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Friday, 17 August 2018

Remembering Private Wilfred Joseph Whitman—KIA August 17, 1918

Wilfred Joseph Whitman was born at Manchester, Guysborough County, on March 29, 1897, the only child of Rufus William and Nellie (Gavin McDonald) Whitman. Rufus also had an older daughter, Ida, by a previous marriage. Following Rufus’s death in 1907, Wilfred was adopted by his paternal uncle, James Winthrop Whitman, and his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Leet, who operated a boarding house near Mulgrave.

Pte. Wilfred Joseph Whitman's headstone, Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery
By 1915, Wilfred had moved to Revere, MA, where his half-sister, Ida, operated a home for the sick. For two years, Wilfred worked as a salesman in the local area. The United States’ entrance in to the First World War in April 1917 and its introduction of a military draft prompted Wilfred to volunteer for service with the 236th Battalion, a New Brunswick unit, at Boston, MA, on June 16, 1917. Before month’s end, he travelled to Fredericton, NB, by train and formally attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

On July 4—one week after his attestation—Wilfred married Philomena “Phyllis” Ghilo, in a ceremony held at Fredericton. While Wilfred departed for Camp Valcartier, QC, for basic training, Phyllis returned to Boston, where she gave birth to a son, Wilfred George, on December 8, 1917. By that time, Wilfred Sr. was stationed at Camp Bramshott, England, awaiting orders to proceed to France.

Following the 236th’s dissolution in March 1918, Wilfred was transferred to the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and joined the unit in the forward area on April 22. A Montreal-based Highland battalion, the 13th was among the Canadian Corps’ most experienced units, having landed on the continent with the 1st Canadian Division in early 1915.

Wilfred served in sectors near Arras, France, throughout the remainder of the month and retired to Divisional Reserve with the 13th in early May. For two and a half months, personnel trained and participated in a variety of recreational activities before returning to trenches near Beaurains in late July. Within days, the unit was on the move, relocating to Épaumesnil, west of Amiens, in early August.

Having withstood a major German spring offensive in late March and April 1918, Allied commanders set about planning a response. The counter-offensive commenced in the French sector in mid-July, moving northward to British sectors early the following month. The Canadian Corps was part of the plan, its well-rested and fully reinforced units relocating to the Amiens area in early August, in preparation for the attack.

In the early morning hours of August 8, Canadian, Australian and British units launched a carefully planned assault on German positions east of Amiens. The 13th Battalion’s soldiers participated in the action as Wilfred received his first exposure to major combat on the Western Front. Before day’s end, the unit succeeded in capturing its objective, a location known as Hangard Wood. Its soldiers remained in the line until the afternoon of August 9, at which time they withdrew to support positions.

The 13th spent the next six days in support and reserve positions as units in the front line consolidated the significant progress made east of Amiens. On the evening of August 15, its personnel returned to the line near Parvillers-le-Quesnoy in relief of the 42nd Battalion, a fellow “Royal Highlanders of Canada” unit.

Early the following morning, two battle patrols of 30 soldiers advanced toward the village of La Chavatte, When German soldiers holding the position rebuffed the attack, supporting artillery shelled the village, in an attempt to “soften up” resistance. In the early hours of August 17, two Companies advanced toward the objective. While German machine guns once again offered strong resistance, the second attack proved successful as the 13th’s soldiers cleared enemy troops from the village.

The 13th held its position until relieved on the night of August 21/22. While its war diary provided no casualty statistics following the capture of La Chavatte, a report appended to the month’s entries listed one “other rank” (OR) killed, one Officer and 28 OR wounded during the La Chavatte tour.

Private Wilfred Joseph Whitman was among the week’s casualties. Most likely wounded during the advance on La Chavatte, he was evacuated to No. 48 Casualty Clearing Station, where he died of wounds on August 17, 1918. Wilfred was laid to rest in Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Somme, France. His widow, Phyllis, subsequently re-married and raised a second family. The couple’s son, Wilfred George Whitman Jr., later served with the United States Navy during the Second World War.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Remembering Private James Edward O’Brien—KIA August 10, 1918

James Edward O’Brien was born at Canso, Guysborough County, on March 26, 1896, the fourth of John J. and Elizabeth (Landry) O’Brien’s six children and the youngest of their four sons. James was working as a clerk in the local community when he enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 11, 1916.

Private James Edward O'Brien
Transferred to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on October 12—the same day on which he departed for England with the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade—James was admitted to Bramshott Military Hospital in early November, suffering from “shortness of breath and weakness on exertion.” Medical staff could not identify a specific cause for his symptoms and James was discharged after spending two weeks in hospital.

Shortly after his discharge, James was re-assigned to the 219th Battalion, but the unit’s dissolution in December 1916 resulted in another transfer to the 161st Battalion, an Ontario unit. Throughout the following year, James remained in England with the 161st. When the 6th Reserve Battalion absorbed its personnel in early 1918, James was assigned to the 47th Battalion (British Columbia) on February 15, 1918, and joined his new unit in France on March 4.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1918, James served a regular rotation with the 47th in sectors near Lens, France. While German forces launched a major “spring offensive” in late March, Canadian sectors were not targeted. The 47th’s personnel spent much of May and all of June in Divisional Reserve and saw little in the way of combat with German forces following their return to trenches near Oppy on July 10.

Allied Commanders, however, were busy planning a major counter-offensive in which the well-rested  Canadian Corps would play a significant role. In early August, the 47th made its way southward to Fourdrinoy, 15 kilometres west of Amiens. After several days’ rest, its personnel entered the line on the evening of August 7 and completed final preparations for an attack on German positions east of Amiens.

At 4:40 a.m. August 8, a massive artillery barrage signalled the beginning of the Battle of Amiens. The 47th’s soldiers advanced in support behind the 44th Battalion, one of its Brigade mates. Forward progress continued throughout the day, the 47th’s personnel reaching the outskirts of Beaucourt-en-Santerre before dark and settling in for the night.

James and his comrades rested throughout the following day before relieving the 11th Brigade’s 87th Battalion in the front trenches during the late evening hours. As morning approached, the 47th prepared for its first major combat since James’ arrival in France. At 10:15 a.m. August 10, its soldiers resumed the attack on the German line.

Despite heavy artillery bombardment, the soldiers steadily moved forward throughout the day, until machine gun fire halted the advance west of Fouquescourt. While personnel managed to drive enemy forces from the village by early evening, stiff resistance and dwindling light forced the unit to consolidate its position and settle in for the night.

Private James O’Brien’s first combat experience proved to be his last. Around 6:00 p.m. August 10, while taking part in the 47th’s attack on Fouquescourt, James was struck by a machine gun bullet and instantly killed. He was laid to rest in the Australian Imperial Forces Burial Ground, Flers, France.

James' story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Remembering Private Clayton R. Mills—KIA August 9, 1918

Clayton R. Mills was born at Port Hilford, Guysborough County, on January 15, 1888, the youngest of Anne Scott “Annie” (McKeen) and Robert Bruce Mills’ five children. Sometime before 1901, the family moved to Sherbrooke, where Robert worked at a local saw mill. In 1904, Robert, Annie and children relocated to a farm at The Forks (Glenelg), where the couple spent their remaining days.

Clayton R. Mills (pre-war portrait)

During the years prior to the First World War, Clayton travelled to Western Canada on the annual “harvest trains,” usually in the company of his older brother, Frank. Clayton eventually remained out west, made his way to Vancouver, BC, sometime after 1911, and found work as a carpenter.

Following the outbreak of war, British Columbia provided a large number of soldiers for overseas service. Clayton was among the volunteers, enlisting with the 121st Battalion (“Western Irish”) at New Westminster, BC, on January 9, 1916. He spent seven months training at Camp Vernon, BC, before following the unit across the country by train. On August 14, the 121st departed for overseas and arrived at Liverpool, England, after a 10-day passage.

Before year’s end, the 121st was designated a “reserve battalion” for the 29th Battalion (British Columbia). While Clayton was transferred to the 29th on November 28, 1916, he spent more than three months working with 2nd Entrenching Battalion before finally joining his new unit on March 5, 1917. Before year’s end, Clayton saw combat with the 29th at Vimy Ridge, France (April 9, 1917) and Passchendaele, Belgium (November 6, 1917).

Throughout the winter of 1917-18, Clayton served a regular rotation with the 29th in sectors near Arras, France. Tours in the line extended into early summer before the unit retired to Divisional Reserve in late June 1918. After a month’s rest and training, personnel returned to the line east of Amiens, France, in early August and prepared for its role in a major counter-offensive on the German line.

