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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Remembering Private Alexander Callahan—KIA August 28, 1918

Alexander Callahan was born at Manchester, Guysborough County, on February 20, 1894, the oldest of Burton and Susan Maria (Whitman) Callahan’s seven children. On May 2, 1916, Alex enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at New Glasgow, NS. Five months later, he departed for England aboard SS Olympic, accompanied by his 193rd mates and the three other battalions that comprised the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

Private Alexander Callahan
Within months of the Brigade’s overseas arrival, military authorities dissolved the 193rd and 219th Battalions, two of its units. While Alex was initially transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion on January 23, 1917, six weeks later he was assigned to the recently created Canadian Machine Gun Corps and reported to its Crowborough Depot for training.

On June 16, Alex crossed the English Channel and reported to the Machine Gun Reinforcement Pool at Camiers, France. He remained there for almost three months before being assigned to the 14th Canadian Machine Gun Company (CMGC) on August 7. The following day, Alex joined the unit near Sains-en-Gohelle.

One week after his arrival, Alex and 14th CMGC participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens. The unit’s “gunners” fired an estimated 96,000 rounds during the opening barrage and provided “SOS” fire, as requested by front line infantry units, throughout the remainder of the day and night.

The unit served a regular rotation in the Lens area for the remainder of the summer and early autumn, relocating to Ypres, Belgium, in early November for the final stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. On November 5, its personnel participated in the opening barrage as Canadian units captured the ridge’s last portions. 14th CMGC made its way back to France later in the month and served in sectors near Vimy throughout the winter of 1917-18.

A reorganization of CMGC Companies in the spring of 1918 resulted in the amalgamation of 14th and 5th CMGC to form No. 1 Company, 2nd Canadian Machine Gun (CMG) Battalion, on March 21, 1918. At the same time, 4th and 6th CMGC united to form No. 2 Company. The entire battalion was attached to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 4th Brigade. When deployed in the forward area, three Companies entered the line during regular rotations, the fourth remaining nearby in reserve.

The newly formed unit served in sectors near La Rivière for the remainder of the spring and early summer before retiring to to Liencourt for a period of rest and training on July 1. Five weeks later, the battalion travelled southward to Longeau, on the outskirts of Amiens, where its personnel prepared to return to the line. Alex and his comrades were about to participate in the Battle of Amiens, which marked the beginning of a major Allied counter-offensive.

On the morning of August 8, one Company advanced with attacking units while Alex’s Company and the remainder of 2nd CMG’s personnel moved forward in support. The following day, No. 1 and 2 Companies were part of the attacking wave. The battalion remained in the line for one week after the Amiens assault, finally retiring on the night of August 17/18.

After several days’ rest, the gunners returned to duty on August 22. Four days later, the battalion remained in reserve as Canadian units once again attacked German positions east of Arras. The following day—August 27—No. 1 and No. 3 Companies supported the advance of the 5th and 4th Infantry Brigades respectively, providing “overhead fire” as the troops crossed the battlefield.

The attack ground to a halt at the Senlis River, which advancing units managed to cross by 7:00 p.m. Canadian troops moved forward for a distance of approximately 1,000 yards, with 2nd CMG’s No. 1 Company sustaining only light casualties. At 12:20 p.m. August 28, the attack resumed at Cagnicourt. Within minutes, the soldiers encountered “extremely heavy machine gun fire” that inflicted casualties on all of 2nd CMG’s gun batteries.

Despite the losses, the Canadian units repelled several German counter-attacks during the ensuing hours. Later that night, No. 2 CMG Battalion withdrew from the line, having sustained significant losses during the day’s fighting—three Officers killed and eight wounded; 24 “other ranks” (OR)  killed and 175 wounded.

Private Alexander Callahan was among the “gunners” lost at Cagnicourt that day. His remains were never retrieved from the battlefield. Alex’s name is engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, one of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers lost on the battlefields of northern France and whose final resting place is unknown.

Alex’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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