April 16, 1917: Private Roderick William MacDougall

MacDougall Roderick William

Date of Birth: May 2, 1892 at North Grant, Antigonish Co., NS

Parents: Archibald and Margaret (Chisholm) MacDougall

Siblings: One brother, Archibald

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Clerk

Enlistment: October 1, 1915 at Winnipeg, Manitoba

Units: 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion; 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada)

Regimental Service Number:  155059

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada, Winnipeg (militia)

Next of Kin: Mrs. Margaret MacDougall, Yonkers, NY (mother)

Date of Death: April 16, 1917 at Vimy Ridge, France

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

Roderick William MacDougall was the elder son of Archibald and Margaret (Chisholm) MacDougall, North Grant, Antigonish County.  Archibald was born at Brierly Brook to Roderick MacDougall, formerly of Georgeville, and Margaret MacKinnon of North Grant.  Archibald’s first-born son, Roderick William, was a first cousin to his namesake, Roderick MacDougall of Cross Roads Ohio, who was killed in action in France on October 23, 1916.

On his maternal side, Roderick William’s mother, Margaret, was the daughter of Angus and Mary Chisholm of Marydale.  Angus was the grandson of Archibald (Archie Donn) Chisholm, a native of Strathglass, Scotland who settled in Marydale in 1801.  Archie Donn was married to Margaret Cleirach Chisholm and they had a family of thirteen children, many of their descendants still residing throughout Antigonish County.

It appears that Roderick William’s father died young, as in 1901 he was living in the home of his aunt, Mary Ann (Maggie) Chisholm, who was married to Donald Fraser of Fraser’s Mills.  His mother had moved to New York to work and later relocated to Massachusetts. Like many young men of his day, Roderick William travelled to the Canadian West in search of employment.  After taking up residence in Winnipeg, he joined the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada, a Canadian infantry militia unit. Western Canada’s first Highland regiment, the 79th was officially established on February 1, 1910, after five years of lobbying by the Manitoba Scottish community.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Roderick William enlisted with the 1st Pioneer Battalion at Winnipeg on October 1, 1915. While entrenching and labour battalions frequently worked in the back areas, Pioneer units toiled continually in the forward area, in conjunction with Canadian Engineer units. Their tasks were varied: constructing and repairing dugouts and trenches; completing tunnelling and wiring operations; consolidating captured positions; building and maintaining roads and narrow-gauge rail lines.  1St Pioneer Battalion recruited its members in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg and mobilized at Winnipeg in July 1915, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. E. Hodgins.

1st Pioneer Battalion departed Montreal aboard SS Metagama on November 20, 1915 and arrived in England ten days later.  The battalion trained at Camp Bramshott, England through the winter.  On March 3, 1916, Roderick William was admitted to Moore Barracks Hospital for treatment of what appeared to be a “sprained ankle.” Upon further examination, medical personnel determined that he had suffered a fractured fibula, an injury that resulted in Roderick remaining at the Pioneer Training Depot, St. Martins Plains, while his Pioneer comrades proceeded overseas to France on March 9.

After recovering from his injuries, Roderick William returned to 1st Pioneer’s ranks on June 28, 1916 and crossed the English Channel to France for active duty in the forward area.  On November 8, he was admitted to the 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance Unit for treatment of influenza and was subsequently assigned to light duty with the Canadian Section, General Headquarters. On March 31, 1917, Roderick William returned to active duty when he received a transfer to the 43th Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada).

The 43rd Battalion, the first complete “Cameron Highlander” unit recruited for overseas service, was authorized on December 18, 1914 and spent the winter of 1914-1915 in training at Winnipeg.  The unit’s 39 officers and 1020 “other ranks” (OR) departed on 29 May to the cheers of thousands and embarked from Montreal for England on June 1, 1915. The 43rd eventually earned a place in the 3rd Canadian Division’s 9th Infantry Brigade, alongside the 52nd (Port Arthur, ON), 58th (Niagara, ON) and the 60th (Montreal) Battalions.  The Brigade proceeded to France on February 21, 1916, under the command of Major General Malcolm Mercer.  Its members served in France and Flanders until Armistice Day 1918.

The Allied spring 1917 offensive on the Western Front targeted France’s Aisne River sector and was supported by British diversionary attacks in the area of Arras, France.  The Canadian Corps’ objective was the capture of Vimy Ridge, a lengthy stretch of high ground near the village of Vimy.  On April 8, 1917, the 43rd Battalion was relieved in the line, having completed a series of successful trench raids.  The following day, Canadian Corps units attacked and captured the ridge. On the night of April 12/13, the 43rd returned to positions on the newly captured high ground, pushed out patrols, and advanced to the Lens-Arras Road.

On April 16, 1917—Roderick William’s final day in the line—the 43rd’s war diary reported two incidents of contact with German forces.  In the early morning hours, several patrols “came under considerable rifle and machine gun fire” in No Man’s Land.  During the evening, “C” Company on the battalion’s left flank issued an alarm, indicating that it was under attack.  A prompt artillery bombardment forced the attackers to retreat and “all [was] quiet by 8:00 p.m.”

Later that night, a relieving unit began replacing the 43rd’s soldiers in the front trenches.  The day’s incidents, however, had proven costly, the battalion’s war diary reporting three OR killed, three others missing and 22 wounded as a result of the day’s fighting.  Roderick William was officially reported missing as the 43rd withdrew from the line.  His remains were never retrieved from the battlefield.

Private Roderick William MacDougall’s “Circumstances of Casualty” card reads, “Missing now for official purposes presumed to have died” in the trenches west of Vimy.  His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, Pas-de-Calais, France, one of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were lost on the battlefields of northern France and whose final resting place is unknown.

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