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Friday, 5 June 2020

Corporal Frederick Milburne Rhodes—A Widower’s Story

Date of Birth: April 24, 1869*

Place of Birth: Port Burwell, Ontario*

Mother: Rachel Henney   

Father: Robert Rhodes

Occupation: Prospector, Farmer & Lumberman

Marital Status: Widowed

Enlistments: July 3, 1916 at Haileybury, ON; February 16, 1917 at Iroquois Falls, ON

Regimental #: 649480 (first attestation); 2250034 (second attestation)

Rank: Corporal

Force: Canadian Forestry Corps

Units: 159th Battalion (1st Algonquins); No. 105 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps

Service: England

Next of Kin: Madeleine Alberta Rhodes, New Liskeard, ON (daughter)

*: Date of birth based on 1881 and 1901 Canadian census records. Place of birth obtained from a document in Fred’s service file. The spelling of his middle name varies significantly from one source to another. For the purpose of this document. “Milburne” is used, as it is most frequently used. An apparent discrepancy between Fred’s marriage date and the birth of his eldest son could not be resolved.


*****


Frederick Milburne “Fred” Rhodes was born at Port Burwell, near Tillsonburg, Ontario, on April 14, 1869, the second of Robert and Rachel (Henney) Rhodes’ nine children. Robert, a native of Michigan, USA, and Rachel, an Ontario native, were married in Norfolk County, Ontario, on February 12, 1866. The couple resided in the Tillsonburg area until some time prior to the 1891 Canadian census, by which time the family had relocated to the Maclean Township district of Ontario.

Cpl. Frederick Milburne Rhodes
According to existing provincial records, Fred married Margaret McReynolds, daughter of Ronald and Elizabeth Ann (Reynolds) McReynolds, at McLean, Ontario, on September 19, 1892. The couple raised three children in their home—Middleton Milburne, born at Huntsville, ON, on January 8, 1888*; Robert Roland, born at Baysville, Muskoka, ON, on July 20, 1893; and Madeleine Alberta, born at Bethune, Muskoka, ON, on November 12, 1901.

The family was residing in Sinclair Township, Muskoka, Ontario, at the time of the 1901 Canadian census, but had relocated to Temiskaming, Ontario, by 1911. While census records list Fred’s occupation as farmer, his later military attestations listed previous employment as “prospector” and “lumberman,” suggesting that he supported his family by working at several occupations common to the area. Family sources indicate that Fred worked for a time in the hard rock mines, an environment that may have contributed to a significant hearing loss later noted in his military file.

Tragedy struck the Rhodes family on September 15, 1914, when 50-year-old Margaret passed away at Lady Minto Hospital, New Liskeard, ON, the result of complications from a stroke. Within months of her passing, the events of a distant war also began to impact the surviving family members. On November 12, 1914, Middleton enlisted for overseas service with the 20th Battalion at Toronto, ON. His military service was short-lived, as he was “struck off strength” one month later when he refused “to be inoculated.” Middleton returned home, married Fanny Harriet Evans at Timiskaming, ON, on April 24, 1915, and remained a civilian for the war’s duration.

Within days of Middleton’s discharge, his younger brother, Robert, attested with the 159th Battalion (1st Algonquins) at New Liskeard, ON. His younger son’s enlistment appears to have piqued Fred’s interest in “doing his bit.” On July 3, 1916, Fred joined Robert’s unit at Haileybury, Temiskaming Shores, ON. Based on the information on his attestation, Fred was no stranger to military routine. He claimed 12 years’ service with the 35th Regiment, Canadian militia, and was an active member of the 97th Regiment at the time of his first enlistment.

Left to Right: Robert, Madeleine & Fred Rhodes
To enhance his chances of overseas service, Fred misreported his birth year as 1872. In the end, age was not a determining factor in his eventual fate. Fred was discharged from the 159th’s ranks at Camp Borden, ON, on September 19, 1916, a note in his service file describing him as “medically unfit—Arterio Sclerosis.” Further details listed in his medical records describe a “[moderately] pronoted [sic] right foot,” and indicated that Fred’s “right leg [was] noticeably smaller than [the] left.”

