August 15, 1917: Sergeant Laughlin MacDonald, DCM

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Date of Birth: March 10, 1888 at Dunmaglass, Antigonish County

Parents: Ronald and Mary (MacKinnon) MacDonald

Siblings: Sisters Annabelle, Jennie, Elizabeth and Mary; brothers Alex and John

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Labourer

Enlistment: December 22, 1914 at Dryden, ON

Units: 52nd Battalion (New Ontario); 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada)

Service #: 438909

Rank: Sergeant

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Mrs. Mary MacDonald, Montreal, QC (mother)

Date of Death: August 15, 1917 at Hill 70, near Lens, France

Memorial: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France

Laughlin MacDonald was born at Dunmaglass, near Arisaig, Antigonish Co., the son of Ronald and Mary (MacKinnon) MacDonald. Laughlin’s ancestors were the only MacDonald family to immigrate to Antigonish County from Bornish, on the Island of South Uist, West Hebrides. His great-grandfather, Alexander (Bornish) MacDonald, first settled in Upper Canada and later relocated to Nova Scotia, where he married Mary MacLeod, daughter of Neil MacLeod, an early pioneer settler.

Alexander and his son, Alexander Jr., raised families on a small farm on the Dunmaglass Road. Many family members later moved to the Moncton and Montreal areas. By 1871, Alexander Jr.’s son, Ronald (Ban), was head of the family, operating the Dunmaglass farm for over 20 years. The family had left Antigonish County by 1901, Laughlin’s mother, Mary, living as a widow in Montreal with her son Alexander, according to one account.

Laughlin was employed as a labourer in the Dryden, ON area when he enlisted in the 52th Battalion on December 22, 1914. Authorized on November 7, 1914 and known as the “New Ontario Battalion,” officials later referred to the unit as the “Lake Superior Scottish Regiment.” The 52nd recruited its ranks in Port Arthur, Kenora, Fort Frances, and Dryden. Before the battalion was up to strength, military authorities asked the 52nd to provide reinforcements for 1st and 2nd Division units. The first reinforcing draft departed on June 17, 1915, followed by a second on September 5. The 52nd battalion itself did not proceed overseas until November 22, 1915, aboard SS California.

Private Laughlin MacDonald was part of the second draft and was assigned to the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada), which belonged to the 1st Canadian Division’s 3rd Brigade. The 15th was an experienced unit, having served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient since early 1915. Laughlin subsequently saw action with the 15th at the Somme (September – November 1916), Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917), Arleux and the Second Battle of the Scarpe (April 1917).

Laughlin who was promoted to Corporal after several months’ service, earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) on May 26, 1917 when “he led a party against an enemy machine gun in an emplacement. He alone reached the dug-out and entering it from the rear, killed the crew and was himself seriously wounded.” Laughlin was subsequently promoted to Sergeant.

By August 1917, The Canadian Corps, Field Marshall Douglas Haig ordered the Canadian Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Arthur Currie, to capture the city of Lens, France, a key railway hub. Currie persuaded Haig to attack Hill 70, an area of high ground to the west of the city, in a “bite and hold” operation. If successfully captured, the elevated location would provide an advantage against German counterattacks.

The 1st Canadian Division occupied the forward line’s left flank, the 46th British Division providing support. The 15th Battalion was deployed in the front trenches, the 13th and 16th Battalions to its right. On August 15, 1917, the three units crashed through the German forward positions and seized their first objective within twenty minutes. The 15th Battalion suffered 13 Officer and 212 “other ranks” (OR) casualties during the attack.

Sergeant Laughlin MacDonald was amongst the OR killed in the Hill 70 assault. His body was never recovered from the battlefield. Laughlin’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, one of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed on the battlefields of northern France and have no known final resting place.

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