October 30, 1917: Private Dougald MacGillivray

McGillivary Dougald headstone

Date of Birth: April 15, 1892 at Cross Roads Ohio, Antigonish Co., NS

Parents: John D. and Sarah (MacInnis) MacGillivray

Siblings: Sarah, Mary (Minnie), Janet Culina and Sophia Evelyn

Father’s Occupation: Farmer and Mail Carrier

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Miner

Enlistment: September 26, 1914 at Camp Valcartier, QC

Units: 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia); Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

Service #’s: 1818 & 47020

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: 78th Regiment Pictou Highlanders (four years)

Next of Kin: John D. MacGillivray, New Glasgow, NS (father)

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

Final Resting Place: Poelcapelle British Cemetery, Belgium

Dougald MacGillivray was the third of five children and only son born to John D. and Sarah (MacInnis) MacGillivray of Cross Roads Ohio, Antigonish County. Dougald’s great-grandfather, Angus MacGillivray, was one of the first pioneers of Ohio, having moved from Cape George and settled on the west side of the river, near the Cross Roads, in the early 1800’s. The farm was later occupied by the family of Omer and Marie Murphy. Dougald’s father, John D., was a farmer and mail carrier in Ohio, but relocated with his family to New Glasgow around 1906.

On his maternal side, Dougald’s mother, Sarah, was the daughter of Angus MacInnis and Christine Murray, and a granddaughter of Donald MacInnis, known as “Donald the Soldier.” Donald had fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War and was also one of the early pioneer settlers of Ohio, having taken up land on the east side, near the Cross Roads.

After the family relocated to New Glasgow, Dougald joined the 78th Pictou Highlanders, where he served for four years prior to the First World War. At that time, Canada’s defence relied mainly on volunteer local militias like the 78th. Founded in 1871 as the Colchester and Hants Provisional Battalion of Infantry, the unit underwent several name changes. Its original title was the 78th Colchester and Hants, or “Highlanders Battalion of Infantry.” In 1879, the name expanded to the 78th Colchester, Hants and Pictou Battalion of Infantry, “Highlanders.” The title was shortened to 78th Colchester, Hants and Pictou Regiment, “Highlanders” in 1900, and finally became the 78th Pictou Regiment “Highlanders” in 1910.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, the 78th Pictou Regiment (“Pictou Highlanders”) provided volunteers for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). On August 20, 1914, Dougald and a group of 78th volunteers marched from New Glasgow to Westville, through Stellarton and back to New Glasgow. Before departing for Camp Valcartier that day, Miss Caroline Carmichael, daughter of a local doctor, organized a reception and, along with other dignitaries, wished them “God-speed.” The 78th travelled by train to Quebec City, where they undertook preliminary training at the newly constructed Camp Valcartier, the marshalling point for most of the CEF’s militia contingents.

Dougald attested for overseas service at Camp Valcartier on September 26, 1914. By that time, the 78th’s volunteers had merged with other provincial militia to establish the promised 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia). On October 4, Private MacGillivray and his Pictonian comrades boarded SS Ruthenia, which joined a convoy of 31 ships and departed for England. Upon reaching the open ocean, they met two additional vessels, one carrying members of the British 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment and the other bearing the Newfoundland Contingent. With protection from British warships, the crossing took 12 days to complete, all ships arriving safely at Plymouth, England.

The CEF was assigned training facilities on historic Salisbury Plain, the camp located just north of the prehistoric Stonehenge monument. By all accounts, the weather was terrible, with record amounts of rainfall, high winds and cold temperatures. The men slept in tents, which combined with bad weather to create very unhealthy conditions. The men of the 17th Battalion were eventually assigned to barracks in the newly constructed “Sling Plantation” at Camp Bulford, north of the town of Amesbury.

Much to the disappointment of the 78th Pictou Highlanders and other Nova Scotian militia units, the 17th was reduced to the status of a “reserve battalion” in early 1916. By that time, many of its initial members had been transferred to other units. Dougald was one example, assigned on December 25, 1914 to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI, generally referred to as “The Patricias”).

