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Sunday, 13 October 2019

Remembering Private John Scott Rhynold—Died of Sickness October 13, 1920

John Scott Rhynold was born at Canso, Guysborough County, on August 4, 1885, the youngest of William David and Mary (Hurst) Rhynold’s six children and the couple’s fourth son. As a young man, John went to work in the local fishery, alongside his father. On February 12, 1908, John married Laura Snow, a native of nearby Whitehead. The couple established residence in Canso and soon welcomed two sons—Chesley Ross (1908) and Ellston (1912)—into their home. Tragically, a third child—a daughter, Kathleen—died on February 12, 1916, only two days after her birth.

Pte. John Scott Rhynold's headstone, Fourth Hill Cemetery, Canso, NS
Within weeks of his infant daughter’s passing, John enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on March 31, 1916. Two months later, he departed for Camp Aldershot, where the unit trained throughout the summer months. On October 12, John and his 193rd mates departed for England aboard SS Olympic. Also on board were the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions, the four units together constituting the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

Shortly after the Brigade’s overseas arrival, two of its four units—the 193rd and 219th—were disbanded and their soldiers assigned to existing units. While the Brigade provided a sizeable reinforcement draft for units in France in early December, John, who was considerably older than many of his comrades, was transferred to the 185th Battalion on December 29, 1916, and remained in England.

Within one month of his transfer, John was hospitalized for treatment of a “hammer toe” on his right foot. The problem persisted for months, during which time the development of hemorrhoids further compromised his fitness for service at the front. On February 26, 1918, John was finally discharged from medical care and reported to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit responsible for providing reinforcements for the 25th and 85th Battalions, Nova Scotia’s two front-line infantry units.

Finally, on June 24, John was assigned to the 85th Battalion and crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre, France, shortly afterward. After a brief stay at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp, he joined the 85th near Arras France, on July 21.

John’s arrival in the forward area occurred at a crucial point in the war. Having successfully withstood a massive German spring offensive, Allied forces were finalizing preparations for a massive counter-offensive. At month’s end, the 85th relocated to the outskirts of Amiens, where its soldiers completed final preparations for combat as part of the Allied plan.

On the morning of August 8, the 85th and its 4th Division comrades awaited orders to advance while units from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions commenced an attack on German positions east of Amiens. Shortly after mid-day, the 85th’s soldiers entered the fray near the village of Caix and remained in the line until the night of August 13/14. John came through the experience without injury and followed his unit back to the Arras area before month’s end.

On the morning of September 2, the 85th participated in its second combat engagement in less than one month—a Canadian Corps attack on the Drocourt - Quèant Line, a section of the German’s elaborate defensive system known to the Allies as the “Hindenburg Line.” While the battalion suffered significant casualties during three days in the line, John once again emerged from the line without injury.

After several weeks’ rest and training, the 85th once again returned to the line as part of the Canadian Corps’ September 27 attack on Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai. While its soldiers did not participate in the opening assault on the canal, they crossed the structure shortly after its capture and advanced toward the 85th’s objective—the village of Bourlon. While the unit captured the location before noon, its soldiers were subjected to enemy fire throughout the remainder of the day.

The 85th remained in the line for another 48 hours, its soldiers providing support for their 12th Brigade mates as the advance continued. Sometime during the third day of fighting, fragments from an artillery shell struck John in the right arm and shoulder, and he was evacuated to a casualty clearing station for treatment. On October 2, John was transported by ambulance train to Camiers, France, and admitted to hospital.

By the time John reached the Camiers facility, he had developed “gas gangrene” around his wound and was “dangerously ill.” In response, surgeons amputated his right arm “at [the] neck of the humerus [long bone of the upper arm].” Within 10 days, John had recovered sufficiently to be removed from the “dangerously ill” list and was evacuated by hospital ship to England on October 19.

Throughout the autumn and winter of 1918-19, John remained in hospital as medical personnel assisted with his recovery and completed preparations for an artificial arm. Transferred to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Liverpool, on May 17, 1919, John departed for Canada two weeks later aboard the hospital ship Essiquibo. Upon landing at Halifax on June 19, he was posted to the Hospital Section and received two weeks’ leave, which he most likely spent at home in Canso.

On July 8, John returned to Halifax and was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital. While staff had outfitted him with an artificial arm, it proved to be “of little value” due to the “shortness of [his] stump.” On November 11, 1919—the one-year anniversary of the Armistice that ended fighting in Europe—John was officially discharged from military service.

John returned to Canso and settled into civilian life as best he could. A fourth child—a daughter, Laura Jean—joined the family on May 20, 1920. Shortly afterward, John began to experience health issues. Admitted to Camp Hill Hospital on July 27, he was diagnosed with “military tuberculosis.” Medical notes in John’s service record indicate that he had been treated for “consumption” in his hip joint in 1911 and appeared to have made a complete recovery after several months’ treatment.

Pte. Rhynold's CWGC & Family Headstones, Fourth Hill Cemetery, Canso, NS
John remained in hospital for two and a half months, his health slowly worsening. He passed away at Camp Hill on October 13, 1920. John’s remains were returned to Canso, where he was laid to rest in Fourth Hill Cemetery, alongside his infant daughter. John’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 .

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Remembering Private James Murray Sinclair—Died of Sickness August 14, 1919

James Murray Sinclair was born on April 10, 1898, at Goshen, Guysborough County, the youngest of Mary (Polson) and William Sinclair’s 10 children. As three of his older siblings enlisted with various CEF units, if came as no surprise that James enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Antigonish, NS, on April 10, 1916—his eighteenth birthday.

Private James Murray Sinclair
After a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, NS, James departed for England with the 193rd on October 12, 1916. Before year’s end, the unit was dissolved and its personnel dispersed to various other battalions. Perhaps due to his age, James was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion—the unit tasked with providing reinforcements for Nova Scotia’s front-line battalions—on January 23, 1917.

A case of mumps delayed a transfer to the front until mid-June 1917, when James was assigned to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders). He joined the battalion’s ranks near Villers au Bois on July 7. The young soldier served a regular rotation in the line throughout the remainder of the year, seeing major combat for the first time during the 85th’s Passchendaele tour (October 28 - 31, 1917), during which its soldiers participated in the second stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge, near Ypres, Belgium.

While the engagement was the battalion’s most costly tour of the war in terms of casualties, James survived the experience without injury and served with the 85th in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the winter of 1917-18. Following the commencement of the German “spring offensive” on March 21, 1918, the unit was on high alert but no attack materialized in the Canadian Corps sector.

Following several months of routine rotations and a period of intense training during early summer, the 85th participated in a major Allied counter-attack that commenced east of Amiens, France, on August 8 and continued near the Scarpe River, east of Arras, France, early the following month. James saw action in both engagements and once again emerged without injury. On September 11, he was one of a small group of soldiers who received a welcome 14-day leave to England, rejoining the 85th’s ranks near Quéant, France, on October 1.

Throughout the month following James’ return, the 85th advanced toward the Belgian frontier as Canadian Corps units pursued retreating German forces. Before month’s end, its soldiers reached the outskirts of Valenciennes, France, where they encountered their first “repatriated civilians.”

On October 29, James’ front-line service came to an end when he was admitted to field ambulance with symptoms of tonsillitis. Evacuated to hospital at Étaples, France, two days later, he was diagnosed with diphtheria and admitted to a nearby stationary hospital. As the weeks passed, James’ health gradually improved. As the November 11, 1918 Armistice ended hostilities, he was invalided to England on December 10 and briefly admitted to 1st Birmingham Hospital, Rednal, before receiving a transfer to the Military Convalescent Hospital at Woodcote Park, Epsom.

Released from medical care on January 8, 1919, James was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, where he awaited orders to return home. In late April, however, he began to experience pains in his back and shoulder, and was admitted to No. 9 Canadian General Hospital, Bramshott. Early the following month, James was diagnosed with “caries [bone decay] of the second lumbar vertebrae.” Medical personnel applied a plaster cast to his lower torso, in an effort to alleviate the pain he was experiencing.

