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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 .