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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Remembering Private John J. Rabbie—Died of Sickness December 15, 1918

John J. Rabbie was born at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, on September 18, 1899, the second of George and Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Barrie) Rabbie’s six children and the eldest of their four sons. John spent his adolescent years in a community where the presence of soldiers was a daily occurrence. Throughout the First World War, personnel from the 94th Victoria Regiment (Argyll Highlanders) and 78th Regiment (Pictou Highlanders) guarded strategic locations in and around Canso.

Perhaps inspired by their daily activities, John enlisted with the 94th Victoria Regiment during the summer of 1917. After 11 month’s service in the Canso area, he attested with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Canso on June 29, 1918. Shortly afterward, John made his way to Halifax, where he was assigned to “F” Company, 6th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment. He was less than three months shy of his 19th birthday at the time.

Under the terms of his attestation, John’s military service would continue for six months after the signing of the November 11, 1918 Armistice. As autumn gave way to winter, the damp, crowded conditions at the Halifax barracks became a breeding ground for sickness. The situation was further complicated by the rapid spread of the deadly “Spanish flu,” carried to ports around the world by vessels arriving from Europe.

On November 30, John was admitted to the Cogswell St. Military Hospital with influenza and a suspected case of pleurisy. Medical records indicate that his body temperature was 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit (38.7 Celsius) and his heart beat an alarming 127 beats per minute at the time of his admission.

During the ensuing days, John’s condition did not improve. A December 10 laboratory report indicated the presence of streptococcal bacteria in his lungs. Three days later, a note in his medical file stated: “Patient very toxic, rapid pulse, feeble breathing.”

Pte. John J. Rabbie's headstone, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Halifax, NS
While John showed slight improvement the following day, his condition worsened dramatically on the morning of December 15 and he passed away at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. Private John J. Rabbie was laid to rest in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Mumford Road, Halifax, NS. John was 19 years and three months old at the time of his passing.

John’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, 13 December 2018

Remembering Private James Walter Sullivan, MM—Canso, Nova Scotia's First CEF Enlistment

James Walter Sullivan was born at Canso, Guysborough County, on December 23, 1883, the seventh of David and Mary (Sutherland) Sullivan’s eight children and the sixth of their seven sons. As with many young men in his community, James went to work in the local fishery at an early age. On July 24, 1903, 19-year-old James married 26-year-old Mary Elizabeth “Minnie” Meagher, also a native of Canso. The couple soon welcomed their first children—twin daughters Mary Irene and Nora Kathleen—followed by a son, James Edmund.

A little more than a decade after their marriage, the outbreak of the war in Europe disrupted the Sullivan’s family life. A post-war news item in the Canso Breeze later stated that James, though married with a family to support, “… [felt] it his duty to offer his services, notwithstanding the fact that he would be obliged to leave his wife in delicate [circumstances] with three young children.” In early November 1914, he travelled to Halifax, NS, where “ he… enlisted with his wife’s consent and went overseas.”

On November 18, 1914, James officially enlisted with the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles), the first volunteer unit recruited within the province. Authorized on November 4, 1914, the 25th established offices in major towns and cities from Sydney to Yarmouth. James was almost 31 years of age—considerably older than the average recruit—at the time of his enlistment.

Pay records indicate that James’ military service actually commenced two days after the unit’s authorization. His attestation papers also state that he had served with an “active militia” unit at Canso, but provided no further details. In fact, James was the first Canso area resident to enlist for overseas service during the First World War.

May 20, 1915: The 22nd & 25th Battalions depart Halifax
On May 20, 1915, the 25th Battalion departed Halifax aboard SS Saxonia and arrived in England nine days later. James spent the summer months training at East Sandling Camp, near Folkestone, UK. During that time, the 25th was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, where it served alongside the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.

The 25th crossed the English Channel to France on September 15, 1915, and made its way northward to Belgium with the 2nd Division. Before month’s end, its soldiers commenced regular rotations in the treacherous Ypres Salient. While James’ first months in the line passed without incident, the possibility of death or injury was omnipresent.

On January 13, 1916, the 25th was deployed in Belgian trenches when German artillery fire targeted its sector. Four “other ranks” were killed and five others wounded during the bombardment. James was one of the casualties, admitted to field ambulance for treatment of a shrapnel wound to his face. The following day, he was transferred to No. 8 British Red Cross Hospital, Paris Plage, France. Fortunately, his injuries proved to be minor and James was discharged to a nearby convalescent camp one week later.

Before month’s end, James was released from medical care and reported to a nearby Canadian Base Depot. On February 3, he rejoined his 25th Battalion mates in Belgium. James’ service continued without further incident throughout the spring and early summer months. In mid-June, he received an eight-day pass to the United Kingdom. As his leave was coming to an end, James was admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital, London, for treatment of haemorrhoids. Medical records indicate that this condition developed during the winter of 1915-16 and persisted as the months passed.

James subsequently underwent surgery and spent three weeks recovering. On July 13, he was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, where he remained for the duration of the summer. James was discharged from hospital on September 29 and immediately reported for duty. Five days later, James joined the ranks of the 40th Reserve Battalion.

James’ time in reserve was brief. On November 20, he was transferred to the 25th Battalion and returned to France. Temporarily assigned to the 2nd Entrenching Battalion for the month of December, he rejoined the 25th’s ranks on January 6, 1917. At the time of James’ return, the unit was deployed in trenches near Angres, France.

During James’ absence, the 25th had relocated to Somme region of France in early September 1916 and participated in the Canadian Corps’ attacks on the village of Courcelette (September 15, 1916) and Thiepval Ridge (October 1916). In early November, the 25th moved northward to sectors near Arras, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916-17. As winter gave way to spring, the unit prepared for its role in the Canadian Corps’ impending attack on Vimy Ridge.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 25th occupied support positions while its 24th and 26th Battalion comrades launched the first stage of the 5th Brigade’s plan of attack—an assault on Zwischen Stellung, a German defensive line along the ridge. After their mates secured the location, the 25th’s soldiers passed through their lines and advanced toward Turko Graben, a second German defensive position near the village of Thélus. Once the Nova Scotians had captured their target, two British battalions completed the day’s advance, pushing German soldiers down the ridge’s eastern slopes and reaching the outskirts of Vimy village.

James’ performance in his first major battle earned him the Military Medal for “bravery in the field.” His medal citation described his actions in detail:

“For conspicuous gallantry and ability during the attack on Vimy Ridge [on] April 9, 1917. As a battalion scout, he was of very great assistance in maintaining proper direction. He bombed parties of the enemy in shell holes, captured single-handed a number of prisoners…[,] directed sections of his battalion against machine gun and bombing posts[,] and disposed of enemy snipers. His absolute disregard for danger, his energy…[,] resources and devotion to duty were exceptional.”

Following the capture of Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps served in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the spring and summer of 1917. On August 15, the 25th participated in the Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens. In early November, its personnel returned to Belgium and occupied support positions during the final stage of the Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. In the early evening of November 7—the day following the capture of the ridge’s last sections—the 25th entered front line positions, where its soldiers remained for 24 hours, enduring a fierce German bombardment before retiring from the line.

While his comrades made their way back to France, James received two weeks’ leave to the UK on November 12. Once again, he fell ill shortly as his leave came to an end. On November 27, James was admitted to Camp Bramshott Hospital for treatment of laryngitis. He remained under medical care until mid-January 1918, at which time he reported to 2nd Canadian Corps Depot, Bramshott. One month later, James was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit that provided reinforcements for the 25th and 85th Battalions.

While James may have anticipated rejoining his 25th Battalion comrades, a transfer to the front never materialized. In mid-August, he qualified as a 2nd Class Signaller, but perhaps due to his age did not return to France. On December 7, 1918—less than one month after the Armistice that brought combat to an end—James departed England aboard SS Olympic and arrived at Halifax six days later. A December 28, 1918 news item in the Canso Breeze described his homecoming:

“Word quickly spread over Canso that James Sullivan, Canso’s first soldier to enlist, had landed at Halifax from the steamer “Olympic” on 13th instant. While he was expected to return to Canso on Monday, [December] 16th, he did not arrive until Tuesday afternoon. A very large concourse of people waited at Whitman’s wharf for the arrival of the Robert G. Cann from Mulgrave and gave Mr. Sullivan a hearty welcome.”