On May 31, James was transferred to No. 16 Canadian General Hospital, Orpington, Kent, where doctors detected a small tumour on his second lumbar vertebra. A June 18 Medical Board described James’ ailment as “tubercular caries and lumbar vertebrae,” a gradual disintegration of bone tissue known as “Pott’s disease.” Transferred to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Kirkdale, Liverpool, on July 5, James departed for Canada aboard the hospital ship Essiquibo eight days later.

Upon arriving at Halifax on July 25, James was admitted to Cogswell St. Military Hospital “in a very weak condition.” Doctors described his case as a “very advanced case” of tuberculosis of the spine and both epydidymi [the ducts behind his testicles]. As the days passed, James’ health continued to deteriorate, while staff administered medication to reduce the pain he was experiencing.

Pte. James Murray Sinclair's headstone, Goshen Cemetery

Private James Murray Sinclair passed away at 12:30 pm August 14, 1919. His remains were transported to Guysborough County, where James was laid to rest in Goshen Cemetery. He was 23 years and four month old of the time of his passing. 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 .



Friday, 19 July 2019

Remembering Colonel Allison Hart Borden—Died of Sickness July 19, 1932

Allison Hart Borden was born on March 31, 1878, at Guysborough, NS, the youngest of Reverend Jonathan Rand and Mary Elizabeth (Ells) Borden’s three children. Jonathan, a Methodist minister, was tending to a local congregation at the time of his second son’s birth. The family had roots in the Annapolis Valley and eventually established residence at Sheffield, Kings County, sometime during the 1890s.

Colonel Allison Hart Borden

Following Jonathan’s sudden passing in 1893, the family remained at Sheffield, where Allison completed his secondary education. He enrolled in Acadia University’s Bachelor of Arts program in 1899 and enlisted with the 68th King’s County regiment—a local militia unit—in September 1900. Following his sophomore year, Borden transferred to Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB, where he graduated with first class honours in Philosophy in June 1903. By that time, he had advanced to the militia rank of Lieutenant.

Borden’s initial impulse was to pursue a career in law. After spending the summer in the employ of a Halifax law firm, he enrolled at Dalhousie University in the autumn of 1903, but within a year abandoned the courtroom in favour of the battlefield. On October 26, 1904, he officially resigned his militia commission and the following day enlisted with the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) at Stanley Barracks, Toronto, ON, with the commissioned rank of Lieutenant.

Within two years of his enlistment, Borden was appointed Adjutant of the RCR’s Halifax detachment. Promoted to the rank of Captain on August 1, 1907, he married Grace Beatrice Silliker, a native of Amherst, NS, before year’s end. The newlyweds established residence in the Officers’ Quarters, Wellington Barracks, Halifax. The following year, Borden assumed command of a Company and served as a musketry instructor at the annual summer militia training camps.

During the winter of 1908-09, Borden assumed the duties of Instructor in Physical Training and Inspector of Cadet Corps for the province of Nova Scotia. In 1910, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General for Physical Training in Public Schools. By that time, he and Grace had relocated to a private residence on Larch Street, Halifax. The following year, Borden assumed responsibility for the “general supervision” of physical and military training in the province’s public schools.

By the end of 1911, Borden had met the requirements for admission to Staff College, Camberley, England, placing first among three Canadian candidates in the qualifying examination. He departed for overseas in mid-October 1912 and successfully passed the examination for promotion to the rank of Major before year’s end. The only remaining requirement for advancement was completion of the Staff College’s program of studies.

While all went smoothly during Borden’s first year at Camberley, he fell ill shortly after commencing his second year courses. Diagnosed with rheumatic fever and endocarditis—inflammation of the inner layer of the heart—he was forced to abandon his studies and returned to Canada in July 1914. Borden was placed on sick leave for the duration of the year. The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 eliminated any possibility of returning to Camberley.

Deemed fit for light duty in January 1915, Borden was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General at Halifax Citadel three months later. The position included a promotion to the rank of temporary Major in late May 1915, an advancement that was made permanent the following month.

As the summer progressed, Major Borden returned to full military duties. Meanwhile, the war overseas entered its second year and recruitment at home continued. Having already dispatched the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) to England in May 1915, the province recruited the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) and provided the majority of soldiers for the 64th Battalion (Maritime Provinces) before summer’s end. On September 14, 1915, the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) became the third provincial unit authorized by the Canadian government.

Military authorities selected Major Borden as the unit’s Commanding Officer (CO), a position that resulted in a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. The unit was recruited to full strength within one month of its formation, a response that prompted the Canadian government to authorize the formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade in January 1916, with Lt. Col. Borden as its CO. The recently authorized 193rd Battalion was assigned to the Brigade’s ranks, along with two newly created units—the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (South Shore & Annapolis Valley) Battalions—and the 85th Battalion.

The Brigade’s formation delayed the 85th’s overseas departure by more than one year. The unit trained at Halifax throughout the winter of 1915-16. Lt. Col. Borden actively participated in the 193rd and 219th Battalion’s early 1916 recruitment campaigns. In late May 1916, the 85th relocated to Camp Aldershot for a summer of drill alongside its three Brigade mates.

While the Highland Brigade anticipated an autumn overseas departure, Borden sailed for England on September 12, 1916, with plans to join the RCR on the front lines for a preparatory tour of the trenches. As matters unfolded, the Brigade arrived overseas in mid-October, before arrangements for Borden’s RCR posting were made. He departed for France on October 28 and joined the RCR in the field three days later.

For the next three weeks, Lt. Col. Borden completed a regular rotation with the RCR in sectors near Arras, France. Slightly wounded in the thigh by artillery fire on November 20, he returned to England shortly afterward, only to find the Highland Brigade in perilous circumstances.

Significant casualties incurred during the Canadian Corps’ deployment at the Somme in September and October 1916 created a pressing need for reinforcements in the field. In response, military authorities assembled a large reinforcement draft from the Highland Brigade’s ranks in early December and decided that two of its battalions—the 193rd and 219th—would be dissolved early the following year and their soldiers re-assigned to the 85th, 185th and 17th Reserve Battalions, the latter designated to provide reinforcements for Nova Scotian infantry units at the front.

In response to the Brigade’s dissolution, Lt. Col. E. C. Phinney, who assumed command of the 85th following Borden’s appointment as Highland Brigade CO, “volunteered to revert in favour of his old chief.” On February 10, 1917, Borden officially resumed command of the 85th Battalion as it proceeded to France.

Upon arriving in the forward area, the inexperienced unit’s officers and “other ranks” served instructional tours in the trenches with experienced units. As the Canadian Corps prepared for its first major assignment of the year—an attack on Vimy Ridge—military authorities attached the 85th to the 11th Brigade, where it would complete various “working” tasks during the assault. While his soldiers were not expected to see combat, Borden nevertheless insisted that all ranks complete the same rigorous preparatory training as their Brigade mates, a decision that proved fortuitous.

The 11th Brigade faced the Canadian Corps’ most challenging assignment at Vimy Ridge—the capture of Hill 145, the feature’s highest elevation. Well defended by several strongpoints along its slopes, the location was largely unaffected by the massive artillery bombardment launched in the early hours of April 9, 1917. As a result, the attacking units were pinned down in No Man’s Land, unable to complete their assignment. Meanwhile, other Canadian units to their right successfully secured their sectors of the ridge as the day progressed.

By mid-afternoon, military commanders recognized the precarious situation on Hill 145’s slopes. If the location was not secured by nightfall, German forces could launch a counter-attack along the flank and dislodge Canadian units from the ridge. In response, Canadian authorities instructed Borden to prepare two of his Companies—C and D—for combat. The soldiers were outfitted with the required equipment, made their way through Tottenham Tunnel into the jumping-off trenches, and went over the top toward German positions shortly after 6:00 pm, without the benefit of artillery support.

To their credit, the inexperienced officers and men maintained their formation as they proceeded up the ridge and succeeded in securing Hill 145’s western slopes before nightfall. The following day, their remaining 85th comrades joined them atop the newly captured ridge as Canadian units removed the last pockets of German soldiers from its eastern slope. The battalion’s remarkable debut at Vimy Ridge earned it the nickname, “The Never Fails.”

Before month’s end, the 85th was attached to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade and commenced a regular rotation in the line. By early summer, however, the strain of five months’ service in the forward area began to take a toll on 38-year-old Lt. Col. Borden’s health. On July 10, he received a welcome 10-day leave to England, as his wife Grace had relocated to London shortly after the Highland Brigade’s overseas arrival.

