October 30, 1917: Private Clarence Berry Stewart

Stewart Clarence Berry

Date of Birth: May 13, 1895 at Antigonish, NS*

Parents: James Henry and Adelia Pineo (Manson) Stewart

Father’s Occupation: Businessman

Siblings: Brothers Charles Manson, Harry Elmore, Alexander Downie, Homer Douglas, William Ralph, Clinton Lee and James Roy; sister Jean

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Teamster

Enlistment: February 21, 1916 at Antigonish, NS

Units: 193rd Battalion; 17th Reserve Battalion; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Service #: 901714

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: 18th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery (1912 – 14)

Next of Kin: James H. Stewart, Antigonish, NS (father)

Date of Death: October 30, 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium

Commemorations: Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium & 85th Battalion Memorial, Passchendaele, Belgium

* Date of birth obtained from the 1901 Canadian census. Clarence’s attestation papers record the date as May 14, 1896.

Clarence Berry Stewart was the fourth of nine children born to Adelia Pineo (Manson) and James Henry Stewart, 61 Pleasant, St., Antigonish, NS. Adelia was the daughter of Alexander “Sandy” and Catherine (Cameron) Manson, Lochaber. Sandy was a native of Sherbrooke and grandson of Alexander Manson, a native of Wick, Caithness, Scotland who emigrated to Nova Scotia around 1817 and initially settled at Stillwater, Guysborough County.

Clarence’s father, James Henry “Jim,” was born at North Lochaber, Antigonish County in 1863, the son of Alexander and Christy Stewart. Jim’s grandfather was Donald (Rob) Stewart, a native of Blair, Atholl, Scotland who immigrated to Nova Scotia around 1832 and settled near the head of Lochaber Lake. From an early age, Jim demonstrated an aptitude for “arithmetic” in the classroom. Despite his small stature, he also earned a reputation in the school yard as a “scrapper.” Jim later put these aptitudes to good use in the business world.

In 1883, Jim commenced “gathering up… natural products of the county for either domestic or export trade.” Blessed with a keen entrepreneurial eye, he immediately saw an opportunity to establish an egg export operation. A fleet of vessels regularly sailed between Antigonish and St. John’s, NL, carrying cattle and other agricultural products to the island’s markets. Jim gathered “small lots of eggs” from Antigonish County’s farmers and shipped them to Newfoundland on consignment. By 1884, the business was so successful that he expanded to the Boston market. Before the end of the decade, “Jimmy Hen,” as he was known locally, was exporting 50,000 dozen eggs a year to New England.

When the United States Congress imposed a duty of five cents a dozen on imported eggs in 1890, Jim turned to the British market, shipping 1,000 dozen eggs overseas by year’s end. The following year, exports expanded to 72,000 dozen and reached 155,000 dozen by 1898. After 1900, emerging domestic markets in such locations as Sydney gradually replaced foreign exports. By 1912, domestic consumption exceeded exports and Jim ceased overseas shipments in 1913.

Shortages created by the outbreak of the First World War, however, led to a resumption of overseas exports in 1915. Jim continued shipping local eggs to England until 1922, by which time domestic markets were sufficient to consume the available supply. Jim retired in 1928, after 45 years in the egg export business.

While building a prosperous enterprise, Jim also established a large family and prominent presence in the local community. In 1889, he built a large house at 61 Pleasant St., the present-day location of MacIsaac’s Funeral Home. On September 25, 1890, Jim married Adelia Manson in a ceremony held at Lochaber. As his egg business expanded, so did his family. The eldest of their nine children—a son, Charles Manson—was born in September 1891, with four more sons arriving before the end of the decade. Another four children were born after the turn of the century, a daughter Jean (YOB 1904) the only female in the household.

Clarence Berry Stewart, the couple’s fourth child, was the first of three sons to enlist during the First World War. Prior to the war, Clarence had logged two years’ service with the 18th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, a local militia unit, so his enlistment came as no surprise. He attested with the 193rd Battalion at Antigonish on February 21, 1916. An older brother, Harry Elmore, joined the same unit three weeks later, while a younger brother, Homer Douglas, enlisted with a Canadian Field Artillery draft in March 1917.

