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Friday, 21 July 2017

Remembering Private Joseph Manson "Joe" McIsaac—KIA July 21, 1917

Joseph Manson “Joe” McIsaac was born at Fox Island, Guysborough County on August 28, 1899. His mother, Sarah “Sadie,” was the daughter of Daniel “The Piper” and Jane (Watkins) McIsaac, Canso. Joe was raised in his grandparents’ home, his grandfather Daniel passing away shortly after his birth.

Pte. Joseph Manson "Joe" McIsaac
When military recruiters visited the area in the spring of 1916, Joe enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916. Not yet 17 years old the time, he misreported his birthdate by two years in order to qualify for service. Joe spent the summer of 1916 training with the 193rd and its Highland Brigade mates—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (Halifax and southwestern Nova Scotia) Battalions. On October 12, all four units departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic and arrival at Liverpool, England one week later.

Before year’s end, military authorities dissolved two of the Brigade’s four units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—and redistributed their personnel to other units. On December 29, Joe was transferred to the 185h Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) and remained at Witley Camp for the duration of the winter. On May 27, 1917, he was transferred to the 25th Battalion and crossed the English Channel to France, joining his new unit in the forward area on June 15.

The first of two volunteer units recruited across the province of Nova Scotia, the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) departed Halifax on May 20, 1915 and four months later landed on the continent as part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade. For almost one year, its soldiers served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient alongside their Brigade mates—the 22nd (Quebec’s “Van Doos”), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.

Following several weeks’ service at the Somme, France during September 1916, the 25th relocated northward to sectors near Lens, France for the winter of 1916-17. The unit participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge and was enjoying a break from the line at the Canadian Corps Rest Area near Gouy-Servins, France when Joe and 146 “other ranks” (OR) reinforcements joined its ranks in mid-June.

The 25th spent the remainder of the month training, its personnel returning to trenches near Cité Beaumont, France on the night of July 2/3. German artillery subjected its sector to “heavy shelling,” while its soldiers worked to consolidate the front line. The 25th’s war diary reported a total of 44 OR casualties during a four-day tour. There was little respite when the battalion retired to support positions, which were also within German artillery range.

On July 10, the 25th withdrew to the safety of Brigade Reserve after a “hard tour in the line.” Following several days’ rest and drill, personnel returned to the Laurent Sector’s trenches on the night of July 16/17. German artillery once again subjected its soldiers to heavy artillery fire throughout a two-day tour. Following relief, the battalion retired to support positions at Maroc on the night of July 18/19, its personnel providing nightly work parties for trench repair for several days.

The 25th’s war diary notes for July 21, 1917 described what appeared to be a routine day in the forward area: “Battalion in support at Maroc. Work Parties supplied, 16 Officers and 515 OR.” The entry makes no mention of casualties. Private Joe McIsaac’s service file, however, states that he was “killed in action at Maroc” that same day, likely a victim of German artillery fire.

Five weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his death, Private Joseph Manson McIsaac’s remains were never recovered from the battlefield. His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Monument at VImy Ridge, France, one of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and whose final resting place is unknown.

Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains a detailed summary of Joe’s family background and war service, along with 71 other profiles of Guysborough County personnel who died during the war’s first three years.

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