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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.

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