While Robert departed for the United Kingdom with the 159th on October 31, 1916, Fred spent the winter months at New Liskeard. The arrival of the New Year presented a second opportunity for enlistment, when military authorities launched a nation-wide recruitment campaign for volunteers interested in overseas service with the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC). Fred attested with CFC Reinforcements at Iroquois Falls, ON, on February 16, 1917, once again misreporting his age by three years. On this occasion, the only medical item recorded in his service file is a comment on the back of Fred’s attestation that reads, “Hearing defective.”

Fred left his young daughter Madeleine in the care of “friend” John Atwell Hough, Matheson, ON, whom he named as her guardian. He also listed Madeleine as his next of kin and the sole inheritor in his military will. On June 23, 1917, Fred sailed for the United Kingdom aboard SS Justicia and arrived overseas after a 13-day journey.  Initially assigned to No. 114 Company, CFC, at Eartham, Sussex, on August 22, 1917, Fred spent two months with the unit before a draft of its personnel waw transferred to the newly formed No. 105 Company, CFC, on October 22, 1917, the day of its official formation.

No. 105 Company’s personnel initially commenced operations alongside No. 114 Company personnel at Esher and Eartham, Sussex, but was transferred to the Stevenstone Estate, Torrington, North Devon, in late November 1917. The location was “very hilly,” but a small stream provided sufficient water supply. The nearest railway station was more than three miles distant, along a route passing through the town of Torrington. A lack of onsite facilities initially required No. 105’s personnel to be placed in billets around the town while a camp was constructed.

The available forest consisted mainly of Scotch pine, spruce and larch. The Company’s November 1917 diary described the resource as “very scattered and difficult to operate. The trees are small and straight[,] with limbs to the ground.” The fact that the wooded area was long and narrow meant that the furthest area was more than two miles from the Company’s proposed mill location.

On November 26, 1917, Fred was promoted to the rank of Acting Corporal with pay, an acknowledgment of his leadership, age and experience. Meanwhile, No. 105 Company’s progress during December 1917 was “only fair,” hampered by the limits of local geography, poor railway services, a small number of men and horses, and lack of mechanical transport. While camp construction proceeded and personnel managed to cut 1,400 logs, overall operations were hampered “owing to the small number of men available for this work.”

January 1918 brought “considerable rain, sleet, etc.,” further complicating operations. Lack of motor and steam transport, combined with poor ground conditions, “somewhat hampered” the movement of harvested logs to the mill site. “Fair progress” was made, owing largely to the arrival of reinforcements that raised the Company’s complement to three Officers and 182 “other ranks” (OR) by month’s end. While personnel remained in billets, considerable headway was made in clearing the camp site.

Harvesting, however, was “only fair as we have few men who are experienced in bush work.” Crews produced a total of 5,000 logs and 28,000 lineal feet of “pit wood” [roof props for mines], while work commenced on construction of a small gauge railway to haul logs from the wooded area to the mill. The line was blazed and marked, but no rails laid due to a lack of spikes.

The following month, an outbreak of measles in the town resulted in six men being placed in quarantine. Meanwhile, eight gangs commenced work in the forest operation, but three were later reassigned to camp construction. A total of 7,500 logs and 5,000 pieces of pit wood were harvested. Lack of road transport limited the hauling of logs to the mill site. A 500-yard stretch of of railway track was graded and laid, while the mill cut its first log on February 2 and commenced regular operations 10 days later. By month’s end, it was producing a daily average of 8,500 FBM [foot board measure] of lumber.

While shipping commenced on February 25, the lack of a proper road from the loading platform to the main road hindered operations. The arrival of two gasoline-powered tractors and four wagons dramatically improved the Company’s ability to move harvested logs to the mill and reduced its dependency on horse-drawn wagons.

