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Sunday, 5 November 2017

Remembering Private Thomas Sullivan—Died of Wounds November 5, 1917

Thomas Sullivan was born at Canso, Guysborough County on August 22, 1885, the youngest of David and Mary Sullivan’s five sons. David passed away on January 20, 1911, leaving Thomas and his older brother, Neil, to care for their widowed mother.

Private Thomas William Sullivan.
On April 24, 1916, Thomas enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS. Following a month’s training with a local detachment, Thomas travelled to Camp Aldershot, where he spent the summer training alongside the 193rd’s three Nova Scotia Highland Brigade mates, the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions.

During the month of August, Thomas was reported “absent without leave” for eight days. While the 193rd departed with the Highland Brigade aboard RMS Olympic on October 12, perhaps due to his earlier transgression, Thomas was re-assigned to No. 6 Special Services Company, Halifax, several days prior to the vessel’s departure. Despite a second “AWL” infraction in January 1917, Thomas departed Halifax on March 26 with a reinforcement draft from the 246th Battalion.

Initially assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion upon arriving in England, Thomas later spent six weeks with the 185th Battalion before receiving a transfer to the 85th Battalion on July 10. After landing in France, Thomas remained at Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre, for three weeks before he was temporarily assigned to 4th Entrenching Battalion. Thomas spent two months in the forward area with the labour unit, finally joining the 85th’s ranks at Bruay, France on October 10.

One week after Thomas’s arrival, the unit travelled northward to Staple, France, adjacent to the Belgian border, and commenced training for its next assignment—the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. On October 23, the soldiers travelled to Ypres, Belgium and marched to nearby St. Lawrence Camp. Three days later, 3rd and 4th Canadian Division units launched the first stage of a four-phase attack on the ridge.

On the night of October 28, Thomas accompanied the 85th into the line for his first “tour” in the trenches. Following a final day of preparation, three 85th Companies went “over the top” toward their objective—a cluster of fortified structures at a location called “Vienna Cottage”—at 5:50 a.m. October 30.

The advancing soldiers were immediately met by a hail of machine gun, rifle and artillery fire that completely impeded their progress. According to later reports, fighting raged for 10 to 30 minutes before “D” Company, waiting in reserve, joined the fray. German resistance broke as the reinforcements reached their comrades and the battalion swept forward to its objective.

While the unit’s soldiers set about establishing a defensive line several hundred yards in front of Vienna Cottage, the Officer in charge sent a Battalion Headquarters, indicating that the unit had suffered “heavy” casualties. The 85th remained in the line throughout the following day, enduring a particularly fierce artillery bombardment after dusk. The battalion withdrew from the line during the night of October 31/November 1, having suffered almost 400 casualties during its Passchendaele tour.

Private Thomas Sullivan was among the soldiers wounded during the first day’s fighting. Thomas was admitted to No. 8 Canadian Field Ambulance on October 30 with a serious wound to his right chest. Medical staff immediately performed surgery on the area, identifying two wounds—`’entry and exit”—on the right side of his sternum,  but finding no “foreign body.”

Evacuated to No 3 Casualty Clearing Station on November 1, Thomas lingered in “dangerous” condition for several days before passing away from his injuries on November 5, 1917. Private Thomas Sullivan was laid to rest in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium.

Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains a detailed description of Thomas’s family background and military experience, along with profiles of 71 other Guysborough County soldiers and sailors who lost their lives during the first three years of Canadian overseas service.

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