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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Remembering Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser—Killed in Action March 4, 1918

James Gibson Laurier Fraser was born at New Glasgow, NS on September 14, 1895, the youngest of Duncan Cameron “D. C.” and Elizabeth “Bessie” (Graham) Fraser’s five children. A lawyer by profession, D C. was elected Member of Parliament for Guysborough in 1891. He held this position until 1904, at which time he accepted an appointment to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Two years later, D. C. was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, a post he held until his untimely death at age 64 on September 27, 1910.

Lt. Laurier Fraser at training camp
Following her husband’s passing, Bessie relocated to Moose Jaw, SK, where she resided with her oldest daughter, Annie, and her husband, Rev. William G. Wilson. Laurier, as he was known to family, and his older sister, Sarah “Sadie,” accompanied Bessie to Moose Jaw.

Two other siblings, Alistair and Margaret Marjorie “Pearl,” had already left home. Alistair completed his legal studies at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, and later re-joined the family in Moose Jaw, where he commenced the practice of law. Pearl completed nursing studies at Lady Stanley Institute, Ottawa and commenced employment at Vancouver General Hospital. In the meantime, upon completing his schooling, Laurier entered a five-year legal apprenticeship with a nearby Gull Lake,  SK law office.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 soon impacted the Fraser siblings. Shortly after the British declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, both Alistair and Pearl travelled to Camp Valcartier, QC. Pearl enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, while Alistair accompanied the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) to England, where he received a commission as a Lieutenant when he attested with the unit. Alistair subsequently served in Belgium with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and at Vimy Ridge, France with the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada).

Too young to enlist at the time of the war’s commencement, Laurier joined the 60th Rifles of Canada, a Moose Jaw militia unit. On February 19, 1916, he enlisted with the 229th Battalion (South Saskatchewan). At the time, he was five feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 195 pounds. As with his older brother, Laurier received the commissioned rank of Lieutenant at the time of his enlistment.

Following a summer of training in western Canada, the 229th made its way by train to Halifax, NS, and departed for England on September 23. Upon arriving overseas, the 229th was dissolved and its rank and file dispersed to existing units in the field. As a result, Laurier was placed on the Canadian Expeditionary Forces’s “General List” of Officers and awaited the opportunity to serve at the front.

Laurier spent seven months in England before receiving a transfer to the 16th Battalion on April 26, 1917. He crossed the English Channel to France on May 1 and joined his new unit in the field four days later. The 16th had been established at Valcartier, QC, in September 1914, its initial ranks composed of soldiers from four Highland militia units. As a result, the battalion adopted the title “Canadian Scottish.”

Lt. Laurier Fraser, 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish)
Following its arrival in France in mid-February 1915, the 16th served with the Canadian Corps in Belgium’s Ypres Salient until September 1916, when the Corps relocated to the Somme region of France for two months. The battalion spent the winter of 1916-17 in sectors near Lens, France and participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge.

Laurier served with the 16th in France throughout the spring and summer of 1917. In late October, the unit made its way northward to a location close to the Belgian border, where it paused to prepare for its role in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. At month’s end, personnel arrived at Ypres, Belgium. While the 16th served several tours in the line, its soldiers did not participate in the assault’s final stages. The unit remained in the area until mid-month, at which time its soldiers made their way back to their previous sectors near Lens.

Throughout the winter of 1917-18, the 16th completed a regular schedule of rotations, conducting occasional raids on German trenches and enduring intermittent machine gun, artillery and trench mortar fire during its tours. On February 25, its soldiers occupied “a little more than 1000 yards” of the St. Émile sector’s trenches. In subsequent days, personnel set about wiring and deepening the front line, amidst sporadic artillery and machine gun fire.

Early the following month, hostile fire intensified considerably. On March 1, a trench mortar shell killed three “other ranks” (OR) and wounded a fourth. Artillery and mortar shelling continued throughout the subsequent days, culminating in a heavy barrage on the 16th’s line in the early morning hours of March 4. As the hostile fire subsided, German soldiers attacked a section of the line to the battalion’s left.

The 16th’s No. 1, Company, located in support trenches at the time of the bombardment, was particularly hard-hit by the barrage. Two of its Officers were killed and a third wounded, while four OR were killed and the same number wounded. Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser was one of the two Officer fatalities. He was laid to rest in Bully Grenay Communal Cemetery. Laurier’s cousin, Lieutenant Roderick Douglas Graham, was in camp with the 85th Battalion at nearby Raimbert and attended Laurier’s interment.

Lt. Laurier Fraser's headstone, Bully Grenay Cemetery
Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser’s story is one of 64 detailed 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 .

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