On March 2, 1918, rank and file personnel moved into newly constructed huts at the camp site, while their Officers occupied their quarters one week later. Plank walkways connected sleeping quarters, kitchen and mess room buildings, allowing for easy movement around the muddy camp grounds. Meanwhile, bush operations produced 8,500 logs, 15,000 telephone poles, and 6,000 lineal feet of pit wood. A stockpile of 15,000 logs at the harvesting area awaited transport to the mill.

A lack of “fish plates” [a flat piece of metal used to join one rail to another] prevented further railway construction and forced the Company to rely entirely on its two tractors to move logs to the mill site. Meanwhile, mill production increased to an average of 16,000 FBM daily. Two Mack lorries made daily trips to the railway head with lumber shipments as road conditions improved significantly toward month’s end. The Company reported its first “casualties” since arriving in the Torrington area, both work-related incidents. One OR sustained injuries to his left hand serious enough to require amputation at the wrist, while a second OR lost three fingers on his left hand.

By the end of April 1918, the camp site had been considerable improved with the installation of surface water drains and liberal use of sawdust in damp areas. The light railway was still incomplete, but the required fish plates had arrived and completion was anticipated in the near future. A total of 10,000 logs were harvested, while 20,000 linear feet of pit wood was produced. A stockpile of 15,000 logs still remained at the harvesting area, but the imminent completion of the rail line would increase transport capacity to the mill site. Daily average production increased once more, reaching 18,000 FBM.

With the arrival of spring weather, the Company implemented measures for fire protection at the mill and various camp buildings. While harvesting and milling operations proceeded satisfactorily, lack of suitable load facilities and rail cars hampered the ability to export the mill’s output. A large garden planted earlier in the spring as a food source was beginning to show results, but the monthly report lamented that “the rabbits and pigeons are very destructive and devour mostly all of the green and soft plants.”

Throughout this time, Fred worked at No. 105 Company’s Torrington camp without incident. During the winter of 1917-18—possibly while billeted in the town—he made the acquaintance of a local woman and the couple planned to marry in early June 1918. Fred also found a few minutes to write a short note, dated May 1918, to two unidentified siblings in Canada:

“Dear Brother and Sister: I received your most welcome letter and am glad to tell you I am much better now. We are having much better weather, nice and warm now. I hope it will stay like it as I cannot stand the damp weather in this county. Glad to hear that Father is well, give my best love to him and hope to see him again soon. I do wish the war would soon end so that we can get home again by the time you receive this letter. I guess I shall be married again. I don’t think I have any more news to tell this time so will close with best love to all from your loving brother Fred.”

Tragically, neither Fred’s nuptial plans nor his homecoming came to fruition. On Friday, May 31, 1918, Fred was working in No. 105 Company’s mill yard at Torrington, North Devon. Around 1:20 pm, he commenced “an operation of splitting logs by planting powder,” a standard procedure for CFC personnel. A document in Fred’s service file, written by his OC, Captain Samuel Lester Willman, and dated June 1, 1918, described the process and subsequent events:

“Four two-inch holes were bored to the centre of a large log and these holes were filled to within 4 inches of the top with blasting powder. Bickford No. 11 Safety Fuse was inserted and holes were plugged by means of four 4 inch wooden plugs, fuses were cut at different lengths, so as to cause simultaneous explosion…. Corporal Rhodes… lit the short fuse first and although warned that he had committed an error, and told to run, he continued until all four fuses were lit. He then came back towards the first fuse, and when immediately opposite same and about five feet from the log, the explosion of the first charge took place. A large piece of the log, weighing 114 lbs. which was thrown by the force of the explosion, hit Corporal Rhodes on [the] right side of his head and right shoulder. He was killed instantly, the base of his skull being fractured[,] also his right arm. It is considered that the fuse inserted in the first charge was of sufficient length but must have been defective, otherwise the explosion would not have taken place for another 15 seconds.”

