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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 √Čtaples, 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, √Čtaples, 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 .