Within days, Borden fell ill with tonsillitis. Hospitalized until month’s end, doctors noted that his heart was slightly enlarged and that there was also a “systolic heart murmur” in two heart valves. As a result, Borden was placed on sick leave until August 31 and did not rejoin the 85th in France until mid-September. Barely one month later, the unit made its way northward to Staple, France, near the Belgian border, as its personnel prepared for their next major assignment—the second stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge, near Ypres, Belgium.

On the evening of October 28, the 85th’s personnel made the long trip into the line under extremely difficult conditions. Once in position, Borden made his way into the forward positions to assess the situation, despite fierce enemy machine gun and rifle fire, actions for which he later received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). On the morning of October 30, the 85th went over the top toward its objective—a collection of German defences clustered at a location known as Vienna Cottage. Despite facing the fiercest combat conditions since arriving on the continent, its soldiers successfully captured their objective and established a new front line beyond the location.

The toll on the 85th’s personnel, however, was significant. The battalion suffered its worst combat losses of the war at Passchendaele. The 18 officer and 371 “other rank” casualties represented more than 50 % of the soldiers in the line during the tour and included over 60 fatalities. Lt. Col. Borden’s health was also affected. Slightly gassed during the long march into the line, and exhausted by the trek entering and leaving the battlefield, he “found his heart troublesome” and “could not walk as fast as previously.”

Borden nevertheless continued his routine duties, making a two-day trip to London in mid-November. Shortly after his return to France, however, the strain of service once again impacted his health. Before month’s end, he was admitted to hospital for treatment of pneumonia. Discharged after nine days, Borden received a two-week leave to England on December 11 and rejoined the 85th in France before year’s end.

During his absence, the unit had returned to sectors near Lens, France, where it served regular rotations throughout the winter of 1917-18. While the area was not targeted during the massive German “spring offensive” launched on March 21, 1918, the 85th’s soldiers joined other Canadian units in preparing for a possible German assault. Although no such attack materialized, the soldiers remained vigilant into the following month.

On April 1, 1918, Lt. Col. Borden’s health issues resurfaced. Admitted to field ambulance for treatment of “disordered action of the heart,” he was discharged the following day and returned to duty. Before month’s end, however, he experienced a dramatic increase in body temperature, accompanied by a severe headache and aching muscles. The condition, commonly known as “trench fever,” resulted in his admission to hospital at Camiers, France, on April 26. Before month’s end, he was invalided to England and admitted to a London hospital.

While subsequent tests indicated no major health crisis, the recurring incidents meant that Lt. Col. Borden’s time at the front had come to an end. On May 10, 1918, he officially relinquished his command of the 85th to Major J. L. Ralston, his second-in-command. One month later, a Medical Board concluded that Borden was “permanently unfit [for] any [overseas] service” and recommended that he return to Canada.

Discharged from medical care on July 24, 1918, Borden and his wife made their way to New York, NY, by ship and travelled by train to Halifax. On August 26, Borden was officially “struck off [the] strength” of the 85th Battalion and placed on indefinite sick leave. By early December, he was deemed fit for “light duty in Canada” and assumed the duties of Assistant Adjutant General, Military District No. 6, and Quartermaster at Halifax early the following month. While Lt. Col. Borden experienced a minor episode with kidney stones in mid-March 1919, his health was otherwise stable.

Borden settled into his administrative duties, officially resuming his service with the Permanent Force of Canada on May 20, 1920. Three months later, he was officially confirmed in the rank of Brevet Colonel, retroactive to December 1, 1919. Before year’s end. Borden and his wife relocated to Winnipeg, MB, where he assumed the position of General Staff Officer (GSO) for Military District No. 10. By the spring of 1924, the couple had relocated to Toronto, where Borden commanded Military District No. 2.

By January 1925, health issues led Borden’s superiors to question his ability to fulfil his GSO duties. He experienced shortness of breath after exertion and his mitral and aortic heart valves were not functioning properly. A formal Medical Board convened the following month recommended “that this officer be retired from the service as medically unfit.” As a result, Borden was granted a four-month leave, with pay and allowance, commencing on March 1. Four months later—July 1, 1925—Colonel Colonel Allison Hart Borden officially retired from military service.

Colonel Borden and Grace returned to Kentville and settled into civilian life. In 1931, Borden’s alma mater, Mount Allison University, awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree, in recognition of his service to his province and country. Colonial Allison Hart Borden passed away at Kentville, NS, on July 19, 1932, following a brief illness. Only 54 years of age at the time of his death, he was laid to rest in the Borden family’s Hillaton Cemetery plot.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Remembering Private Wilfred Asa Nickerson—Accidentally Killed June 4, 1919

Wilfred Asa Nickerson was born at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, on December 8, 1896, the youngest of Sarah (Swain) and Reuben Nickerson’s six children. Enticed by the presence of militia detachments in Canso following the outbreak of the First World War, Wilfred enlisted with one of the units—the 94th Victoria Regiment (Argyll Highlanders)—in 1916.
Pte. Wilfred Asa Nickerson
Following the Canadian government’s introduction of compulsory military service in late 1917, Wilfred reported to Halifax in mid-April 1918 and was officially “conscripted” into the Canadian Expeditionary Force before month’s end. Subsequent bouts of tonsillitis and influenza delayed his overseas journey until early August, when he finally departed for England.

Following a 16-day voyage, Wilfred arrived at Liverpool and reported to the 17th (Nova Scotia) Reserve Battalion, which was encamped at the Canadian Training Depot, Tidworth Barracks, Wiltshire, England. In late September, he was hospitalized with a mild case of appendicitis, but did not undergo surgery. Discharged on October 9, Wilfred spent the autumn and winter of 1918-19 in England. During that time, he suffered a second appendicitis attack and underwent surgery in late January 1919.

Discharged to duty on March 21, Wilfred returned to the 17th’s ranks. While the signing of the November 11, 1918 Armistice had brought fighting to an end, an opportunity for service in France arose in the spring of 1919, when military officials organized the Canadian War Graves Detachment (CWGD) and solicited personnel for its two Companies.

Wilfred was among the soldiers who volunteered for duty with the CWGD. He crossed the English Channel to France on May 18, 1919, and travelled to the Arras area with No. 2 Company before month’s end. The soldiers performed a variety of tasks in the former combat zone—searching battlefields for informal graves and human remains, as well as exhuming bodies from smaller cemeteries and transporting them to larger cemeteries for re-interment.

The soldiers’ work was not without risk of injury, as unexploded artillery shells and grenades were scattered across the former battlefields. No. 1 Company, CWGD, reported its first casualties on May 28, when two of its soldiers drove a truck across a “half-buried” Mills Grenade, which immediately detonated. The following day, all personnel “were again warned as to the care to be taken with unexploded Ammunition.” Despite the warning, two more soldiers were hospitalized for treatment shortly afterward, “through the fault of one tampering with a detonator, against all orders to the contrary.”

On the evening of June 4, 1919, following a day’s work in the forward area, Wilfred set off for a stroll from camp toward a nearby village, in the company of two comrades. While walking along several meters in front of his mates, Wilfred called out, “Hurry up. I’ve found some nice souvenirs.” As his companions approached, they saw several artillery “nose caps” scattered on the ground and cautioned him not to touch the items.

Undeterred, Wilfred decided to “open one to see what was inside of it.” He removed a small brass band and, using a pocket knife, began to dig at the pin. After working at it for several minutes, the nose cap exploded in his hand and Wilfred fell to the ground. A piece of shrapnel struck one soldier in the leg. Despite his injury, he ordered the other soldier to remain with Wilfred while he returned to camp for help.

The second soldier later reported that Wilfred lay on the ground, unresponsive. About 15 minutes later, as help approached, he checked for vital signs but found none. An Officer, who arrived at the scene with a stretcher and several soldiers, confirmed that Wilfred was deceased, placed his remains on the stretcher, and returned to camp, where a Medical Officer confirmed that Wilfred had succumbed to his injuries, a piece of shrapnel having pierced his heart.