While James’ return was a justifiably happy occasion, a significant number of the Canso area’s soldiers—29 in total—did not survive the war. Among the fatalities was James’ younger brother, Thomas, who was killed in action at Passchendaele, Belgium, on October 30, 1917, while serving with the 85th Battalion.

On January 18, 1919, Private James Sullivan, MM, was formally discharged from military service and returned to civilian life. He resumed his former occupation, finding work aboard the trawlers that fished along the Nova Scotian coast. For almost two years, life proceeded without incident for the Sullivan family. James’ trip to Sydney, NS, aboard a French fishing vessel in mid-September 1920, however, changed their lives forever.

On September 23, 1920, the Sydney Post printed a short news item with the heading “Seaman in Serious State.” Its content described an unfortunate incident that occurred at a local dock:

“The seaman Joseph [sic—James] Sullivan, of the French trawler Rayondor who met severe injuries by falling over the coal pier on Tuesday night [September 21] is reported by the hospital authorities to be regaining consciousness but his condition is still precarious and it is not yet known whether he will recover. Sullivan with two other sailors was standing at the edge of the pier at a distance 25 feet above the water when he missed his footing and fell. On the way down he struck a beam and was rendered [unconscious,] reaching the water in this condition. He was fished out by his companions and was taken in the ambulance to the city hospital.”

The following day—September 24, 1920—James Walter Sullivan succumbed to his injuries. His death certificate identified the cause of death as “fracture of spine.” James’ remains were transported to Canso, where he was laid to rest in Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Remembering Corporal William Thomas Uloth, MM—Died Accidentally November 12, 1918

William Thomas Uloth was born at Whitehead, Guysborough County, on December 18, 1894, the youngest of Margaret Jane “Maggie” (George) and John Samuel Uloth’s nine children. Sometime prior to the outbreak of war, William relocated to Pictou County, where he found employment as a steelworker.

Corporal William Thomas Uloth, MM
On February 26, 1916, William enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at New Glasgow, NS. He completed his initial training with at Pictou before relocating to the unit’s Truro headquarters several weeks later. The 106th departed from Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain in mid-July and landed at Liverpool, England, before month’s end.

Shortly after the 106th’s overseas arrival, the Canadian Corps made its way to Albert, France, where it participated in the final two months of the Somme offensive. A pressing need for reinforcements soon resulted in the unit’s dissolution. William was part of large group of 106th soldiers transferred to the 26th Battalion on September 21, 1916. The New Brunswick unit had suffered significant casualties at Courcelette in mid-September. Further losses incurred at Regina Trench before month’s end reduced its fighting strength to “about 200.”

In response, military authorities organized a reinforcement draft of 251 soldiers from the 106th. Private William Uloth was part of a group that joined the 26th’s ranks near Bouzincourt, France, on October 9 and immediately commenced service in the forward area. In late October, the 26th made its way northward to sectors near Lens, France, where its personnel served a regular rotation throughout the winter of 1916-17.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, William and his 26th Battalion mates were part of the first wave of Canadian soldiers who attacked a section of the German’s Vimy Ridge defences known as “Zwischen Stellung.” In less than 30 minutes, the unit secured its objective and held its position as the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia)—one of its 5th Brigade mates—passed through its lines and continued the attack.

In the months following the Canadian Corps’ capture of Vimy Ridge, the 26th served a regular rotation in nearby sectors. On August 15, 1917, its personnel participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France. The battalion made its way to Ypres, Belgium, in late October 1917, and took part in the final stage of the capture of Passchendaele Ridge on November 6.

In the aftermath of his Passchendaele service, William was promoted to the rank of Corporal. Upon returning to France in mid-November, the 26th served a regular rotation south of Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18. While Canadian units were unaffected by a series of German spring offensives that commenced on March 21, 1918, their soldiers “stood to” in anticipation of an impending attack and maintained extreme vigilance throughout subsequent tours.

Routine rotations continued until late June, when the 26th and its 5th Brigade comrades retired to General Headquarters Reserve Camp at Grand-Rullecourt for a period of rest and training. For the first time since arriving overseas, health issues interrupted William’s service. Diagnosed with “disordered action of the heart” on July 5, he spent the remainder of the month at several field ambulances and was finally evacuated to hospital at Camiers, France, at month’s end.

William spent three weeks at No. 20 General Hospital before he was discharged to a convalescent depot at Étaples in late August. He was deemed “fit for duty” in mid-September and rejoined the 26th in the forward area on September 20, 1918. During William’s absence, the battalion participated in the opening stage of a major Allied counter-offensive at Amiens in early August, followed by an attack on the German Hindenburg Line east of Arras in early September.

On the evening of September 25, the 26th withdrew from the line after a particularly bloody tour in trenches near Inchy-en-Artois. Following several days’ rest, the unit entered support positions northwest of Cambrai in early October and prepared for its next assignment. On the evening of October 8, William and his mates returned to the forward area. The following morning, 5th Brigade’s 22nd and 25th Battalions launched an attack on the village of Escaudoeuvres, while the 26th followed in support.

Late in the day, the 26th’s soldiers passed through their Brigade comrades’ lines and advanced toward the village of Naves. When enemy machine gun fire halted their progress, the unit consolidated its position and settled in for the night. On the morning of October 10, 4th Brigade units passed through the 26th’s lines and continued the attack. After spending five days in support positions, the battalion retired to an area east of Marquion, where personnel established camp.

While his comrades commenced training, William departed for temporary duty at 5th Brigade Headquarters. Two weeks later, he rejoined the 26th at Aniche, west of Valenciennes, France, as HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, observed its soldiers training. During the first days of November, the battalion marched toward the Belgian frontier in the wake of attacking Canadian units, arriving at Quiévrechain, France, on November 7.

The following morning, the 26th advanced in support as the 22nd and 25th Battalions—two of its 5th Brigade mates—crossed the Belgian border and captured the villages of Élouges and Dour. On November 9, 4th Brigade units passed through the 5th Brigade’s lines and continued the advance toward the city of Mons. Meanwhile, the 26th withdrew to billets at nearby Wasmes, where the remainder of the 5th Brigade later joined them.

On the morning of November 11, 1918, orders to “move forward to a village near Mons” were cancelled, “as an armistice would be signed at 1100 hours. There was great rejoicing in the village…. Lots of wine and cigars for everyone.” Later that day, William received a 14-day leave and immediately departed for England.

In the ensuing weeks, the 26th made its way toward the German border as part of the “Army of Occupation” accepted by Germany under the terms of the Armistice. Two weeks later, William failed to return to duty, an entry on his service record stating: “Not yet rejoined Battalion.” For several weeks, his whereabouts remained a mystery. Finally, on January 17, 1919, military authorities held a Court of Inquiry into his disappearance.

Private John Rafferty, one of William’s 26th comrades, had accompanied him on leave. Following his return to France, a brief illness delayed John’s return to the battalion. When he finally rejoined its ranks, John was able to shed light on William’s possible whereabouts.

The pair had arrived at Arras around mid-day November 12 and “entered an estimanet [a French café that sold alcoholic drinks],” where they remained until the establishment closed. As the soldiers attempted to return to their billets, they became lost and unwittingly encountered a local canal. The soldiers fell into the water, John stated that William called out his name in the darkness as the pair thrashed about.

John had no recollection as to how he managed to get out of the canal, but remembered stumbling into a nearby shack, where two “Military Linesmen” gave him some fuel and led him to a nearby shack. He spent several hours warming himself and resting before finding his way back to his billet. When he awoke the next morning, William’s gear was “where he had left it on the floor.” Assuming that he would return for it later in the day, John departed for the train station and continued his journey to England.

Based on John’s testimony, the Court of Inquiry concluded that “Corps. Uloth W. T. is missing and it is believed that he was drowned at Arras.” William’s service file contains no details as to how or when his remains were located. The information provided by Pte. Rafferty, however, may have helped officials identify a body recovered from the canal. Whatever the details, a headstone in Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, bears William’s name and lists his date of death as November 12, 1918.

Subsequent to his passing, Corporal William Thomas Uloth was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. Unfortunately, neither the April 3, 1919 London Gazette issue in which the award was announced nor William’s service file contain the details of the actions that merited such a distinguished honour.

William’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, 10 November 2018

Remembering 2nd Lt. Alexander William McHardy—KIA November 10, 1918

Alexander William McHardy was born at McLellan’s Mountain, Pictou County, on June 3, 1894, the oldest of Alexander Campbell and Isabella (Fraser) McHardy’s six children. Billy, as he was known during his childhood years, was raised on a prosperous farm on the outskirts of New Glasgow. According to family sources, he was employed as a teacher in nearby Guysborough County prior to his military service.