Captain Willman concluded with the following statement: “I personally supervised this operation and warned the deceased… to run as soon as I saw him light the short fuse.” Considering the medical notes in Fred’s service record, it is possible that his defective hearing meant that he did not hear the warning. Corporal Fred Rhodes was “buried with Military honours” in Great Torrington Cemetery, Devon, UK, on Sunday, June 2, 1918.

Cpl. Frederick Rhodes' headstone, Great Torrington Cemetery

Fred’s son, Robert, served overseas for the duration of the war. Several months after his arrival in the United Kingdom, he was transferred to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) in mid-June 1917 and joined the unit in the field on September 30, 1917. Robert was wounded in the right shoulder at Passchendaele, Belgium, on October 28, 1917, and spent three months under medical care before rejoining 4th CMR’s ranks on February 8, 1918. He served at the front without incident for the remainder of the war and returned to Canada aboard SS Carmania in mid-March 1919.

On July 7, 1919, Robert married Annie Pearl Bilow, daughter of James and Ellen (Strader) Bilow, in a ceremony held at New Liskeard, Timiskaming, ON. Almost exactly one year later—July 22, 1920—Robert’s sister, Madeleine, married his wife’s brother, William Earl Bilow, at the same location. While William had served on the Western Front with the 15th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), his time in uniform was plagued by periods of poor health. On September 26, 1916, he was wounded by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell during fighting at the Somme, France. Buried in the resulting debris, William survived the ordeal but suffered from “shell shock” after the experience and was eventually deemed “unfit for further services in France” in September 1918.

William returned to Canada in mid-April 1919. Sometime after his July 1920 marriage, he and Madeleine relocated to Port Alberni, British Columbia, where Madeleine passed away on July 30, 1931, at 29 years of age. Middleton Rhodes also made his way out west after the war, passing away at Surrey, BC, on April 24, 1962.

Special thanks to Don Rhodes, Liskeard, ON, who provided Rhodes family photos for this post. I am also indebted to Paul Martin, Torrington, UK, who first brought Fred's story to my attention and provided a photograph of Fred's headstone.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Private Herman Oswald Matheson: A Wounded Soldier’s Story

Date of Birth: December 18, 1892

Place of Birth: Low Point, Cape Breton, NS

Mother: Mary Simms

Father: Thomas Matheson

Occupation: Coal miner

Marital Status: Married

Enlistment: March 31, 1915 at Glace Bay, NS

Regimental #: 68308

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 40th Battalion; 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles)

Service: England, France & Belgium

Next of Kin: Kate Matheson, No. 2 New Aberdeen, Glace Bay, NS (wife)

Herman Oswald Matheson was born at Low Point, near New Waterford, Cape Breton, on December 18, 1892, the second of Thomas and Mary (Simms) Matheson’s eight children. Over the ensuing years, his parents raised a family of five boys and three girls in their home. At the time of the 1901 Canadian census, the Mathesons were residing at Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, where Thomas worked as a miner.

Pte. Herman Oswald Matheson

Sometime before 1911, the family relocated to New Aberdeen, where that year’s Canadian census indicates that the couple’s two oldest children—John, age 19, and Herman, age 18—had commenced work in the mines. On January 6, 1912, the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Mines issued a Mining Certificate to Herman, stating that he had demonstrated “competency as [a] miner” and was entitled to “take charge of a working face.”

On March 31, 1913, Herman married Mary Katherine “Kate” (Shorten) Bryant in a ceremony that took place at New Aberdeen. It was Kate’s second marriage—her first husband, William Thomas Bryant, was shot and killed during an altercation between local miners and the “Company Store” in April 1911. Kate had two living children from her first marriage—a daughter Alice Ann, born at Pictou, NS, on January 25, 1905, and a son, Thomas Arthur, born at New Aberdeen on July 2, 1907. A third child, George William, died in September 1919 shortly after birth.

