October 27, 1916: Private John “Jack” MacPherson


Date of Birth: April 13, 1894 at Morar, Antigonish County

Parents: Donald “Dan” and Christina Ann (MacDonald) MacPherson

Siblings: Brothers John, Daniel, Roderick, Hugh,  & Anthony; sisters Mary C., Annie, Margaret, Ursula, Loretta, Elizabeth, and Mary B.

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farmer

Enlistment:  August 10, 1915 at Regina, Saskatchewan

Units: 68th Battalion (Saskatchewan); 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry)
Service #: 104422

Rank:  Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Donald “Dan” MacPherson, Morar, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: October 27, 1916 at Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England

Final Resting Place: Stourbridge Cemetery, Worcestershire, England


John “Jack” MacPherson was born at Morar, Antigonish County. His great-grandfather, John MacPherson, emigrated from Scotland to Arisaig, Antigonish County. His grandfather, Donald (Taylor) MacPherson, moved to Morar, Antigonish County, and married Ursula Debassio, daughter of Antonio Debassio. His Presbyterian father, Donald “Dan”, farmed at Morar and the family was known locally as the “Broucher” or “Shepard” MacPhersons.

Jack’s maternal great-grandfather, Antonio Debassio, came from Italy to Halifax, Nova Scotia with Bishop Edmund Burke, who met Antonio in Rome and hired him as his servant. Antonio was formerly a Lieutenant in the Italian Army and served with Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces in the Russian Campaign. In 1817, he was living about six miles from Antigonish, on the road from Malignant Cove, where he met George Ramsey, Earl of Dalhousie and Governor of Nova Scotia, during his tour of the province. There are currently no Debassio family members living in Antigonish, but several families—MacPhersons, MacGillivrays and Frasers—have genealogical connections to Antonio.

Jack MacPherson joined the 68th Battalion at Regina, Saskatchewan on August 5, 1915. He listed his occupation as farmer and he was probably in the province as part of the annual harvest train migrations. He was five feet, six and a half inches tall at the time, with dark complexion, gray eyes and black hair.

The 68th Battalion was authorized on April 20, 1915 and recruited its complement of soldiers in Regina and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The unit departed for Britain on April 28, 1916, after which it suffered the fate of many battalions arriving in England at that time. Its personnel were used to reinforce units already in the field, until the 23rd Battalion—the “depot” unit for Saskatchewan’s battalions—absorbed its remaining members and the 68th was disbanded on May 21, 1917.

Jack was transferred to the 5th Battalion CEF (Western Calvary), a unit that was authorized on August 10, 1914 and initially contained recruits from Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Brandon, Manitoba; Red Deer, Alberta; Merritt and Vernon, British Columbia. The 5th mobilized at Valcartier, Quebec and went overseas with the 1st Canadian Contingent. The unit served with the 1st Canadian Division’s 2nd Infantry Brigade for the duration of the war.

By May 1916, when Jack MacPherson joined its ranks, the 5th Battalion was an experienced outfit, having first entered the Belgian trenches with the 1st Canadian Division in March 1915. In September and October 1916, the 2nd Infantry Brigade was involved in a series of attacks against the Regina Trench system, in the Somme region of France.

Details are unknown, but Jack MacPherson was wounded during the attacks and invalided to England, where he was admitted to 1st Southern General Hospital, Stourbridge, on the outskirts of Birmingham, Worcestershire. Jack died of wounds in hospital on October 27, 1916 and was laid to rest in plot C331, Stourbridge Cemetery, alongside 47 other Commonwealth First World War fatalities, a group that includes 13 Australian soldiers.

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