October 30, 1917: Lieutenant Angus Donald MacDonald

MacDonald Lt Angus Donald

Date of Birth: April 16, 1888 at South Side Antigonish Harbour, Antigonish County, NS

Parents: Dougald and Mary A. (MacDonald) MacDonald

Siblings: Brother Ronald; sisters Mary A. & Ann Catherine

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital status: Single

Occupation: Medical Student

Enlistment: April 27, 1916 at Halifax, NS

Units: 219th Overseas Battalion; 17th Reserve Battalion; 85th Battalion

Service #: None (Commissioned Officer)

Rank: Lieutenant

Previous Military Service: 25th Battalion (two months); 18th Field Battery, Canadian Field Artillery (15 months)

Next of Kin: Dougald MacDonald, father, South Side Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Date of Death: October 30, 1917

Commemoration: Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium & 85th Memorial, Passchendaele, Belgium

Angus Donald MacDonald was the fourth and youngest child of Dougald and Mary Ann (MacDonald) MacDonald, South Side Harbour. His parental grandfather was Ronald “Straight” MacDonald of Williams Point. His mother, Mary Ann, was the daughter of Angus MacDonald, a merchant seaman who was lost at sea five years after his marriage to Margaret “Peggy” MacDonald. Peggy was a daughter of Pioneer Angus “Ban” MacDonald of Prince Edward Island and South Side Harbour.

Angus “Ban” MacDonald was a merchant and shipbuilder at South Side Harbour. The remnants of his shipbuilding establishment can still be seen along the shore below the family home. The house was very large and served as a community mission church when Bishop MacEachern came from PEI to minister to the Catholics of the area. Angus Daniel’s mother and her siblings were known at South Side Harbour as the “Peggies,” after Mary Ann’s widowed mother, Margaret “Peggy” MacDonald.

A news item later published in The Casket commented on Angus’s 1914 circumstances: “Considerable interest was attached to this young man`s experience in the early days of the war. When war broke out he was a nurse in Germany, and was interned for considerable time. He eventually reached Canada and Antigonish. His efforts to secure a commission in Canada`s military service met with some suspicion at the time from the local military people, who confounded his presence in Germany with sympathy for the enemy.”

While Angus joined the ranks of the 25th Battalion at Halifax on November 14, 1914 and trained with the unit for two months, he never attested for overseas service. Determined to serve in some capacity, Angus enlisted with the 18th Field Batttery, Canadian Field Artillery—a local Antigonish miiltia unit—on January 7, 1915. As the unit trained primarily during the summer months, Angus was able to pursue medical studies at Dalhousie University, Halifax.

The formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade in January 1916 provided Angus with a second opportunity to enlist. Angus joined the ranks of the 219th Battalion on April 27, 1916 and, upon receiving an appointment to the commissioned rank of Lieutenant, completed his Officer’s Declaration on July 10.

For unknown reasons, Angus did not depart for England with the 219th on October 12, 1916. He “rejoined at Halifax for duty with the Battalion” on November 6 and departed for England shortly afterward. Following the unit’s subsequent dissolution, Angus was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion on January 23, 1917 and awaited the opportunity to serve with a Nova Scotian battalion in France.

In the meantime, Angus completed a “3rd Course of Instruction” at the Trench Warfare School, Crowborough, during the first two weeks of April. Finally, on July 9, 1917, Angus proceeded to France for service with the 85th Battalion, arriving in its camp near Villers-au-Bois one week later. Angus served with the unit in sectors near Lens throughout the next three months, relocating to Staple, France, close to the Belgian frontier, in mid-October.

After 10 days of training and preparation, the 85th followed the 4th Division to the Ypres area and readied to enter the trenches for its role in the second stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. On the evening of October 28, Its soldiers made their way into their pre-battle positions, “keeping quiet in the line of shell holes and shallow trenches [throughout the following day] as the German lines in some places were only from 15 to 20 yards away, and the next morning the attack was to take place.”

At precisely 5:50 a.m. October 30, supporting artillery opened fire and the 85th’s soldiers went “over the top” toward their objective, a location known as “Vienna Cottage.” The unit was immediately “met by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire… all the way along our front.” The barrage was very light in the 85th’s sector, “little if any of it [falling] on the enemy’s trench.”

