September 7, 1917: Private Angus Allan MacDonald

MacDonald Angus Allan

Date of Birth: June 5, 1890 at Antigonish, NS

Parents: Angus Gillis & Margaret Mary Jane (Fuller) MacDonald

Siblings: Sisters Mary Catherine, Margaret Jane, Louise, Sophia, Florence, Annie; brothers Eugene, Thomas, Hugh Gillis, William Edward Gladstone

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Shopkeeper

Enlistment: September 18, 1916 at Fernie, BC

Unit: 225th Battalion (Kootenay, BC); 54th Battalion (Kootenay, BC)

Service #: 931729

Rank: Private

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

Next of Kin: Mrs. A. G. MacDonald, West St., Antigonish (mother)

Date of Death: September 7, 1917 near Lens, France

Memorial: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France

Angus Allan MacDonald was born in Antigonish town, the son of Angus Gillis “A. G.” MacDonald, a noted local educator. The family home still stands today near the corner of West St. and Highland Drive. It was later owned by the late Allan J. MacEachen, noted MP for the area, and is currently the property of the MacEachen estate. “Professor AG,” as he was known, was the grandson of Donald and Catherine (MacLellan) MacDonald of Ormacleit, South Uist, Scotland. Donald’s son, Eugene, left South Uist in 1826 at the age of 26 and settled at River Denys, Cape Breton, where he married Catherine Gillis of Rear Judique. Eugene and Catherine raised a family of six boys—including A. G.—and four girls.

Professor A. G. first taught at Montreal’s L’École Polytechnique, but returned to Antigonish in 1877 to teach at StFXU. After eight years with the college faculty, A.G. was appointed School Inspector for Antigonish and Guysborough Counties in 1885. Six years later, he moved to Truro, where he taught Mathematics at the Provincial Normal School. Stricken with poor health, he returned to Antigonish and was again appointed Inspector of Schools, a position he held until his death. A. G. also served as Mayor of Antigonish for two terms—1907-08 and again in 1915-16.

Angus Allan was working as a storekeeper at Galena, British Columbia when he made his way to Fernie, BC and enlisted with the 225th (Kootenay) Battalion on September 18, 1916. The unit sailed for England aboard SS Grampian on January 26, 1917, but was absorbed into the 16th Reserve Battalion, the holding unit for British Columbia recruits arriving in England. Angus Allan was transferred to the 54th (Kootenay) Battalion, which was deployed in the field with the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade. Authorized on November 7, 1914, the 54th joined the Division in April 1916, while it was assembling in France. Angus Allan was part of a February 1917 reinforcement draft intended to bring the 54th back to full strength, following the savage battles it had endured at the Somme, France, during a series of attacks on Regina Trench in October 1916.

During the winter of 1916-17, the Canadian Corps’ four Divisions came together in preparation for the Corps’ assault on Vimy Ridge, which its units captured on April 9, 1917. The 54th Battalion saw action at Vimy, its Division deployed in front of the railroad hub city of Lens throughout the ensuing months. The 4th Division’s units frequently raided the German line near Lens, actions that kept the Germans guessing as to Canadian Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Arthur Currie’s actual objective. In fact, the real target was Hill 70, near Lens, which the Corps successfully captured on August 15.

The following month, the 54th Battalion was still deployed in front of Lens, conducting raids on German positions, a favourite tactic of General David Watson, the 4th Division’s Commander. At 3:00 a.m. September 6, the 54th conducted a major raid along the Lens-Arras Road. Personnel laid wire across the road and then placed stretchers against the barrier to mark their forward position. One hour later, the raiding party, under the command the 54th‘s forward Officer, R. L. Geddes, repelled a German counter-attack, but Geddes was killed in the fighting, which continued throughout the day and into the following night.

Angus Allan was part of a detail of 10 soldiers who captured an enemy post. Following the operation’s conclusion, Private Angus Allan MacDonald was reported missing. While German sources later indicated that he was dead, his body was never recovered from the battlefield. Angus Allan was one of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were killed in northern France and who have no known final resting place. Their names are engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France.

Angus Allan’s sister, Louise, served overseas as a Nursing Sister with the Canadian Army Medical Corps for four years, earning the Royal Red Cross medal for her distinguished service. His brother, Lt. Gladstone MacDonald, enlisted with the 85th Battalion and was wounded near Lens on August 11, 1917. He returned to the unit’s ranks on October 1, 1918 and earned the Military Cross for bravery at Valenciennes, France the following month.

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