April 12, 1917: Private Colin Chisholm

Chisholm Colin

Date of Birth: December 11, 1889 at Brierly Brook, Antigonish County

Parents: Donald A. and Margaret (Campbell) Chisholm

Siblings: Sister Ann; half brothers: Donald, Angus, Ronald, Duncan, William and John Chisholm; half sisters Catherine, Isabel and Anne Chisholm; half sister Mary MacKinnon

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Teacher

Enlistment: May 27, 1916 at Vancouver, BC

Units: 196th Infantry Battalion (Western Universities); 19th Reserve Battalion; 46th Battalion (South Saskatchewan)

Service #: 911941

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Donald A. Chisholm, Brierly Brook, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: April 12, 1917 at Vimy Ridge, France

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

Colin Chisholm was born at Brierly Brook, Antigonish County.  He was a descendant of Kenneth Chisholm of Strathglass, Scotland.  Kenneth did not immigrate to Canada; however, his son, Angus, came out to Monks Head in 1832 and settled soon afterward on the Back Road, Brierly Brook.  The Chisholm family became known for their hard work and industry, and rose to prominence in business and construction.  As a result, the farm property left the family in the 1970s.  Nova Construction and Keltic Motors are two well-known local establishments operated by today’s Chisholm descendants.

Donald A., son of Angus Chisholm, took over the farm from his father.  He was first married to Sarah MacDonald of Beaver Meadow and the couple raised a family of five boys and three girls.  After his first wife’s death, Donald married Margaret MacKinnon (née Campbell) of North Grant and had two more children—a son Colin, and a daughter Ann, who died in childhood.  Margaret was the daughter of Murdoch Campbell of North Grant and was first married to Colin MacKinnon of the same community.  Murdoch was one of five brothers who arrived from Lochaber, Scotland in the early 1800’s and settled in the North Grant and Cloverville areas, where some of their descendants still reside.

Prior to his enlistment, Colin Chisholm was living at Sardis, near Chilliwack, British Columbia.  His attestation papers indicate that he was teacher when he joined the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion at Vancouver, BC on May 27, 2016.  The unit was formed primarily from students enrolled at Western Canadian universities.  The idea for the battalion began in February 1916, when students from the Universities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, wanting to maintain their university identity, lobbied the Minister of Militia and convinced him to authorize the formation of a western university battalion, with each university raising a company of approximately 250 men.

The Canadian military was initially reluctant, but the combination of a strong lobbying campaign and the need for fresh troops to replace mounting casualties in Europe tipped the scales. The 196th Battalion was the only Canadian Expeditionary Force infantry battalion raised by universities and largely composed of university staff and students. The unit was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel D. S. MacKay (79th Cameron Highlanders), and possessed an initial strength of 32 officers and 974 “other ranks” (OR).

Once formed, the 196th Battalion trained at Camp Hughes, Manitoba (adjacent to present day Camp Shilo). The unit departed from Camp Hughes on October 26, 1916 in two special trains.  After stopping briefly in Ottawa on October 29 for an inspection by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon Sir Robert Laird Borden, and the Hon. Sir Sam Hughes, KCB, Minister of Militia and Defence, the 196th Battalion arrived at Halifax on November 1 and embarked on SS Southland that same day.  The vessel docked at Liverpool, England on November 11, 1916.

The 196th’s overseas history was brief—within months of its overseas arrival, many of its original volunteers were parceled out as reinforcements to units fighting in France.  By the first of the following year, Colin Chisholm was taken on strength by the 19th Canadian Reserve Battalion (Saskatchewan), a unit that was created in January 1917 from the 196th and 222nd Battalions’ remaining personnel. In February, Colin crossed the English Channel to France, where he was assigned to the Saskatchewan-dominated 46th Battalion on February 17, 1917.  Known as the “Suicide Battalion,” the 46th fought in some of the war’s bloodiest encounters and was in constant need of reinforcements, as battle after battle decimated its companies. Of the 5,374 men who passed through its ranks, 4,917 were either killed or wounded in action.

The 46th was part of the 4th Canadian Division’s 10th Brigade, where it served alongside three other Western Canadian units—the 44th (Manitoba), 50th (Calgary, AB) and 47th (British Columbia) Battalions. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 10th Brigade occupied the extreme left flank of the Canadian Corps’ positions at Vimy Ridge.  Its main objective was the capture of “The Pimple,” an elevated location to the left of the Ridge.

Military commanders postponed the assault on The Pimple until the main part of the ridge was secured. As a result, the 10th Brigade made modest advances, maintaining contact with Canadian Corps units to its right, during the first three days of fighting at Vimy Ridge. In the early morning hours of April 12, the 46th’s “C” and “D” Companies advanced from their reserve positions and went “over the top” toward The Pimple at 5:00 a.m.. Reports described “heavy machine gun and rifle fire directed at the parties,” but both managed to secure their objectives by day’s end.

Private Colin Chisholm was first listed as wounded, and later reported killed in action in the April 12, 1917 attack on The Pimple.  His remains were never recovered from the battlefield.  Colin is among the thousands of soldiers whose names are inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, Pas-de Calais, France, all killed in action and buried somewhere beneath the battlefields of northern France. Interestingly, Colin Herman Chisholm, former MLA and long-time Mayor of Antigonish, served overseas during the Second World War and was likely named after his late uncle.

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