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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Guysborough's "Vimy Boys"

Dozens of Guysborough County natives participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge, launched in the early morning hours of April 9, 1917. By day’s end. five of the county’s young men were among the day’s 3,598 fatalities.


Sergeant Levi Martin “Lee” Hart was born at Canso, Guysborough County on March 7, 1890. Lee’s father, George Norris Wilberforce “Will” Hart, advanced to the rank of Major with the 66th Regiment, Princess Louise Fusiliers, before retiring to Canso, where he opened a mercantile business. His mother, Ella Blanche Smith, was a Halifax native whose family was actively involved in the city’s business community.

Sgt. Levi Martin "Lee" Hart
After completing his high school education, Lee obtained employment with the Bank of Montreal’s Canso branch. He subsequently worked at branches in Danville, QC and Lunenburg, NS, but eventually headed west in 1912, having accepted a position in a Weyburn, SK real estate office operated by his maternal uncle, Howard H. Smith.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lee continued to work in Saskatchewan, but by early 1916 he began to contemplate military enlistment. After completing an officers’ training program at a local School of Instruction, Lee enlisted with the 152nd Battalion at Weyburn on June 5, 1916. Following several months’ training at Camp Hughes, near Brandon, MB, the 152nd departed from Halifax on October 3 and arrived at Liverpool, England ten days later.

Upon arriving overseas, Lee was promoted to the rank of Acting Sergeant, but “reverted to ranks” following the 152nd’s dissolution. On November 12, 1916, Lee was transferred to the 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry). One of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s most experienced units, the 5th first entered the Belgian trenches with the 1st Canadian Division’s 2nd Brigade in late February 1915.

Following his transfer, Lee immediately crossed the English Channel to France and joined his new unit in the forward area on December 2, 1916. He served with the 5th in the sectors near Vimy Ridge for four months and participated in the preparations for the Canadian Corps’ attack on the German stronghold. The 5th Battalion occupied the Corps’ extreme right flank in the hours prior to the assault, its objective to capture the German front line and advance to a “red line” in front of a second defensive position.

At 5:30 a.m. April 9, 1917, the 5th’s soldiers went “over the top” toward the German line and succeeded in securing their first objective within 30 minutes. Personnel continued the advance, securing the “red line” by 9:00 a.m.. The advance cost the unit 14 Officer casualties—including five fatalities—and 200 “other rank” (OR) casualties. Lee was one of its OR fatalities, struck “by a machine gun bullet just as he was about to leave a shell hole.” He was laid to rest “where he fell” and later reinterred in Nine Elms Military Cemetery, Thélus, France.


Private Harold Kennedy was born at Guysborough, Guysborough County on February 26, 1898. His attestation papers list his next of kin as William Kennedy, son of Jeremiah Kennedy, Salmon River Lake. His father’s identity remains a mystery, but documents in his service file identify a “Helen Hester, Seattle, Washington” as his mother.

Harold enlisted with the 121st Battalion (“Western Irish”) at Vancouver, BC on July 3, 1916. Six weeks later, the unit departed Halifax but was subsequently disbanded after arriving overseas. Harold was transferred to the 102nd Battalion (British Columbia) on December 5, 1916 and crossed the English Channel to France the following day.

The 102nd was part of the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Brigade and arrived in France in August 1916. The battalion received its first major combat experience at the Somme in October and November 1916. Harold was part of a large group of reinforcements who joined the unit in early January 1917 as it rebuilt its ranks. Harold served with the unit throughout the next three months and was in the line on the morning of April 9, 1917 as the 102nd prepared to advance on Hill 145, the ridge’s highest point.

While the unit gained its initial objectives by 8:00 a.m., German soldiers atop Hill 145 survived the morning’s artillery barrage and enfiladed their position throughout the morning. The 87th Battalion to its left had failed to maintain pace, exposing the unit’s flank to sniper and machine gun fire from atop the ridge. While the 85th Battalion advanced during the early evening hours and finally captured the hill, the 102nd sustained significant casualties from the devastating fire throughout the day.

Pte. Harold Kennedy's headstone, Bois Carré Cemetery, Thélus France
A staggering 113 OR were killed, 180 wounded and 27 missing following the 102nd’s three-day Vimy tour. Nineteen-year-old Harold Kennedy was one of the OR killed at some point during the first day’s fighting. His remains were recovered from the battlefield and laid to rest in Bois Carré Cemetery, Thélus, France.

Private Arthur Freeman Levangie was born on May 18, 1893, the second child and oldest son of George and Sophia (Cashen) Levangie, Port Felix, Guysborough County. Arthur was working as a steward on the Intercolonial Railway when he enlisted with the 237th Battalion at Saint John, NB on June 26, 1916.

Ptes. Arthur Levangie (left) & Amos Cashin.

One of several “American Legion” units organized across Canada during the early months of 1916, the 237th focused on recruiting American veterans interested in overseas service. The recruitment of citizens from a “neutral” country created considerable controversy. As a result, authorities dissolved most “American Legion” units before they departed Canada. Following the 237th’s dissolution, Arthur was transferred to the 97th Battalion—an “American Legion” unit that remained intact—and departed for England on September 18, 1916.

Shortly after arriving overseas, the 97th was also dissolved, at which time Arthur accompanied its personnel reported to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) — Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Depot at Seaford, England. Arthur was assigned to the PPCLI’s ranks on December 13 and crossed the English Channel to France.

