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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Remembering Private John William Swaine—KIA June 28, 1917

John William Swaine was born at Canso, Guysborough County on August 19, 1891, the second of Rupert and Jennie (Talbot) Swaine’s nine children and their oldest son. John enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916 and departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916.

Private John William Swaine.
Shortly after arriving overseas, the 193rd was disbanded and its soldiers dispersed to other units. On December 3, John was transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and crossed the English Channel to France three days later. He was temporarily assigned to duty with 3rd Entrenching Battalion in late December and served with the unit in the forward area throughout the month of January 1917.

On February 6, John reported to No. 10 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment of an ulcerated foot, likely the result of working in cold, muddy conditions. Subsequently transferred to No. 16 General Hospital, Le Tréport, John spent two months in hospital and was discharged to the Canadian Base Depot at Le Havre on March 9. Two weeks prior to his discharge, John was transferred to the 85th Battalion and joined the unit’s ranks on April 13 as its personnel withdrew from their Vimy Ridge tour.

Throughout the next two months, John served routine tours with the 85th in sectors near Vimy. On the night of June 25/26, the unit returned to trenches near Avion and prepared for its first combat assignment since its Vimy Ridge tour—an assault on German positions opposite their line.

At 7:00 a. m. June 26, the 85th’s “A” and “C” Companies launched the first phase of a three-stage plan to remove German forces from an area opposite their line, capturing their initial objective with minimal losses. Personnel spent the remainder of the day consolidating the position, and awaited orders to resume the offensive.

At 2:30 a.m. June 28, the 85th’s “C” and “D” Companies commenced the second phase—an attack on the village of Éleu-dit-Leauwette, north of Avion. Once again, personnel captured their objective and prepared for the operation’s final phase, an attack on a series of “horse shoe shaped trenches” southeast of the village.

At 7:10 p.m. that evening, “C” and “D” Companies resumed the advance, one Company sustaining significant casualties from “hostile machine gun fire.” Personnel nevertheless captured and consolidated the final objective, marking “a total advance of one mile” since the offensive’s commencement.

While the 85th secured all objectives by nightfall, its successes came at a price. As the unit retired from the line on the night of July 1/2, its war diary reported a total of 24 “other ranks” (OR) killed during the tour, while eight Officers and 118 OR were wounded and nine OR were missing.

Private John William Swaine was killed in action sometime during the July 28 advance. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield. John’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France, one of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known final resting place.
Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France.
Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915—1917” contains a detailed description of John’s family background and war service, along with profiles of 71 other Guysborough County military personnel who died during the first three years of the war.

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