The 85th’s “A,” “B” and “C” Companies nevertheless advanced, “providing their own covering fire with rifle-grenades, Lewis Guns and rifle fire until they had passed our old front line. Then, in No Man’s Land, a fierce firefight took place…. Anyone who attempted to walk upright instantly became a casualty.” The fighting raged for 10 to 30 minutes, before “D” Company, waiting in support, advanced. German resistance broke as they arrived and “the whole line swarmed across the hostile front line and pushed on to the final objective.”

While the 85th secured Vienna Cottage by 6:38 a.m., casualties were very heavy. Nine of the Officers leading the advance were killed or wounded in its opening minutes. By the time the unit withdrew from the line on the night of October 31/November 1, 12 Officers were dead and eight wounded. Amongst its “other ranks,” 371 were killed or wounded. The 85th’s losses at Passchendaele represent a casualty rate in excess of 50 % and were the unit’s greatest single engagement losses of the war.

Lieutenant Angus Donald MacDonald was among the Officers killed at Passchendaele during the October 30 attack. On December 12, 1917, Major James L. Ralston, the 85th’s acting Commanding Officer, wrote to his grieving father, describing the circumstances in which Angus was killed:

“He went in the Passchendaele operation as acting second in command of his Company, which had a very important position on the flank of our attack. The Battalion was met by intense machine gun and rifle fire; they pressed on from shell hole to shell hole, inflicting very severe casualties on the enemy and eventually completely routing him and carrying the line through to the last foot of the objective that had been set for the Battalion operation. It was during this operation, while leading his men, that your son was hit and instantly killed.”

In the battle’s aftermath, The Casket published the following news item:

“This week`s list of casualties includes the name of Lieut. Angus D. MacDonald, of Antigonish. This latest of our soldier boys to pay the forfeit of his life in defence of his country, is a son of Dougald R. MacDonald of South Side Harbour, Antigonish, and a brother of Sister St. Stanislaus, Superioress of St. Martha`s Convent, Antigonish…. A young man of fine parts, his acquaintances counted on his giving a splendid account of himself on the battle line. He has done all that could be expected of man. He has given his life. His parents and the other members of the family have the sincere sympathy of the community.”

FULL TEXT OF MAJOR RALSTON’S LETTER TO DOUGALD MACDONALD:

Dear Mr. MacDonald:
Long before this reaches you, you will have had word that your son, who was one of our officers, is among those who have fallen in action.

Colonel Borden has already written you, but I feel that I should add a personal word of sympathy and appreciation in view of the fact that he came to us when I was in command of the Battalion during Colonel Borden`s illness, and that his first tour in the line was with me.

I met your son first when he was taking his course at Wellington Barracks, [Halifax] and we all realized his ability at that time. I met him occasionally when he was an officer in one of the other Battalions of the brigade, and always enjoyed the best personal relations with him. As soon as he came to the Battalion he was given a command and we soon became convinced of his ability and a capacity for work in the line.

He had a very long and somewhat strenuous tour with the Battalion soon after he came, and his work there was of a high order. On one occasion in particular, he distinguished himself in command of a patrol which was surprised by an enemy force and succeeded in inflicting severe casualties on the enemy and in getting all his men back to the line, although some of them were quite severely wounded. As soon as he accomplished this, he immediately started out with another man and a Lewis gun to endeavor to locate any remnants of the enemy force that might be still left and as a result of his work that night, one prisoner was taken and important information obtained from him and from documents found on another of the enemy force who was killed. He was always cheerful and willing and had the fullest confidence of his men who believed thoroughly in his courage and judgement.

He went in the Passchendaele operation as acting second in command of his company, which had a very important position on the flank of our attack. The Battalion was met by intense machine gun and rifle fire; they pressed on from shell hole to shell hole, inflicting very severe casualties on the enemy and eventually completely routing him and carrying the line through to the last foot of the objective that had been set for the Battalion operation. It was during this operation, while leading his men, that your son was hit and instantly killed.

At a time like this it seems that all we can do here is to tell you of the circumstances of his death and the record of his life with us. He was an honor to you and the Battalion and the Province, both as a soldier and a man. I hope the knowledge that his work was not in vain and that his services were appreciated may be of some consolation to you.

Please accept my very sincere sympathy. I am proud to have been associated with him in the battalion.

Sincerely yours

(Signed) J. L. Ralston, Major
In the Field, 12-12-17 Commanding 85th Can. Inf. Batt. N. S. Regiment

 

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