The PPCLI was the Canadian Expeditionary Forc’es most experienced unit, having arrived on the continent in December 1914 and entered the Belgian trenches on January 5, 1915. As with other Canadian batalions, its soldiers spent the first months of 1917 in trenches near Vimy Ridge, France. The PPCLI and RCR led the 7th Infantry Brigade’s attack on its assigned sector of the ridge, achieving their objectives within two hours.

While casualties were light during the advance, German artillery subjected the PPCLI’s position to heavy shell fire throughout the day and evening. While its personnel maintained their position, 60 soldiers were killed, while another 142 were wounded and 10 missing during its time in the line at Vimy Ridge. Private Arthur Freeman Levangie was one of the 10 soldiers initially reported “missing” following the first day of fighting. He never returned to his unit and his remains was never located.
Private Arthur Freeman Levangie’s name is among the 11,285 Canadian soldiers’ names engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge. All were killed in action on the battlefields of northern France and have no known grave.
Private Allen Ellsworth Munroe was born at Whitehead, Guysborough County on July 31, 1894, the third of seven children and second-oldest son of Andrew David and Anna Ernest “Annie” (Ehler) Munroe. Allen enlisted for service with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916 and departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916.

Pte. Allen Ellsworth Munroe

Following the 193rd’s dissolution several months later, Allen was transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), the second of three units recruited for overseas service by the Montreal-based militia unit. All three became known as the Canadian “Black Watch,” through the militia unit’s affiliation with the famous Scottish regiment. The 42nd had arrived in France in October 1915 and commenced service in the line with the 3rd Canadian Division’s 7th Brigade, alongside the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, AB), RCR and PPCLI.

Allen joined the 42nd’s ranks in early January 1917 and served with the unit in the trenches near Vimy Ridge in subsequent months. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 42nd was one of three 7th Brigade units slated to participate in the initial advance. While the 42nd’s soldiers secured their initial objective by 8:15 a.m., the 102nd Battalion to its right failed to keep pace, exposing the 42nd’s left flank to devastating German fire from Hill 145.

The unit suffered an estimated 200 casualties by mid-morning and experienced great difficulty in evacuating its wounded. Its soldiers nevertheless maintained their position until supporting Canadian units succeeded in capturing Hill 145 and securing the ridge. The 42nd reported five Officer fatalities and 291 OR casualties during its 48 hours in the line. Private Allen Ellsworth Munroe was amongst the OR killed during the first day’s fighting. His remains were retrieved from the battlefield and laid to rest in Liévin Communal Cemetery, France.

Private George Louis Dort was born at Peas Brook, Guysborough County on November 25, 1897. The fifth of George Louis and Martha (George) Dort’s eight children, George enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on March 31, 1916. He departed for England with the 193rd on October 12, 1916 and was initially transferred to the 42nd Battalion on December 5, 1916, following the 193rd’s dissolution.

While he crossed the English Channel to France the following day, George was hospitalized with influenza shortly after arriving on the continent. As a result, he spent more than two months at CBD Le Havre, awaiting orders to proceed to the forward area. On February 24, 1917, George received a transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) and joined his new unit in the forward area two weeks later.

The 85th had arrived in France on February 10, 1917 and its personnel were completing introductory tours with experienced units at the time of George’s arrival. As its soldiers had no combat experience, the 85th was attached to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working unit,” while the Canadian Corps completed preparations for the attack on Vimy Ridge. Its soldiers would carry ammunition and supplies to front line units, escort and guard prisoners of war, and construct communications trenches to captured positions as the battle progressed.

Despite its “working” assignment, Lt. Col. Allison Hart Borden, the 85th’s Commanding Officer, insisted that his soldiers prepare for combat alongside the 11th Brigade’s regular combat units, a decision that later proved critical. The Brigade’s units faced the day’s most formidable challenge—the capture of Hill 145, the ridge’s highest position. On the morning of April 9, 1917, while the attack proceeded successfully to their right, the two 11th Brigade units spearheading the advance failed to displace German soldiers from their advantageous positions atop the hill.

The morning attack’s final outcome hung in the balance as German snipers and machine gunners enfiladed Canadian units along Hill 145’s flanks. Concerned that the position might provide Germans with an opportunity to mass a counter-attack, Major-General David Watson, the 4th Division’s Commander, called upon two of the inexperienced 85th Battalion’s companies to prepare for battle. “C” and “D” Companies were outfitted for combat at mid-afternoon and made their way through Tottenham Tunnel to the trenches below Hill 145.

At 6:45 p.m., the two companies advanced up the hill without the benefit of artillery support. While fierce German fire hindered their progress, the soldiers maintained their composure and succeeded in dislodging the enemy from Hill 145’s western slopes. The ridge’s highest feature secured and German forces pushed down its eastern side a secure distance, the 85th’s soldiers settled in for the night.

Pte. George Louis Dort's headstone, No. 2 Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.

The following morning, their “A” and “B” Company comrades joined them atop the ridge as Canadian units cleared pockets of German resistance and pushed enemy forces down the remainder of Hill 145’s eastern slope. The 85th had received its first combat experience, but it came at a price. An estimated 43 soldiers were killed during the evening attack. Young Private George Louis Dort was one of the fallen soldiers. Seven months shy of his twentieth birthday, George was laid to rest in Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.


Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains detailed profiles of Guysborough’s five “Vimy Boys,” along with 67 other stories outlining the war service of the county’s soldiers and sailors who died in military service during the war’s first three years.

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