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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 .

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