Private Wilfred Asa Nickerson was laid to rest in Bois-Carré Cemetery, Haisnes, France, on June 6, 1919. A formal inquiry later concluded that he was “accidentally killed while tampering with unexploded ammunition.” Sadly, Wilfred’s passing was only the first of three fatalities that occurred that month. Two other soldiers later succumbed to poison gas released from half-buried shells.

Wilfred’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 .

Monday, 3 June 2019

Remembering Private George Ernest Bingley—Died of Sickness June 3, 1927

George Ernest Bingley was born at Fisherman’s Harbour, Guysborough County, on November 28, 1888, the oldest of Annie (Gibbs) and William Bingley’s five children. While the family relocated to Prince Edward Island several years after Ernest’s birth, he returned to Fisherman’s Harbour shortly after his father’s passing in March 1901 and spent the remainder of his childhood years in the home of his paternal aunt, Sarah (Bingley) Fenton.
Pte. George Ernest Bingley's 193rd Portrait
As a young man, Ernest found work in the local fishery, but set aside his civilian occupation to enlist with the 193rd Battalion at Guysborough, NS, on April 6, 1916. After a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, he departed for England with the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on October 12, 1916. Shortly after its overseas arrival, the Brigade provided a draft of reinforcements for units in France. Ernest was among the soldiers selected for service and was assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada). He joined his new unit in France on January 3, 1917.

Within days of arriving on the continent, Ernest was assigned to the 7th Canadian Machine Gun Company (CMGC) for “temporary duty.” During his time with the unit, its war diary described “the coldest [weather conditions] since the beginning of the war. Fuel being scarce does not add to the comforts of the troops.” A later entry prior to Ernest’s departure referred to a widespread outbreak of mumps in the area.

While Ernest rejoined the 42nd’s ranks in mid-February 1917, his time with 7th CMGC soon impacted his health. In early March, he was admitted to hospital with a case of mumps. During his time in care, he developed nephritis (kidney inflammation). Medical staff attributed the condition to “exposure to wet and cold,” no doubt during his CMGC assignment. On April 6, Ernest was invalided to England, where he was admitted to hospital.

Ernest’s condition slowly improved, prompting his discharge to a convalescent home in early May. While his health was stable throughout the summer months, military officials determined that he was no longer fit for service at the front. On September 15, Ernest was discharged from medical care and assigned to clerical work at the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) Depot, Shoreham. After five months at the facility, he departed for Canada aboard SS Delta II in late February 1918.

Upon landing at Halifax, NS, Ernest was assigned to the local Casualty Company, where he underwent a thorough medical examination. The resulting report indicated that, while Ernest had recovered from his kidney ailment, he was experiencing considerable pain in his upper back and both legs. Diagnosed with myalgia of indefinite duration, Ernest was assigned to “home service” at Halifax’s CAMC Training Depot.

Ernest spent the remaining months of his military service with the CAMC. Formally discharged on January 31, 1919, he returned to Fisherman’s Harbour and resumed work in the local fishery. On April 11, 1922, he married Hattie Mae Burke, a native of Drum Head, Guysborough County, and the couple welcomed their first child—a daughter, Myrtle Lillian—the following year.

While his service file contains no evidence of health issues following his discharge, Ernest fell ill within two years of his marriage. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he was admitted to the Nova Scotia Sanatorium, Kentville, in 1924. In order to visit regularly, Hattie and Myrtle found accommodations nearby. Ernest remained under care for almost three years before he passed away from “tubrification of lungs and intestines” at Kentville on June 3, 1927. His remains were transported to Guysborough County, where he was laid to rest in Hillside Cemetery, Seal Harbour.


Ernest’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 .

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Remembering Private David Luke Dort—Died of Wounds May 8, 1919

David Luke Dort was born at Cole Harbour, Guysborough County, on August 12, 1897, the seventh of William Peter and Margaret Mary (Jamieson) Dort’s eight children and the couple’s youngest son. David enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916, and departed for England with the unit on October 12, 1916.

Pte. David Luke Dort
Shortly after the 193rd’s overseas arrival, David was part of reinforcement draft assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916. He crossed the English Channel shortly afterward and joined his new unit in the forward area in early January 1917.

On the morning of April 9, 1917. David and his 42nd comrades participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge. The battalion’s sector was immediately adjacent to Hill 145, which held out against the morning assault and enfiladed the unit’s left flank throughout the day. The situation was finally resolved in the early evening hours, when two Companies of the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) succeeded in capturing the hill’s western slope.

While David came through the successful attack on Vimy Ridge without injury, an artillery shell fragment struck him in the right side of the head as the unit withdrew from the line in the early morning hours of April 11. Amazingly, David did not lose consciousness and managed to walk approximately two hundred yards to a nearby field dressing station. Carried by stretcher to No. 18 Casualty Clearing Station, he was evacuated by ambulance train to Boulogne, where he was admitted to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital on April 13. Thus began a lengthy period of medical treatment that continued for more than two years.

Invalided to England on April 28, David was admitted to Wharncliffe Memorial Hospital, Sheffield, where he remained for three months before receiving a transfer to Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Ramsgate. While his surface wound successfully healed, David had lost a triangular-shaped piece of his skull approximately 3/4 inches in size, and x-rays revealed the presence of several shrapnel fragments in his brain’s “right frontal lobe.”

On the night of August 22, German zeppelins passing over Ramsgate dropped several bombs on the town, one shell striking the hospital ward in which David was located. The resulting explosion shattered bunks and sent splinters throughout the room. Several fragments struck David in the left thigh and head, rendering him unconscious. Staff immediately dressed both wounds and David once again began the process of recovery.

In the aftermath of his second injury, David experienced partial paralysis of his right leg, a condition not previously present. At the time of a ransfer to Lord Derby Hospital, Warrington, in late August,  he could “feel” his leg but had lost all strength in the limb. On October 10, David relocated to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, where his right leg remained “partially paralyzed.” He managed to walk “with a peculiar swing of the right leg” throughout his time at the Epsom facility.

A Medical Board report, dated November 23, 1917, recommended that David be invalided to Canada. One month later, he was admitted to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Kirkdale, Liverpool, the first stage of his journey home. David spent six weeks at the facility before boarding the hospital ship Araguaya on February 4, 1918, and departing for Canada. Upon arriving at Halifax nine days later, he spent one month under observation in hospital before receiving a transfer to the Pine Hill Convalescent Home in early March.

Within days of his arrival at Pine Hill, David suffered the major seizure and was subsequently diagnosed with “Jacksonian epilepsy”—a brief change in movement, sensation or nerve function, caused by abnormal electrical activity in a specific area of the brain. In response, medical authorities transferred David to Camp Hill Hospital on March 23. As he suffered no further seizures during the next six weeks, David was discharged from hospital in mid-May. A second medical report, dated May 31, 1918, recommended David be discharged from military service as “medically unfit.”

In early July, David was officially transferred to the local “Casualty Company” and formally discharged from military service before month’s end. The details of his whereabouts during the next six months are unknown. He may have returned to his Cole Harbour home, or perhaps remained in Halifax, in case further medical treatment was required. Whatever his circumstances, David was re-admitted to Camp Hill Hospital on January 29, 1919, for treatment of epilepsy.

According to subsequent medical notes, David had suffered a second seizure on November 3, 1918, followed by episodes on December 3 and 4. A fourth seizure in mid-January prompted his return to medical care. While David experienced no subsequent episodes after admission and reported no severe headache, he nevertheless remained in bed for one month.

Granted a day pass to visit a friend in late February 1919, David suffered a seizure while away from the hospital and was unconscious for 15 minutes. While his condition improved in subsequent weeks,  he began experiencing headaches. On April 6, David suffered several seizures, each preceded by a “frontal headache.” During each occurrence, his eyes responded sluggishly to light, his speech slowed, and “it was hard to rouse him.”

Within a week, David suffered a second seizure, after which his condition slowly worsened. His pulse and body temperature dropped significantly. While “bright” at some points during the day, his speech slowed considerably and he reported severe pain in his ear. On May 4, David slipped into a “deep coma.” When he regained consciousness the following day, he was suffering from paralysis on his left side. He subsequently became “very restless” and complained of a severe headache. While medical staff performed numerous spinal punctures during this time, his spinal fluid contained no indication of illness.