Kate’s mother, Alice Walsh, was born at West Roachvale, Guysborough County, the daughter of Edward and Catherine Walsh. Kate’s father, John Shorten, was born at London, England, on August 1, 1850, the son of John and Margaret Shorten, both of Irish descent. Two days after his eighteenth birthday—August 3, 1868—John Jr. enlisted with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich, UK. He served in England for four years before receiving a transfer to Halifax, where he met Alice. The couple married in the capital city on August 8, 1874, and their two oldest children—John and Alice—were born while John was serving there.

In 1880, John was assigned to duty in Bermuda. Alice and their young children accompanied him, and Kate was born during the family’s time there. The following year, the Shortens relocated to Gilbraltar, where Alice gave birth to a second son, Frederick. John served in England from 1886 to 1887 before returning to Halifax, where the couple’s fifth child, Edward, joined the family. After John was discharged from military service at Halifax on August 2, 1889—the “end of [his] second period of limited engagement”—the family settled at West Roachvale, Guysborough County, where John took up farming.

Following their marriage, Herman and Kate remained at New Aberdeen, where Herman continued to work in the local mines. The outbreak of the First World War, however, soon impacted their lives. On March 31, 1915, Herman enlisted with the 40th Battalion at Glace Bay, NS. Formally authorized on January 1, 1915, the 40th established detachments across the province, one of which set up operations at Glace Bay.

Shortly after his enlistment, Herman was transferred to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) and made his way to Halifax, where the unit had established headquarters at the Armouries and was completing preparations for its departure. He left behind a young wife who was expecting the couple’s first child—Mary Catherine “Pearl” Matheson was born at Glace Bay on December 9, 1915, seven months after Herman’s departure for England.

Considering her childhood experience, Kate was familiar with the impact of military service on families. In this instance, however, there were significant differences. Unlike her mother Alice, Kate was unable to follow her husband overseas. In addition, her father John had served with the Royal Artillery during peacetime, while Herman was heading to war.

On May 20, 1915, Herman and his 25th Battalion comrades departed Halifax, NS, aboard SS Saxonia and arrived in the United Kingdom nine days later. The unit spent the summer training in England before crossing to France on September 15, 1915. One week later, its soldiers entered the Kemmel Sector of Belgium’s treacherous Ypres Salient.

Herman was one of three Matheson family members to enlist for overseas service. His older brother, John James (DOB July 12, 1891), joined the ranks of the 64th Battalion at Sydney, NS, on August 24, 1915, and departed for the United Kingdom in late March 1916. Following the 64th’s dissolution, John’s mining experience likely played a role in his transfer to the 2nd Tunnelling Company. He joined the unit in France in mid-June 1916 and served in the forward area for four months. A series of incidents during that time—a sprained ankle, influenza and a case of enteric fever—resulted in his return to England in mid-October 1916.

A medical examination in the spring of 1917 determined that John had “flat feet,” prompting authorities to declare him no longer fit for service at the front. He returned to Canada in November 1917 and spent a period of time in hospital at Sydney, NS, before being transferred to Halifax, NS, in February 1918. John was officially discharged from military service as “medically unfit” on August 5, 1918.

John relocated to Ontario sometime after returning home, and was plagued by poor health for the remainder of his life. Family members recall that he spent considerable time in various hospitals. Family members also believe that John suffered from “shell shock,” a common affliction among soldiers who had served at the front, particularly with tunnelling companies. He passed away at Westminster Hospital, London, ON, in 1962 and was laid to rest in St. John’s Cemetery, New Aberdeen, Cape Breton.

Herman’s younger brother, Thomas James (DOB February 25, 1895), enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Sydney, NS, on December 18, 1915, and departed for the United Kingdom with the unit in mid-July 1916. Following the 106th’s dissolution, Thomas was transferred to the 25th Battalion—Herman’s unit—on September 21, 1916, and joined its ranks in France on October 8, 1916, more than a year after his older brother had commenced service at the front.

