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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Remembering Sergeant Alexander Hugh Cameron, MM—Killed in Action May 7, 1917

Alexander Hugh Cameron was born at Caledonia, Guysborough County, NS on February 28, 1891, the fifth of Daniel Angus and Margaret A. Cameron’s nine children. Sometime after 1911, Alexander relocated to Alberta, where his older brother, John Angus, was employed as a school teacher.

Alexander enlisted with the 56th Battalion (Calgary Highlanders) at Calgary, AB on June 15, 1915, while John Angus joined the 63rd Battalion (Loyal Edmonton Regiment) two weeks later. Before year’s end, the brothers reunited when Alexander obtained a transfer to John Angus’s unit. Following a winter’s training in Western Canada, the 63rd traveled by train to Saint John, NB and departed for overseas aboard SS Metagama on April 22, 1916.

Upon arriving at Liverpool, England on May 5, the Cameron brothers traveled with their comrades to Shorncliffe Military Camp. Within two months of its overseas arrival, the 63rd was disbanded and its personnel dispersed to existing units. John Angus, a commissioned Lieutenant, remained in England until late June 1917, when he was transferred to the 31st Battalion. Alexander, however, made his way to the forward area shortly after the 63rd’s dissolution. On June 29, 1916,  he was assigned to the 29th Battalion (BC)—part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 6th Brigade—and immediately departed for France. He joined his new unit at Albert Camp, near St. Eloi, Belgium, on July 30.

Alexander served in Belgium with the 29th for six weeks, at which time the unit relocated to the Somme region of France with the Canadian Corps. While the battalion did not participate in the Corps’ September 15 attack on Courcelette, France, personnel provided “carrying parties” for front line units throughout the operation.

While its soldiers subsequently took part in the initial attacks on German defences in front of Regina Trench in late September and early October, Alexander was not part of the attacks. A solid lad who was five feet, eleven inches tall and weighed 185 pounds, Alexander completed a Lewis Gun course during that time and rejoined his comrades on October 4.

The 29th departed the Somme region following Alexander’s return and moved northward to sectors near Arras, France. During his winter service, Alexander was promoted to Lance Corporal and soon advanced to the full rank of Corporal. On February 20, 1917, he was appointed Lance Sergeant—a Corporal acting in the rank of Sergeant.

The 29th participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge, its soldiers initially playing a support role while the 4th and 5th Brigades spearheaded the attack in the 2nd Division’s sector. Shortly after mid-day. the 29th’s soldiers entered the battle as the 6th Brigade carried out the attack’s second phase. Personnel succeeded in securing their objectives on the outskirts of Farbus by mid-afternoon.

Alexander’s actions at Vimy Ridge earned him the Military Medal for bravery:

“This N.C.O.[,] after completing consolidation under heavy fire and great difficulties, showed much skill in handling his Lewis Guns. In spite of heavy shell, fire, he harassed the enemy’s gunners and did splendid work in causing them to retire, leaving their guns.”

Throughout the remainder of the month, the 29th served on rotation in sectors in front of the newly captured ridge. On the night of May 3/4, its soldiers occupied a section of a newly established line beyond the village of Fresnoy and endured “heavy artillery fire” as they set about consolidating the position. By May 6, “[the] men [were} beginning to show [the] strain of continual bombardment,” although casualties were light.

Conditions were “cloudy” on the morning of May 7, but the weather improved as the day progressed. During the evening hours, 19th Battalion arrived to relief the 29th’s soldiers. As they were retiring from the line, their location “came under heavy enemy shelling during [an enemy] attack to recapture Fresnoy.” Three of “B” Company’s Lewis Gun crews remained in the line with the 19th’s soldiers and assisted in defending the position. During the fighting, “two guns were put out of action, and of the third crew, all but No. 1 were killed or wounded.”

Sergeant Alexander Cameron was one of six “other ranks” (OR) killed during the evening attack. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield where he fell. His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, one of 11,285 Canadian soldiers “missing, presumed dead” somewhere beneath the battlefields of northern France.

Memorial Stone—Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery, Caledonia, NS
Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917 contains a detailed description of Alexander’s story, along with profiles of 71 other soldiers and sailors with connections to Guysborough County, all of whom died during the first three years of Canadian service on the Western Front. The book is available for purchase online at .

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