2nd Lt. William Alexander "Bill" McHardy
Like many of his generation, as the war progressed, Bill felt it his duty to serve. Unlike many of his peers, however, he chose a different path, enlisting with the fledgling Canadian Aviation Corps in 1917 and completing his cadet training at Fort Worth, Texas. He received his wings on April 18, 1918 and a commission as Second Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force one week later.

As fighting on the ground intensified during the German Spring Offensive (March - April 1918) and subsequent Allied summer counter-offensive, air combat followed suit. Following his overseas arrival, Bill was posted to No. 2 Fighter Squadron on August 7, 1918, and commenced service as a Bristol fighter pilot in northeastern France. One month later, he was transferred to No. 154 Fighter Squadron, but following its dissolution was subsequently re-assigned to No. 20 Fighter Squadron on September 18.

Needless to say, service as a First World War fighter pilot was extremely perilous. On October 6, Bill was officially reported “missing” following a routine mission. His parents in distant Pictou County soon received a telegram, informing them of the situation. Thankfully, several days later, a second cable confirmed that Bill had safely returned to his squadron. According to a later news item in the Eastern Chronicle, Bill explained in a letter to his parents: “While in an air flight his engine went bad and he had to descend at a great distance from his headquarters and the trying cable had been dispatched to the father before he was able to report to his own command.”

The relief at Bill’s safe return was short-lived. On November 10, 1918, Bill departed from Iris Aerodrome, near present-day Clary, France, at mid-morning, in the company of seven other Bristol aircraft. In the observer seat with Bill was 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Rodger, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, who had commenced his service in France barely one month previously. Their mission was to support a group of De Havilland D.H. 9 bombers as they executed a “bombing run” near the city of Charleroi, Belgium.

As the planes made their way toward their target, they encountered a large formation of German Fokker DVII aircraft from Justa 50 Squadron. Approximately 35 miles northeast of Froidchapelle, the aircraft engaged in a “dogfight.” While four of the German Fokkers were destroyed, the RAF lost two Bristol fighters and five De Havillands during the skirmish. According to German records, 2nd Lieutenant Alexander William McHardy’s aircraft fell victim to Lt. Commander Hans von Freden’s Fokker at approximately 11:35 a.m.

Gaston Descartes, a five-year-old resident of Martinsart at the time. later recalled that Bill’s plane crashed in a field approximately one kilometre from his home, becoming  Freden’s 20th and final victory of the First World War. Unverified sources claim that 2nd Lieutenant McHardy and his observer, Lt. Rodger, were the last Royal Air Force crew lost during the First World War.

For more than a week, Bill’s fate remained a mystery. Finally, on November 19, 1918, a military official wrote the following note on his RAF file: “In view of… lapse of time, death has been accepted as having occurred in action on or since 10 - 11 - 18.” Military authorities subsequently located the crash site and recovered the crew’s remains. 2nd Lt. Alexander William McHardy and 2nd Lt. Alexander Rodger were laid to rest in Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension, Tourney, Hainaut, Belgium.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Remembering Private Percy Feltmate—KIA November 7, 1918

Percy Feltmate was born at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, on September 20, 1893. His parents’ names remain a mystery to genealogical researchers familiar with the Feltmate family tree. Adam and Mary Alice (Rhynold) Feltmate adopted Percy at an early age. The couple also raised a second adopted boy and three children of their own in their Hazel Hill home.
Private Percy Feltmate
On December 1, 1915, Percy enlisted with the 94th Victoria Regiment (Argyll Highlanders), a Cape Breton-based militia unit whose soldiers guarded several strategic locations in the Canso area throughout the First World War. Within months, an opportunity to serve overseas presented itself when recruiters for the 193rd Battalion visited the small fishing community. Percy attested with the unit on April 1, 1916 and departed for Camp Aldershot with other local volunteers in late May 1916.

The 193rd was one of four battalions that formed the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade. The 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions completed the Brigade’s ranks. The four units departed for England on October 12, 1916. Their overseas arrival coincided with the Canadian Corps’ service during the Battle of the Somme. The high number of casualties incurred at Courcelette (September 1916) and Regina Trench (October 1916) created a pressing need for reinforcements and resulted in the dissolution of two of the Brigade’s units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—before year’s end.

On December 29, 1916, Percy was transferred to the 185th Battalion, one of two Brigade battalions to avoid dissolution. He spent several months with the unit before receiving a transfer to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) on May 27, 1917. Percy immediately crossed the English Channel to France and joined his new unit in the forward area in mid-June.

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1917, Percy served a regular rotation in the line with the 25th. The battalion participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful August 15, 1917 attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France, and occupied support positions during the final stage of the Corps’ successful capture of Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium, in early November 1917.

The 25th spent the winter of 1917-18 in sectors near Lens, France, and was unaffected by a series of German spring offensives that commenced in late March 1918. Following a month-long, early summer break from the line, the 25th travelled southward to the outskirts of Amiens in late July and prepared for its role in an imminent Allied counter-offensive.

On the morning of August 8, 1918, the 25th occupied support positions while its 5th Brigade mates participated in the second stage of an attack on German positions east of Amiens. The following day, its soldiers continued the attack, securing the villages of Vrély and Méharicourt before days’ end. The battalion remained in the line until mid-month before retiring to a nearby camp. While Percy enjoyed a welcome two-week leave to the United Kingdom, his comrades returned to the Arras area, where they participated in an August 26 attack on German positions east of the town.

Percy rejoined the unit on September 2 and trained alongside his mates for several days before returning to the trenches at mid-month. While no major combat occurred during a tour near Inchy-en-Artois, both sides wrestled for control of No Man’s Land, with almost daily skirmishes resulting in daily casualties. While the 25th retired from the line on September 26, it assumed positions near the recently captured Canal du Nord two days later.

After spending a week and a half in support positions near Sailly, the unit participated in a successful attack on Canal de l’Escaut, north of the city of Cambrai, on October 9. Personnel remained in the line for five days before withdrawing to billets at nearby Tilloy. In subsequent weeks, the 25th’s 5th Brigade advanced northeastward toward the Belgian border, following in the wake of attacking Canadian Corps units.

On the night of November 6/7, Percy and his comrades returned to the front line near Rombies-et-Marchipoint, France. The following day, the 25th crossed the frontier into Belgium and advanced through the villages of Baisieux and Élouges. At day’s end, the unit’s war diary reported eight Officers wounded, 10 “other ranks” (OR) killed and 41 OR wounded.

While Percy had managed to escape injury during the first two months of the Allied counter-offensive, he was among the 25th’s November 7 fatalities. According to his “circumstances of casualty” card: “ During an attack on Élouges, he was shot through the head by an enemy sniper’s bullet and instantly killed.” Private Percy Feltmate was laid to rest in Élouges Communal Cemetery, Belgium.

Percy’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, 25 October 2018

Remembering Private Lewis Walker Kelly, MM—DOW October 25, 1918

Lewis Walker Kelly was born at Caledonia, Guysborough County, on May 21, 1895, the eldest of George Walker and Laura Emma (Fulton) Kelly’s three children. Lewis spent his childhood years on the Kelly family farm, relocating in early adulthood to Pictou County, where he worked as an “auto driver.”
Pte. Lewis Walker Kelly's 193rd Battalion portrait
On March 7, 1916, Lewis enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at New Glasgow, NS. Two months later, he made his way to Camp Aldershot, where the 193rd trained alongside its Nova Scotia Highland Brigade comrades—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions. On August 2, Lewis was admitted to military hospital at Halifax for treatment of pneumonia. Discharged three weeks later, he recuperated for several weeks before being assigned to the Special Services Company, Halifax, on September 30.

Two weeks later, Lewis’s Highland Brigade mates departed for England, its overseas arrival coinciding with significant Canadian Corps casualties incurred at the Somme. As a result, two of its battalions—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved before year’s end and their members dispersed to other units. Meanwhile, Lewis remained in Nova Scotia, where he was transferred to the 246th Battalion—the Highland Brigade’s reinforcement unit—on December 9. He spent the winter of 1916-17 at Camp Aldershot, NS, while the 246th attempted to recruit its ranks to full strength.