Dougald’s new unit was named in honour of Princess Patricia of Connaught, the daughter of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, a son of Queen Victoria who was Governor General of Canada at the time of the war’s outbreak. Organized in August 1914 at the initiative of Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault, a wealthy Montreal businessman who wished to contribute to the Canadian war effort, the PPCLI was the first Canadian infantry battalion to enter the theatre of operations, arriving in France on December 21, 1914 and entering the Belgian trenches in early January 1915.

On April 7, 1915, Dougald proceeded to France for service with PPCLI in Belgium. On May 8, he was admitted to No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Wimereux, having been wounded in the Ypres Salient several days previously. The following day, he boarded the hospital ship Valdivia for transport to England. Admitted to Great North Central Hospital, Holloway on May 10, medical staff immediately tended to a gunshot wound in Dougald’s right leg that had become “septic.” On June 29, Private MacGillivray was transferred to St. Martin’s Plains Camp Hospital, England, where he completed his recovery. On October 21, 1915, Dougald MacGillivray returned to the PPCLI’s ranks and proceeded across the English Channel for service.

The perception that Canadian men were “model soldiers” did not always hold true. The constant shelling, brutal trench warfare conditions, and massive loss of life led many soldiers to “live for the moment,” with little regard for military discipline. Nonetheless, these men were some of Canada’s most fearless and effective soldiers.

Private Dougald MacGillivray fit this category. He was a strapping lad who stood 5’11”, had been hardened by work in Pictou County’s coal mines, and was already a seasoned soldier by the time he headed overseas. In March 1916, Dougald was tried and convicted of “showing wilful defiance of authority [toward] a lawful command given personally by his superior officer.” As punishment, he was sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour at Military Prison, Le Havre, France. Released from custody on August 28, 1917, he rejoined the Patricias in the field three days later.

Dougald served with the PPCLI in sectors near Lens throughout September and early October, relocating with the unit to Ypres, Belgium on October 23, in preparation for the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. Three days later, 3rd and 4th Canadian Division units launched the first phase of a carefully planned, four-stage assault on the Ridge. While the soldiers pushed forward about 500 yards, the cost in casualties was considerable.

On the night of October 28, the PPCLI entered the line “600 strong, including 28 Officers,” and prepared for its role in the attack’s second phase. The battlefield around them was a muddy morass, churned by unrelenting artillery fire and drenched by several months of steady rainfall. The Patricias moved forward in single file, along a duckboard track through the mud. The following morning, under cover of darkness, No. 4 Company carried out a successful preliminary maneuver, capturing a strong pill box known as “Snipe Hall” and securing the “jumping off” location for the following day’s advance.

The 3rd Division was positioned in the center of the main attack, its assignment to seize the narrow Meetcheele Ridge outside the ruined village after which it was named. The PPCLI and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, AB), one of its 7th Brigade mates, were to attack on the right side of the Division’s frontage, while the 8th Brigade’s 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles advanced on the left.

On the morning of October 30, two PPCLI Companies moved forward on a front of about 500 yards. Their target was a line defended by isolated machine gun posts, rather than the continuous trench that soldiers faced in previous battles. As at Vimy Ridge, the men moved forward in fighting order, carrying 170 rounds of ammunition, rations for two days, two rifle grenades and a trench shovel. By day’s end, the ridge line was firmly under the 3rd Division’s control “…and a line established in advance of Meetcheele.”

The Patricias’ success came at considerable cost. According to its war diary, “the battalion came out of the line at midnight on the 31st October 245 strong,” having suffered nine Officer and 96 “other rank” (OR) fatalities. Another 10 Officers and 199 OR were wounded, while 38 OR were missing and one OR evacuated with “shell shock,” a total of 354 casualties “all ranks.”

Private Dougald MacGillivray was one of the soldiers killed in action in the October 30, 1917 “attack west of Passchendaele.” His remains were recovered from the battlefield and laid to rest in Poelcapelle British Cemetery, 10 kilometers northeast of Ypres, Belgium. Dougald’s first cousin, Roderick MacDougall—also an Ohio native—had been killed in action on October 23, 1916 at the Somme, just over one year earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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