While the attack commenced at 4:30 a.m. August 8, the 29th did not participate in the first day’s fighting. The following morning, however, its soldiers prepared for battle, their objective being the village of Rosières. At precisely 10:00 a.m. August 9, Clayton and his comrades advanced toward the German line. The soldiers immediately encountered a fierce barrage of machine gun and artillery fire but determinedly made their way forward, securing their objective by mid-afternoon. Before day’s end, the 29th’s soldiers advanced six kilometres into German-held territory.

In total, Canadian units suffered more than 2,500 casualties during the fighting at Amiens. Following its August 9, 1918 advance, the 29th’s war diary reported 159 soldiers lost in the initial minutes of fighting. Private Clayton Mills was one of the early fatalities, “hit in the head and instantly killed by an enemy machine gun bullet” shortly after leaving the “jumping off” trenches. Clayton was laid to rest in Rosières Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.

Clayton’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937," available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Remembering Private Henry “Harry” McLeod—KIA August 9, 1918

Henry “Harry” McLeod was born at Halifax, NS, on July 12, 1887, the eldest of Lavina Grace (O’Hara) and Neil McLeod’s four children. Grace was a native of New Harbour, Guysborough County, while Neil was a sea captain from St. Ann’s, Cape Breton. When Neil passed away sometime during the 1890s, the family appears to have disintegrated, as the children were taken in by various O’Hara relatives. Harry was adopted by his maternal uncle, James O’Hara, New Harbour, while his two younger brothers lived nearby. Their sister, Ethel, was raised at Milton, Queen’s County, by O’Hara relatives.

Private Henry "Harry McLeod

By 1911, Harry had established residence at Stellarton, Pictou County, where he worked in the local coal mines. Following the outbreak of the First World War, mining towns received particular attention from military recruiters. On April 6, 1916, Harry enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Stellarton. After a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, he departed for England with the 193rd and its Nova Scotia Highland Brigade counterparts on October 12, 1916.

Shortly after its overseas arrival, two of the Brigade’s units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—were dissolved, in order to provide reinforcements for Canadian units at the front. In late December 1916, Harry was transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders), one of two Highland Brigade units to remain intact.

Harry trained in England with the 185th for five months before receiving a transfer to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia) on May 27, 1917. He immediately crossed the English Channel to France, but was temporarily assigned to 2nd Entrenching Battalion, one of several labour units working in the forward area. After several months’ service with 2nd Entrenching, Harry finally joined the 25th’s ranks on August 20.

The unit had just withdrawn from the line following the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France. For the next two months, Harry served a regular rotation with the 25th in sectors near the city. In early November, the battalion relocated to Ypres, Belgium, where its soldiers occupied support positions during the final stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

The 25th withdrew from the line several days after the ridge’s capture and returned to France before month’s end. Throughout the winter of 1917-18, Harry served regular tours alongside his 25th comrades in sectors near Lens. In late March 1918, German forces launched a major offensive south of the Canadian Corps. While unaffected by the subsequent fighting, the unit’s soldiers nevertheless remained on the alert, conducting regular night-time patrols in No Man’s Land.

On the night of April 21/22, 1918, while participating in one such assignment, Harry suffered a shrapnel wound to his right hand during a skirmish with enemy soldiers. Evacuated for medical treatment, Harry made a rapid recovery, as the wound was slight. He spent one month at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre before rejoining the 25th at Neuville-Vitasse on June 8. The unit remained in the line until month’s end, at which time its personnel retired to Divisional Reserve for a month’s rest and training.

In late July 1918, the 25th made its way south to a location near Amiens as the Canadian Corps prepared to return to the line. In the early hours of August 5, its soldiers entered trenches near Bois de Blangy. Two days later, they advanced to “jumping off” positions near Cachy and made final preparations for combat. Harry and his comrades were about to participate in a major Allied counter-attack on the German line east of Amiens, France.

At 4:20 a.m. August 8, the 24th and 26th Battalions—two of the 25th’s 5th Brigade mates—launched an attack on German trenches opposite their position. As the 25th followed in close support, a heavy mist hanging over the battlefield made it difficult for the soldiers to find their way. The Brigade nevertheless succeeded in capturing its objective—a location 1,000 yards beyond the village of Guillaucourt—by mid-day and personnel set about consolidating their position.

The following day—August 9, 1918—the 25th resumed the attack at 1:00 p.m. and succeeded in capturing three French villages before evening. During the advance, however, its soldiers encountered considerable enemy machine gun fire, resulting in numerous casualties. As night fell, Private Harry McLeod was officially reported “missing.” Sometime afterward, Harry’s remains were located, his “circumstances of casualty” stating that he “was killed while taking part in operations in the vicinity of Méharicourt.” Private Harry McLeod was laid to rest in Hillside British Cemetery, near Moreuil, France.

Harry’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Friday, 3 August 2018

Remembering Sapper Francis Stewart “Frank” Manson—DOS August 3, 1918

Francis Stewart “Frank” Manson was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, on December 2, 1892, the youngest of Lucy (Walters) and George W. Manson’s four sons. Only months after Frank’s birth, his mother, Lucy, died of tuberculosis. While George remained in the area—he was a school teacher at nearby Country Harbour—the four boys were taken in by local relatives.

Sapper Francis Stewart "Frank" Manson
Frank spent his childhood in the Forks at St. Mary’s home of his paternal aunt, Elizabeth Manson, and her husband, Alfred E. McKeen. Sometime after 1901, two of Frank’s older brothers, John Gidison “Jack” and Lowell, left for British Columbia, where they found employment in the mines. By 1907, the pair had saved enough money to have their younger siblings, Alexander and Frank, join them. All four worked at the Britannia Beach copper mine, where Frank was a pipe fitter.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, British Columbia’s lumber camps and mining towns were fertile ground for military recruiters. Young Frank was the first of the Manson brothers to respond, enlisting with the 143rd Battalion at Vancouver, BC, on January 26, 1017. His older brother, Jack, was later conscripted into military service and served in the forward area with an engineering unit.

The 143rd Battalion (BC Bantams) was authorized in November 1915 and commenced its recruitment campaign three months later. Initially designed as a unit for men unable to meet the minimum requirements for service with regular units—height of five feet four inches and chest measurement of 34 inches—the 143rd was only one of two “bantam” units recruited in Canada. Its minimum requirements were reduced to five feet one and a half inches and 30-inch chest measurement, although its recruits had to be at least 22 years of age.

Limited response eventually forced the unit to open its ranks to volunteers above its lower requirements. Frank was one such recruit, his height and chest measurements—five feet seven inches and 35 inches respectively—well beyond the unit’s minimum standards. The 143rd departed Halifax on February 17, 1917 and landed in England 10 days later. Disbanded shortly after its overseas arrival, 750 of its personnel were transferred to the 24th Reserve Battalion and gradually assigned to British Columbia units at the front. A remaining group of 135 “other ranks” (OR) were transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops (CRT), on March 15.

Frank was one of the soldiers assigned to 3rd CRT. The recently formed unit crossed the English Channel to France on March 22. Before month’s end, two of its Companies—“A” and “B”—commenced work at Poperinghe, near Ypres, Belgium, while the remaining two Companies travelled  to Fosse, France. Frank was part of the Poperinghe group, which worked on a railway grade near Ypres throughout the following month.

On April 6, Frank reported to 3rd New Zealand Field Ambulance for treatment of bronchitis. Transferred to hospital at Dieppe, France, the following day, he remained under medical care for three weeks. Shortly after Frank returned to his unit, the two Companies working in Belgium joined their comrades at Barlin, France, where the entire unit commenced maintenance work on a local, small-gauge railway line. The “sappers,” as they were called, toiled in the open, under constant threat of German artillery fire.

Frank remained with the battalion throughout the summer of 1917, working without incident on various projects in the forward area. As autumn arrived, however, the health issues that plagued his first weeks in Belgium returned. On October 24, Frank was admitted to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station with a suspected case of “phthisis,” a contemporary term for pulmonary tuberculosis. Transported to No. 5 General Hospital, Rouen, shortly afterward, medical staff determined that Frank should be “invalided” to England before month’s end.

On November 2, Frank was admitted to Grove Military Hospital, Tooting Grove, England, where staff confirmed the initial diagnosis. Transferred to No. 16 Canadian General Hospital, Orpington, Kent, at mid-month, Frank received treatment for “chronic tuberculosis.” On January 4, 1918, he was transferred to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Liverpool,  the first step of the journey home. One month later, Frank departed for Canada. Upon arrival, he made his way across the country by train to British Columbia, where he was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital’s Military Annex.