While the 246th began dispatching its recruits to England in “reinforcement drafts” during the spring of 1917, a second health issue delayed Lewis’s overseas departure. On March 31, 1917, he was admitted to military hospital with diphtheria. Discharged to duty two and a half weeks later, Lewis finally boarded SS Olympic at Halifax on May 31 and arrived at Liverpool, England, nine days later. Transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) on June 11, he spent the remainder of the year at Camp Witley with his new unit, awaiting the opportunity to proceed to France.

When military authorities disbanded the 185th in February 1918, its ranks were gradually assigned to existing units. On March 8, 1918, Lewis was assigned to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) and immediately departed for France. Eight days later, he reported to his new unit’s camp at Raimbert, France.

Throughout the spring and early summer, Lewis served regular rotations in the line with the 25th. In late June, the battalion entered Divisional Reserve, its soldiers spending the following month training and rebuilding its ranks. On July 30, the unit made its way southward to Briquemesnil, near Amiens, France. Following a week’s preparation, the 25th assembled on the outskirts of Cachy during the evening hours of August 7. The following morning, its personnel participated in a massive Allied counter-attack on the German line east of Amiens.

On the first day of fighting, the 25th occupied support positions behind two of its 5th Brigade mates, the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos”) and 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) Battalions. The following day, the 25th participated in an attack on the village of Méharicourt. The unit remained in the line until mid-month and received several days’ rest before making its way northward to the Arras area on August 21.

On the evening of August 25, the 25th’s soldiers assembled at Beaurains and prepared for their second combat engagement in less than a month. The following morning, the 5th Brigade moved forward in reserve as Canadian units launched an attack on German positions east of Arras. Two of its battalions—the 24th and 26th (New Brunswick)—led the attack on August 27 and 28, while the 25th occupied support positions behind their comrades on both occasions.

On August 30, the unit retired from the line and spent the first two weeks of September training while rebuilding its ranks. Lewis came through the August engagements without injury and returned to the forward area with his comrades at mid-month. Prior its departure for the line, the 25th’s war diary reported that 23 of its “other ranks” (OR) had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery, while five other OR received a bar to the Military Medal, “in connection with the operations in front of Amiens.” Private Lewis Walker Kelly was one of the recipients, although the details of his actions on the battlefield were not recorded.

From September 19 to 26, the 25th completed a particularly challenging tour near Inchy-en-Artois, as its soldiers wrestled with their German foes for control of advance posts in No Man’s Land. Upon withdrawing from the line, the soldiers received a day’s rest before occupying trenches near the recently captured Canal du Nord on September 28. The 25th remained there for several days, awaiting orders to advance. On the afternoon of October 1, its personnel moved into support positions near Sailly, where they remained one week, “digging trenches” along a nearby railway line under cover of darkness.

At 1:30 a.m. October 9, the 25th participated in an attack on Canal de l’Escaut, located on Cambrai’s northern outskirts. During the early morning hours, it soldiers successfully captured their final objective on the city’s eastern side, while several Canadian units to the south passed through the city itself. The unit’s war diary later reported 15 “other ranks” (OR) killed and another 85 OR wounded during the day’s advance.

Private Lewis Walker Kelly was one of the day’s casualties. Evacuated to a nearby clearing station with “wounds [in his] back,” Lewis was initially described as “dangerously wounded.” By October 12, Lewis was stable enough to permit transport by ambulance train to No. 55 General Hospital, Boulogne. At the time of his admission, medical staff identified his injuries as “GSW [gunshot wound] back and head.”

Three days later, Lewis was invalided to England and admitted to Endell Street Military Hospital, London. While the evacuation suggests that his condition had stabilized, an October 24 note on his medical chart indicated that Lewis was “seriously ill,” suffering from paraplegia and incontinence. During the night, his condition “gradually got worse—delirious unconscious.” Private Lewis Walker Kelly died of wounds at 5:30 a.m. October 25, 1918, and was laid to rest in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.
Pte. Lewis Walker Kelly's headstone, Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey
Lewis’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, 22 October 2018

Remembering Private Randolph Murray Giffin—KIA October 22, 1918

Randolph Murray Giffin was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, on June 27, 1896, the third of John MacMillan and Emma Maria (MacMillan) Giffin’s eight children. During Randolph’s early years, the family resided at Isaac’s Harbour, where John worked as a bookkeeper, but relocated to Halifax around 1908.
Pte. Randolph Murray Giffin's 219th Battalion portrait
On February 29, 1916, Randolph and an older brother, Lester Douglas, enlisted with the 219th Battalion at Halifax. At the time, the siblings were five feet, two and a half inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. Randolph and Lester spent the next seven months training, first at Halifax and later at Camp Aldershot, before the 219th departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12. Also on board the vessel were the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 193rd Battalions, the four units constituting the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

Before year’s end, two of the Brigade’s units—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved and their members transferred to other battalions. Lester was assigned to the 85th Battalion on December 28, 1916, while Randolph joined the unit on March 16, 1917. By that time, Lester had already crossed the English Channel to France with the battalion. Following a brief stint with the 4th Entrenching Battalion, Randolph joined the 85th’s ranks in the forward area on April 5.

Throughout the next 18 months, the brothers served side by side in the forward area. The pair were in the line during the 85th’s service at Vimy Ridge, France, and followed the battalion to Belgium for its Passchendaele assignment in late October 1917. On several occasions throughout his time with the 85th, Randolph served as a “batman” (male servant) to Lieutenant George Murray, a native of River John, NS, while Lt. Murray attended officers’ training courses.

The Giffin brothers served with the 85th throughout the spring and early summer of 1918, and were in the line on the morning of August 8, 1918, as the battalion participated in the launch of a major Allied counter-offensive on the German line east of Amiens, France. Four weeks later, its soldiers took part in a September 2 attack on the Drocourt-Quèant Line east of Arras, a section of the Germans’ Hindenburg defensive system. The 85th suffered an estimated 260 casualties—approximately 35 % of its “trench strength”—during the day’s fighting.

While Randolph and Lester came through both engagements without injury, the physical and mental strains exacted a price on their diminutive frames. Lester was particularly affected—on September 14, he reported to a nearby field ambulance, suffering from “debility.” Described by medical staff as “completely tired out,” he was subsequently invalided to England, where he remained in hospital for the duration of the war.

Meanwhile, Randolph continued his service in France, participating in the 85th’s September 27 attack on Bourlon, on the outskirts of Cambrai. Five days later, he followed his remaining comrades out of the line, the unit suffering more than 100 casualties during the tour. The battalion spent the first three weeks of October in reserve, training and re-organizing its ranks as the Canadian Corps advanced north of Cambrai, toward the Belgian border.

On the morning of October 22, the 85th was once again on the move, marching from Boeulx to Bessemer, on the outskirts of Denain, France. After a brief rest, personnel continued toward Rouvignies, southwest of Valenciennes. While the day’s war diary entry makes no mention of artillery fire during the march, Randolph became a casualty before day’s end: “While with his Battalion in the vicinity of Rouvignies, and during a halt waiting for greater density of darkness before proceeding further into the line, he was instantly killed by an enemy shell which exploded nearby.” Private Randolph Murray Giffin was laid to rest in Denain Communal Cemetery, Nord, France.
Pte. Randolph Murray Giffin's headstone, Denain Communal Cemetery
Randolph’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, 16 October 2018

Remembering Private Russell C. Hendsbee—DOS October 16, 1918

Russell C. Hendsbee was born at Half Island Cove, Guysborough County, on October 26, 1897, the third of Mary Sophia “Minnie” (Snow) and Thomas Frederick Hendsbee’s nine children and the couple’s eldest son. At a young age, Russell went to work in the local fishery. Following the Canadian Parliament’s passage of the Military Service Act in August 1917, he registered for service as required by the law.

Pte. Russell Hendsbee's CEF Headstone, Union Cemetery, Queensport
For several months, Russell’s civilian life continued without interruption. Undeterred by the prospect of serving overseas, he married Mary Ann Laurie, a native of Sand Point, Guybsorough County, on May 8, 1918. At month’s end, Russell reported to Camp Aldershot, where he formally attested for military service on June 4, 1918.

While his first month of training passed without incident, Russell began experiencing episodes of “headache, dizziness and vomiting” in early July. When the symptoms failed to dissipate, he was admitted to hospital at Camp Aldershot on July 15. At the time, medical records indicate that Russell was suffering from a “severe headache [and] vomiting… [and was] unconscious for three days.”

