October 23, 1916: Private Roderick MacDougall

MacDougall Roderick headstone2

Date of Birth: January 1, 1891 at Cross Roads Ohio, Antigonish Co., NS

Parents: Hugh A. and Jane Arabella (MacGillivray) MacDougall

Siblings: Brothers William Wallace, John Archibald, Hugh Bruce and Colin Francis; sisters Margaret Martha, Florence Mary (died young) and Florence Marie

Father’s Occupation: Farmer and Fishery Warden

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Millman

Enlistment:  August 24, 1915 at Camp Vernon, BC

Unit: 54th Battalion (Kootenay, BC)

Service #:  443852

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: Three years, 18th Field Battery (Antigonish, NS)

Next of Kin: Mr. Hugh MacDougall, Cross Roads Ohio, Antigonish Co., NS (father)

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

Final Resting Place: Courcelette British Cemetery, Somme, France

Roderick MacDougall was the second of eight children born to Hugh A. and Jane Arabella (MacGillivray) MacDougall of Cross Roads Ohio, Antigonish County. Hugh was born at Brierly Brook to Roderick MacDougall of Cape George and Margaret MacKinnon from North Grant. Hugh moved to Cross Roads Ohio after he married Jane Arabella and served as Fishery Warden for the County, in addition to operating a farm. Jane Arabella was the daughter of John D. “the Mason” MacGillivray and Martha Mary Johnston, Cross Roads Ohio. John D’s grandfather, Angus MacGillivray, was one of the Ohio’s first pioneer settlers, having moved from Cape George and settled near the Cross Roads, on the east side of the River, in the early 1800’s.

Roderick ventured from home in early manhood and was working in the lumber camps at Hedley, BC when Canada entered the First World War in August 1914. He enlisted with the 54th (Kootenay) Battalion at Vernon, BC on September 8, 1915. The unit was authorized on November 7, 1914 and departed for England on November 22, 1915. In April 1916, the 54th was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Brigade. The newly formed Division included several units in England, in addition to others scheduled to arrive shortly thereafter. The 4th Division, under the command of Major-General David Watson, embarked for France in August 1916 and served on the Western Front until November 11, 1918.

The 4th Division was not present when the Canadian Corps relocated to the Somme region of France in later summer 1915 and successfully captured the village of Courcelette on September 15, 1915. In the weeks following the battle, Canadian units launched a series of attacks on the German line, directed at a well-fortified position called Regina Trench. A major defensive line located along the north-facing slope of a ridge, running from a point north-west of the village of Le Sars south-eastward to Stuff Redoubt (Staufenfeste), the trench formed a major part of German defenses along Thiepval Ridge and was the longest fortified position on Germany’s Somme front.

The Canadian Corps attacked the sector several times during the Battle of Ancre Heights, the  2nd Division’s 5th Canadian Brigade briefly controlling a section of the trench on October 1, 1916 before counterattacks by the German Marine Brigade—brought in from the Belgian coast as reinforcements—recaptured the lost ground. An October 8 attack by the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisions also failed to secure the position. The Canadian Corps’ first three Divisions withdrew for a rest shortly after the unsuccessful assault, their ranks hollow shells in need of replenishment.

On October 21, 1916, the 4th Division attacked the western portion of Regina Trench, as II Imperial Corps’ 18th, 25th and 39th Divisions assaulted the section further west, known to the British as “Stuff Trench.” The Canadians encountered little opposition and gained their objectives, while II Corps Divisions captured Stuff Trench in 30 minutes, giving the British control of Thiepval Ridge. The Canadians repulsed three counterattacks and captured more than a thousand German prisoners by October 22.

Roderick MacDougall was killed in action on October 23, 1916, one of three Allied soldiers lost that day.  His battalion left Tara Hill, northeast of Albert, France at 1:30 p.m., making its way into the line in relief of the 102nd Battalion. While his unit were in place by midnight, it appears that Roderick was killed while moving up to Regina Trench. He was buried in Courcelette British Cemetery, near Albert, France, and commemorated on the Hedley, BC War Memorial after the war.

Interestingly, Roderick’s younger brother, Colin Francis, served with the United States Army during the Second World War. An infantry signalman, Colin was part of the D-Day invasion’s “third wave” at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. He was subsequently wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and lived with the resulting disabilities until the age of 88, passing away in 1993. In a remarkable twist of fate, Colin fought and was wounded close to the location where his brother was killed and buried, a fact he may have never realized.


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