Frank’s prognosis was not promising. By early June. a medical report confirmed that he was suffering from “tubercle of lung,” likely contracted in France in October 1917 through exposure and infection “while on active service.” On July 4, 1918, Frank was transferred to Tranquille Sanatorium, Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops, BC. Four days later, he was officially discharged from military service. Frank remained at Tranquille Sanatorium until his death on August 3, 1918. Two days later, Sapper Francis Stewart Manson was laid to rest in Pleasant Street Cemetery, Kamloops, BC.

Frank’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Monday, 16 July 2018

Remembering Corporal Daniel Angus Chisholm—KIA July 16, 1918

Daniel Angus Chisholm was born at Salmon River Lake, Guysborough County, on February 8, 1879, the fifth of Andrew and Catherine (Boyle) Chisholm’s 11 children. His parents married at St. Andrews, NS, in 1873. Their first six children were born while the couple was living at Salmon River Lake. Around 1884, the family relocated to Caledonia Mills, where their remaining five children were born. A son, Angus, and a daughter, Margaret Ann, passed away in the late 1890s.

Private Daniel Angus Chisholm, AEF
Following their father Andrew’s death in 1901, the Chisholm siblings gradually left for the United States. The eldest, Roderick, was the first to depart, establishing residence in New York. When their mother, Catherine, passed away in 1904, the others followed Roderick’s example, the last and youngest—William A. “Will”—departing Nova Scotia in 1911 after his brother Andrew’s death at Caledonia Mills. Altogether, six Chisholm brothers found employment as linemen or electricians with New York area utility or telephone companies.

Following the United States’ entrance into the First World War in April 1917, five of the six brothers enlisted for military service with the American Expeditionary Force. Charles was the first, joining an artillery unit in early May 1917. A second brother, Will, enlisted with the National Guard several days later. On May 19, 1917, Daniel enlisted with the 6th Regiment, US Engineers, at Fort Slocum, near New Rochelle, York, where was working as an electrician with a local utility company.

Early the following month, Hugh registered for the United States draft and was later assigned to the 501st Engineers’ Service Battalion. A fifth brother, Alexander, also enlisted with the 58th Artillery, also his brother Will’s unit. In November 1917, Hugh was the first of the five brothers to sail for France. Early the following month, Daniel departed for overseas, while the remaining three brothers made the crossing in early May 1918.


Following several months’ training, Daniel’s unit completed its first deployment in the forward area during the “Somme Defensive (March 21 - April 6, 1918), in support of British and French soldiers resisting the German “Spring Offensive east of Amiens, France. Before month’s end, Daniel was promoted to the rank of Corporal. 6th Engineers remained in the Amiens area until mid-June, at which time personnel relocated to the Champagne - Marne Sector, approximately 100 kilometres east of Paris.

The unit immediately commenced work on a defensive system at locations well within the range of German artillery fire. Over the next six weeks, personnel constructed rifle pits, fox holes, slit trenches and strong points in their assigned sector. By mid-July, work was “in an elemental stage” and personnel “scattered over the entire area” when events took a dramatic turn.

Shortly after midnight July 15, 1918, German artillery launched a massive barrage on the 6th Engineers’ sector. Company A—Daniel’s unit—was particularly hard-hit, as “German guns, small and large, were concentrated on [its] position to an extent never before experienced.” In response, personnel took shelter in emergency trenches located in the centre of their camp.

As the barrage continued, one shell struck the trenches, killing four and wounding many others. At 5:15 a.m., the Company received orders to move to trenches at a nearby farm and assume a position in reserve. If attacking German forces succeeded in capturing the nearby village of Crézancy, Company A would be called upon to launch a counter-attack.

The Company held its position into the following day, “the men that were not actually needed in the line [carrying] ammunition for a battery… which was directly behind the trenches.” At 2:00 p.m. July 16, personnel received orders to return to camp, “but on the way back… [were] spotted by an enemy scout plane, which later drew fire on the camp. This barrage set off an ammunition dump only 60 yards away, throwing missiles of death in and around the camp for more than an hour, killing four and wounding forty.” Later that night, “the dead were buried and the Company moved to [a nearby] hillside.”

Corporal Daniel Angus Chisholm was one of Company A’s July 16, 1918 fatalities. In the aftermath of his passing, his younger brother, Charles, shared the details surrounding his death in a letter to their oldest sibling, Roderick. According to Charles, Daniel was “following his squad to cover” when he “was killed by shell fire.” He was “buried with 16 comrades in separate graves with a cross and name affixed to each of them,” at a location two kilometers south of Crézancy and eight kilometers east of Château-Thierry, France.

Following the end of hostilities, Daniel’s remains and those of his fallen comrades were relocated to Oise Aisne American Cemetery, Seringes-et-Nesles, 20 kilometers north of Crézancy. Under a repatriation program implemented by the American government following the war, Daniel’s remains returned to the United States in July 1921 and he was reinterred in Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Remembering Private Harold Brown Layton—Died of Sickness June 30, 1918

Harold Brown Layton was born at Canso, Guysborough County, on July 16, 1897, the second child and only son of Herbert Lauren and Rebecca (Mosher) Layton. Herbert, a men’s tailor by profession, was working in the Canso area at the time of Harold’s birth. Tragically, Rebecca passed away before year’s end, leaving her husband to care for two young children.
Private Harold Brown Layton
Herbert subsequently remarried and relocated the family to Middleton, NS, where his father, Rev. Thomas Brown Layton, resided. After completing his secondary education, Harold secured a position as a “druggist’s apprentice” with a local doctor. In late summer 1915, however, he abandoned his civilian career, travelled to Sussex, NB, and enlisted with the 64th Battalion on September 1, 1915. Before year’s end, the unit relocated to Halifax, NS, and departed for England on March 31, 1916.

When the 64th was disbanded shortly after its overseas arrival, Harold was transferred to the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) on July 7. Before summer’s end, the 40th was designated a reserve battalion. As a result, on September 26, Harold was assigned to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia) and joined his new unit in France in mid-October.

Throughout the winter of 1916-17, Harold served with the 25th in sectors near Vimy Ridge. In late January 1917, he was treated for “myalgia” at a field ambulance and spent 10 days at a nearby rest camp. While he resumed his regular duties shortly afterward, Harold was re-admitted to a Casualty Clearing Station on March 11 and subsequently transferred to No. 10 Canadian General Hospital, Camiers, for treatment of the same ailment.

Invalided to England in early April, Harold was admitted to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bromley, Kent, suffering from pains in his right hip, thigh and neck. Following a transfer to the Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Buxton, in late April, his condition appeared to improve. While medical staff continued to diagnose the source of his symptoms as “myalgia,” his circumstances worsened after a second transfer to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, on June 7. Harold’s back, neck and leg pain now extended to his right knee and ankle, and was particularly severe after walking.

When a surgical team punctured a small abscess that had developed over Harold’s right sacroiliac joint, the extracted fluid tested positive for tubercle bacilli. Medical authorities concluded that he was no longer fit for service, and Harold was transferred to Kirkdale Canadian Hospital, Liverpool, for “invalidation” to Canada. A second series of tests at Kirkdale verified the presence of tubercle bacilli, prompting doctors to change his diagnosis to “tuberculosis of the sacroiliac joint.”

On September 14, 1917, Harold departed for Canada and arrived at Quebec after an 11-day passage. He returned by train to Halifax and was admitted to Military District No. 6’s Convalescent Home. By this time, Harold had developed a swelling “larger than a hen’s egg” above his right buttock, a condition that made walking painful. In mid-November, he was transferred to a medical facility at Pine Hill.

Over time, Harold’s situation worsened. Medical records describe his appearance as “pale and emaciated.” A late January 1918 Medical Board concluded that, while not seriously ill at the time, his condition was “probably tubercular in origin and will be gradually progressive.” On February 2, Harold was transferred to Camp Hill Hospital, where staff reported that he was in “almost constant pain.”

As the weeks passed, Harold’s condition deteriorated, as the Medical Board had predicted. By late May 1918, he was very weak and confined to bed. Both lungs were affected with “probably T. B.,” and his right lung showed signs of pleurisy. A test of his sputum also revealed the presence of tubercle bacilli. Private Harold Brown Layton lingered for another month, finally passing away at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, on June 30, 1918. His remains were transported to Truro, where he was laid to rest in Robie St. Cemetery.
Pte. Layton's headstone, Robie St., Cemetery, Truro, NS
Harold’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Remembering Lt. Col. Thomas Howard MacDonald—Perished At Sea June 27, 1918

Thomas Howard MacDonald was born at Mulgrave, NS, on December 15, 1877, the second of Dr. Patrick Alexander and Annie Bridget (Condon) MacDonald’s four children. Patrick later established a family medical practice at nearby Port Hawkesbury. The family ensured that Howard and his younger brother, Harry, obtained a thorough education. Howard graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in 1896 and proceeded to Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where he obtained a Master of Arts degree in 1897.