Pte. Thomas James Matheson (106th Battalion portrait)
During that time, Herman was quickly introduced to the dangers of service in the forward area. Within days of the 25th’s September 1915 arrival in Belgium, a young soldier’s inexperience resulted in an incident that injured several of his comrades. During the early morning hours of October 4, 1915, Herman was standing outside his billet with a small group of men, awaiting orders to proceed to the trenches. Another soldier had found what he thought was a piece of a harvesting machine in a nearby field and was examining it nearby. Upon removing a pin from the object, he “saw the spring fly up and became frightened and then had thrown the [object] on the ground amidst a number of men.”

The object was actually a “Mills bomb,” the popular name for a British-manufactured hand grenade. It exploded shortly after landing on the ground, injuring Herman and several others. Herman was admitted to No. 11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen, France, for treatment. Documents in his service file provide a brief description of his injuries: “Was wounded in chest by payment of bomb.” After receiving treatment at the Rouen facility, Herman was transported to No. 14 General Hospital, Wimereux, France, two days later. On October 10, he was invalided to England and admitted to East Leeds War Hospital, Leeds, UK.

Two weeks later, Herman was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Monks, Horton, “for x-ray and treatment.” A report in his service file described the results: “Present condition two inch scar at junction of cartilage and sternum on left side at lower end of corpus sternum. No tenderness, sometimes slight pain. General condition OK.” Subsequent medical notes indicated the presence of a “small fragment of metal seen opposite [the] level of 10th dorsal vertebra in mid-line[,] apparently near abdominal surface.”

Herman’s injuries gradually healed and he was discharged from hospital as “fit for duty” on February 17, 1916. Assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, East Sandling, he returned to regular military routines. Before month’s end, however, he returned to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Epsom, for further rest and rehabilitation. During his time there, Herman attended a “Program of Entertainment to Wounded Sailors and Soldiers” hosted by “Their Majesties the King and Queen” at the Riding School, Buckingham Palace, on March 22.

In early April, Herman was discharged to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (CCAC) and received 10 days’ leave upon reporting there. On May 1, 1916, Herman was re-assigned to the 25th Battalion and embarked for France. Three weeks later, he rejoined his comrades in the Ypres Salient. Herman served with the unit throughout the early summer of 1916 without incident, and traveled with its soldiers to the Somme region of France in late August. On September 15, 1916, Herman and his colleagues participated in the Canadian Corps’ capture of the village of Courcelette, its first combat engagement during two months’ service at the Somme.

While the unit suffered a total of 227 casualties and 77 missing among its ranks during three days in the line, Herman emerged from the battlefield unscathed and enjoyed several days’ rest before returning to the front trenches on the night of September 27/28. Three days into the tour, Herman was wounded for a second time when an enemy bullet “entered [his] left thigh upper and front aspect, passing out [of his] left buttock and inflicting [a] deep flesh wound on [his] right buttock.” Medical personnel dressed his wounds at a casualty clearing station and Herman was once again transported to No. 11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen, France.

On October 6, 1916, Herman was invalided to England aboard the hospital ship St. George. Two days later, his younger brother, Thomas James, joined the 25th’s ranks at Berteaucourt-les-Dames, northwest of Arras, France. Following his arrival in the United Kingdom, Herman was admitted to 2nd Scottish Hospital, Edinburgh, Scotland, where he remained for almost two months. In early December 1916, he was transferred to Kings Red Cross Hospital, Bushey Park, Hampton Hill, England.

By mid-month, medical records indicate that “very little disability” remained from Herman’s gunshot wound. While his “leg [was] a little stiff,” he was experiencing “no other trouble.” His progress was sufficient to warrant his discharge from hospital on January 11, 1917, at which time he was once again assigned to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre. Two months later, Herman was transferred to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, the first step in returning to the continent.

