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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 .

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