March 29, 1917: Private John “Jack” Chisholm

Chisholm Jack edit

Date of Birth: March 12, 1884* at Georgeville, Antigonish County, NS

Parents: John A. and Catherine (MacIsaac) Chisholm

Siblings: Sisters Mary, Margaret & Elizabeth; brothers Archibald, Daniel, Angus, Ambrose & Joseph

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Miner

Enlistment:  March 3, 1916 at Vancouver, BC

Unit: 158th Battalion (BC); 54th Battalion  (BC)

Service #: 645972

Rank:  Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Mrs. Catherine Chisholm, Georgeville, Antigonish County, NS (mother)

Date of Death: March 29, 1917 near Vimy Ridge, France

Final Resting Place: Villers Station Military Cemetery, Villers-au-Bois, France

* Date of birth as recorded in the 1901 Canadian census. Jack’s attestation papers list his birth year as 1886.

John “Jack” Chisholm was born at Georgeville, Antigonish County on March 12, 1884. His father, John A., a farmer by occupation, passed away in 1896 at the age of 54. Jack’s grandfather was “Archy” Chisholm. The Malignant Cove Chisholms descend from two brothers who settled in the area in the late 1700’s. The old family home was located halfway between Malignant Cove and Georgeville Church, beside the Malcolm (Dubh) MacNeil family. Jack’s mother was Catherine MacIsaac, daughter of Donald and Mary (Kennedy) MacIsaac, Glebe Road.

The household, all listed as Gaelic speakers in the 1901 census, began to disintegrate in subsequent years. Jack’s old brother, Archibald “Archy,” travelled to Butte, Montana to work in the mines. Brothers Joseph and Angus also departed for the United States and passed away there. The only brother to remain in Georgeville was Ambrose “Amby.”

Following Archy’s lead, Jack headed west to Cranbrook, BC. According to the 1911 census, he was working as a labourer and residing in a boarding home operated by Hugh MacKay, a 47-year-old Nova Scotia native. The house contained a total of 14 male residents ranging in age from 21 to 60, some working as “railroad men.”

By early 1916, Jack was working as a miner at Barnet, BC, a town that no longer exists. While its location is now a park on the outskirts of Burnaby BC, at that time, according to one account, Barnet was dominated by “large sawmills, oil refineries and foundries, all spewing coal smoke in the air.”

On March 2, 1916, Jack travelled to Vancouver and attested with the 158th Battalion (Duke of Connaught’s Own). Perhaps fearing rejection if he admitted that he was 32 years of age, Jack gave his birth date as March 12, 1886. Shortly after enlisting, he contracted measles and was hospitalized from April 4 to 18. Despite being a strapping lad who stood 6 feet one inch and weighed 165 pounds at enlistment, there appeared to be some concern over his health, as Jack underwent two Medical Board examinations before he was cleared for overseas service.

Jack also assigned $ 15 of his monthly pay to a Mrs. Helen Southern, Barnet, BC. The nature of their relationship is unknown. A Helen Southern, age 48, and her husband, Harry, age 63, were residing at nearby Port Coquitlam in 1921, and a person by the same name passed away at New Westminster on February 4, 1954.

The battalion sailed for England aboard SS Olympic on November 14, 1916, arriving overseas six days later. Jack was transferred to the 54th Battalion (Kootenay, BC) on December 28, 1916 and arrived at Canadian Base Depot, La Havre, France, on Jan 10, 1917. He joined the 54th Battalion in the field on February 6.

Assigned to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade, the 54th Battalion was an experienced outfit by the time Jack Chisholm arrived in its camp. The unit received its introduction to combat at the Somme, where its soldiers participated in a series of attacks on Regina Trench in October and November 1916. The 54th served in the Arras sector throughout the winter of 1916-17, as the Canadian Corps prepared for its historic attack on Vimy Ridge.

In late March 1917, the 54th Battalion was serving a regular rotation in the trenches. German forces, suspecting an impending attack from the Canadian Corps, constantly shelled their positions. The battalion’s March 29th war diary entry reported “inter-Coy” reliefs, as “A” and “B” Companies took over the front trenches from “C” and “D” Companies.

“C” Company retired to “Music Hall Line,” while “D” Company moved to Tottenham Caves, part of the elaborate subway system constructed in previous months. While the diary reported “active [artillery fire] on both sides,” there is no mention of causalities that day. The following day, however, the diary reported two “other ranks” (OR) killed and four OR wounded.

According to Jack Chisholm’s “circumstances of casualty” card, “while on duty in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, he was killed by enemy artillery fire,” only 51 days after joining the battalion in the field. Jack was laid to rest in Villiers Station Military Cemetery, Villers-au-Bois, France.

Shortly after his passing, a news item in The Casket stated that a telegram, reporting the death of Private Jack Chisholm, 645972, and addressed to a “Mrs. C. Chisholm,” had arrived at the Antigonish Telegraph Office, and requested assistance in identifying “the party for whom the sad message is intended.” The confusion was not surprising, considering Jack’s name and the absence of his mother’s. The message found its way to Catherine, who received Jack’s service medals, a Memorial Plaque and Scroll, and a Memorial Cross bearing her deceased son’s name, several years after the war.

2 thoughts on “March 29, 1917: Private John “Jack” Chisholm

  1. Jack Chisholm was my grandmother’s uncle. The service medals that his mother, Catherine MacIsaac, received after the war are now in my possession. Jack’s brother, Archibald, was my grandmother’s father. He also died prematurely, succumbing to influenza in January 1919 during the great flu pandemic. I knew that Jack had enlisted in British Columbia and was killed in action near Vimy Ridge, but this post by Jocelyn Gillis provides many details that I had not known. I thank her for sharing this information.


    1. Sean, thanks for the comment on Jack Chisholm’s story. Apologies for the delay in responding—I did not notice the entry until today. These stories were researched and written by a committee of individuals. Jocelyn Gillis, the museum’s former curator (now retired), played an important role in that process. We are pleased to have added to your knowledge on your relative’s First World War service.


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