April 9, 1917: Private Wendell Alexander MacHattie

MacHattie Wendell

Date of Birth:  December 4, 1881 at South River Lake, Antigonish County, NS

Parents:  Alexander John and Janet (Hattie) MacHattie

Siblings:  Sisters Libbie, Cassie, Minnie and Louise; brother George

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farmer

Enlistment:  March 31, 1916 at Antigonish, NS

Units: 193rd Battalion; “B” Company, 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada)

Service #: 902252

Rank:  Private

Previous Military Service:  18th Field Battery, Antigonish (3 years)

Next of Kin:  Alex J. MacHattie, Copper Lake, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death:  April 9, 1917 at Vimy Ridge, France

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

Wendell MacHattie was the youngest of six children born to Alexander and Janet (Hattie) MacHattie, and was only a year old when his mother passed away in 1882.  Left to care for a large family of young children, in October 1884 Alexander married Isabel MacGregor of South River Lake, a Gaelic-speaking woman.  The household was full—besides Wendell’s paternal grandparents George and Catherine, his uncle William and second wife were part of the 1901 household.

By 1908, the MacHattie family had relocated to Copper Lake, where a copper mining operation had been established. While Wendell found employment in the mine, two young sisters from Country Harbour joined the household—Bertha Sweet worked as a domestic, while Alma attended a nearby school.  Family tradition suggests that Wendell and Alma became engaged prior to his departure for overseas service.

Burton MacHattie of Truro, Wendell’s nephew, shared memories that have been passed down through the family over the years.  “Wendell was a very musical person, a gifted violin player and singer.  In one of his letters home from the war, he requested that if anything were to happen to him, his violin was to remain in the family.  Many folks recalled that Wendell had a series of bottles on his dresser at home, which he filled with various amounts of liquid; he could make beautiful music through striking them.”

A January 1917 letter home from Wendell clearly reflected the special bond that existed between family, father and son:

“My dear Father:
“I just got letters from home last night and Libbie told me of the accident you have had.  I am so sorry Daddy that you have to suffer so much but trust you are much better by this time and will likely be pretty well by the time this letter arrives.  Before leaving England it was necessary for me to make my will so I willed all the real estate to you as I think you ought to have it when you gave it to me.  Also $20.00 assigned pay I would like very much to help Minnie a bit with her twins.  So if you can spare it I want to help her as much as possible.  I hope they will come out all right and they will repay it all.  I am spending these days in a dugout.  It drips a little from above but is not cold.  So if the Germans don’t get me I will be back home again to stay.  Hoping you are getting all right again.  I am ever your baby boy, Wendell.”

Wendell’s journey overseas began in Antigonish with the 193rd Battalion. He enlisted on March 31st, likely at the Celtic Hall on Main Street.  At that time, he stood 5’ 6”, weighed 145 pounds and was 34 years of age, with blue eyes and red hair.  The 193rd, one of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s four units, recruited across northern Nova Scotia and attracted a significant number of local volunteers around the time of Wendell’s enlistment—Andrew and Daniel A. Boyd of Morristown; Hugh J. Boyd of Upper South River; James F. Chisholm and John Deyoung of Heatherton; John B. Gillis, James Arthur Grant, Gerald Grant, Irving Hardy from town and environs; William C. Kennedy of Brophy Road; Dougald A. MacDonald and Daniel MacEachern of Malignant Cove; Alex MacNeil of Harbour Centre and Dougald MacGillivray of Big Marsh.

The 193rd mobilized at Camp Aldershot in late May 1916 and was 300 men over-strength at the time. Training continued throughout the summer, with the Highland Brigade proceeding overseas aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916.  A few weeks after its arrival in England, the NS Highland Brigade provided a draft of volunteers to several units in the forward area. The 193rd was disbanded in early 1917, with 17 of its Officers and 300 of its “other ranks” (OR) transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders).

Other 193rd soldiers were assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia), which became the “Depot” battalion for Nova Scotian units in January 1917. Wendell, however, was transferred to the 42nd Battalion, one of three units recruited by the Montreal-based Royal Highlanders of Canada militia unit, and known as the Canadian “Black Watch,” through its affiliation with the famous Scottish regiment.

The Highland battalion was part of the 3rd Canadian Division’s 7th Canadian infantry Brigade, and had fought in the Somme battles at Courcelette and Ancre Heights in the fall of 1916.  Following the cessation of the Somme offensive, the Canadian Corps relocated to the Artois Sector, near Vimy Ridge, where its units rested, rebuilt their ranks and prepared for a spring offensive.  Wendell joined the unit in the field during this time.

The 42nd was in the line for the Canadian Corps’ April 9, 1917 assault on Vimy Ridge. Deployed on the left of 3rd Division’s frontage, the 4th Division’s 102nd Battalion was located on its left flank, supported by the 54th Battalion. The two units faced the daunting task of capturing Hill 145, the ridge’s highest point and a formidable obstacle.

On the night of April 8, the 42nd’s “B” Company entered one of the many tunnels constructed behind the Canadian front line and proceeded to Ewart Trench at 4:00 a.m. April 9. At “Zero Hour”—5:30 a.m.—the artillery barrage commenced and the Canadian Corps advanced in a drizzling rain that turned to sleet. The 42nd ‘s soldiers reached their objective at 8:00 a.m., but were subjected to punishing fire from Hill 145, as things had not gone well for the 102nd and 54th to their left.

The 42nd Battalion’s war diary noted that a small detachment from the 54th made sufficient progress to meet with “D” Company’s Major E. R. Pease and report that German machine gun fire from Hill 145 was impeding their advance.  The 42nd Battalion subsequently received orders to face the machine gun fire and hold the left flank.

Throughout the day, the battle’s final outcome hung in the balance, prompting military commanders to call upon two Companies of the 85th Battalion—the only Nova Scotia Highland Brigade Battalion to arrive in France intact—to attack Hill 145. Initially assigned to labour duties during the battle, the soldiers dropped their shovels, prepared for combat, and captured the hill without the support of an artillery barrage on the evening of April 9.

Private Wendell MacHattie was among the soldiers killed by enemy fire on April 9, 1917 as the 42nd attempted to secure the 3rd Division’s left flank. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield. Wendell is commemorated on Vimy Ridge’s Canadian War Memorial, which now stands atop Hill 145.  His only brother, George, later married Alma Sweet, assumed operation of the family farm, and raised a large family at Copper Lake, where several descendants still reside.  Wendell’s fiddle remains in the family, in the possession of his nephew, George.

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