Medical staff immediately diagnosed Russell with cerebrospinal meningitis. While caregivers performed a lumbar puncture and administered an “anti-meningitis serum,” doctors described his condition as “indefinite.” When a Medical Board recommended “at least three months in [a] convalescent home,” Russell declined further treatment and was discharged from military service as “medically unfit” on September 12, 1918. A comment at the end of the Medical Board report noted: “The Board considers the refusal to accept treatment as reasonable.”

Following his discharge, Russell remained in hospital at Camp Aldershot until month’s end. On October 1, staff permitted him to return home as a “convalescent,” but six days later he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, “as a stretcher case.” At the time, Russell was suffering from “severe headache and pain in eyes,” and was losing control of his lower limbs.

On October 16, 1918, medical notes state that “anaesthesia [was] given and two oz. spinal fluid removed.” Before day’s end, “failure of respiratory centre result[ed] in patient’s death.” Private Russell C. Hendsbee’s remains were transported back to Guysborough County, where he was laid to rest in Union Cemetery, Queensport.

Pte. Russell Hendsbee's Memorial Stone, Union Cemetery, Queensport
Russell’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, 11 October 2018

Remembering Chief Gunner’s Mate James Baker Keating—Accidentally Killed October 11, 1918

James Baker Keating was born at Gloucester, Massachusetts, on November 22, 1888, the second of Mary Ellen (Flood) and James Keating’s nine children. It was Ellen’s second marriage, her first husband having perished at sea aboard a Gloucester fishing schooner. She married James Keating, a native of Canso, NS, at Portland, ME, on April 15, 1887, and the couple established residence at Gloucester, where James worked aboard local fishing vessels.
James Baker Keating
Following the sudden death of the couple’s eldest child, John, during the summer of 1889, the family returned to Canso, where their remaining seven children were born. While James Baker spent his childhood years in the Guysborough County community, he returned to Gloucester, MA, sometime before 1911. An American citizen by birth, he enlisted with the United States Navy at New York, NY, on July 26, 1912, committing to a four-year term in its ranks.

“Apprentice Seaman” James Baker completed his initial training aboard USS Constellation and was promoted to the rank of “Ordinary Seaman” on October 8. Before year’s end, he was assigned to USS Rhode Island, where he served the majority of his first term. After nine months aboard the “Virginia Class” battleship, James Baker advanced to the rank of “Seaman.”

While James was aboard the vessel, the Rhode Island cruised the waters off the coast of Mexico during the winter of 1913-14 as the US fleet provided protection for American nationals during the Mexican Revolution. The ship departed the area in February 1914 and spent two weeks at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before returning to regular duties along the American east coast.

During a brief stint aboard USS North Carolina in the summer of 1914, James completed training in the handling and firing of torpedoes. Following his return to the Rhode Island on September 30, 1914, the completed a six-month tour of the Caribbean aboard the vessel. Throughout the ensuing months, James continued his training in the operation and maintenance of the ship’s weapon’s systems, earning the rating of Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class on November 23, 1915.

The Rhode Island completed a second Caribbean tour in early 1916, while James advanced to 2nd Class ranking on March 31, 1916. Having fulfilled his four-year term of service, James was honourably discharged at Philadelphia. PA, on July 25, 1916. After a brief period ashore, he re-enlisted for another four-year term at Boston, MA, on October 6. While the Rhode Island was in fleet reserve at the time, he was once again assigned to its crew.

Increasing tensions between Germany and the United States during the early months of 1917 resulted in the vessel’s return to active duty on March 27, 1917. When the United States declared war on Germany 10 days later, the Rhode Island was appointed flagship of the Atlantic Fleet’s Battleship Division 3. Its crew immediately underwent a period of intense training and, after declared fit for combat, commenced anti-submarine patrols along the coast of Maryland’s Tangier Island.

Meanwhile, James continued to progress through the ranks, achieving the rating of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class on November 1, 1917. In a span of two years, he had progressed through his rank’s first three classes. Exactly three months later, he was promoted to “Chief Gunner’s Mate,” the class’s highest rating. The leadership position combined responsibility for operating and maintaining the ship’s various weapons systems with overseeing the training of the vessel’s subordinate gunners’ mates.

When the Rhode Island was transferred to Battleship Division 2 in April 1918, James was re-assigned to a “Receiver Ship” at New York, NY. After spending the summer months without a specific assignment, he was posted to the minesweeper USS Finch on September 23. The vessel, one of a new class introduced following the American declaration of war, was specifically designed to patrol American harbours and coastal waters for mines. The Finch operated out of Section Base 8, Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY, and was responsible for patrolling the various shipping lanes leading into and out of New York harbour. Following his transfer, James immediately commenced regular duty aboard the vessel.

On the afternoon of October 11, 1918, the Finch was “returning from minesweeping operations with [the] mine sweeper Crawford [a former Staten Island tugboat] in tow.” James was “detailed to attend to the tow line” as the vessel made its way into port. Around 3:45 p.m., the vessel altered its course to the right as it entered Swash Channel. As the ship changed direction, the tow line caught between the “taffrail” (handrail around a ship’s stern) and a chafing board, forming a “bight” (curved section of slack rope). James immediately ordered two men to assist him in releasing the line.

As the three men attempted to undo the bight, the chafing board broke, suddenly releasing the tow line. It snapped straight and struck the three men, knocking James and one of his two assistants overboard. Both vessels immediately attempted to rescue the pair. While crew successfully retrieved Seaman W. C. Lawson, there was no sign of James. Officers aboard the Finch immediately notified authorities on shore by radiogram: “Keating James Baker Chief Gunner’s Mate US Navy drowned at sea. Body not recovered.”

Naval officials immediately contacted James’ parents in Canso by telegram and informed them of the incident. While his service file provides no details, James’ remains were subsequently recovered from the harbour and identified. Chief Gunner’s Mate James Baker Keating was laid to rest in Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, during the month of November 1918.
Chief Gunner's Mate James Baker Keating's headstone, Cypress Hills National Cemetery
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 .

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Remembering Sergeant Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison—Accidentally Killed October 10, 1918

Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison was born at Melford, Guysborough County, on October 20, 1879, the fifth of Euphemia (MacIsaac) and Roderick Morrison’s six children. Roderick, a native of River Inhabitants, Richmond County, was living at Cape Porcupine, near Auld’s Cove, at the time of his February 13, 1867 marriage to Euphemia, who was the daughter of John and Catherine MacIsaac, Tracadie, Antigonish County.
Sgt. Neil Morrison's headstone, Castlewood Cemetery
The family settled at Melford, near Mulgrave, where they raised a family of four boys and two girls. Roderick passed away sometime before 1891, and his two oldest sons departed for the United States before the turn of the century. Neil, as he was known to family, remained in Nova Scotia, where he resided with his maternal uncle, Neil MacIsaac, at Grosvenor, Antigonish County, and worked as a lumberman.

Following his uncle’s death in June 1911, Neil remained on the Grosvenor property. His mother, Euphemia, moved in with her son sometime after her brother’s death and passed away at Grosvenor on December 5, 1916. With no family commitments to keep him in Nova Scotia, Neil enlisted with the Nova Scotia Forestry Draft at Camp Aldershot, NS, on July 16, 1917.

Early the previous year, the demand for lumber products at the front prompted the British government to request Canada’s assistance in providing the manpower and expertise required to harvest and process timber in the United Kingdom. In response, Canadian military authorities recruited several battalions specifically dedicated to the task and transported the units to England. Part of the campaign included a “Nova Scotia Forestry Draft” that solicited volunteers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The first “forestry” recruits departed for England in early July 1916 and were assigned to units operating in the United Kingdom. On November 14, 1916, the Canadian government officially established the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) to oversee the work of its forestry units. By year’s end, 11 CFC Companies were operating in Britain, while three others had crossed the English Channel to France.

Recruitment continued into the following year as the CFC expanded its overseas operations. By the end of 1917, 58 CFC Companies were working in four separate districts in France, in addition to England and Scotland, supplying British and French units in the forward area with much-needed lumber products. Neil Morrison was part of this dramatic expansion, departing for England aboard HMT Canada on November 6, 1917. Upon arriving overseas, he reported to the CFC’s Headquarters at Sunningdale, England.

On February 27, 1918, Neil was assigned to No. 139 Company, CFC, a newly-formed unit that was preparing to depart for No. 52 District operations at Jedburgh, Scotland—approximately 75 kilometres southeast of Edinburgh—where its personnel were to establish a timber and sawmill operation in nearby forests. An experienced woodsman at the time of his enlistment, 39-year-old Neil Morrison was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the day following his transfer to No. 139 Company.

