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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 .