Howard subsequently completed medical studies at New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY. In 1901, he returned to Nova Scotia and established a medical practice at Port Hawkesbury. Howard also enlisted with a local militia unit as its Medical Officer, initially receiving the commissioned rank of Lieutenant and rising to the rank of Major in 1911.

On February 11, 1911, Howard married Catherine Connolly, a native of New Glasgow, NS, in a ceremony held at Ipswich, MA. The couple established residence at Port Hawkesbury and welcomed two daughters—Isabelle and Eileen—during the pre-war years. While Howard’s family obligations may have delayed his enlistment, he eventually made his services available to the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) and departed for England on December 30, 1915.

Howard was initially attached to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Wokingham, where he formally attested with the CAMC on April 15, 1916. At the time of his enlistment, he received the commissioned rank of Major. The following month, Howard commenced service with Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, which tended to the medical needs of Canadian soldiers at nearby military camps.

On August 6, Howard was appointed Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS) Embarkation, Bath, England. His duties involved overseeing the operation of the medical boards that determined sick and wounded soldiers’ fitness for duty. Howard was attached to the Claims and Pension Board, London, for the last two months of the year, but returned to his ADMS duties on January 1, 1917.

After almost one year of administrative duties, Howard received a transfer to the Canadian Military Hospital, Kirkdale, Liverpool, on June 29. The facility provided medical treatment to Canadian soldiers arriving overseas, and processed sick and wounded soldiers invalided to Canada, prior to their departure. Virtually every soldier in England longed to serve on the continent, and Howard, despite the fact that he was almost 40 years old, was no different. On August 15, he proceeded across the English Channel to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Outreau, France, where he assumed administrative duties.

All CAMC personnel also pursued the opportunity to serve at the front. On November 7, Howard was appointed the 4th Canadian Labour Battalion’s Medical Officer. He followed the unit to Ypres, Belgium, where its soldiers worked in the forward area for five weeks before relocating to Souchez, France. Howard tended to the men’s health and medical needs, and assessed the physical fitness of reinforcements as they joined the unit.

After almost four months’ service in the forward area, Howard returned to England on February 28, 1918. Following several weeks’ rest, he was appointed Commanding Officer of HMHS Llandovery Castle’s CAMC staff on March 19, 1918. The assignment included a promotion to the rank of “temporary Lieutenant Colonel.”

The Llandovery Castle was part of a fleet of hospital ships that transported sick and wounded Canadian soldiers to Canada. For two months, Howard served aboard the vessel without incident. On June 17, the Llandovery Castle docked at Halifax and its 644 sick and wounded passengers were transferred to onshore facilities. Howard may have travelled home by train for a short visit, while the vessel obtained fuel and supplies for the return journey. Three days later, the ship sailed out of Halifax harbour, with only 97 CAMC personnel and the vessel’s crew aboard.

The passengers enjoyed comfortable summer weather for much of the return trip. By early evening June 27, 1918, the Llandovery Castle was approximately 190 kilometres west of Fastnet Rock, which lies off the coast of Ireland’s southern tip. At 9:30 p.m., an undetected German U-boat surfaced and fired a torpedo at the hospital ship. The weapon struck “abaft” its No. 4 engines, causing a massive explosion.

Its engines disabled, the vessel lurched forward and began to list badly. Lt. Col. MacDonald directed CAMC personnel into the lifeboats as all aboard abandoned ship. Several boats capsized as they reached the water. While the boat containing the 14 Nursing Sisters remained afloat, it was drawn into a whirlpool created by sinking debris and all were thrown into the sea. In total, only two lifeboats containing 24 survivors—six CAMC staff and 18 crew—managed to escape the debris field as the Llandovery Castle slipped beneath the surface.

Contemporary Illustration Depicting the Llandovery Castle's Sinking
A total of 234 passengers perished at sea. Amongst CAMC personnel, Lt. Col. Howard MacDonald, five other Officers, all 14 Nursing Sisters and 71 “other ranks” lost their lives in the incident. The remaining fatalities were members of the vessel’s crew. The details surrounding Howard’s death remain a mystery. The 24 survivors drifted at sea for 36 hours before encountering a navy destroyer that transported them to Queensport, near Cork, Ireland. News of the hospital ship’s sinking evoked unprecedented condemnation of Germany and was widely used in Allied war propaganda.

Lt. Col Thomas Howard MacDonald and his CAMC comrades are among the individuals commemorated on a Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial erected in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in November 1967. The monument honours “the Men and Women of the Navy, Army, and Merchant Navy of Canada” who perished at sea during the two world wars.

Howard’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Remembering Acting Matron Margaret Marjorie “Pearl” Fraser—Perished At Sea June 27, 1918

Margaret Marjorie “Pearl” Fraser was born at New Glasgow, NS, on March 20, 1884, the third of Duncan Cameron “D. C.” and Elizabeth “Bessie” (Graham) Fraser’s five children and the youngest of the couple’s three daughters. D. C., a lawyer by profession, was elected Member of Parliament for Guysborough in 1891, a position he held until his appointment to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in 1904. Two years later, he assumed the office of Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and served in that capacity until his untimely death on September 27, 1910, at 64 years of age.

Acting Matron Margaret Marjorie "Pearl" Fraser
By the time of her father’s passing, Pearl had left home to pursue a career in nursing. She completed her training at the Lady Stanley Institute for Trained Nurses, Ottawa, in 1909, and according to its 1912 annual report, was employed as a Head Nurse at Vancouver General Hospital. Meanwhile, following D.C.’s passing, Pearl’s mother, Bessie, relocated to Moose Jaw, SK, where she resided with her oldest daughter, Annie, and her husband, Rev. William G. Wilson.

Following the outbreak of war in early August 1914, Pearl travelled to Quebec City and enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on September 28, 1914. Her younger brother, Alistair, joined her in uniform, travelling to Camp Valcartier with a Saskatchewan unit but later attesting with the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia). A lawyer by profession, Alistair received the commissioned rank of Lieutenant at the time of his enlistment. He later served at the front with the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada) and merited a Military Cross for bravery at Vimy Ridge, France on April 9, 1917.

Pearl and Alistair crossed the North Atlantic to England with the First Canadian Contingent in October 1914. While Pearl was officially attached to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital (CGH) at the time of her overseas arrival, she was transferred to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital (CSH) on November 1, 1914 and immediately proceeded to France with the unit.

No. 2 CSH holds the distinction of being the first Canadian unit of any kind to set foot in France. As a result, its original staff qualified for the 1914 Mons Star, awarded to military personnel serving in the theatre of war on or before December 31, 1914. For almost one year, the unit operated a hospital at Le Touquet, near Étaples, approximately 40 kilometres south of Boulogne. During that time, its personnel tended to Canadian soldiers who were wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres (April 1915), the Canadian Corps’ first major combat experience.

In October 1915, No. 2 CGH relocated to Outreau, on the outskirts of Boulogne. Gradually, the attraction of service closer to the front drew some of its personnel to other units. In February 1916, Pearl received a transfer to No. 2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), which operated a 200-bed British hospital at Aire-sur-la-Lys, near Béthune, France. Its proximity to the front lines meant that the occasional air raid threatened the facility, and the sound of artillery fire was clearly audible.

A desire to service the needs of Canadian soldiers resulted in No. 2 CGH’s relocation to Remy Siding, near Poperinghe, Belgium in mid-November 1916. Ironically, by the time personnel arrived in the Ypres Salient, the Canadian Corps had departed for the Somme region of France. Pearl and her Canadian colleagues nevertheless remained at Remy Siding throughout the winter of 1916-17. Proximity to the front lines once again resulted in frequent air raids and necessitated construction of an underground shelter for nursing sisters and medical staff.

In May 1917, Pearl returned to England after two and a half years’ service in France and Belgium. While her personnel file makes no mention of health issues, the strains of duty close to the front lines may have contributed to the change in assignment. On May 10, 1917, Pearl was posted to HMHS Letitia, one of several hospital ships introduced into service with the CAMC in the spring of 1917, for the purpose of transporting wounded Canadian soldiers home.

