April 11, 1917: Private Ambrose Thomas Boyle

Boyle Ambrose Thomas

Date of Birth: April 5, 1892 at Afton, NS

Parents: Henry and Margaret (Torpey) Boyle

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Family: Brothers George, William John, James, Joseph, Walter, John Thompson, Richard Alphonsus, & Henry; sisters Cecilia, Annie C., Mary, Alice E., & Eileen

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Labourer

Enlistment: November 6, 1915 at Victoria, BC

Units: 88th Battalion (Victoria Fusiliers); 47th Battalion (BC)

Service #: 180794

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: 18th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, Antigonish (three years)

Next of Kin: Henry Boyle, Afton, NS (father)

Date of Death: April 11, 1917

Final Resting Place: Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France

Ambrose Thomas Boyle was the eighth of 14 children born to Henry and Margaret (Torpey) Boyle of Merland, Antigonish County. Ambrose was directly descended from two of Afton’s pioneer families. His grandfather, William, born at Merland in 1822, married Ann Ellen Carter of Tracadie and raised a family of 11 children. Henry, their youngest child and Ambrose’s father, married Margaret Torpey, a native of Afton, at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Tracadie on July 8, 1879.

The Torpey family traces its roots to John and Bridget (Murphy) Torpey, who emigrated from Ireland in the early 1800s and raised a family of four sons at Afton. Their second son, John, married Mary Johanna Grant, also an Afton native. Ambrose’s mother, Margaret, born at Afton on July 26, 1862, was the sixth of their nine children and second daughter.

Richard Torpey, one of Margaret’s older brothers, entered the Trappist order at Petit Clairvaux Monastery, Tracadie in 1877 at age 19, relocating with the community to Lonsdale, Rhode Island in 1900. The Torpey family home passed into the possession of Ambrose’s younger brother, Richard, in 1918 and remains in the Boyle family to this day.

Henry and Margaret placed a high value on education. Ambrose’s older brother, James, graduated from St. Francis Xavier College, entered the priesthood, and later served as Bishop of Charlottetown, PEI. In fact, eight of the family’s children attended university. Ambrose was one of four brothers who graduated from StFX, while a fifth—John Thompson—attended the college for two years and three sisters attended Mount St. Vincent College, Halifax.

Upon completing his university education, Ambrose headed west to British Columbia, with plans of pursuing a teaching career. The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 changed the course of his life. Having served for three years with the 18th Battery Canadian Field Artillery, an Antigonish militia unit, Ambrose was familiar with military routine. He commenced training with the 88th Regiment (Victoria Fusiliers) on August 27, 1915 and attested for overseas service with the militia unit’s 88th Battalion (Victoria Fusiliers) on November 6, 1915.

Several months later, the 88th Battalion made its way by train to Halifax, departing for England aboard SS Olympic on June 1, 1916. Shortly after the unit arrived overseas, military authorities selected a reinforcement draft for the 47th Battalion (BC) from its ranks. The 47th was preparing to enter the line with the recently created 4th Canadian Division’s 10th Brigade. Ambrose was amongst the group of 88th soldiers who crossed the English Channel to France on August 20 and reported to the 47th’s camp near Albert, France on September 7.

Despite the fact that the 47th had recently arrived in the forward area, its soldiers entered the Somme’s trenches in early September. While the more experienced 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions did the bulk of the fighting during the Canadian Corps’ first month at the Somme, capturing the village of Courcelette on September 15, the 4th Division was called into action the following month. On the night of November 10/11, the 47th’s soldiers participated in the final assault on Regina Trench, their first exposure to combat. The unit’s war diary reported three Officers and 39 “other ranks” (OR) killed, 14 OR missing, five Officers and 100 OR wounded as the battalion withdrew from the line the following day.

The 4th Division moved northward to the trenches near Arras, France for the winter of 1916-17, as the Canadian Corps prepared for its first major assignment—an assault on Vimy Ridge. While the remainder of the Corps entered positions opposite the ridge’s main features, the 47th’s three 10th Brigade mates were deployed on its extreme left, facing “The Pimple,” the ridge’s second-highest feature.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 47th’s soldiers remained in reserve, although two of its Companies were called forward to support positions behind the 11th Brigade as the attack progressed. While “C” Company entered the battle before day’s end, the remaining Company retired to Berthonval Wood and the following day advanced with the remainder of the battalion to support positions behind the 11th Brigade. All of the 47’s soldiers were now deployed in trenches atop Vimy Ridge, as Canadian Corps units removed remaining pockets of German resistance.

On April 11, one 47th Company assumed advanced posts along “Sunken Road” during the early afternoon, while a second Company entered the Carency Sector at 5:00 p.m. in preparation for the following day’s assault on “The Pimple,” which remained in German hands. Sometime during the day, artillery fire struck the position where Ambrose’s platoon was located. His “circumstances of casualty” card described its impact:

“During operations at Vimy Ridge, this soldier was killed by concussion caused by the explosion of a heavy enemy shell. He only lived for a few minutes and bled heavily from the ears, eyes and nose.”

Private Ambrose Thomas Boyle was laid to rest in Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-St-Vaast, France.

Ambrose was not the only member of his family to enlist for overseas service. His younger brother, John Thompson, enlisted with the 36th Overseas Battery, Canadian Field Artillery at Fredericton, NB on January 20, 1916. One month later, Thompson received a transfer to No. 9 Stationary Hospital (StFX Unit), CAMC, and departed for England with his new unit on June 19, 1916. He served at Shorncliffe Military Hospital for sixteen months and crossed the English Channel to France with No. 9 Stationary in November 1917.

Thompson’s overseas service was cut short in June 1918, when he was diagnosed with cervical adenitis (infection of the lymph nodes) on the right side of his neck. Invalided to England for treatment and subsequently sent home to Canada in February 1919, he was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on March 8, 1919.

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