Clarence and Elmore departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916. Several months after arriving overseas, the brothers parted ways after officials dissolved the 193rd Battalion. On December 29, Elmore was transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders). He spent 15 months in England before finally crossing to France in March 1918 for service with the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). Meanwhile, Clarence was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion on January 23, 1917. Three months later, he received a transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) and proceeded to France on April 21.

Following a brief period with the 4th Entrenching Battalion, Clarence joined the 85th’s ranks on June 7 and served with the unit in sectors near Lens, France throughout the summer. In early October, the 85th relocated to Staple, France, adjacent to the Belgian border, where its soldiers prepared for their role in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. The 85th made its way to Ypres, Belgium with the 4th Canadian Division’s 12th Brigade on October 23 and entered the trenches on the night of October 28.

The Passchendaele battlefield was a horrendous sight, months of wet weather and artillery fire having churned the flat lowland into a sea of mud and water-filled shell craters. Three days after the 85th’s arrival in Ypres, 3rd and 4th Canadian Division units launched the first phase of a four-stage attack on Passchendaele village and the surrounding ridge, establishing “jumping off” positions on the Canadian Corps’ right flank for the 12th Brigade’s 72nd, 78th and 85th Battalions. The 85th, in turn, occupied trenches to the right of its Brigade mates, adjacent to a nearby railway. A large, flooded area to the 12th Brigade’s left separated its soldiers from their 3rd Division comrades.

The 85th’s objective was a cluster of fortified structures located at Vienna Cottage, south of Passchendaele village. At 5:50 a.m. October 30, supporting machine gun and artillery units opened fire and the attack’s second stage commenced. As the 85th’s soldiers advanced toward their target, “they were met by heavy machine-gun and artillery fire… all the way along our front,” nine of its Officers killed or wounded in the battle’s opening minutes. The supporting barrage on its side of the line was light, “little if any of it [falling] on… the enemy’s trench.”

The unit’s “A,” “B” and “C” Companies nevertheless advanced, “providing their own covering fire with rifle grenades, Lewis Guns and rifle fire.” Within minutes, a “fire fight” occurred in No Man’s Land, the exchange so intense that “anyone who attempted to walk upright instantly became a casualty.” According to various accounts, the fighting raged for 10 to 30 minutes before “D” Company’s soldiers, waiting in support, entered the battle. German resistance broke as the reinforcements reached their comrades. At that moment, “the whole line swarmed across the hostile front line and pushed on to the final objective.”

While the 85th established control of Vienna Cottage by 6:38 a.m., its casualties were “very heavy.” The unit remained in the line throughout the next two days, enduring a particularly fierce artillery bombardment at dusk on October 31. Relieved later that night, its remaining soldiers marched out to camp at Potijze, where the unit took stock of its losses. A total of 12 Officers had been killed and eight wounded, while three Officers remained at duty despite sustaining injuries. Amongst its “other ranks” (OR), the losses were staggering. The 85th had entered the line on the night of October 28 with a trench strength of 662 OR. Only 291 OR marched out of the trenches, a total of 371 having been killed or wounded. The 85th suffered its worst combat losses of the entire war at Passchendaele.

Private Clarence Berry Stewart was one of the OR killed during the October 30 attack. As with many of his comrades, his remains were never recovered from the mud-strewn battlefield. Clarence’s name is engraved on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. Erected following the war, the structure contains the names of 54,395 British and Imperial (Commonwealth) soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during the First World War and have no known final resting place.

Clarence’s older brother, Elmore, received a severe shrapnel wound to his left chest, arm and back at Cambrai, France on September 29, 1918, while serving with the RCR. He was evacuated to hospital in England six weeks later and invalided to Canada in May 1919. Elmore suffered from the effects of his war wounds for the rest of his days, passing away at Antigonish on January 20, 1946. Clarence’s younger sibling, Douglas, was also wounded at Cambrai on September 28, 1918 and succumbed to his injuries in hospital at Wimereux, France on October 3, 1918.

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