On June 8, 1917, Herman was assigned to the 26th Reserve Battalion, Hastings, where he spent the summer in training. In mid-October, he was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit tasked with providing reinforcements for the 25th and 85th Battalions, Nova Scotia’s two front-line infantry units. He spent the winter of 1917-18 with the 17th, awaiting orders to return to the continent. Finally, on May 10, 1918, Herman once again “proceeded overseas for service with [the] 25th Battalion.” He spent almost six weeks at the Canadian Base Depot and Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre before rejoining his 25th comrades in the field on June 21, 1918.

Following Herman’s October 1916 evacuation to England, his younger brother Thomas served with the 25th throughout the winter of 1916-17, and was in the line as the battalion participated in the Canadian Corps’ April 9, 1917 capture of Vimy Ridge, France. During the day’s fighting, he received a shrapnel wound to his left calf and was invalided to England 10 days later. Thomas spent almost one year recovered from his wounds before returning to France on April 8, 1918. He rejoined the 25th’s ranks on May 18, one month before Herman’s return.

The Matheson brothers spent much of the next 10 weeks training with the 25th Battalion as the Canadian Corps prepared for its role in a major Allied offensive, scheduled for mid-summer. The 25th’s soldiers were in the line on the morning of August 8, 1918, when the Canadian Corps participated in the opening hours of the Battle of Amiens. The attack marked the commencement of the “100 Days” campaign that eventually resulted in the signing of the November 11, 1918 Armistice.

During the day’s advance, Herman received a shrapnel wound to his lower left thigh and was admitted to No. 1 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment. Transferred to No. 47 Casualty Clearing Station before day’s end, he was evacuated by ambulance train to No. 3 General Hospital, Le Tréport, France, the following day.

On this occasion, Herman’s injuries proved to be much less severe than his previous wounds. Discharged after only eight days in hospital, he reported to the Canadian Base Depot on August 17. A mere 11 days later—August 28—he departed for the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC), an indication of the urgent need for manpower at the front as the Allied offensive continued.

Meanwhile, Thomas came through the 25th’s Amiens combat tour without injury and travelled northward toward Lens with the battalion following its seven-day tour. On August 26, 1918, the 25th’s soldiers occupied support positions as Canadian Corps units launched an attack on the German line east of Arras, France. The following morning—August 27, 1918—the unit’s 5th Brigade comrades continued the advance at 10:00 am, the 25th once again following in support. As its soldiers advanced across the battlefield and into the newly captured German line, the unit suffered severe casualties, particularly among its “C” Company ranks.

Thomas was one of the soldiers lost at Arras that day: “While taking part in an attack from east of Wancourt to Chérisy, he was hit in the face and forehead by enemy bullets and killed.” Pte. Thomas James Matheson was laid to rest in Quebec British Cemetery, Chérisy, approximately eight miles south of Arras, France. Sadly, Herman was still at the CCRC at the time of his brother’s death. He rejoined the 25th’s ranks at Chérisy on September 5, 1918. As the unit spent the next week training in the area, he may have had an opportunity to visit Thomas’s grave before the unit moved out to training facilities near Cagnicourt at mid-month.

On September 19, the 25th returned to front-line duty near Inchy-en-Artois, sustaining daily casualties in skirmishes with German forces opposite its position throughout a seven-day tour. After a brief rest, the battalion followed in the wake of the Canadian Corps, which captured Canal du Nord on the outskirts of Cambrai in late September and proceeded to encircle the strategically important city.

The 25th returned to trenches in front of Sailly-lez-Cambrai, northwest of the city, on October 1. Throughout the ensuing week, German artillery regularly shelled its positions, inflicting daily casualties. Finally, in the early hours of October 9, the 25th participated in an attack on Canal de l’Escaut, during which “C” and “D” Companies successfully established bridgeheads on its eastern banks. The unit’s remaining two companies then passed through their comrades’ lines and secured the unit’s objective “in short time.”