Pearl made at least one—possibly as many as three—crossings on the Letitia before receiving a transfer to King’s Red Cross Special Hospital, Bushey Park, England, on July 27, 1917. The 400-bed facility specialized in the treatment of heart and kidney patients. Pearl was appointed “nurse in charge,” her first promotion since arriving overseas. In October 1917, local news reports suggest that she received a leave to Canada. Pearl spent time with Graham relatives in New Glasgow, NS, before travelling to Moose Jaw, SK, to visit her mother, Bessie.

Upon returning to duty, Pearl was assigned to HMHS Araguaya, the “work horse” of the hospital ship fleet. Before war’s end, the vessel completed 20 trans-Atlantic crossings and carried more than 15,000 wounded Canadian soldiers home. Pearl served aboard the Araguaya throughout the winter of 1917-18.

Meanwhile, the youngest Fraser child, James Gibson Laurier Fraser, had followed his older siblings into military service. Laurier enlisted with the 229th Battalion at Moose Jaw, SK, in February 1916, with the commissioned rank of Lieutenant. After a lengthy wait in England, he was transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) and served in the forward area for almost one year without incident. On March 4, 1918, Lt. Laurier Fraser was in the trenches with the 16th Battalion near Mazingarbe, France, when he was killed in an enemy artillery barrage.

Laurier's death was the first of two tragedies to befall the Fraser family during the war’s final months. The news of his passing had a significant impact on Pearl. While she was officially appointed Acting Matron of the hospital ship Llandovery Castle on March 22, 1918, she received one month’s sick leave three weeks later. Pearl returned to duty on May 17 and may have made a voyage to Canada aboard the Llandovery Castle in late May - early June.

Whatever the case, Pearl was aboard the vessel when it arrived at Halifax on June 17, with a total of 644 patients on board. Three days later, the Llandovery Castle departed for England, its 97 CAMC staff and the vessel’s crew the only passengers making the crossing. It was a pleasant summer voyage, the medical personnel taking the opportunity to relax on deck during clear weather.

On the evening of June 27, 1918, the Llandovery Castle was approximately 190 kilometres west of Fastnet Rock, located near Ireland’s southern tip, when a German U-boat spotted the vessel. At 9:30 p.m., without prior warning, the enemy ship fired a torpedo that struck the vessel “abaft” its No. 4 engines. The resulting explosion destroyed a large, rear portion of the ship and disabled its engines. Virtually all personnel in the area were killed or wounded, and the Captain on the bridge lost all control over the vessel.

While the ship lurched forward, it was gradually “forced down by the head.” Meanwhile, the CAMC staff and remaining crew members scrambled into lifeboats and abandoned ship. All 14 Nursing Sisters crowded into one boat, under the direction of Sergeant Arthur Knight (regimental number 528654), one of a handful of CAMC staff destined to survive the ordeal. In later testimony, Knight described the ensuing events.

While the lifeboat carrying the Nursing Sisters dropped to the water, the two ropes attaching it to the vessel failed to release. Sgt. Knight broke two axes while attempting to cut the ropes. Meanwhile, passengers used the oars to prevent the boat from smashing against the sinking vessel’s hull, breaking all in the process. The ropes finally released, but the boat drifted helplessly alongside the sinking ship.

Artists' depiction of the Llandovery Castle's sinking
Shortly afterward, a large section of the poop deck fell into the water, creating a vortex near the lifeboat. As it was drawn into the current, the boat capsized, throwing its occupants into the sea. While Knight surfaced three times and eventually clung to a piece of debris, Acting Matron Pearl Fraser and her 13 Nursing Sister colleagues perished as the whirlpool consumed the lifeboat. Within 10 minutes off being struck by the torpedo, the Llandovery Castle slipped beneath the waters. A total of 234 CAMC and vessel crew perished in the incident. Of the 24 passengers who managed to escape the debris field, only one CAMC Officer and five CAMC “other ranks” survived the ordeal.

Acting Matron Margaret Marjorie Fraser’s name is engraved on a Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial plaque erected at Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in November 1967, in memory of Army, Navy and Merchant Marine personnel lost at sea during the First and Second World Wars. Numerous other memorials commemorate the loss of the Llandovery Castle’s 14 Nursing Sisters. In Pearl’s hometown, First Presbyterian Church, New Glasgow, installed a stained glass window in her memory.

Having lost an older sister and younger brother in the span of less than four months, Alistair was understandably devastated. He relinquished his duties as Aide-de-Camp to Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie, a post he had commenced on the same day as Laurier’s death, and returned home to Canada, where he carried out administrative duties with Military District # 12 (Regina, SK) for the war’s duration.

Pearl Fraser’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Remembering Captain James Tennant Whitworth Boyd—Died of Sickness June 16, 1918

James Tennant Whitworth Boyd was born at Glenelg, Guysborough County, on May 13, 1891, the second of Reverend Andrew and Margaret (Stewart) Boyd’s four children. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Rev. Boyd was ministering to the Glenelg Presbyterian Church’s congregation at the time of James’ birth.

Captain James Tennant Whitworth Boyd, CAMC
Sometime after 1901, the family relocated to Port Arthur, ON. James subsequently completed medical studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, and enlisted with No. 7 Canadian General Hospital (Queen’s University) reinforcements, Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), on January 4, 1916. Two months later, he departed for England. In late March, James crossed the English Channel and joined the staff of No. 7 Canadian General Hospital (CGH), which was operating a medical facility at Le Tréport, France.

In November 1916, the unit relocated to nearby Étaples. Its personnel immediately assumed operation of a facility that contained 500 patients and provided care for almost 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers during its first month. As winter set in, lack of heat in the facility produced uncomfortable conditions, particularly for “nephritis [kidney inflammation] and bronchial cases.”

Patients were not the only ones affected by the circumstances. On January 22, 1917, Captain James Boyd was admitted to nearby Liverpool Merchants Hospital. He had been suffering from severe headaches for several months and began to experience pain in his left chest several days prior to his admission. James was quickly invalided to England, where he was admitted to Royal Free Hospital, Grays Inn Road, London, before month’s end.

Upon further examination, medical staff diagnosed James with “chronic interstitial nephritis,” a condition that can result in kidney failure. A Medical Board subsequently concluded that, while James was no longer fit for “general service,” his condition permitted him to serve in England or Canada. Discharged from hospital on February 24, 1917, he spent one month convalescing before commencing a new assignment at Kitchener Military Hospital, Brighton, with No. 10 CGH.

James’ new facility provided care for limbless soldiers returning from the front, preparing them for prosthetic limbs and a return to civilian life. James worked in the hospital’s Pathology Department, where the workload was considerably less demanding than his previous assignment. While he suffered from the “occasional headache,” for more than a year, James completed his assigned tasks and engaged in light physical activity without any health issues.

In May 1918, James experienced an “influenza attack,” after which his severe headaches resumed. He took a brief leave and appeared to recover, but upon returning to work he began to experience episodes of “nocturnal dyspnoea”—night-time attacks of shortness of breath and coughing—in addition to bloody sputum, chest pain and vomiting.

On May 29, James was admitted to Kitchener Military Hospital, where staff diagnosed his condition as chronic hypertensive nephritis, uraemia and cardiac failure. His heart was enlarged and doctors predicted gradual circulatory system failure. As the days passed, James became weaker and “more comatose.” Captain James Boyd passed away at 10:10 p.m. June 16, 1918.


James’ younger brother, Andrew, had enlisted with a Canadian artillery unit and received 14 days’ special leave on the day prior to his passing. While he may not have been at his bedside during his final hours, Andrew was quite likely in attendance when James was laid to rest in Brighton Military Cemetery, Brighton, England.

James’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Remembering Private Alexander McDonald—Died of Sickness June 13, 1918

Alexander McDonald was born at Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County on March 9, 1897, the second-youngest of Michael and Bridget (Grant) McDonald’s 10 children. Michael passed away 14 months after Alexander’s birth, leaving his widow to care for a large family. Alexander worked on the family farm alongside his siblings until called into uniform under the Military Service Act (1917).

Pte. Alexander McDonald's headstone, St. Peter's Church, Tracadie

On April 24, 1918, Alexander completed his medical examination and attestation documents at Halifax, NS. Within days of his enlistment, however, health issues interrupted his training. On May 7, Alexander was admitted to Station Hospital, Cogswell St., suffering from a sinus inflammation and “photophobia” (sensitivity to light).

While his condition improved shortly after his admission, Alexander still displayed an elevated temperature, a “tracheal cough” and a severe headache. While his temperature returned to normal by May 11, Alexander’s recovery was short-lived. Four days later, he returned to bed with a high temperature. A dramatic spike on May 21 resulted in Alexander’s transfer to a surgical ward, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and empyema, a collection of pus in the lung cavity often associated with pneumonia.