Private David Luke Dort passed away at 9:00 a.m. May 8, 1919. Medical staff identified the cause of death as a “brain abscess” attributed to his combat wound. A subsequent autopsy revealed that David’s “dura”—the outermost membrane layer surrounding the brain—was “adherent at [the] seat of fraction of frontal region. A small piece of shrapnel found.”

David’s remains were transported to Guysborough County, where he was laid to rest in Port Felix Roman Catholic Cemetery. Military authorities acknowledged that his death was a direct result of his war wounds and authorized provision of an Imperial War Graves headstone for his final resting place. David’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 .

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Remembering Private George C. Benight—Died of Sickness April 28, 1923

George C. Benight was born at Wine Harbour, Guysborough County, on April 10, 1898, the third of Annie (Boggs) and Lemuel Benight’s seven children. Caught up in the military excitement that swept Nova Scotia during the spring of 1916, young George enlisted with the Canadian militia at Halifax, NS, on April 13, 1916, and was assigned to the Composite Battalion’s “A” Company.


Within weeks of his enlistment, George was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital with a case of measles, a common affliction in the crowded barracks. Following a period in isolation, he rejoined the battalion’s ranks and served the remainder of year without incident. Briefly hospitalized for treatment of tonsillitis in February 1917, George once again returned to duty and experienced no further health issues for almost one year.

On January 16, 1918, George married Jenny Pearl Young, a native of Halifax, NS. Six weeks later, he was hospitalized for treatment of influenza. Discharged to duty on March 8, he returned to hospital five days later, complaining of chest and abdominal pain. George subsequently underwent an appendectomy in early April and remained under medical care for the remainder of the month. Discharged to the Pine Hill convalescent facility on May 10, George soon developed pneumonia and tonsillitis, conditions that confined him to bed for almost two months.

During his time in hospital, George was transferred to the 6th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment, the first step in proceeding overseas for service in France. His persistent health problems, however, prompted medical authorities to carefully examine his fitness for front-line duty. The ensuing report, dated September 26, 1918, concluded that George was suffering from “DAH”—“disordered activity of the heart”—a condition often described as “soldier’s heart.”

As a result, George was placed in Category CII—fit for labour service in Canada only. In response, George’s Commanding Officer recommended his discharge and military authorities concurred. On October 23, 1918, George was officially discharged from military service as “medically unfit.”

George and Jenny took up residence on Brunswick St., where George found work as a shoe-maker. For more than four years, life proceeded without incident. In the spring of 1923, however, the health issues that had plagued George’s military service returned. On April April 28, 1923, George C. Benight died “suddenly” at Halifax from “cardiac damage due to chronic myocarditis” and was laid to rest in Wine Harbour Cemetery, Guysborough County.

Within two weeks of George’s passing, military authorities agreed that his death was “related to service” and approved the provision of an Imperial War Graves headstone for his final resting place. George’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 .

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Remembering Antigonish County's "Vimy Boys"

During the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge, France, and in the days immediately following its capture, a total of seven Antigonish County soldiers perished in combat. At the end of each summary is a link to each soldier's profile on the Antigonish Cenotaph Project's blog. “We will remember them.”

1. Private Wendell Alexander MacHattie, son of Alexander John and Janet (Hattie) MacHattie, South River Lake, Antigonish County, was killed in action on April 9, 1917, during the 42nd Battalion’s assault on the sector of Vimy Ridge adjacent to Hill 145. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield. Wendell is commemorated on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.


Pte. Wendell Alexander MacHattie

2. Private William Alfred Rogers, son of William H. and Mary M. (Durant) Rogers, was killed in action on the morning of April 9, 1917, northwest of the village of Thélus, France, while serving with the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick). As with Wendell, William Alfred’s remains were never recovered. His name is also engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.


Pte. William Alfred Rogers

3. Private John Angus Sheehan, son of Joseph and Mary (MacDonald) Sheehan, Gloucester, MA, and nephew of Alexander MacDonald, Clydesdale, Antigonish County, was killed in action on April 9, 1917, during the 85th Battalion’s successful early evening assault on Hill 145. He was laid to rest in nearby Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-St-Vaast, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.

Pte, John Angus Sheehan
4. Private John Angus MacGillivray, son of Alexander and Margaret “Maggie” (Cameron) MacGillivray, Fraser’s Mills, Antigonish County, died on April 10, 1917, from wounds received while serving with the 28th Battalion (Northwestern) in newly captured trenches atop Vimy Ridge. He was laid to rest in Écoivres Military Cemetery, Mount-Saint-Éloi, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.




Pte. John Angus MacGillivray's headstone

5. Private Ambrose Thomas Boyle, son of Henry and Margaret (Torpey) Boyle, Afton, Antigonish County, was killed by enemy artillery fire on April 11, 1917, as he and his 47th Battalion (British Columbia) comrades prepared for the following day’s attack on “The Pimple,” an elevated location north of Hill 145. Ambrose was laid to rest in Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-St-Vaast, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.



Pte, Ambrose Thomas Boyle

6. Private Colin Chisholm, son of Donald A. and Margaret (Campbell) Chisholm, Brierly Brook, Antigonish County, was killed in action on April 12, 1917, during the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion’s attack on “The Pimple.” Colin’s remains were never recovered from the battlefield. His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.


Pte. Colin Chisholm

7. Private Roderick William MacDougall, son of Archibald and Margaret (Chisholm) MacDougall, North Grant, Antigonish County, and nephew of Mary Ann “Maggie” Chisholm, Fraser’s Mills, Antigonish County, was killed in action while serving with the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) in trenches near Vimy Ridge, France. As his remains were never located, Roderick William is commemorated on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France. Antigonish Cenotaph Project profile.

Pte Roderick William MacDougall

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Remembering Sapper Thomas Leo Dort—Died of Sickness April 2, 1926

Thomas Leo Dort was born at Canso, NS, on August 4, 1893, the third of Bridget Jane (George) and James A. Dort’s eight children. During the spring of 1916, military recruiters visited the coastal community for the first time, in search of soldiers for the 193rd Battalion, one of four infantry units that formed the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade. Thomas enlisted with the 193rd on April 6, 1916, and spent the summer months training at Camp Aldershot alongside soldiers from the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th Battalions.

Sapper Thomas Leo Dort
On October 12, 1916, the Highland Brigade’s soldiers departed from Halifax aboard SS Olympic. Following its overseas arrival, two of its units—the 193rd and 219th—were dissolved and their personnel re-assigned to existing battalions. Thomas was part of a reinforcement draft of 193rd soldiers transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916. He joined his new unit near Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France, in early January 1917.

Thomas served a regular rotation in the line with the 42nd until March 21, when he was admitted to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, for treatment of an “ischio-rectal abscess,” a problem that had plagued him for several years prior to his enlistment. Invalided to England three days later, he underwent surgery and quickly recovered. Transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, on April 14, Thomas was discharged from medical care before month’s end and reported to the 20th Reserve Battalion, Shoreham.

Re-assigned to the 42nd’s ranks on June 19, Thomas returned to the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre, France, but did not immediately rejoin his battalion. In early July, he was temporarily attached to the 3rd Entrenching Battalion and worked on a variety of projects near Arras, France, throughout the summer months. When the unit was dissolved in mid-September, Thomas reported to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp, Villers-au-Bois, where he remained throughout the winter of 1917-18.

On March 4, 1918, Thomas was assigned to the 2nd Tramway Company, Canadian Engineers, and joined its ranks near Aix-Noulette, France, shortly afterward. One of two units that built, maintained and operated a network of small-gauge railways, its gasoline-powered trains moved ammunition and supplies to “dumps” in the forward area, carried troops into the front lines and transported wounded soldiers to field ambulance stations.

The Company’s “sappers” worked in the open, without the benefit of access to trenches or dugouts. As a result, hostile artillery fire posed a consistent threat while the men completed their daily tasks. The unit’s war diary reported a total of 13 “other rank” (OR) casualties during the month of May, a statistic that increased to 78 the following month, when an outbreak of “pyrexia” (trench fever) sent 30 men to field ambulance.

When Allied forces launched a major counter-offensive east of Amiens in early August, the tramway companies hauled large quantities of supplies to the front lines and constructed new sections as the advance progressed into German-held territory. Their work continued during a second offensive east of Arras at month’s end, 2nd Tramway reporting its first fatalities since Thomas joined its ranks—one OR killed and a second died of wounds, both the result of enemy artillery fire—during the first week of September.