A total of 15 “other ranks” were killed and 85 “other ranks” were wounded in the day’s advance. Herman was among the day’s casualties, struck in the left elbow, left hip and right leg by artillery shrapnel. Admitted to No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment, he was transported by stretcher to No. 30 Casualty Clearing Station, where “damaged and infected tissue [was] excised” from his open wounds.

On October 11, Herman was evacuated by ambulance train to No. 56 General Hospital, Étaples, France. At the time of his admission, medical staff described a “lacerated wound [to his] left elbow…  [that] look[ed] well.” The following day, Herman was invalided to England for the third time and admitted to Northamptonshire War Hospital, Duston, Northampton.  At the time of his arrival, staff indicated that “movement of elbow [was] good, muscles cut and lacerated.”

Herman spent the next three months at the Northampton facility. Following his transfer to the Canadian Red Cross Special Hospital, Buxton, on January 11, 1919, staff records described a “healed wound on left forearm.” A subsequent x-ray displayed “no evidence of fracture or F. B. [foreign body] present.” A “fall on [a] sidewalk upon [his] left elbow” early the following month raised concern of a “bone injury,” but once again an x-ray revealed no fracture.

On March 19, Herman was transferred to No. 9 Canadian General Hospital, Kinmel Park. A detailed “Medical History of an Invalid” report, dated April 29, 1919, described a “Y-shaped scar… on [his] left forearm, anterior to elbow region. Movements of elbow and arm normal.” Herman’s forearm, however, was “below normal strength,” and he was “unable to take much of a strain on [his] elbow or forearm.” His left forearm’s “carrying and lifting powers” were “below normal,” and “after any strain or slight injury to [the] elbow region it becomes swollen.”

Herman was discharged to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Witley, on May 15 and immediately received 10 days’ leave. He departed for Canada on July 2 and arrived at Halifax, NS, six days later. On July 17, 1919, he was formally discharged from military service as “medically unfit.” Herman’s discharge certificate clearly stated that he was “authorized to wear four wounded stripes,” an honour that distinguished him from the vast majority of his returning comrades. He later received the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory medals, in recognition of his overseas service.

Herman returned to New Aberdeen, where he was reunited with his wife Kate and met his daughter, Mary Catherine “Pearl,” for the first time. A second daughter, Freda, joined the family on March 30, 1920. Unfortunately, Herman’s war injuries made it impossible for him to return to his previous work in the local coal mines. Throughout the following decade, the family remained at New Aberdeen, where Kate’s son by her first marriage, Thomas, passed away from pulmonary tuberculosis on August 24, 1929.

In October 1932, Kate and her two daughters relocated to West Roachvale, Guysborough County, and Herman joined them shortly afterward. Kate Matheson unexpectedly passed away at Roachvale, the result of “cardiac failure,” on April 22, 1936. Only 54 years of age at the time of her death, she was laid to rest in St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Guysborough.

Two months after her mother’s passing, Mary Catherine “Pearl” married John Maurice Long, a native of Rogerton, Guysborough County. The couple subsequently raised a family of 15 children at Roachvale. Pearl’s sister Freda married John McNeil at New Aberdeen, Cape Breton, on July 10, 1939. She remained there for the duration of her life, raising a family of six children.

Herman (left) in his later years with one of his grandsons
Throughout his later years, Herman resided in a small house near his daughter Pearl’s home. His many grandchildren—Pearl and John’s sons and daughters—frequently visited, keeping him company and assisting with various chores. They remember a kind and loving grandfather who always had white peppermint treats in his shirt pocket, and occasionally warned them not to venture too far into the nearby woods, because “bears lived in there.” Herman Matheson  passed away at St. Martha’s Hospital, Antigonish, NS, on June 28, 1972, and was laid to rest beside his wife Kate in St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Guysborough, NS.

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 .