July 21, 1916: Gunner William Angus “Willy” Grant

Grant William Angus headstone

Date of Birth: May 9, 1893 at Marshy Hope, Antigonish Co., NS

Parents: Angus and Christy Ann (MacLean) Grant

Siblings: Brothers Hector, Archibald, John Alexander (Jack), Norman, Huntley and
Leslie; sisters Kathryn, Elizabeth Jane (Lizzie) and Mary

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Cook

Enlistment:  November 26, 1914 at Fredericton, NB

Units: No. 23 Battery, Canadian Field Artillery; 2nd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

Regimental Service Number:  85719

Rank: Driver

Previous Military Service: 18th Battery, Canadian Field Auxiliary Services, Antigonish, NS (two years)

Next of Kin: Mr. Angus Grant, Marshy Hope, Antigonish Co., NS (father)

Date of Death: July 21, 1916 at Zillebeke, Belgium

Final Resting Place: Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Zillebeke, West Flanders, Belgium

William Angus “Willy” Grant was the seventh of ten children—seven sons and three daughters—born to Angus and Christy Ann (MacLean) Grant of Marshy Hope. The Grant farm straddled the Antigonish/Pictou County line, just west of the present-day Bethel Presbyterian Church. Angus was a descendant of Hector Grant, a native of Halkirk, Caithness, Scotland who settled in Lochaber, Antigonish County in the early 1800’s. The Grant farm at Marshy Hope is no longer in the family; however, William’s nephew, Jerome Grant, and niece, Isabel Kafalas, currently reside nearby in James River.

Christy Ann was the granddaughter of Bard John MacLean, a Gaelic poet born in Caolas, Isle of Tiree.  The Bard emigrated from Scotland to Pictou in 1819 and later settled at Glen Bard—adjacent to the present day cemetery—where he farmed, composed poetry and hymns. He is considered the most representative Gaelic bard of the New World.

Willy joined the 23rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, recruited in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in November 1914 under the command of Major J. K. MacKay. The unit left Halifax on February 23, 1915 aboard SS Megantic and landed in England on March 6.  Shortly after arriving overseas, authorities dissolved the 23rd Battery, redistributing its personnel to units in need of reinforcements. In May 1915, Willy was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, one of three artillery brigades attached to the 1st Canadian Division. The 2nd Brigade included the 5th, 6th and 7th Field Batteries, in addition to the 48th Howitzer Battery. Shortly after his transfer, Willy made his way to Belgium and joined his new unit behind the Belgian front lines.

The 1st Canadian Division initially crossed the English Channel to France in February 1915 and deployed in the Ypres Salient, Belgium in March 1915.  Its units saw their first major action during the Second Battle of Ypres (April – May 1915) and served in the Belgian line throughout the year.

In April and May 1916, Canadian units participated in a series of military actions near St. Eloi, Belgium, following the British detonation of a series of mines along the Messines Ridge. German forces seized control of several strategic locations near Mount Sorrel on June 2, only to be driven back by Canadian units before month’s end.

Amidst sweltering summer heat, the two sides returned to the stalemate typical of trench warfare on the Western Front, exchanging daily machine gun and artillery fire while awaiting the opportunity to strike a deciding blow against their opponents.  The 2nd Brigade’s artillery units served on rotation behind 1st Canadian Division units throughout this time, launching daily fire on German positions while enduring periodic retaliatory bombardment.

Willy was killed by German artillery fire at Zillebeke, southeast of the town of Ypres, Belgium, on July 21, 1916.  As for events around the time of Willy’s death, there was no specific battle or major action underway at that time. The 2nd Artillery Brigade’s war diary described July 21, 1916 a beautiful day, reporting that the 48th Battery received its first aerial confirmation of a target strike. From 4:30 and 7:00 a.m., personnel reported sounds of transport behind enemy lines. German guns shelled their trenches from 8:15 to 10:15 p.m., the Brigade’s guns retaliating until 1:20 a.m.

While the diary entry made no mention of casualties, correspondence from a Canadian soldier later published in The Casket told a different story. In a letter dated July 28, 1916, Gunner Duncan Gillis described the circumstances of Gunner William Angus Grant’s death. Willy was struck by three shell splinters during a German artillery bombardment and died about ten minutes later. The author described Willy as a splendid fellow who served on the firing line for fourteen months, maintaining a “clean sheet” throughout that time. Willy was buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Zillebeke, West Flanders, Belgium. A memorial headstone was later erected in Glen Bard Cemetery, only a short distance from his Marshy Hope home.

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