In subsequent weeks, “construction continued with great rapidity” as the tramway units kept pace with the Canadian Corps’ advance toward Cambrai. In mid-September, however, Thomas reported to field ambulance for treatment of a bacterial infection and was evacuated to hospital at Étaples, France. Discharged to convalescent camp in mid-October, he contracted influenza early the following month and spent almost two weeks recuperating.

By the time Thomas was discharged from medical care, the November 11, 1918 Armistice had brought fighting to an end. As a result, Thomas crossed the English Channel before year’s end and reported to the Canadian Engineers Training Depot, Seaford. On February 23, 1919, he departed for Canada aboard SS Belgic and landed at Halifax one week later. Thomas was formally discharged from military service on March 24 and returned to Canso, where he resumed work in the local fishery.

On January 18, 1920, Thomas married Margaret Baker, a native of Tancook, Lunenburg County, in a ceremony held at Star of the Sea Church, Canso. For several years, Thomas experienced no health issues. By early 1926, however, he was under doctor’s care for treatment of “kidney, lung and heart troubles.” His condition slowly worsened and he passed away at Canso, NS, on April 2, 1926. He was laid to rest in Star of the Sea Parish Cemetery.

A note on Thomas’ death certificate stated that he had been “gassed and wounded during the Great War.” While his service record contains no record of specific treatment for either condition, military authorities subsequently agreed that his death was connected to his military service. Thomas’ 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 .

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Remembering Corporal Vernon Cecil Horton—Died of Sickness March 31, 1926

Vernon Cecil Horton was born at Roachvale, Guysborough County, on November 16, 1893, the third of Caroline “Carrie” (Nickerson) and Captain Moses Cook Horton’s eight children and the second of the couple’s four sons. Vernon commenced training with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at Truro, NS, on November 10, 1915, and formally attested with the unit one month later.

Corporal Vernon Cecil Horton

On July 15, 1916, the 106th departed for England aboard SS Empress of Britain. Shortly after his overseas arrival, Vernon was hospitalized for treatment of indigestion and subsequently underwent appendicitis surgery. As the 106th was disbanded during his time in hospital, Vernon was assigned to the 26th Reserve Battalion on January 4, 1917. Six weeks later, he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) and proceeded to France. On March 1, Vernon joined the RCR’s ranks near Bruay, France.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the RCR and two of its 7th Brigade mates—the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)—participated in the opening stage of the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Vimy Ridge. Vernon came through his first combat experience without injury and served with the RCR in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the spring and early summer of 1917.

While the RCR did not participate in the combat stage of the Canadian Corps’ August 15, 1917 capture of Hill 70, near Lens, the unit entered trenches on the newly captured location one week later. During the ensuing tour, its soldiers were subjected to intense enemy fire, particularly from German artillery. On August 23, Vernon was buried by debris from an exploding shell, and also suffered a wound to his right thigh sometime during the incident. Rescued by comrades, he was immediately transported to a nearby casualty clearing station for treatment.

Two days later, Vernon was evacuated to hospital at Étaples, France, and invalided to England at month’s end. Medical notes indicate that while a foreign object was still embedded in his thigh, it caused “little inconvenience.” Discharged to duty in late November 1917, Vernon was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia), and commenced a program of musketry training shortly afterward. On April 7, 1918, he qualified as an Instructor and was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal “while employed as Musket Instructor” at Camp Aldershot. In late July, he advanced to the rank of Corporal.

During Vernon’s time in England, several health issues surfaced. He was hospitalized for treatment of tonsillitis in early July, but quickly recovered. By the autumn of 1918, however, medical authorities identified more serious problems. Vernon had experienced heart palpitations while in hospital, shortly after his return from France. A Medical Board convened in late October 1918 stated that, while his war wound had not resulted in any permanent disability, Vernon was suffering from “precordial pain and palpitations, especially after exercise, also dyspnoea [shortness of breath].”

On November 15, military authorities recommended that Vernon be invalided to Canada and discharged as “medically unfit.” One week later, he departed England and arrived at Halifax before month’s end. A second Medical Board convened after his return to Nova Scotia confirmed the occurrence of significant health issues following physical exertion. In response to its findings and recommendations, Corporal Vernon Cecil Horton was discharged from military service as “medically unfit” on December 26, 1918.

Vernon immediately returned to the family farm at Roachvale. On February 24, 1920, he married Annie Margaret Dowling, a native of Inverness County, in a ceremony held at Boylston. The couple settled at Roachvale, where they planned to raise a family. Sadly, their first child—a son, Willard Dooley Horton—passed away from bronchial pneumonia on December 27, 1921, at one month of age.

One year later, the young couple welcomed a second son, Ralph, while a daughter, Doris, later joined the family. For several years, Vernon experienced no health problems. In the spring of 1926, however, he fell ill and was admitted to St. Martha’s Hospital, Antigonish. On March 31, 1926, Vernon passed away in hospital from a combination of “meningitis [and] probably tuberculosis,” and was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, Guysborough.

Three and a half months after Vernon’s passing, military authorities agreed that his death was the “result of service” and approved the provision of an Imperial War Graves Commission headstone for his final resting place. Vernon’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, 29 March 2019

Private Stephen Toney—The 85th Battalion's Mi'kmaq Sniper

Stephen Toney was of Mi’kmaq ancestry, “born in a boat two miles off Little Harbour, [Pictou County, Nova Scotia,] while his parents”—Noel and Sarah Toney—“were on a voyage from Merigomish to Indian Cove.” There is considerable discussion as to Stephen’s birthdate. According to his attestation papers, he was born on July 26, 1877. The 1881 Canadian census, however, stated that he was five years old at the time its data was collected (April 1881), suggesting that he was born in 1875 or 1876. A medical document in his service file, completed prior to his discharge, claims that Stephen was born in 1872, but no available sources support this assertion.

Pte. Stephen Toney, "D" Company, 193rd Battalion photo
On March 29, 1916, Stephen enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Pictou, NS. At the the time, he was married with at least one son, Noel, born in April 1902. Stephen listed his occupation as “cooper”—a common trade among Mi’kmaq men—and claimed to be 38 years and nine months of age at the time. A contemporary source later claimed that 12 Pictou County Mi’kmaq men served overseas with various Canadian military units during the First World War.

One of four infantry battalions that formed the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, the 193rd recruited its personnel across northern Nova Scotia. In late May, the Brigade’s soldiers gathered at Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, NS, where they spent the summer months in training. On October 12, 1916, the four battalions departed for England aboard SS Olympic. Shortly after arriving overseas, two Brigade units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—were dissolved and their personnel dispersed to other units.

Stephen was part of a draft of 193rd soldiers assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 6, 1916. While he immediately proceeded to France, he served for a brief period with the 3rd Entrenching Battalion before reporting to the 42nd’s camp on January 2, 1917. One month later, the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)—the Highland Brigade’s senior unit—crossed the English Channel to France and commenced service in the forward area with the 4th Division. On February 24, 1917, Stephen received a transfer to the 85th and joined its ranks early the following month.

During Stephen’s time in training, officers recognized his prowess with a rifle. As a result, he was assigned to sniper duty with the 85th. Private Charles R. Murray, a native of New Glasgow, NS, described his prowess in a letter home: “Stephen has been with us about three months and is a crack shot. Consequently he was one of the snipers and did good work on the day of the big drive [the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge]. In mud to his hips, he calmly shot a machine gunner and one… sniper.”

On another occasion, Stephen’s Company was enduring fierce machine gun fire from a position it could not locate. Under cover of darkness, he “went out into No Man’s Land…, concealed himself in a shell hole, his body pretty well covered with snow[,] and laid low. At daylight he found… and disposed of the [machine gun] nest.”

A later local news item, written following his return to Nova Scotia, described an instance in which Stephen was “out in a shell hole for six days with a barrage from both sides going on all above and about him, and he had only four hard tack biscuits to eat all that time.” On another occasion, Toney “crawl[ed] through the German wire, taking one and a half hours to do it… [and returned with] four rifles[,] leaving four dead Germans.”

