March 18, 1916: Private Colin Francis MacEachern

MacEachern Colin

Date of Birth: May 9, 1892 at Judique, Inverness County

Parents: John D. and Cecilia (MacDonald) MacEachern

Siblings: Brothers Duncan & Daniel

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Miner

Enlistment: July 28, 1915 at Camp Aldershot, Nova Scotia

Unit: 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles)

Service #: 415211

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: 94th Militia Regiment Argyll Highlanders (Glace Bay Detachment)

Next of Kin: John B. MacEachern, Havre Boucher, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: March 18, 1916 near Vierstraat, Belgium

Final Resting Place: La Laiterie Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

Colin Francis MacEachern was born at Judique, Inverness County, the son of John D. and Cecilia (MacDonald) MacEachern. John D. was a son of John MacEachern, a Scottish immigrant who settled at Judique. His mother, Cecilia, was born at River Inhabitants NS, the daughter of Angus and Flora MacDonald. Both families came from farming backgrounds.

Sometime between 1891 and 1901, John D. moved his family from Judique to a farm at East Havre Boucher, Antigonish County. Colin’s mother passed away before 1911, by which time he had relocated to Glace Bay and obtained employment in the local coal mines. Colin also enlisted with the 94th Regiment’s local militia detachment.

During the war’s early days, the 94th supplied soldiers for guard duty at strategic Cape Breton locations, such as Glace Bay’s Marconi Tower, Louisbourg and Sydney, as well as Canso. Many of the 94th’s soldiers wanted to enlist with the newly established Canadian Expeditionary Force, but the demands for duty at home restricted the number the unit could release. Over the course of the war, the 94th supplied more than 2,400 men for overseas service, the majority of whom joined the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) & 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) Battalions.

Sometime during the first half of 1915, Colin commenced training with a Cape Breton detachment of the 40th Battalion. The unit was authorized on January 1, 1915 and established detachments from Yarmouth to Sydney as its recruitment efforts progressed. The battalion mustered at Camp Aldershot on May 11, 1915. In late July 1915, Colin MacEachern travel to Camp Aldershot, where he attested for overseas service with the unit. On June 21, 1915, the 40th relocated to Valcartier, Quebec for further training. Before leaving Halifax, the unit dispatched a reinforcement draft of 250 Officers and “other ranks” (OR) to the 25th Battalion aboard SS Caledonia.

On October 9, 1915, a second draft of 250 personnel departed Montreal on SS Missanabie. Colin MacEachern and 14 of his 94th Regiment mates were among the soldiers who arrived in England two weeks later. The group travelled to Shorncliffe, England, where it was placed under the control of the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia). Colin departed for France on December 21, 1915 and joined the 25th Battalion in the field on January 8, 1916.

The 25th Battalion was the first Nova Scotia volunteer unit to serve on the Western Front. The unit was authorized on November 7, 1914 and established its Headquarters at the Halifax Armouries. Its personnel departed Halifax on May 20, 1915 and landed in France in mid-September. After a five-day march, the unit crossed the border into Belgium and entered the Kemmel Sector, southwest of Ypres, on September 22. The battalion spent the next 339 days in the Ypres Salient, 164 of them on active duty in the trenches.

The unit was part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Infantry Brigade, where it served alongside the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos”), 24th (Victoria Rifles, Montreal), and the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions. At the time of Colin’s arrival in early January 1916, the Brigade was still located in sectors southwest of Ypres, where the new arrivals received their “baptism of fire.”

Throughout the winter of 1915-16, the 2nd Division’s commanders instructed its units to conduct aggressive patrols in No Man’s Land, probing German defences. On occasion, small parties of soldiers launched raids into enemy trenches. To carry out these nightly activities, each battalion trained a small group of men to act as “scouts.” Their duties involved leading patrols through No Man’s Land to locate German defensive positions and guiding bombing parties to their targets. Scouts also accompanied relieving units unfamiliar with the sector into the line.

Needless to say, scouts required an excellent sense of direction and a calm demeanour, as one never knew when a patrol might encounter enemy soldiers. Within weeks of his arrival at the front, Private Colin MacEachern was selected for duty as a scout. By the end of February, he was leading patrols into the perilous ground between the Allied and German front lines.

On the night of February 28, 1916, the 25th’s Officers organized four scouting patrols, working in two shifts. The first two groups departed at 9:30 p.m., one accompanied by scouts Charles Dawson (Sydney), Robert Waylein (Canso), and Frank Kizer (Round Hill, NS). During their patrol, the group located a German “sausage bomb” and delivered it to the unit’s grenade officer. Scouts Thomas Addicott (New Aberdeen, CB), William Curtis (Glace Bay) and a Pte. Trudell led a second patrol close to the German line, where they heard work parties “hammering stakes and sawing wood.”

A second pair of patrols departed at 1:00 a.m. Private Colin MacEachern was one of three scouts accompanying a group led by Lance-Corporal Abraham Thurgood (Gabarus, CB). The party explored the area to the right of a farm, while their compatriots ventured to its left. Both groups reached the German wire, which “was only four to six feet thick and not heavy.” Fortunately, none of the night’s parties encountered enemy patrols.

The following night, another four parties entered No Man’s Land, accompanied by the same scouts. Once again, the soldiers advanced as far as the German wire, which was considerably thicker than the section explored on the previous night. The soldiers reported that the “ground on our front [was] grassy with few shell holes.”

Nightly patrols continued until March 5, at which time the 25th briefly retired to Brigade Reserve. Two days later, the unit returned to the front trenches and nightly patrols resumed. On the night of March 13/14, two Officers, guided by scouts Waylein and MacEachern, conducted a raid on the German line, throwing 30 grenades into enemy trenches and detonating two “Bengalore torpedoes” underneath the German wire. Reports indicated that “all but two of the hand grenades landed in the trench and as it was a complete surprise, at least several casualties must have occurred.”

The following day, the 25th retired to Divisional Reserve for a well-deserved rest. On March 18, however, two of its Officers—Major Duncan S. Bauld (Halifax, NS) and Major William Bates (Birkenhead, Cheshire, England)—returned to the forward area to “look… over new trenches” near Locre, Belgium. While the 25th’s war diary does not identify their companions, subsequent events indicate that at least one scout—Private Colin MacEachern—accompanied them into the line.

While surveying the trenches, German snipers noticed their presence and targeted the group. Both Officers were “seriously wounded,” Major Bates succumbing to his injuries six days later. Private Colin MacEachern was “shot through the head by an enemy bullet and [instantly] killed.” He was laid to rest in La Laiterie Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

 

 


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