September 15, 1916: Private James Simon Benoit

benoit-pte-james-simon-cropped

Date of Birth: July 25, 1889 at Tracadie, Antigonish County, NS

Parents: Simon and Elizabeth (Chisholm) Benoit

Siblings: Sisters Annie and Marie; brothers Alexander, Walter, Clarence, and Vincent

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Grocery Clerk

Enlistment: May 15, 1915 at Calgary, Alberta

Units: 50th Battalion; 31st Battalion

Service #: 80278

Rank:  Private

Previous Military Service: Two camps with Canadian Field Artillery

Next of Kin: Simon Benoit, Tracadie, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: September 15, 1916 at Courcelette, France

Memorial: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, Pas de Calais, France

James Simon Benoit was born and raised in Tracadie, Antigonish County and was a descendant of Acadians from the Windsor area of Nova Scotia, then known as Pisiquit. His great-great-grandfather was born there, while his great-grandfather was born in Bras D’Or, Cape Breton—probably as a result of the Acadian exodus to Cape Breton before the 1755 Expulsion—and died at Tracadie. His grandfather, Simon Benoit, married twice and his father Simon, a child of the second marriage, married Elizabeth Chisholm.

Simon was living in Calgary, Alberta and working as a grocery clerk when he enlisted with the 50th Battalion on May 17, 1915. Officials initially recorded his name as “Samuel” and assigned Simon the regimental number “25121.” Five days later, he was officially transferred to the 31th Battalion (Alberta) and assigned the regimental number “80278.” Authorized on November 14, 1914, the 31st sailed from Quebec on the day of Simon’s enlistment, aboard the famous liner RMS Carpathia, the vessel that rescued the RMS Titanic’s lifeboat passengers in April 1912.

Simon departed Calgary by train on May 24 and sailed for England in late May or early June. He reported to Shorncliffe Camp, Lower Dilgate on June 9 and was assigned to “C” Company. As with many young Canadian soldiers, England’s attractions caught Simon’s attention. Before summer’s end, he forfeited two days’ pay for being absent without leave (AWOL) from 9:30 p.m. August 18 until 11:00 a.m. the following day.

After arriving in England, the 31th Battalion was assigned to the 2nd Division’s 6th Infantry Brigade and crossed the English Channel to France with its Brigade mates —the 27th, 28th and 29th Battalions—on September 18, 1915. Simon was among the “other ranks” making their way to Belgium, where the battalion deployed in the Ypres Salient at month’s end. Simon was admitted to No. 6 Canadian Field Ambulance with influenza on November 23 and discharged to “light duty” on December 2, returning to the 31st’s ranks on January 24, 1916.

Simon had another encounter with army discipline on February 2, when officials confiscated sufficient pay to replace two lost “smoke helmets [gas masks] and carrier.” As winter gave way to spring, Simon and his comrades participated in the 2nd Division’s first major combat assignments at the St. Eloi Craters (April – May 1916) and the Battle of Mount Sorrel (June 1916).

In September 1916, the 2nd Division moved from the Ypres Salient to the Somme region of France as part of the three-Division Canadian Corps, which was soon joined by a fourth Division. The Canadians added much-needed weight to the British Army’s Somme offensive and were deployed on the outskirts of the town of Courcelette after their arrival.

The 6nd Brigade assumed positions to the left of the town, along the right side of the Pozières Road, the 3rd Canadian Division’s 8th Infantry Brigade, consisting of Canadian Mounted Rifle battalions, on their left and the 4th Infantry Brigade to their right. The units were ordered to capture the left side of the Pozières Road and left end of “Sugar Trench,” in front of the town of Courcelette. Prior to the attack, the 31st and the 28th Battalions established their Headquarters in the same dugout, the 31st Battalion designated as the support unit while the 28th spearheaded the advance.

At “Zero Hour“—6:00 a.m. September 15, 1916—supporting artillery units launched a massive barrage. The 6th Brigade seized its objectives, although the 31st Battalion suffered over 350 causalities in the attack, reporting three Company Officers killed in action and the fourth missing by day’s end. The unit’s war dairy described “walking wounded” soldiers reporting the pressing need for stretcher-bearers to retrieve fallen comrades from the battlefield.

Simon Benoit was among the soldiers reported as “wounded and missing” following the attack. He never returned to his unit and his remains were never located. On February 19, 1917, Simon was “for official purposes presumed to have died on or since September 15, 1916.” Simon’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, erected in memory of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France and have no known final resting place.


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