On May 27, Alexander underwent a surgical procedure to remove fluid from his left lung. Despite the intervention, his condition continued to deteriorate. At 2:10 p.m. June 13, 1918, Alexander passed away, medical authorities identifying the cause of death as pneumonia and empyema, due to streptococcal infection. Alexander's remains were transported to Tracadie, where he was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Church Cemetery.

Alexander’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Lieutenant Charlotte "Lottie" Urquhart—A Military Medal Nursing Sister's Story

Date of Birth: March 27, 1888

Place of Birth: Mountville, Pictou County

Mother: Catherine Ellen Robertson

Father: John Urquhart

Occupation: Professional Nurse

Marital Status: Single

Enlistment: January 16, 1916 at Montreal, QC

Regimental #: None [Nursing Sister]

Rank: Lieutenant

Force: Canadian Army Medical Corps

Units: No. 6 Canadian General Hospital (Laval University); No 1 Canadian General Hospital; No, 7 Canadian General Hospital (Queen’s University)

Service: England & France

Next of Kin: John Urquhart, New Glasgow, NS (father)

Lottie’s younger brother, Edwin (DOB May 28, 1891), served with the 78th Regiment (Pictou Highlanders) for two years prior to the First World War and was among the unit’s soldiers who immediately volunteered for overseas service following Britain’s August 4, 1914 declaration of war on Germany. Edwin attested with the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) at Camp Valcartier, QC, on September 26, 1914 and departed for England aboard SS Ruthenia one week later.

After the 17th was re-designated a “reserve battalion,” Edwin was transferred to the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on April 26, 1915. Shortly afterward, he joined his new unit in Belgium’s Ypres Salient. For more than a year, Edwin served in the front lines without incident. On June 13, 1916, the 13th Battalion participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Mont Sorrel and Tor Top (Hill 62), two strategic locations east of Ypres that had been captured by German forces earlier in the month. During the 13th’s advance, a piece of artillery shrapnel struck Edwin in the left arm above the elbow and exited at the front of his shoulder, fracturing his humerus.

Evacuated for medical treatment, Edwin was admitted to No. 13 General Hospital, Boulogne, France, on June 16. Four days later, surgeons amputated his shattered left arm below the shoulder joint. At month’s end, Edwin was invalided to England, where he gradually recovered from his surgery. Following his discharge from hospital in mid-November 1916, he spent almost one year in England before departing for Canada aboard SS Olympic on November 6, 1917.

Edwin was formally discharged as “medically unfit” on January 15, 1918 and returned home to Pictou County. He soon found employment as a clerk, and married Kathleen Hibbs at Moncton, NB, on March 9, 1920. No further information is available on Edwin’s later life.

*****

Charlotte “Lottie” Urquhart was born at Mountville, Pictou County, on March 27, 1888, the eighth of John and Catherine Ellen (Robertson) Urquhart’s 11 children and the fourth of the couple’s five daughters. Lottie’s oldest sister, Margaret Jane, became a “trained nurse” and  Lottie was determined to follow in her footsteps.

On June 10, 1907, she commenced studies at Boston State Hospital’s Training School for Nurses. The facility provided treatment for patients suffering from mental illness—in modern parlance, a psychiatric hospital.  A July 2, 1908 entry on her school record described Lottie as “very capable, reliable and conscientious. Has done excellent work. Well like [sic] by patients and nurses.” A later note stated: “Excellent in class work when she applies herself.”

Lottie completed the State Hospital’s training program in the spring of 1909 and accepted a nursing position with the institution. She remained on staff into the following year, when—perhaps due to the challenging nature of the hospital’s work— she decided to return to Canada. On March 4, 1910, Lottie enrolled with the Montreal General Hospital’s School of Nursing and graduated from the institution in the spring of 1913.

Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing's 1913 Gradating Class
Following her graduation, Lottie remained in the city, where she worked as a private nurse. Sometime after the outbreak of war in Europe, she volunteered for service with a local Canadian Army Medical Corps unit. In early October 1915, Lottie completed the medical examination required for military service and on January 16, 1916, she formally attested with No. 6 Canadian General Hospital (Laval University) at Montreal, QC. Established in December 1915, the unit recruited its personnel from the staff and graduates of Laval University’s medical and nursing programs, a large number of whom were bilingual.

No. 6 Canadian General Hospital (CGH) departed Halifax aboard SS Baltic on March 23, 1916 and arrived in England two and a half weeks later. Its nursing sisters reported to various hospitals for further training. Lottie was posted to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, which serviced the medical needs of soldiers at a nearby military camp.

On July 3, the Laval Unit departed for Saint-Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris, France. The bilingual skills of its largely Montreal-based staff allowed it to service soldiers from the French Army. Lottie. perhaps less fluent than many of her colleagues, remained at Moore Barracks for almost one year. Finally, on March 4, 1917, she crossed the English Channel and rejoined No. 6 CGH’s nursing staff.

Two months prior to Lottie’s arrival, No. 6 CGH had relocated to Troyes, southeast of Paris, where its personnel operated a 1,400-bed French hospital. Lottie spent the next eight months working at the Troyes facility. While the majority of its patients were “stretcher cases” from other hospitals, about one month after her arrival, the hospital received several hundred soldiers directly from the front lines, casualties of a French Army offensive in the Champagne region.

In late July, Lottie received a 14-day leave, and likely took the opportunity to view the sites in nearby Paris. The following month’s most notable occurrence was the admission of almost 600 patients—“mostly all gas cases”—on August 20 and 21. Lottie’s service at Troyes was temporarily interrupted on October 2, when she was transported to No. 8 General Hospital, Rouen, for treatment of a sprained right ankle. Discharged to a nearby convalescent home at mid-month, she rejoined No. 6 CGH on October 30. Within two weeks of her return, however, Lottie was transferred to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, and reported to her new unit on November 14.

Located on the French coast, the city of Étaples was home to several large British and Canadian general hospitals tasked with processing wounded from the front. Soldiers with minor injuries or illnesses remained under care until sufficiently recovered to permit discharge to nearby convalescent facilities. Once fit for duty, they returned to their front-line units. Patients with serious wounds or illnesses were evacuated by hospital ship to medical facilities in England. As a result, all Étaples hospitals experienced a steady patient turnover.

Map of Hospitals, Étaples, France
Organized at Valcartier, QC in September 1914, No. 1 CGH was the Canadian Army Medical Corps’ most experienced general hospital, having arrived at Étaples in May 1915. Lottie served with the unit throughout the winter of 1917-18. While located well out of range of enemy artillery and ground forces, a major German Spring Offensive in late March 1918 brought the front lines significantly closer. The hospitals were still a safe distance from the forward area when the offensive ground to a halt by mid-April, but a new threat soon materialized.

The previous year, German aircraft manufacturers commenced production of a new aircraft. Dubbed the “Gotha,” the plane was a long-range bomber, specifically designed to conduct night raids on Allied targets well behind the front lines. By the following spring, the aircraft was available for use. The failure of the recent Spring Offensive to make significant progress created a sense of urgency amongst the German high command, who sought new ways to disrupt the Allied war effort. Targeting strategic infrastructure and supply depots behind the forward area, it was hoped, would lessen the effectiveness of Allied forces in the front lines.

On the evening of May 19, 1918, “at the close of what had been a peaceful Sunday[,] enemy aircraft came over the [No. 1 CGH] camp in large numbers… at 10.00 p.m.” The unit’s Matron, Edith Campbell, described the subsequent events in her month-end report:

“The hospital was wrapt in slumber when the planes were immediately overhead. The raid was obviously planned to take place in relays, and during the first pass stage the part that suffered most was the sleeping quarters of the personnel, particularly that of the N.C.O.s [non-commissioned officers] and men. A number of bombs, incendiary and high explosive, were dropped in the midst of the men’s quarters. Fires were immediately started which offered a splendid target for the second part of the attack. The scene was immediately converted into a conflagration and charnel house of dead and wounded men. Bombs were also dropped on the Officers’ and Sisters’ quarters, [the] building being wrecked. The S. E. part of the Sisters’ quadrangle was completely wrecked by a bomb, the inmates being killed and wounded. The portion of the Staff and personnel that had escaped injury immediately attended to the needs of those who had been hit. Sisters and Officers were in attendance upon their wards within a very short time, and while the raid was in progress the operating-room Staff were working on the cases injured. The devotion to duty, with absolute disregard to personal safety, that was exhibited by all ranks is very highly commendable.”