Stephen logged more than three months’ service in the line without incident. On the night of June 12, 1917, the 85th relieved the 102nd Battalion in trenches near Avion, France. Its daily war diary entry described an incident that occurred as its soldiers entered the line: “During the relief [, the] enemy counter-attacked… and was driven off by our artillery and machine gun fire. The enemy used gas on our front and inflicted casualties on B and D Companies.”

Stephen was one of the soldiers exposed to poison gas during the attack. Evacuated for treatment, he was admitted to No. 20 General Hospital, Camiers, France, on June 19. Four days later, he was invalided to England and transported to North Evington Military Hospital, Leicester. Following his transfer to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, on July 7, medical staff performed a thorough physical examination and reported: “Chest clear. Heart normal. Appetite good. Temperature normal. Feels well.”

One week later, Stephen had recovered sufficiently to receive a 10-day pass. He remained under medical care until mid-September, when he reported to the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia). Around that time, Stephen wrote to a Pictou County acquaintance, describing his circumstances in upbeat terms: “I am feeling ‘jake’ once more after a few weeks in the hospital. The gas does not bother me very much now and I hope to be back [in France] in a few days.”

While eager to return to the trenches, Stephen spent another two months in England before rejoining the 85th’s ranks in late November 1917. Throughout the winter months, he served a regular rotation in the line. As time passed, however, health issues connected to his gas exposure surfaced. On February 15, 1918, he reported to No. 11 Field Ambulance for treatment of “chronic bronchitis.” Transported by ambulance train to No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, two days later, Stephen was invalided to England for a second time early the following month.

On March 6, Stephen was admitted to Birmingham War Hospital, Rednal, Birmingham, where he was diagnosed with “debility.” At month’s end, he received a transfer to the Epsom convalescent facility and was discharged from care on April 4. As medical authorities determined that there was “no disability,” Stephen was classified as “Fit D1”—fit for duty upon completion of remedial training. After completing a 12-day pass, he reported to the 2nd Canadian Corps Depot, Bramshott.

In early June, Stephen was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, where he completed training in “rapid wiring” before month’s end.  His anticipated return to France, however, proved to be overly optimistic. In early July, Stephen was transferred to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Bramshott, and at mid-month reported to Buxton, “pending embarkation to Canada for disposal.”

On September 22, Stephen departed for home and was posted to the Casualty Company, Military District No. 6, Halifax, upon arrival. Subsequent medical documents shed light on the reasons for his return. Following his transfer to the Hospital Section (Camp Hill) on November 14, medical staff described his health issues as “myalgia and loss of vision.” A “Case History Sheet” in his service file provided further details:

“Patient is 46 years of age and appears to be even older than that. He was gassed a year ago in June and since that [time] his eyes have troubled him and excessive secretion of tears occurs. No cough at present. Heart and lungs are normal. Pulse rate 66. Arteries are not widely hardened for age.”

A “Medical History of An Invalid” report, dated December 4, 1918, listed Stephen’s date of birth as July 26, 1872, and elaborated on his health issues. At the time, he was experiencing “pain in both shoulders, especially at posterior parts, [symptoms that became] worse in wet weather.” His left shoulder “causes more pain on movement than [the] right and raising the arm causes much pain.”

While Stephen reported “catching a cold” easily, he was not suffering from a cough at the time of the examination. The June 1917 gassing, however, “affect[ed his] eyes chiefly so that he was obliged to give up his sniping duties.” As the medical report concluded that Stephen’s disability was “permanent,” he was placed in Category E—“medically unfit for service.”

On December 25, 1918, Pte. Stephen Toney was formally discharged from military service and rejoined his wife Annie, who had taken up residence at Upper Musquodoboit, NS, during his absence. At some point following his homecoming, Stephen travelled to New Glasgow, NS, where Mayor H. G. Grant and a group of town representatives presented three recently returned Pictou County Mi’kmaq “soldier boys”—Stephen, Noel Francis and Teddy Knockwood—with a Scroll of Honour.

A contemporary news item about the ceremony referred to Stephen as a “redoubtable sniper” who possessed “great skill as a lead shot,” and described him as “stolid, keen [and] strong-faced…, very swarthy, and with all his features strongly marked, and with a very dark, swarthy face…, [a] determined mouth and chin, and with a great development above the eyebrows, showing his great and keen powers of observation.”

According to the 1921 Canadian census, Stephen and Annie Toney were residing on a Mi’kmaq reserve at Musquodoboit, Halifax County, their dwelling’s only occupants. Stephen’s occupation at the time was listed as “trapper.” No additional information is available on his subsequent life. A note in Stephen’s military file states that he passed away at an unspecified location on August 11, 1943.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Remembering Private Lewis Seaboyer Bezanson—Died of Sickness March 16, 1921

Lewis Seaboyer Bezanson was born at Goldboro, Guysborough County, on March 4, 1897, the younger of Charity Hope (Giffin) and Obediah “Obed” Bezanson’s two children. Lewis’s older sibling, Vivian Hope, died at the Victoria General Hospital, Halifax, on September 17, 1913, from the effects of a perforated ulcer. She was 19 years old at the time of her passing. Three years later, Lewis enrolled in Acadia University’s Bachelor of Arts program. He had just completed his sophomore year of studies when he was conscripted into military service at Camp Aldershot, NS, on May 23, 1918.

Pte. Lewis Bezanson's headstone, Bayview Cemetery, Goldboro
Upon completing his basic training, Lewis departed for England on August 2 and reported to Camp Bramshott, where he joined the ranks of the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia). His overseas arrival coincided with the commencement of a major Allied counter-offensive at Amiens, France, only days later. The campaign led to the signing of the November 11, 1918 Armistice, an event that ended any opportunity to serve at the front for the vast majority of conscripts.

Lewis remained in England throughout the winter of 1918-19. On March 3, 1919, he was assigned to the Khaki College’s central campus, Ripon, Yorkshire. A joint project of the Canadian YMCA and Chaplaincy services, the College boasted a faculty of more than 70 lecturers and offered courses at virtually all educational levels. While details of Lewis’s role at the College are unknown, given his pre-service role as a student, he most likely participated in on of its programs.

Lewis remained at Khaki College until May 26, when he returned to the Canadian Corps Depot, Ripon, Six weeks later, he departed for Canada aboard HMTS Winfredian and arrived at Halifax on July 28. Five days later, Lewis was officially discharged from military service and returned home to Goldboro. Several weeks later, he returned to Acadia University and resumed his program of studies.

Sometime during the 1919-20 academic year, Lewis was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and admitted to Kentville Sanatorium. For almost one year, he remained under the institution’s care. His health slowly worsening, Lewis returned to his Goldboro home in late February 1921. Dr. John James “J. J.” McRitchie, the area’s family physician and a former medical officer, oversaw his care.

Private Lewis Seaboyer Bezanson passed away at home at 2:00 a.m. March 16, 1921. Dr. McRitchie identified the cause of death to “tuberculosis, pulmonary” contracted “during war service overseas.” Military officials subsequently concurred with his assessment and offered to provide an Imperial War Graves headstone for Lewis’s final resting place in Bayview Cemetery, Goldboro. His parents, Obed and Charity, declined the offer and erected a private memorial at his gravesite.

Lewis’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 .

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Remembering Private John Rood Dickson—Died of Sickness February 26, 1919

John Rood Dickson was born at Sonora, Guysborough County, on December 7, 1891, the youngest of Druscilla (Hewitt) and John Dickson’s 10 children. Born into a family with a seafaring tradition, young John found employment on the SS Strathlorne, a coastal steamer that operated out of Halifax, NS and travelled along the Halifax and Guysborough County coastline.

John Rood Dickson, SS Strathlorne
Following the outbreak of war in Europe, the capital city and its port bustled with military activity. It was not long before John was enticed into uniform, enlisting with the 64th Battalion (Maritime Provinces) at Sussex, NB, on August 20, 1915. The unit crossed the North Atlantic in early April 1916 but was disbanded within three months of setting foot in England. Prior to its dissolution, its ranks provided several reinforcement drafts for units in the field.

On June 28, 1916, John was part of a group of soldiers assigned to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles). He immediately crossed the English Channel and reported to the 25th’s camp at Heksken, Belgium, one month later. In early September 1916, the new arrivals travelled to the Somme region of France with their new unit and participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful September 15, 1916 attack on the village of Courcelette.