The unit’s personnel arrived at Jedburgh in early March and spent the remainder of the month erecting the required camp facilities—mess buildings, barracks and stables. In early April, work commenced on constructing a saw mill. By mid-month, progress to date permitted commencement of logging operations in the nearby Dades Forest. Meanwhile, work on the mill continued throughout the month of May as the Company built its ranks to full strength.

After several test runs, the mill commenced regular operation on June 3, processing timber “practically all day.” By that time, No. 139 Company’s ranks consisted of five Officers and 167 “other ranks.” A complement of heavy draft horses hauled felled timber to loading areas, where trucks loaded and transported the logs to the mill yard. Harvesting and lumber production were in full swing throughout the summer months, increasing significantly as loggers entered dense sections of the local forest.

As a non-commissioned officer (NCO), Neil was responsible for overseeing the logging and transport crews working at the harvesting site. As with any forestry operation, the potential for injury was always present. An October 7 war diary entry proudly noted that the Company had toiled in the area for seven months without a casualty. Within days, its unblemished record came to an end.

On the morning of Thursday, October 10, 1918, Sgt. Neil Morrison, “an experienced bushman,” was performing his routine duties, overseeing operations at the harvesting site’s loading area. Approximately 150 feet away, personnel were felling a cluster of approximately 30 trees, several of which were already on the ground.

Around 9:00 a.m., Neil was standing alongside Private A. Mercier, loading logs onto trucks for transport to the mill. Private William B. Smith was also present, in charge of a horse team bringing felled logs “unto the skids.” Private Malcolm Alex McDonald stood at the end of the skids, with Sgt. Morrison to one side and Pte. Smith approximately 12 feet away. Another enlisted man, Private W. Bollard, was driving a truck wagon and was approximately 30 feet from the skids.

According to Pte. McDonald, “there was a very strong wind blowing that morning, and I saw a tree, which was standing about 75 feet from us, falling.” He immediately shouted, “Look out for the horses!” and jumped around the end of the skid. McDonald first “saw the tree lying across one of the horses,” its crotch having struck its back. He then noticed Sgt. Morrison “lying between the skids. He was unconscious when I saw him at first, but after he had been moved… he partially recovered…. He never fully recovered consciousness while I was there.”

In McDonald’s opinion, Neil could have escaped the falling tree by going around the end of the skid, but based on the location where he was struck, he surmised that “he had endeavoured to protect the horses.” Witnesses later acknowledged that “the tree that fell had not been hacked or sawn,” but had fallen due to the strong winds.

While nearby workers assisted in moving Neil about 150 yards from the accident site, a colleague hastened to camp and retrieved the unit’s Medical Sergeant, Charles R. Cannon. Upon reaching the site a little more than one hour later, Cannon observed that Neil “had a severe cut out of [the] top of his head, and was conscious.” He administered first aid and supervised Neil’s transport to the residence of Dr. Hamilton Hume in nearby Jedburgh.

After examining Neil, Dr. Hume recommended he be admitted to Cottage Hospital for treatment. A thorough examination in hospital detected more than the deep scalp wound Sgt. Cannon had noted—Neil’s spine had been fractured in two places along its mid-dorsal section. As the hours passed, Neil slipped into a state of shock, his condition worsening as the day progressed. Sergeant Nathaniel Morrison passed away in hospital at 8:15 p.m. October 10, 1918.

Three days later, the “funeral service of Sgt. Morrison took place at 2 p.m. All ranks of 139 Company attending, also 129 Company.” A subsequent Court of Inquiry concluded that the incident was entirely accidental. Neither Sgt. Morrison nor any of the CFC personnel present at the time were at fault. Neil was laid to rest in Castlewood Cemetery, Jedburgh, Roxburghsire, Scotland.
Inscription on Sgt. Neil Morrison's headstone, Castlewood Cemetery
Neil’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, 5 October 2018

Remembering Private Laurier Falconer Pye—DOW October 5, 1918

Laurier Falconer Pye was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, on October 26, 1896, the fourth of Eugenia “Gene” (Jollota) and Charles Waddell Pye’s eight sons. In April 1914, Laurier followed two of his older brothers to the Massachusetts, where he found employment as a leather worker in the town of Salem.
Pte. Laurier Falconer Pye's headstone, Étaples Military Cemetery, France
Following the United States’ April 6, 1917 declaration of war on Germany, Laurier faced the prospect of being conscripted into military service. An older brother, Lloyd, registered for the American draft in June 1917 and departed for France with an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) unit in late September. Facing the prospects of being drafted into the AEF, Laurier decided to contact Canadian Expeditionary Force recruiters in Boston. He completed the required medical examination and departed by train for Saint John, NB, where he voluntarily attested for military service on January 22, 1918.

Laurier was “taken on strength” by the 1st Depot Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment, on February 7 and departed from Halifax aboard SS Melita 11 days later. Upon arriving in England, he was assigned to the 13th Reserve Battalion (New Brunswick) and reported to Camp Bramshott for training. On August 18, Laurier proceeded to France for service with the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick). Shortly after arriving on the continent, however, he was re-assigned to the 44th Battalion (Manitoba) and joined the unit in the forward area on August 29.

The 44th had recently participated in the Canadian Corps’ August 8, 1918 attack on the German line east of Amiens, an event that marked the commencement of a major Allied counter-offensive. Before month’s end, the western Canadian unit was re-designated a “New Brunswick” battalion, to accommodate soldiers recruited under the Military Service Act. On the afternoon of August 27, the 44th travelled by train from Amiens to Aubigny-en-Artois, northwest of Arras. Two days later, a draft of 89 “other rank” reinforcements—a group that included Private Laurier Pye—joined its ranks.

Within days, the battalion returned to the front lines. On September 2, its soldiers participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on the Drocourt - Quèant Line, a section of the Germans’ vaunted Hindenberg defensive system east of Arras, France. Relieved on the night of September 4/5, the 44th retired to camp and spent the next three weeks training and re-organizing its ranks. On the night of September 25/26, the unit returned to the front trenches between Inchy and Mœuvres and spent the following day preparing for combat.

On the morning of September 27, the 44th participated in the opening stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, an incomplete waterway on the outskirts of Cambrai. During the initial advance, its personnel succeeded in crossing a dry section of the canal and established positions on its eastern bank. Before mid-day, supporting 3rd Division units passed through its lines and continued the attack.

The following day, the 44th’s personnel once again moved forward and resumed the advance. While the battalion successfully secured its objectives, German forces launched several counter-attacks on its positions throughout the day. While personnel repelled each assault, persistent enemy fire took its toll on the unit’s ranks. Forced to retreat to a nearby railway line when an evening counter-attack penetrated its right flank, the weary soldiers managed to push forward to the Douai - Cambrai Road after nightfall.

By 3:00 a.m. September 29, almost 48 hours of combat had reduced the 44th’s ranks to two Officers, three Sergeants and 100 “other ranks.” Two hours later, 12th Brigade units passed through the 44th’s lines, finally allowing its remaining personnel to withdraw. The battalion’s war diary later reported a total of 405 casualties during its Canal du Nord tour—31 killed, 306 wounded and 68 missing, many of whom were “believed killed.”

At some point during the fighting on September 28, 1918, Laurier received a severe gunshot wound to the head. The exact details are unknown, his “circumstances of casualty” card stating only that “he was severely wounded; stretcher bearers rendered first aid and he was taken to a dressing station and later evacuated to No. 22 General Hospital, Camiers.”

Laurier was admitted to the hospital on October 2, but there was little that staff could do to improve his situation. After lingering for several days, Private Laurier Falconer Pye “died of wounds received in action” on October 5, 1918. Three weeks shy of his twenty-second birthday at the time of his passing, Laurier was laid to rest in Étaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Étaples Military Cemetery
Laurier’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 .

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Remembering Private Raymond Edward Smith—KIA September 30, 1918

Raymond Edward Smith was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County, on January 25, 1887, to Mary (MacNeil) and Thomas Smith. The eldest of the couple’s three children, Raymond worked as a trackman on the Intercolonial Railway prior to the outbreak of the First World War. During the winter of 1915-16, Raymond travelled to Halifax, where he served for an period of time with the “Composite Battalion.” On March 10, 1916, he attested with a Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) reinforcement draft and departed for England in late June.