In the raid’s aftermath, the unit’s war diary summarized its casualties. Amongst its staff, one Officer, one Nursing Sister, and 51 “other ranks” (OR) were killed, while one Officer, seven Nursing Sisters and 45 OR were wounded. A total of eight patients were killed, while 31 suffered wounds. During the days following the raid, two Nursing Sisters succumbed to their injuries. Meanwhile, staff constructed a dugout air raid shelter and banked all wards with sand bags.

No. 1 CGH's Nursing Sisters' Quarters after May 19, 1918 air raid
Uninjured during the raid, Lottie was among the Nursing Sisters who tended to the casualties. On May 24, their regular quarters having been destroyed in the raid, 30 Nursing Sisters assumed night-time accommodations in a nearby lodge, while the remainder slept in a wooded area adjacent to No. 1 CGH’s location. A second raid on the night of May 30 spared the hospitals, but the medical units were not so fortunate on May 31, when aircraft returned to the area and several bombs landed on No. 1 CGH’s facilities.

The unit’s war diary summarized the night’s events:

“The raid took the form of three relays and lasted two and a half hours. Much damage was done to Government property, Wards ‘A’ and ‘B’ were disabled. The sand-bagging that had been done round these wards saved the lives of several patients. The patients’ diet-kitchen and bath-house were totally wrecked. The Administration block was hit, and the laboratory rendered temporarily useless. Much damage of a minor nature in the form of broken windows was done over the rest of the hospital. Bombs were dropped in large numbers. One patient was dangerously wounded, but happily no other casualties were reported.”

According to Matron Campbell, the second raid in less than two weeks left “the patients in the Wards terribly shaken and unnerved.” The unit’s Nursing Sisters once more “did splendid work under this awful strain. Sisters off duty in one hut entrenched and sandbagged were uninjured.” On this occasion, Lottie’s efforts received particular notice from her superiors, who described her “gallantry and devotion to duty…, when four bombs fell on her wards. Regardless of danger, she attended to the wounded. Her courage and devotion were an inspiring example to all.” Four months later, Matron Campbell, Lottie and four other No. 1 CGH Nursing Sisters officially received the Military Medal for “bravery in the field,” in acknowledgment of their actions during the May 1918 air-raids.

As No. 1 CGH’s facilities suffered significant damage during the second raid, its patients were quickly evacuated to other hospitals and medical staff were temporarily assigned to other units. On June 1, Lottie was attached “for temp. duty” to No. 2 CGH at Le Tréport, 80 kilometres south of Étaples. Within days of her arrival, no doubt exhausted by the recent events, she received 14 days’ leave. Upon returning to duty, Lottie was transferred to No. 7 CGH (Queen’s University), Le Tréport, where she remained for the duration of her time in France.

Following the November 11, 1918 Armistice, Lottie was fortunate enough to receive 14 days’ leave to Paris during the last two weeks of December. Returning to duty on New Years’ Eve, she served at Le Tréport throughout the first two months of 1919. On March 7, Lottie was admitted to No. 46 Stationary Hospital, Étaples, with a case of scarlet fever. She remained under observation for two weeks before being discharged.

With the exception of an eight-day leave to Paris in mid-April, Lottie remained with No. 7 CGH until May 30, when she proceeded to England with its staff. After several weeks at No. 4 CGH, Basingstoke, and No. 15 CGH, Taplow, Lottie departed for Canada aboard SS Celtic on July 3. The vessel docked at Halifax after an eight-day passage. The following day—July 12, 1919—Lottie was formally discharged from military service.

While Lottie headed home to Pictou County after her discharge, she eventually returned to Montreal, and was living in a Tupper St. apartment when she received her British War and Victory service medals in November 1922. According to available documents, she remained in Montreal at least into the late 1930s. While her whereabouts for most of the following decade are unknown, by 1949, Lottie had relocated to Vancouver, BC. Her two oldest sisters, Margaret Jane (Atkinson) and Anne Louise (Smith), had married and settled there, along with her younger sister, Mabel, who never married. City directories from the period indicate that Lottie worked as a clerk for R. S. Day & Sons, a general insurance broker, for several years after arriving on the west coast.

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Lottie met and married Reginald William Seys, a native of Monmouthshire, Wales, who had immigrated to Canada in April 1907. Reginald initially lived with an older brother, Charles, and his wife, who had obtained a homestead in Saskatchewan. While he eventually received a land grant, Reginald later enlisted with a Canadian Expeditionary Force artillery unit at Winnipeg, MB, in March 1916. He subsequently served with the 14th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, in France from August 1917 until the end of the war.

Upon returning to Canada, Reginald took up residence with Charles and his family near Regina, SK. By 1945, Reginald had relocated to Saskatoon, where he worked as a salesman. Following his retirement, he and a second older brother, Francis, moved to Vancouver, where Reginald met Lottie. By 1962, the couple had married and were living in an apartment on Pandrell St.

Reginald Seys passed away on June 3, 1977. Following her husband’s death, Lottie remained in Vancouver, where she passed away on December 30, 1987, three months shy of her 100th birthday. Lottie Urquhart Seys was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Burnaby, BC. 

*****

Sources:

Service file of Nursing Sister Lottie Urquhart, Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC). Available online at Library & Archives Canada's website.

War Diaries of No. 1 & No. 6 Canadian General Hospitals, CAMC. Available online at Library & Archives Canada’s web site through its “Enhanced Archives Search” service.

Map of Étaples, France hospitals obtained from E. W. Meynell's article, "Some Account of the British Military Hospitals of World War I at Étaples, in the orbit of Sit Almoth Wright."Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Volume 142, 1996, pages 43 - 47. Available online.

Photograph of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital's Nursing Sisters' quarters after the May 19, 1918 air raid obtained from G. W. L. Nicholson's Canada's Nursing Sisters. Toronto, ON, Hakkert & Company, 1975. Available online.
Instructions for using LAC’s “Enhanced Archives Search” available at Steve Clifford’s excellent Doing Our Bit blog.

Special thanks to Lori Podolsky, McGill University Archives, and Lily Szczygiel, Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, who provided information on Lottie’s years at Montreal General Hospital’s School of Nursing and photographs of its 1913 graduating classes. Unfortunately, no index exists for either photograph, making it impossible to identify Lottie Urquhart in either image.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Remembering Stoker 2nd Class John Howard Henderson—Died of Sickness May 29, 1918

John Howard Henderson was born at Stormont, Guysborough County on March 1, 1897, the third child and eldest son of James Shier and Pamela (Latham) Henderson. On his father’s side, John was a direct descendant of the families who settled the area in the years following the American Revolutionary War. Like several of his ancestors, he initially earned his livelihood at sea, working aboard coal boats that travelled the American coast as far south as Virginia.

The journeys were long and John did not enjoy being away from home for extended periods of time. By late 1917, a second factor—the passage of the Military Service Act—may have prompted him to seek an alternative pursuit closer to home. Perhaps preferring the familiarity of service at sea to the prospect of conscription into the Canadian Expeditionary Force, John enlisted with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Service at Halifax, NS on November 6, 1917. At the time, he had two years of sea experience and thus was given the rank of “ordinary seaman.”

John was initially assigned to HMCS Niobe, the RCNVR’s Halifax depot ship. On April 1, 1918, he received a transfer to HMCS Stadacona, an American-built, steam-powered yacht that had been commissioned into service as a patrol ship in August 1915. Selected as the East Coast fleet’s flagship early the following year, the vessel conducted regular reconnaissance voyages in the Cabot Strait.

After one month’s service aboard the Stadacona, John was promoted to the rank of “Stoker 2nd Class” and transferred to HMCS Guelph. The vessel had been designated the “nominal depot ship” for Halifax patrols in late April 1918. John’s days in his new assignment, however, were brief. Sometime in early May, he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, for treatment of pneumonia.

As the days passed, John developed empyema, a build-up of pus between the lung and inner chest wall. His health rapidly declined and John passed away in hospital at 9:50 a.m. May 29, 1918. Military authorities transported his remains to Guysborough County, where John was laid to rest in Stormont Cemetery. The family chose to erect a private memorial at his gravesite.

John Howard Henderson's headstone, Stormont Cemetery
Despondent at the death of her eldest son, Pamela slipped into a deep depression and passed away on July 14, 1918 at 49 years of age. James subsequently died at Victoria General Hospital, Halifax, on February 25, 1920, the cause of his passing attributed to a combination of arteriosclerosis and myocarditis.

Pamela and James’ youngest child, James Montgomery Henderson, eventually settled in the United States, where he also worked at sea. Following the American entry into the Second World War, James joined the United States Merchant Marine as an Able Seaman. On June 29, 1942, he perished at sea when a German U-boat torpedoed the American merchant steamship Ruth, the vessel on which James was working.