The following day, German artillery heavily shelled the 25th’s position. During the bombardment, John suffered shrapnel wounds to his chin and back, and was evacuated for medical treatment. The injuries proved minor and John rejoined the 25th’s ranks early the following month. He served with the unit in sectors near Vimy Ridge, France, throughout the winter of 1916-17 and participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge.

In subsequent months, John saw combat at Hill 70, near Lens, in mid-August 1917. Hospitalized for treatment of an infection in late September 1917, he remained under medical care for two months, thus missing the 25th’s combat tour at Passchendaele, Belgium. Following his discharge from hospital, John remained at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre for several months before finally returning to the 25th’s ranks near Amiens, France, on August 15, 1918.

At the time of John’s return, his 25th comrades were still “in the line,” having recently participated in a major Allied counter-attack on the German line east of Amiens. The battle marked the beginning of Canada’s “100 Days,” a series of engagements that were part of a larger Allied offensive that led to the cessation of hostilities. Before month’s end, the 25th participated in a second attack east of Arras, France.

Following a brief period of rest and training, the 25th completed a series of challenging tours near Inchy-en-Artois during the third week of September. While the unit did not participate in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai, in late September, its soldiers followed retreating German forces northward toward the Belgian frontier during the subsequent weeks.

On the afternoon of November 6, 1918, John and his mates returned to front line duty and led an advance across the Belgian frontier on the following day. The action proved to be the 25th’s last combat assignment of the war as the November 11, 1918 Armistice brought fighting to an end. One week later, the unit set out on foot for Bonn, Germany, as part of the “army of occupation” accepted by Germany as part of the ceasefire’s terms.

The 25th’s soldiers crossed the German border on December 3, 1918, and eight days later reached their destination. The unit remained in quarters at Bonn until January 22, 1919, at which time personnel boarded a train and departed for Belgium. The following day, its personnel entered billets at Auvelais, east of Charleroi, Belgium.

On February 3, 1919, John reported to No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station, Charleroi, for treatment of bronchial pneumonia. While initially reported as “dangerously ill,” John appeared to recover after a week under care. By February 20, however, his condition worsened and his name was once again placed on the “dangerously ill” list.

Private John Rood Dickson lingered for six days before passing away from bronchial pneumonia on February 26, 1919. He was laid to rest in Charleroi Communal Cemetery, Charleroi, Belgium. John’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 .

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Remembering Sgt. Perry Judson Giffen—Died of Sickness February 19, 1937

Perry Judson Giffen was born at Goldboro, Guysborough County, on June 21, 1895, the sixth of Theodosia (Bezanson) and Obed Chute Giffen’s seven sons. Sometime before 1911, the family relocated to Halifax, where Perry attended Halifax Grammar School and Halifax County Academy. During his time at the two institutions, he developed an interest in journalism and also served with the Halifax Academy Corps, a cadet militia unit.

Sgt. Perry Judson Giffen
On March 14, 1916, Perry enlisted with the 219th Battalion at Halifax, NS. One of four infantry units that constituted the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, the 219th spent the summer months at Camp Aldershot, training alongside its three Brigade mates—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 193rd Battalions. On August 4, Perry was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

The Highland Brigade departed for England on October 12, 1916, and arrived at Liverpool, England, six days later. Significant casualties incurred during the Canadian Corps’ autumn 1916 service at the Somme resulted in military authorities dissolving two Brigade units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—before year’s end. As a result, Perry was transferred to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) on January 13, 1917.

The following day, Perry crossed the English Channel to France and joined the 26th’s ranks near Bully Grenay, France, several days later. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 26th participated in the initial stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge, securing its objectives within 30 minutes. The 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles)—one of the unit’s 5th Brigade mates—passed through its lines shortly afterward and successfully capturing the day’s final objective, a German position known as “Turko Graben.”

The 26th reported light casualties during the assault and served regular rotations in sectors near Lens throughout the spring and early summer of 1917. At 4:25 a.m. August 15, 1917, the battalion advanced in support positions during the opening stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Hill 70, near Lens. Later in the morning, its soldiers passed through their Brigade comrades’ lines and pressed onward toward Norman Trench, the day’s final objective.

While the unit successfully secured the position, it endured considerable enemy fire during the advance and repelled three German counter-attacks before day’s end. Personnel remained in the line until the night of August 16/17, its Hill 70 casualties significant enough to require Officers to reorganize its Companies into three platoons, rather than the conventional four, “until reinforcements arrive.”

Sgt. Perry Giffen was one of the first day’s casualties, a piece of shrapnel from an artillery shell striking the front of his right shoulder and exiting below his scapula [shoulder blade]. He remained on the battlefield for almost two days as artillery fire and German counter-attacks made it impossible for stretcher bearers fo evacuate the wounded. On August 19, Percy was finally admitted to No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station, where staff cleaned and dressed his wound. He was then evacuated by ambulance train to No. 4 General Hospital, Camiers, France.

A subsequent medical examination determined that Perry had suffered a compound fracture at the head of his humerus [upper arm bone] and scapula. After two surgeries and a lengthy recovery period, Perry was invalided to England in late September and admitted to 2nd General Hospital, Moston, Manchester. Following Perry’s transfer to the Canadian Convalescent Home, Bearwood Park, Wokingham, on November 23, staff began a rigorous program of physical therapy designed to restore his shoulder, arm and hand movement.

As his injuries eliminated any possibility of returning to France, Perry was transferred to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Kirkdale, Liverpool, in early February 1918, the first step on the journey home. During his time under medical care, Perry met Kathleen Mailing, a native of Oxford, England. On March 2, military authorities granted Perry “permission to marry” and the couple were wed shortly afterward. Before month’s end, Perry departed from Liverpool, England, aboard HS Llandovery Castle and arrived at Halifax, NS, on April 9. His bride followed him to Canada shortly afterward.

Assigned to the Hospital Section upon disembarking, Perry underwent surgery to remove a fragment of “necrosed bone” from the head of his humerus in early June. While physiotherapy restored his wrist movement, he had limited shoulder and elbow movement, and the “grasp of [his] rt. hand [was] reduced [by] one half.” As the effects of his war injury were deemed “permanent,” a Medical Board recommended Perry’s discharge as “medically unfit.”

On October 5, 1918, Perry was officially discharged from military service at Halifax. His time in uniform, however, was not over. Perry immediately enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Intelligence Staff and served with its Halifax office until late May 1919, at which time he was admitted to local hospital with appendicitis. Following surgery and recovery, Perry was discharged from the Navy on June 25, 1919.

Upon returning to civilian life, Perry briefly worked as a “confectioner” before joining the staff of the Halifax Herald. He and Kathleen welcomed their first child—Perry James—in 1920. A daughter, Betty, joined the family several years later. While Perry initially worked as a journalist, he soon moved into the newspaper’s advertising department, where he found “his life’s work.” He quickly rose to the position of advertising manager and assistant business manager with the Herald.

Employment opportunities subsequently took Perry and his family to Hamilton and Toronto. In 1928, he joined the Southam News organization and accepted a position as business manager of the Edmonton Journal. The following year, Perry was elected one of Southam’s directors. The Giffens returned to Ontario in 1935, when Perry accepted a position as managing editor of the Peterborough Examiner. The following summer, he found time to return to Nova Scotia to visit family.

While his war wound limited his right arm’s mobility and caused occasional discomfort, no major problems occurred until several months after the family relocated to Peterborough. Hospitalized for two months for treatment of an infection in his wounded shoulder, Perry appeared to make a complete recovery. In early February 1937, however, he once again fell ill and was admitted to Nicholls Hospital, Peterborough, on February 12.

By that time, Perry had developed “caries”—significant bone decay—in his right shoulder, a condition that produced multiple abscesses and resulted in septicaemia. Six days after his admission, doctors performed surgery, removing large pockets of pus at both the shoulder and elbow joints. Despite the surgical intervention, Sgt. Perry Judson Giffen died in hospital from complications attributed to his First World War injury on February 19, 1937. He was laid to rest in Little Lake Cemetery, Peterborough, ON.

Military authorities subsequently confirmed that Perry’s death was “due to military service” and approved the provision of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone for his final resting place. Perry’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 .