World War 1: Taken on Strength to France (Part 8)

This is the eighth post in a series about a group of World War 1 soldiers from Mill Village, Nova Scotia who all enlisted for the 209th Battalion in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. For full context and more information about the people below, Part 1 is here. There is also a remembrance page with links to all the posts in this series, which can be found here.

This post comes on the eve of our trip to France on the 100-year Anniversary of Vimy Ridge. The next posts will be about our journey to France and visits World War 1 sites.

Off to the Western Front

Most troops heading out of England passed through the Mole Cafe at the Folkestone Pier. The Cafe had a guestbook that many soldiers signed while they waited for coffee or snacks (provided free for soldiers). None of the men that I’ve written about show up in these books (that I could find); however, they’re still worth a peruse if you’re looking to a glimpse at a soldier’s last safe moment in England.

Not all the men from the 209th Battalion went to the front together. There was a group who headed to France immediately on arrival (December 12, 1916); this group included the company’s Methodist priest: Thomas William Johnson, who was overseas until April when he was shot at Vimy Ridge on April 9th, 1917. He moved around to different military hospitals in Europe until eventually he was sent back to Canada.

The next grouping of men to go included Archie Battrum.

Archie Battrum

On March 5th, 1917, Archie was the first of the Cabri men to head overseas as part of a group of 50-men who would shore up the ranks of the 10th Battalion.

But ironically, Archie wouldn’t be the first of the men to arrive at the front… Max would. Archie’s group headed overseas in March, only to arrive at the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) and be put in isolation until April 25th, thus missing Vimy Ridge. They were only released on April 25th, five-days after Max had already arrived on the Western front with the 10th Battalion. They would both fight at Arleux together.

On August 15, 1917, Archie was injured at Lens during the Battle for Hill 70; like so many other men from the 209th who survived Arleux. Shrapnel entered his left arm above the elbow joint and exited below the elbow joint, causing a deformation of the joint; he lost feeling in his thumb and forefinger and use of his fingers.

He was sent back to Canada to convalesce; a year later there was an attempt in Winnipeg to operate and reverse the damage. It took months to see improvement and eventually Archie was deemed medically unfit for service. He went back to Saskatchewan and lived a long life and happy life. He died in 1981 in Vancouver.

Max McKinnon

Max was next to head overseas. He was part of a group of 100-men sent to France on April 13th; these men were to boost the 10th Battalion numbers after Vimy Ridge. The 100-men all arrived in France on April 14th and some were held at the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) and others headed straight to the front. Max was held at the Depot until April 17th, and after headed to the field, joining the unit on April 20th; on April 28th, the 10th Battalion partook in the Battle of Arleux-en-Gohelle.

Arleux was brutal and costly in terms of lives. Of those 100-men who went to France together, about half were killed or wounded. Those who were wounded or were unscathed partook in Lens (August 1917), where they were either wounded again or killed. Few made it out of the war unscathed.

Max was one of the men who died at Arleux, or was thought to have died. His body was never found. We’ve always assumed he was one of the many who were lost to mud, a shell, or buried with no identification.

I’m still researching these 100-men who travelled overseas together; not all records have been digitized so it’s a matter of waiting. I’m currently using forensics techniques to map out who was injured, their accounts of the battle, the field reports, and other details I can find to see if I can pinpoint Max’s location and manner of death. Currently, there is no useful information on his death card or burial card… because they simply didn’t know what happened to him.

But, every day new information reaches the internet and technology helps with spreading this information. They’ve just recently found two Canadian soldier bodies, one of whom died on April 28th. My hope is that if they find more remains that there is an attempt to identify and rebury. DNA helps with identification.

I’m deliberately glossing over the details about Arleux for a future post.

Max is commemorated on Page 285 of the First World War Book of Remembrance. This shows in Ottawa every June 23rd.

Amos Leslie

Amos and Jack were part of a group of men who headed overseas on May 3rd. Amos arrived in France on May 4th but he is stopped at the Depot (CBD) and doesn’t reach the field until May 23rd.

There is a large gap in his records between May and mid-August; however, Amos shows up in a hospital in Liverpool, UK on August 23, 1917. He had a shell wound to the chest, listed in his hospital records as a single wound causing haemostasis.

The dates in the records are conflicting… some say he was injured on August 15th (which would have been the taking of Hill 70 at Lens)… others say the 17th. But, there is a card from the Field Ambulance saying he was picked up on August 6th; only to be released again. There is another note saying that his “clothing was recovered on Aug 11, 1917 in France.” As such it’s possible he was injured at Lens and got lost in the “system.”

His injury was serious enough to send him to the Woolton Auxiliary Hospital in Liverpool where he stayed until October 5, 1917. He was released with a “no disability caused by his wound.” He also received command duties, a promotion (to Lance Corporal), a pay raise, and both the British War and Victory Medals. He spends little time in the field after his chest wound and spends time battling the Spanish Influenza; he was sent back to Canada when troops were demobilized in 1919.

He lived a long life and eventually died in Sault-Ste-Marie on December 13, 1966.

Jack McEachern

Jack also arrived in France on May 4th, was stopped at the Depot, and didn’t reach the field until May 23rd. He spends much of the first year in the field in the hospital with hydrocele (mentioned in the previous post).

He does leave a paper trail in Saskatchewan. One of the benefits of serving is that the Canadian government granted soldiers land as part of the Canada’s 1917 Soldier Settlement Act, which made land grants and loans available to soldiers returning from the war. In 1918, Jack started the discharge proceedings and requested land in Saskatchewan.

However, this land became the property of his father because he was killed in the Battle of Canal du Nord on September 3, 1918.

From the 10th Battalion War Diaries entry September 03, 1918,

In accordance with instructions received from HQ, 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, 10th Battalion continued its advance about 11:30 am this morning, finally establishing a line in front of the CANAL-du-NORD. The Transport Lines were still maintained in their same positions as yesterday. During the afternoon a German plane dived out of the clouds and by dexterous use of his machine gun succeeded in bringing down two of our observation balloons about half a mile from the area of our Transport. He was chased by several of our Scouts but had too big a lead to be caught... Enemy bombing planes again visited our vicinity early in the night paying special attention to VIS-en-ARTOIS where it is believed they succeeded in causing casualties to some of our artillery personnel.

Jack’s body was recovered and he was buried in the Dominion British Cemetery in Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt.

The Remembrance Series

World War 1: The Mill Village Boys (Part 1)
World War 1: the 209th Waiting in Swift Current (Part 2)
World War 1: the 209th Training at Camp Hughes (Part 3)
World War 1: the 209th Waiting in Digby (Part 4)
World War 1: the 209th’s Journey and Arrival Overseas (Part 5)
World War 1: the 9th Battalion in Shorncliffe (Part 6)
World War 1: the 9th Reserve in Bramshott (Part 7)
World War 1: Taken on Strength… to France (Part 8)
Arleux-en-Gohelle (a.k.a Finding Max)

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