Pte. Raymond Edward Smith's headstone, Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension
On July 6, Raymond arrived in England aboard SS Olympic. He spent six weeks at Caesar’s Camp, Folkestone, before proceeding to France on August 17. Following a brief time with 3rd Entrenching Battalion, one of several working units in the forward area, Raymond joined the RCR’s ranks near Warloy, France, on September 23, 1916.

At the time of Raymond’s arrival, the battalion was deployed in the Somme region of France, where it had participated in an attack on the German line on the day following the Canadian Corps’ September 15th capture of Courcelette. In early October, its soldiers took part in an attack on Kenora and Regina Trenches, two well-fortified defensive positions located on Thiepval Ridge. Following its withdrawal from the line on October 10, the unit made its way northward to sectors near Lens, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916-17.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the RCR was one of three 7th Brigade units participating in the initial attack on Vimy Ridge. During the advance, Raymond was wounded in the right hand and evacuated to hospital at Boulogne, France, on April 11. The following day, he was invalided to England, where he received treatment for a serious wound to his right thumb. Discharged on June 16, he remained at Camp Bramshott throughout the remainder of the summer and early autumn, finally rejoining the RCR at Rely, France, on November 23, 1917.

Raymond thus missed the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Corps’ successful capture of Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. The RCR served in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the winter of 1917-18. While the battalion and other Canadian Corps units were placed on alert during the German “Spring Offensive” of late March and April 1918, no attack materialized in the Canadian sector and tours quickly returned to normal.

The unit’s personnel enjoyed a break from the forward area during the month of May, retiring to Lières for a period of rest, training and recreation. In late June, the soldiers returned to the Neuville-Vitasse sector, where they served regular tours throughout the following month. In late July, the battalion made its way south to Saleux, near Amiens, and prepared for their first major combat assignment of the year.

Having successfully withstood the German “Spring Offensive,” Allied commanders commenced planning a major counter-offensive, scheduled to occur east of Amiens in mid-summer. On the morning of August 8, the RCR’s 7th Brigade waited in support while the 9th Brigade launched the initial phase of the attack at 4:20 a.m. Four hours later, three 7th Brigade units—the RCR, 42nd and 49th Battalions—passed through their 3rd Division comrades’ lines and continued the advance, securing its objectives by mid-day.

While the RCR’s soldiers remained in the line until mid-month, its most intense combat occurred on the tour’s first day. Several days later, the unit made its way northward, receiving only a brief rest before returning to the trenches on August 25 for its second combat assignment of the month—an attack on German positions east of Arras. The following morning, the unit once again participated in the attack’s second wave. Despite heavy machine gun and rifle fire, its personnel made steady progress into German-held territory throughout the day.

During the ensuing 48 hours, the RCR’s personnel remained in support positions before withdrawing to billets at Arras in the early hours of August 29. Having survived two major battles in less than a month, Raymond enjoyed several days’ rest before marching through Tilloy to the old British line, approximately three kilometres east of Arras. For the next two and a half weeks, he and his mates conducted salvage operations in the area as the RCR rebuilt its ranks.

Following a week’s training at Berneville, the battalion travelled by bus to Bullecourt, west of Cambrai, and prepared for its third major combat assignment—the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of the strategic city. In the early morning hours of September 28, the unit’s soldiers advanced to Bourlon Wood, captured only hours previously by other Canadian units, and “jumped off” toward the German line south of Raillencourt at 5:30 a.m.

While the battalion encountered heavy machine gun fire along its right flank, it managed to reach its objective—a section of the German front trench—and secured possession of the area shortly after mid-day, pressing forward into the support trenches as the afternoon progressed. Despite suffering considerable losses, the RCR remained in the line throughout the night and was ordered to resume the advance the following morning.

At 5:30 a.m. September 30, the unit’s personnel moved forward and immediately encountered “intense machine gun fire… from both flanks… as well as frontal [fire].” As the day passed, the soldiers twice attempted to push forward, each time being “checked by cross-fire from both flanks.” The RCR maintained its position along a sunken road throughout the night. At 5:00 a.m. October 1, 9th Brigade units passed through its lines and resumed the attack. Later in the day, the battalion’s remaining personnel retired to camp at Quarry Wood.

The RCR’s advance, while less successful than perhaps desired, managed to capture 54 German machine guns, five anti-tank and field guns, and 130 prisoners, and inflicted an estimated 700 casualties on the enemy. The achievements, however, came at a price. Three Officers were killed, a fourth died of wounds, and 16 others—including its Commanding Officer—were wounded. Among its “other ranks” (OR), 31 soldiers were killed, one died of wounds, 185 were wounded and 53 were missing after three days in the line.

Private Raymond Edward Smith was one of the OR lost in the fighting on the outskirts of Cambrai. While initial reports indicated that he had been “wounded in action,” a subsequent entry in his service file, made by the Burial Officer, reads: “Buried. Now reported killed in action 30-9-18.” Raymond was laid to rest in Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France.

Raymond’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 Charles William “Charlie” Marr—KIA September 30, 1918

Charles William Marr was born at Boylston, Guysborough County, on April 16, 1896, the fourth of Mary Amanda (McPherson) and Lawrence M. Marr’s 10 children. On March 1, 1916, Charlie commenced training with the Composite Battalion at Halifax, NS. While he attested for overseas service before month’s end, he left the battalion’s ranks after several weeks’ service and was officially “struck off strength” in late July. A later Court of Inquiry, held in August 1916, officially discharged him from military service.
Pte. Charles William Marr's headstone, Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France
Charlie eventually made his way to Ontario and was working in Toronto when he attested for service with the 2nd Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment, on November 11, 1917. On this occasion, his enlistment was not voluntary—Charlie was ordered to report for duty, under the terms of the Military Service Act (1917). His second enlistment, however, followed a pattern similar to the first—Charlie was officially listed as “AWL [absent without leave]” from the date of his attestation until March 31, 1918.

Officially placed on the pay list the following day, Charlie made his way to Halifax in the company of other conscripts and departed for overseas aboard HMT Tunisian on April 8. Upon landing in England 11 days later, he was posted to the 12th Reserve Battalion (Central Ontario), the unit that provided reinforcements for five Ontario infantry battalions at the front. Charlie spent the next four months at Camp Witley, where he and his fellow draftees completed their training.

On August 15, Charlie was assigned to the 75th Battalion (Mississauga, ON) and two days later crossed the English Channel to France. He joined the 75th in the forward area on September 6. The unit had recently seen combat at Amiens (August 8 & 9) and Arras (September 2 & 3), battles that marked the beginning of a major Allied counter-offensive. The battalion’s soldiers spent the early part of the month resting and training, in preparation for the Canadian Corps’ next major assignment—an attack on Canal du Nord and the strategic city of Cambrai that lay behind it.

During the late evening of September 26, the 75th’s soldiers returned to the forward area and prepared for the following day’s assignment—the capture of Bourlon Wood, an elevated area adjacent to the village bearing the same name. Personnel reached their assembly point north of the road between Pronville and Inchy-en-Artois in the early morning hours of September 27. At precisely 5:20 a.m., the opening barrage signalled the beginning of the attack.

One hour later, the 75th moved forward, passing the northern outskirts of Inchy and proceeding toward the banks of Canal du Nord. After crossing the canal in mid-morning, the unit continued eastward toward Bourlon Wood. As the 11th Brigade’s designated reserve battalion during the advance, the 75th followed in the wake of two attacking Brigade mates—the 54th and 102nd Battalions—and the supporting 87th Battalion.

The 75th advanced to support positions as the attack commenced, and occupied Bourlon Wood following its capture. The soldiers spent the night in the wooded area, establishing a consolidated defensive position. At dawn the following day, 3rd Canadian Division units passed through the 11th Brigade’s lines and continued the attack. Meanwhile, Charlie and his mates rested in the wooded area.

In the early hours of September 29, the 75th received notice that its Brigade would provide support for a 12th Brigade attack north of the village of Sailly. Personnel moved to the assembly area at 7:00 a.m. and advanced in support as the 12th Brigade launched the attack. When fierce German resistance prevented the attacking units from capturing the village, the 75th remained in support. Before day’s end, the battalion was informed that its soldiers would join the 54th Battalion in resuming the advance the following day.

During the early hours of September 30, the 75th moved forward to jumping off positions along the Douai - Cambrai road, south of Sancourt. As the supporting artillery barrage commenced at 6:00 a.m., its soldiers went “over the top” toward their objective. Despite intense retaliatory fire, the unit over-ran a number of machine gun nests and continued toward its final objective. However, 3rd Division units to its right failed to keep pace, exposing its flank to heavy fire.

