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Sunday, 2 July 2017

Remembering Private Martin Smith—Died of Sickness July 2, 1917

Martin Smith was born at St. Francis Harbour, Guysborough County on November 9, 1894, the youngest of Thomas and Mary (MacNeil) Smith’s five children. Thomas passed away sometime prior to 1901, and Martin was taken in by Rev. A. G. McAuley, Parish Priest of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Guysborough. He later accompanied Rev. McAuley to Victoria Mines, Cape Breton.

Morton Cemetery Plaque, Keileigh, England.
On June 16, 1915, Martin attested with the 40th Battalion at Camp Aldershot, NS and spent the summer training at Camp Valcartier, QC. The unit returned to Halifax by train in early autumn and departed for overseas aboard SS Saxonia on October 18. Upon landing at Plymouth, England 10 days later, the 40th travelled to Bramshott, where it spent the winter of 1915-16 training as part of the 3rd Canadian Division’s 9th Brigade.

Martin’s service with the 40th came to an end on February 24, 1916, when he was transferred to the 11th Brigade Machine Gun Section and reported to its camp at East Sandling. Following a month of training, he was assigned to the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade Machine Gun Company (CMGC) on March 30. Two days later, he crossed the English Channel with his new unit and deployed in the Ypres Salient with its personnel during the last week of April.

Martin’s time in the line with 8th CMGC was brief. On May 4, he was “attached for duty” to the 2nd Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR), the unit with which he served for the remainder of his time in the forward area. A former mounted infantry unit that was transformed into a regular infantry battalion in January 1916, 2nd CMR served regular rotations in the line throughout the spring of 1916.

On June 1, its soldiers hastily returned to the front trenches in response to a German attack on Hill 60, east of Ypres. Personnel immediately found themselves in the midst of a full-fledged battle, supported by a massive German artillery barrage. As some point during the day, Martin “injured [the] left side of [his] chest and [his] left hip” when he was “buried” in a shower of mud from an exploding artillery shell. While neither injury was serious enough to require evacuation for treatment, many of Martin’s comrades were not as fortunate. The unit reported one Officer and 40 “other ranks” (OR) killed, while 10 Officers and 180 OR were wounded and 23 OR missing after three days of combat at Hill 60.

Following its withdrawal from the line on June 4, 2nd CMR retired to Divisional Rest Camp at Godewaersvelde, France—adjacent to the Belgian border—where its remaining soldiers rested and trained for six weeks as the unit rebuilt its strength. Martin remained with the unit through the summer months and was formally transferred to its ranks in mid-August. Early the following month, he followed 2nd CMR southward to the Somme region of France, where the unit participated in a series of attacks on Regina Trench—a fortified German position located along Thiepval Ridge—during the final days of September.

Martin and his comrades completed a second tour near Regina Trench in mid-October, after which the unit moved northward to a “very quiet” sector of the line. 2nd CMR served in sectors near Arras throughout the winter of 1916-17. As spring approached, its personnel prepared for their role in the impending Canadian Corps attack on Vimy Ridge.

Martin was not destined to participate in the historic battle. On March 11, he was admitted to No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance, where he was diagnosed with “pleural effusion from bronchitis.” Transferred to No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station three days later, medical personnel described his illness as “lobar pneumonia.” While initially placed on the “seriously ill” list, Martin’s condition improved by month’s end. As a result, medical personnel transferred Martin to No.. 11 General Hospital, Dannes, Camiers, where he received treatment for pleurisy.

When it became apparent that Martin required long-term care, he was invalided to England on April 20 and admitted to Keighley War Hospital, Keighley, England. Within days, Martin’s condition worsened. By May 11, laboratory tests indicated the presence of “large numbers of tubercular bacilli” in his sputum. While he received treatment “in open air” and “special nourishment,” his health continued to deteriorate. Private Martin Smith passed away from pulmonary tuberculosis on July 2, 1917 and was laid to rest in Morton Cemetery, Keighley, England.

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

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