A detailed description of John Howard Henderson's family background and military service will be available in an updated digital version of Bantry Publishing's "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II," scheduled for release in autumn 2018.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Remembering Private Samuel Robert Stewart—Died of Sickness May 28, 1918

Samuel Robert Stewart was born at Two Mile Lake, Guysborough County on July 22, 1877. While later records list his parents as William and Mary E. Stewart, Samuel was raised in the home of his grandparents, Donald and Janet Stewart, Forks at St Mary’s, whose daughter, Mary, was Samuel’s mother.

Private Samuel Robert Stewart

In 1904, Samuel married Viola MacKenzie, a native of Centredale, Pictou County. The newlyweds established residence at Westville, where Samuel worked in the local coal mines. Two sons, Donald Alexander (DOB April 9, 1905) and John Robert ((November 6, 1906), soon joined the family, although the elder died in a childhood accident, when he drank a small bottle of cleaning fluid.

Despite the fact that Samuel was married with a dependent child and several years older than most recruits, he enlisted with the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) at New Glasgow, NS on March 31, 1915. After a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, the unit departed for England in mid-October 1915 but was disbanded the following year. Prior to its dissolution, Samuel received a transfer perhaps connected to his age and previous work experience. On February 3, 1916, he was assigned to the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion and crossed the English Channel with the unit early the following month.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1916, Samuel served with 3rd Pioneer in Belgium’s treacherous Ypres Salient. Its personnel endured steady artillery fire while constructing the required infrastructure—roads, bridges, trenches, dugouts, etc,—in the forward area. In early June 1916, its soldiers were caught in the midst of a major German attack on the Canadian line at Hill 62, three kilometres east of Ypres. During a heavy artillery bombardment, Samuel suffered shrapnel wounds to his upper right arm and head. The force of an exploding shell also dislocated his right wrist.

Evacuated for medical treatment, Samuel was quickly invalided to England, where he was admitted to Kitchener Hospital, Brighton. While he steadily recovered from his wounds, a piece of shrapnel had entered above the elbow. As a result, Samuel lost a significant amount of movement at the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, and was deemed medically unfit for service.

On February 19, 1917, Samuel departed England aboard the hospital ship Essequibo and spent the spring and summer months in Halifax, where he received physiotherapy. On November 30, 1917, he was officially discharged from military service and returned home to Westville. Medical authorities estimated that his injury reduced the use of his arm by approximately 50 %. Unable to complete the physical tasks required of a miner, Samuel was hired as a “shot-firer,” setting and detonating explosives.

Life appeared to have returned to normal until six months later, when Samuel became gravely ill. He passed away on May 28, 1918, the cause of death listed as cerebrospinal meningitis. Samuel was laid to rest in St. Philips Cemetery, Westville. Samuel’s widow, Viola, and their young son,John Robert, subsequently moved to nearby Stellarton.

While Viola later received Samuel’s British War and Victory service medals, for years she pressured the Canadian government to recognize the role that his overseas experience played in causing his death. Finally, in September 1940, authorities finally issued a Memorial Plaque and Scroll and Memorial Cross, acknowledging that Samuel’s premature death was due in part to his military service. The following year, a military headstone was erected on Samuel’s final resting place.

Samuel’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Remembering Private Harry Lee Sutherland—Died of Sickness May 22, 1918

Harry Lee Sutherland was born at Country Harbour, Guysborough County on February 20, 1897, the youngest of Robert Henry and Elizabeth Jane “Libby” (McKeen) Sutherland’s 12 children. Robert died of pulmonary tuberculosis on July 19, 1913, leaving Libby to provide for Harry and four older siblings.

Harry Lee Sutherland (pre-war portrait)

Sometime after the outbreak of the First World War, Harry relocated to Millinocket, ME, where an older sister, Mary, and her husband, William Joseph Boddy, resided. For two years, Harry trained with the Maine State Guard while working in the local community. In spring of 1918, Harry made his way to Saint John, NB and attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on April 4, 1918.

Harry immediately commenced training with the 1st Depot Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment. On May 16, however, he was admitted to hospital with a case of measles. Two days later, he began experiencing severe pain in his left side. While his sister, Mary, rushed to his bedside, Harry’s health rapidly deteriorated and he passed away at Saint John Military Hospital on May 22, 1918.

Medical officials identified the cause of Harry’s death as pneumonia. His remains were transported to Nova Scotia, where Private Harry Lee Sutherland was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, Country Harbour Crossroads, Guysborough County.

Harry’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Remembering Sergeant Horace Goddard MacMillan—Died of Wounds May 19, 1918

Horace Goddard MacMillan was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, on December 22, 1892, the youngest of Stephen and Jane (Buckley) MacMillan’s six children. Stephen owned and operated a store, warehouse and wharf in the local community. Following his father’s death on June 17, 1914, Horace assumed operation of the family business, as his two older brothers had left home to pursue careers elsewhere.

Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan (seated) & Captain J. J. McRitchie

The outbreak of the First World War, however, soon impacted Horace’s life. During the winter of 1915-16, recruitment efforts reach fever pitch as military officials canvassed the province, in search of soldiers for three recently established Nova Scotia Highland Brigade battalions. At the same time, the Canadian government authorized the formation of two Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) units—No. 7 Stationary Hospital (Dalhousie University) and No. Stationary Hospital (St. Francis Xavier University).

On March 3, 1916, Horace attested for service with No. 9 Stationary Hospital at Antigonish, NS. The unit initially organized and trained on the StFX campus before relocating to Halifax in early May 1916. After six weeks’ training at local military hospitals, No. 9 Stationary departed for overseas aboard SS Missanabie on June 19.

Upon arriving in England, its Nursing Sisters were assigned to London area hospitals for further training, while male personnel made their way to military camps in southern England. Horace was initially assigned to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, but was transferred to Bramshott Military Hospital on September 15. No. 9 Stationary assumed operation of the Bramshott facility in late November 1916, its personnel servicing the medical needs of the soldiers stationed at nearby military camps.

Horace’s service at Bramshott over the subsequent months earned him a promotion to the rank of “Acting Sergeant” on October 1, 1916. He advanced to the rank of Sergeant on December 5, the same day that No. 9 Stationary departed England for France. Upon landing on the continent, the unit’s personnel proceeded to the village of Longuenesse, near Saint-Omer, France, where personnel commenced establishment of a working hospital.

Within less than a month, the facility—located approximately 50 kilometres west of the forward area near Armentières, France—received its first patients. While the hospital initially helped ease “overflow” problems at other hospitals, it was ready to accept combat casualties by March 1918. The timing coincided with the anticipated resumption of combat as weather conditions improved. Within weeks, in fact, German forces launched a major spring offensive, called “Operation Michael,” in sectors to the south of No. 9 Stationary’s location.

By early April, the facility was processing “a steady stream of casualties,” many of them soldiers suffering from exposure to poison gas. Within days, however, the launch of a second offensive near Armentières placed the unit’s personnel and patients in jeopardy, as German forces advanced to within artillery range of Saint-Omer. In response, on April 12, military authorities ordered No. 9 Stationary to commence the process of evacuating its patients and dismantling the facility. Within a week, its personnel retreated to Étaples, on the French coast.

While No. 9 Stationary’s male staff immediately commenced work on a new facility at nearby Le Faux, its Nursing Sisters were temporarily assigned to nearby hospitals. Work at the new location proceeded steadily and by mid-May the hospital anticipated the arrival of its first patients within a week. Nobody anticipated the events about to unfold in a location previously untouched by the perils of the forward area.

In the aftermath of its failed “Spring Offensive,” German military authorities launched a new strategy, designed to hinder Allied forces’ operation in the forward area. Utilizing its newly developed Gotta bomber, Germany commenced a series of bombing raids on strategic locations well behind the front lines. The plan was to disrupt the flow of supplies to units in the line by targeting supply depots and railway facilities located along the French coast.

While Étaples was home to numerous medical facilities, it was also an important port of entry for supplies destined for the forward area. On the night of May 19, German aircraft launched the first of several night-time raids on locations in and around Étaples. While supply depots and rail facilities were targeted, numerous bombs also struck British and Canadian medical facilities in the area, despite that fact that they were clearly marked as non-military locations.

A total of seven bombs landed on the the No. 9 Stationary facility, striking personnel tents and hospital buildings. Thankfully, no patients had been admitted to the hospital. However, several staff members were wounded in the attack. Horace was amongst the injured, struck in the head by debris when a bomb landed nearby. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but died of wounds shortly after admission. Sgt, Horace Goddard MacMillan was laid to rest in Étaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Horace’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .