transported his remains to Guysborough County, where Louis was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Wine Harbour.

Private Louis John Burns’ story is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available at Bantry Publishing.