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Monday, 10 April 2017

Remembering James Arthur "Red Jim" Taylor—Died of Wounds April 10, 1917

James Arthur “Red Jim” Taylor was born on August 13, 1882 at Forks at St. Mary’s, Guysborough County. The fourth of five children raised by Mary Ann (Mason) and John William Taylor, Jim’s father was a local boot maker. It was John William’s second marriage; several years older than his bride, he passed away sometime prior to 1901.

Following his mother’s death in 1908, Jim relocated to Stellarton, where he resided with a younger sister, Bess, and worked in the local coal mines. When military recruiters canvassed Pictou County in search of recruits for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, Jim enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Stellarton on March 19, 1916.

Ptes. "Red Jim" Taylor (right) & Dan C. McIsaac.
Following a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, Jim departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916 and arrived at Liverpool, England six days later. When the 193rd was dissolved several months later, Jim was transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916. He proceeded to France the following day and spent one month at the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre. On January 2, 1917, he was temporarily assigned to the 3rd Entrenching Battalion.

Following seven weeks’ service in the forward area with the labour unit, Jim received a second transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on February 24, 1917. He departed for the 85th’s camp on March 5 and joined its ranks three days later. The 85th was the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s senior unit. Its soldiers trained alongside the 193rd at Aldershot and its ranks contained numerous personnel from the province’s various mining communities. The unit had arrived in France on February 10, 1917 and commenced introductory tours in the trenches with experienced units before month’s end.

In the weeks prior to the Canadian Corps’ scheduled attack on Vimy Ridge, France, the 85th was attached to the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working” unit. During the battle, its personnel were scheduled to carry supplies and ammunition to front line units, escort and guard prisoners of war, and construct the communication trenches required to access the ridge, following its capture. Lt. Col. Allison Hart Borden, the 85th’s Commanding Officer (CO), nevertheless insisted that his charges prepare for combat alongside the 11th Brigade’s regular units. As subsequent events unfolded, Borden’s foresight proved most beneficial.

The 4th Division received the most challenging part of the Vimy Ridge operation—the capture of Hill 145, the ridge’s highest feature. At 5:30 a.m. Aril 9, the 11th Brigade’s 87th and 102nd Battalions went “over the top” with their 1st, 2nd and 3rd Division counterparts. While units to their right made steady progress toward their objectives, the 4th Division’s soldiers encountered fierce resistance from German strongpoints along the slopes below Hill 145.

By early afternoon, while the three Divisions on its right had secured their objectives, the outcome on the 4th Division’s frontage remained uncertain. In need of fresh troops to complete the task, Major General Sir David Watson, the 4th Division’s CO, ordered two of the 85th’s inexperienced companies to prepare for battle. “C” and “D” Companies were outfitted at mid-afternoon and made their way through Tottenham Tunnel to the same “jumping off” trench from which the 4th Division launched the morning attack.

While artillery units were initially scheduled to provide a covering barrage, military commanders cancelled the action at the last minute, lest the shells shell Canadian soldiers trapped on the hill, as well as those holding positions on its flanks. As a result, the two Companies proceeded up Hill 145 at 6:45 p.m. without artillery support. In a fierce firefight that lasted approximately 15 minutes, the 85th’s soldiers drove the Germans from the western side of the hill and down its eastern slope. They then set about establishing a new line along the crest of the ridge.

Pte. J. A. Taylor's headstone, Villers Station Cemetery, Villers au Bois, France.
The 85th lost more than 40 soldiers in the April 9 attack, while numerous others were wounded. Private James Arthur Taylor was amongst the casualties evacuated to No. 11 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment. Jim succumbed to his injuries on April 10, 1917 and was laid to rest in Villers Station Cemetery, Villers au Bois, France.

Jim Taylor's story is one of 72 profiles contained in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available at Bantry Publishing.


  1. Thanks for posting this about Red Jim. He was the brother of my great-great-grandmother Margaret Jane Taylor. I had the opportunity to visit his grave back in 2007 and it was a beautiful peaceful place in the midst of farmland.

  2. Patrick, my wife Ann and I visited the same cemetery in April 2015. It was indeed a tranquil setting, a fitting resting place for the Canadian soldiers who lost their lives while serving their country.