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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Remembering William Eustace Anselm DeCoste—Died of Wounds November 14, 1917

William Eustace Anselm DeCoste was born at Mulgrave on September 25, 1897, the seventh of Edward and Caroline (Carrigan) DeCoste’s eight children. Three of Edward’s brothers worked in the coastal fishery out of Gloucester, MA, two perishing at sea when he was 17 years old. Undeterred by the dangers, Edward worked there for several years, but eventually returned to Mulgrave, where he worked on the Intercolonial Railroad.

William Eustace Anselm DeCoste
Eustace, as he was known to family, was the youngest of Edward and Caroline’s five sons. Sometime after 1911, he relocated to Pictou County and found employment at the Trenton steel mill. On March 9, 1916, Eustace attested for overseas service with the 193rd Battalion at New Glasgow, NS. After several months’ preparatory drill with a local detachment, he and his mates travelled to Camp Aldershot in late May and spent the summer in training with the 193rd and its three Nova Scotia Highland Brigade mates—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions.

The Brigade departed for England on October 12, 1916 and landed at Liverpool one week later. Its arrival coincided with the Canadian Corps’ deployment at the Somme, France. Significant casualties incurred in fighting at Courcelette and Regina Trench created a pressing need for reinforcements. In response, military authorities assembled a draft of 800 soldiers—200 from each Brigade unit—for immediate service at the front. Two Brigade battalions—the 193rd and 219th—were disbanded before year’s end and their personnel assigned to existing units in England.

Selected for the Highland Brigade draft, Eustace was assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916. The following day, he crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot at Le Havre and joined his new unit in the forward area on January 3, 1917.

The 42nd, a kilted Montreal unit affiliated with Scotland’s “Black Watch,” had arrived in France in October 1915 as part of the 3rd Canadian Division’s 7th Brigade. For almost a year, its soldiers served in Belgium alongside their Brigade mates—Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, AB). In late summer, the Brigade followed the Canadian Corps to the battlefields of the Somme.

At the time of Eustace’s arrival, the 42nd was deployed in sectors near Vimy Ridge, France. The young soldier soon found himself in the front trenches, facing its daily perils. On February 13, 1917, Eustace was admitted to field ambulance with shrapnel wounds to his right eye, arm, face, foot and left hip. He spent the next two months recuperating in hospital at Étaples and thus was not in the line for the Canadian Corps’ historic attack on Vimy Ridge.

Eustace rejoined the 42nd near Vimy on April 21 and served with the unit in sectors near Leans, France throughout the summer and early autumn of 1917. On October 23, the battalion travelled northward by train to Ypres, Belgium and prepared for its role in the impending Canadian Corps attack on Passchendaele Ridge. Four days later, Eustace and his comrades entered Brigade Reserve near Wieltje, remaining there while the PPCLI and 49th Battalion participated in the attack’s second stage on October 30. The following night, the 42nd and the RCR made their way into the muddy line, in relief of their Brigade comrades.

Personnel spent several days establishing a new front trench before retiring to Ypres on the night of November 3/4. After a 10-day break, the 42nd returned to the recently captured ridge on the night of November 14. While the unit’s war diary makes no mention of artillery fire or casualties, sometime that day, Private Eustace De Coste was wounded by shellfire and rushed to an advance dressing station. He succumbed to his injuries before day’s end.

Pte. Eustace DeCoste's Memorial Plaque.
While Eustace was laid to rest in a nearby military cemetery, subsequent artillery fire destroyed many of Passchendaele’s “ad hoc” cemeteries. Officials were therefore unable to locate his grave after the end of hostilities. Eustace’s name is engraved on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium, one of more than 55,000 British and Imperial soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during the war and have no known final resting place.

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

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