The two battalions therefore retreated to a railway cutting and established defensive positions. The soldiers repelled a German counter-attack and held their ground until mid-afternoon, when military commanders ordered them to retreat to a more secure location. While German artillery heavily shelled their trenches throughout the remainder of the day, the 75th’s soldiers maintained their position. Later intelligence revealed that the units’ attack had occurred immediately prior to a planned German counter-attack, information that explained the stiff resistance the soldiers encountered.

At 5:00 a.m. October 1, the “remnants” of the 75th’s soldiers withdrew from the line, having suffered eight Officer and 85 “other rank” (OR) fatalities, while 280 OR were wounded during the tour. As the unit regrouped in quarries near Bourlon Wood, initial reports indicated that Charlie was among the soldiers listed as “missing.”

Subsequent inquiries confirmed that Charlie was one of the day’s fatalities: “He was killed while taking part in the attack southeast of Sancourt. No further information as to the actual circumstances under which he may his death is available.” Private Charles William Marr was laid to rest in Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France.

Charlie’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, 29 September 2018

Remembering Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett & Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers—KIA September 29, 1918

Ralph Stanley Lipsett was born at Middle Manchester, Guysborough County, on March 16, 1891, the second of Caroline “Carrie” (O’Brien) and Edward Stanley Lipsett’s two sons. While his older brother, Robert Bruce Lipsett, married and left the family home, Ralph remained on the farm, where he worked alongside his father.

Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett
As with many young men living in the county at the time, the appearance of military officials in Guysborough County during the early spring of 1916—part of a recruitment campaign for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade—soon impacted Ralph’s life. On March 13, 1916, he enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Guysborough.

As the campaign continued, numerous young men from the county’s communities joined Ralph in uniform. One such recruit was Willard Spurgeon Myers, born at Cole Harbour, Guysborough County, on June 27, 1892, the son of Catherine Margaret (Gillie) and William George Myers. Willard enlisted with the 193rd at Canso on April 1, 1916, and commenced training with its Guysborough detachment shortly afterward. Unbeknownst to Willard and Ralph at the time, their military journeys would intertwine throughout the upcoming months.
Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers
In late May 1916, Ralph and Willard followed the Guysborough detachment to Camp Aldershot, where the four Highland Brigade units—85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd and 219th—spent the summer in training. The battalions departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916, and arrived in England after a six-day passage. On the day prior to their departure, both Ralph Willard were promoted to the rank of Acting Lance Corporal.

The Brigade’s overseas arrival coincided with the Canadian Corps’ involvement in the bloody Battle of the Somme (September - October 1916). The resulting casualties created a pressing need for reinforcements and led to the dissolution of the 193rd and 219th Battalions before year’s end. Eager to serve at the front, both Ralph and Willard “reverted to ranks” on December 4, 1916. The following day, the soldiers were selected for service with the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and crossed the English Channel to France with a “reinforcement draft” destined for its ranks.

The group joined the 42nd at Neuville-Saint-Vaast on January 2, 1917. Quickly integrated into its Companies, the inexperienced soldiers soon commenced regular rotations in sectors near Vimy Ridge, France. Ralph and Willard received their first combat experience on the morning of April 9, 1917, as the 42nd participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic capture of Vimy Ridge.

While its soldiers succeeded in securing their initial objective by early morning, units on its left flank, facing the daunting challenge of capturing Hill 145, failed to keep pace. As a result, the 42nd was exposed to devastating German fire from the ridge’s highest elevation and incurred significant casualties until an early evening attack secured the location.

Ralph and Willard came through the experience without injury and served regular rotations in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the spring and summer of 1917. In mid-October, the 42nd made its way northward to Caëstre, France, near the Belgian border, as the Canadian Corps prepared for its next major assignment—an attack on Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. Its soldiers relocated to Ypres, Belgium, on October 23 and three days later provided support services for attacking units during the assault’s opening stage.

On October 29, while on a work party near Ypres, a piece of artillery shrapnel struck Ralph in the left shoulder. While the wounds was “superficial,” he was evacuated to hospital at Rouen and subsequently invalided to England on November 6. Discharged to duty one month later, Ralph spent four months at Camp Bramshott with the 20th Reserve Battalion before finally rejoining the 42nd’s ranks.

Meanwhile, Willard and his mates occupied reserve positions during the second stage of the Passchendaele assault, which took place on October 30. The unit retired from the line in early November and made its way back to France, where it served in sectors near Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18. Willard was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on January 10, 1918, while Ralph rejoined the unit on May 30 as its personnel was training near Bomy, France.

The 42nd returned to the line in late June and served in sectors near Lens for one month before making its way southward to Dury, near Amiens, in late July. Having successfully withstood a major German offensive in late March and April 1918, Allied commanders set about planning a major counter-offensive, scheduled to commence in sectors east of Amiens in early August. The 42nd entered the line on the night of August 7/8 and participated in the second stage of the following morning’s attack.

The soldiers remained in the line for several days, participating in a 10-hour assault on German positions during the night of August 13/14, action that involved significant “hand to hand fighting.” Two nights later, the unit retired from the line, having incurred 143 casualties during a week-long tour. Once again, Willard and Ralph emerged from the line without injury. In subsequent days, the 42nd made its way northward to Manin, near Arras, where Canadian Corps units launched a second offensive on August 26.

In this instance, the 42nd’s soldiers occupied reserve positions during the initial advance, moving forward to occupy a newly established front line on the night of August 27/28 and capturing a section of enemy trench the following day. While personnel retired from the line on the night of August 28/29, the brief tour had inflicted an additional 312 casualties. Once again, Ralph and Willard had escaped harm. Shortly after withdrawing from the line, Willard was promoted to the rank of Acting Corporal.

There was little time to rest as the 42nd returned to the line near Cagnicourt on the night of September 5/6. Three days later, the unit moved forward to positions near Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of Cambrai. The soldiers retired to Divisional Reserve near Chérisy on the night of September 11/12 and spent the next two weeks recovering from their recent tours. On the evening of September 26, the 42nd made its way to an assembly area north of Quéant, in preparation for an impending attack on Canal du Nord.

The battle commenced at 5:20 a.m., the 3rd Division—to which the 42nd belonged—occupying support positions while the remaining three Canadian Divisions advanced toward an incomplete section of the canal north of Mœuvres. The 42nd’s Brigade passed through the line following the initial attack, the unit moving forward in reserve while its three “sister” battalions continued the attack.

Shortly after mid-day, the battalion crossed the canal via a newly constructed infantry bridge and spent the night in the open, enduring a heavy gas bombardment that forced the men to don their box respirators. At 7:00 a.m. September 28, the unit assembled behind a railway embankment east of Bourlon Wood and west of Cambrai. When its Brigade mates attempted to resume the advance later in the day, they encountered “heavy opposition,” forcing the 42nd to remain stationary.

During the evening hours, the battalion received orders to resume the advance the following day, with the goal of establishing a bridgehead across the St. Quentin Canal. Weather on the morning of September 29 was “fine with a heavy ground mist which prevented any visibility.” As the unit moved forward, “a withering fire from Machine Guns at point blank range… caused very severe casualties.” Despite the resistance, small groups of soldiers managed to cross the Douai - Cambrai Road and establish a forward post.

Allied artillery provided supporting fire early during the afternoon, but the 42nd was still unable to advance and dug in behind whatever shelter was available. The following day, personnel attempted to move forward but once again encountered fierce resistance. Finally, on October 1, the unit succeeded in capturing an area of high ground near the railway embankment and withdrew from the line later that night.

The 42nd suffered heavy losses during its Canal du Nord tour—six Officers and 55 “other ranks” (OR) were killed, while 221 OR were wounded. Neither Ralph nor Willard survived the fighting. On the morning of September 29, Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers “was hit in the head by a machine gun bullet and instantly killed, while taking part with his Company in at attack west of Tilloy.” He was laid to rest in Mill Switch Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai.

Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett also died during the second day’s fighting: “During an attack on Cambrai in the morning of the 29th September 1918, he was instantly killed by a machine gun bullet.” His “circumstances of casualty” card’s description suggests that Ralph fell victim to the same fire that killed Willard. Ralph was laid to rest in Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, Sailly-lez-Cambrai, France.

Ralph’s and Willard’s stories are two 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 .