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Saturday, 30 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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