October 23, 1916: Corporal Lewis Fraser

Corporal Lewis Fraser

Date of Birth: April 21, 1892 at Maple Ridge, Antigonish Co., NS

Parents: Angus D. and Flora (McDonald) Fraser

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Rigger

Enlistment: January 15, 1915 at Montreal, QC

Units: Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery; Yukon Machine Gun Battery

Service #: 210

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Mrs. Flora Fraser, Maple Ridge, Antigonish County, NS (mother)

Date of Death: October 23, 1916 near Courcelette, France

Final Resting Place: Contay British Cemetery, Contay, France

Lewis Fraser was the son of Angus D. and Flora (McDonald) Fraser of Maple Ridge. Like his Scottish-born father Donald, Angus D. was a farmer. He and Flora raised a large family of eight sons and four daughters on Eigg Mountain. Angus passed away in 1905 at the age of 63. Shortly after Lewis went off to war in 1915, Flora moved the family to New Glasgow, where she later passed away in 1933.

Lewis, sixth in a family of twelve children, was one of five brothers who served in the Great War.  Older brother James was the first to enlist, joining the 1st Motor Machine Gun Battery at Valcartier, QC in September 1914. A few months later, on January 15, 1915, Lewis enlisted with Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery at Montreal, his attestation papers revealing that he was a 22-year-old rigger. In February 1916, Daniel enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Antigonish, while Angus joined the same unit at Pictou in April 1916. Finally, in June 1918, Charles enlisted with the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, at Aldershot, NS.

The machine gun played a significant role during the First World War. Capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition per minute, these machines were devastating weapons, especially when used on open ground. Perhaps more than any other weapon, the machine gun drove enemy soldiers into the relative safety of the trenches.

Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery was among the earliest units formed during the war.  Organized in December 1914, the unit mobilized at Montreal – the location where Lewis enlisted – and was absorbed into the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade during the final year of the war.

According to his military record, Lewis departed Canada aboard SS Carpathian on May 17, 1915 and arrived in England on May 28. Four months passed before his unit was deployed at the front.  Lewis must have made an impression on his superiors, as he was promoted to Corporal before year’s end.

In April 1916, Lewis was “wounded slightly” while stationed at Voormezeele, Belgium with Borden’s Machine Gun Battery. At the time, the unit’s war diary reported “terrific artillery fire,” “bombarding enemy trenches with machine gun fire,” “artillery duels all day” and considerable casualties. “Shooting was splendidly effective,” the diary stated just days before Lewis was wounded.

Lewis was invalided to Folkestone, England to recuperate, medical records describing a “lacerated wound under [his right] knee.” On May 28, he was admitted to VAD Hospital, Eastbourne, Epsom, and was discharged to the Canadian Machine Gun Reserve, Shorncliffe, as “fit for duty” on June 2. Two days later, Lewis was assigned to the 4th Canadian Machine Gun Brigade. On June 15, Lewis was mentioned in dispatches for “gallant and distinguished conduct.” One week later, in an effort to hasten his return to the front, he “reverted” to the rank of Private.

On July 3, Lewis was transferred to the Yukon Machine Gun Company, and crossed the English Channel with his new unit on August 16. Its personnel made their way to Abele, near Poperinghe, Belgium, where they completed final preparations for duty, entering the line for the first time on September 2. After three weeks in the Belgian forward area, the unit returned to France, pausing for two weeks’ training at Recques-sur-Hem before moving onto Contay, 15 kilometers west of Albert, on October 5.

On October 22, the Yukon Machine Gun Company participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on German positions at Regina Trench, firing its guns throughout the afternoon and evening. Sometime during the day’s events, Private Lewis Fraser was wounded and evacuated for treatment. He died of wounds the following day—October 23, 1916—at No. 9 Casualty Clearing Station. Lewis was laid to rest in Contay British Cemetery, about 7 miles west of Albert, France.

“Killed in action” and “died of wounds,” read the death announcement printed in The Casket several weeks later. Flora Fraser had three more sons serving King and Country at the time of Lewis’s death, one of whom was in hospital at Shorncliffe, England, recovering from wounds received the previous year. Her youngest son, Charles, had yet to enlist.

Lewis Fraser’s brothers all survived the war. James, Flora’s second-born child, had enlisted with the 1st Motor Machine Gun Battery at Valcartier, QC in September 1914. He was wounded on July 24, 1915 and invalided to England. Following his recuperation, James was hospitalized with a severe case of influenza. He was transferred to the 3rd Canadian Mobile Veterinarian Services in February 1918 and returned to France for the remainder of the war. James was discharged at Halifax in April 1919.

Angus, who enlisted with the 106th Overseas Battalion in February 1916, was number seven in the family. In November 1916, he was transferred to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia). On April 28, 1917, Angus received a shrapnel wound to his left knee and thigh, and was invalided to England. He returned to Canada later in the year and was discharged as “medically unfit” on November 28, 1917.

Daniel, the eighth in the family, also enlisted with the 106th Battalion in April 1916 and accompanied his older brother, Angus, to the 25th Battalion in November 1916. Promoted to Corporal in May 1917, Daniel was awarded the Military Medal for “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” at Passchendaele, Belgium (November 1917). Part of a stretcher carrying party working on the battlefield amidst heavy shelling, “with coolness” Daniel “directed the carrying of wounded men through three enemy barrages.”  His courage and disregard for his own safety inspired his colleagues to continue their difficult work. Daniel was subsequently promoted to Corporal in August 1918, advancing to the rank of Sergeant on November 13, 1918. He returned to Canada in May 1919 and served with the Military Police for one month before being discharged on June 18, 1919.

Charles, sibling number ten and the family’s youngest boy, enlisted under the Military Service Act on June 1, 1918. Transferred to 260th Battalion, he departed from Vancouver, BC with the Siberian Expeditionary Force In October 1918 and served as a Base Guard at Vladivostok, Siberia throughout the winter of 1918-19. Charles returned to Canada in May 1919 and was discharged the following month.

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