October 30, 1917: Private Charles Warren Currier “Chas” MacMillan

MacMillan Charles W

Date of Birth: February 26, 1898 at Somerville, MA

Parents: Duncan H. & Katherine (MacNeil) MacMillan

Siblings: Sisters Bernadette & Katherine; brothers John Leo & Clarence

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Student

Enlistment: March 8, 1916 at Antigonish, NS

Unit: 193rd Battalion; 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Service #: 901725

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Duncan H. MacMillan, Antigonish, NS (father)

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

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

Charles Warren Currier “Chas” MacMillan was born at Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Duncan H. and Katherine (MacNeil) MacMillan. Duncan H.’s father was Donald MacMillan of Arisaig, Antigonish County. Donald later left the Arisaig area and moved to Antigonish Landing to farm. He married Mary Fraser, daughter of James Fraser, Morristown, and a granddaughter of Alexander Fraser (Jr.), a West River pioneer settler.

Duncan H. left the Landing family farm and resided for 25 years in Massachusetts, where he worked as a telegraph operator with the Maine Railroad Company. While living in the United States, he met Katherine MacNeil, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Colin MacNeil, Havre Boucher. The couple were married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Boston. Duncan H., Katherine and their family returned to the Landing family farm sometime before the First World War. Duncan H. was an active member of the Antigonish Highland Society and Antigonish County Farmer’s Association for many years, passing away at St. Martha’s Hospital in December 1954, at age 89.

Charles “Chas” MacMillan enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Antigonish on March 8, 1916. The drive was on to recruit a Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, under the command of Lt. Colonel Allison H. Borden, the Commanding Officer of the 85th Battalion, which had been authorized on September 15, 1915. While the Brigade’s senior battalion recruited across the entire province, the other three Brigade units—185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd and 219th Battalions—each recruited in specific regions.

The Brigade mobilized at Aldershot in May 1916 and proceeded overseas aboard SS Olympic, sister ship to the famous Titanic, departing Halifax on October 12, 1916. Upon arriving in England, the battalions travelled to Witley Camp, Surrey. While authorities initially assured the Brigade that it would enter the line as unit, significant Canadian casualties at the Somme around the time of its overseas arrival resulted in the dissolution of the 193rd and 219th Battalions, two of the Brigade’s units. Some members of the 193th were transferred to the 85th, 13th, 42nd, 85th and 185th Battalions, as all were Highland units. Others were assigned to engineering and the machine gun units.

Chas MacMillan was assigned to the 85th Battalion and crossed the English Channel to France with the unit on February 10, 1917. Shortly afterward, the 85th was temporarily attached to the 4th Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade, under the command of Major General David Watson. As an untested unit, the 85th and was assigned “non-combat” duties in the April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge, but received its “baptism under fire” late in the day, when two of its Companies entered the line and captured Hill 145, the ridge’s highest location. Before month’s end, the 85th was permanently attached to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade.

The unit served in the line near Lens, France throughout the spring and summer of 1917, moving north to Belgium’s Ypres Salient with the Canadian Corps in late October, at the request of Field Marshall Douglas Haig. The British Commander-in-Chief called upon the Canadians to complete a sputtering offensive commenced several months previously. The action was designed to draw the attention of German forces and relieve pressure on the French Army, which had experienced several mutinies in its ranks.

The offensive’s primary objective was an area of high ground around the village of Passchendaele. Fearing that failure would lead to the loss of his position, Haig wished to capture the ridge before winter. General Currie reluctantly moved his Corps to the Ypres area and planned to seize the ridge in four set pieces, scheduled for October 26 and 30, November 6 and 10. The Canadians would claw their way up the ridge, one step at a time.

The 85th’s October 30 goal was a location known as Vienna Cottage. The unit lined up on the 4th Division’s extreme right flank, adjacent to a railroad cut and alongside the Anzac Corps. At Zero Hour—5:50 a.m.—“A”, “B” and “C” Companies went “over the top” toward the German line. Within minutes, the attack faltered, “A” and “B” Companies’ Commanding Officers both killed in action. Major Percival W. Anderson, waiting in reserve with “D” Company, led his men forward in support. As the Germans shifted their fire to the advancing soldiers, the first three Companies rallied and succeeded in capturing the objective by 6:38 a.m.. Minutes after the success, Major Anderson was killed while directing consolidation of the line.

Private Chas MacMillan was among the “B” Company soldiers killed during the October 30 attack. On November 14, 1917, Major Fred W. Miller, “B” Company’s Commander and a Passchendaele survivor, wrote a letter of sympathy to Chas’s father, Duncan. Major Miller identified the cause of his son’s death was a bullet to the head and assured his family that Chas did not suffer. While Major Miller did not know the location of Chas’s grave at the time, he promised that it would be “communicated to you at the earliest moment.” Chas’s remains were never located amidst the mud and chaos of the Passchendaele battlefield. Private Charles Warren Currier MacMillan is remembered on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium and the 85th Battalion Memorial, located on the battlefield where he fell.

Charles’ brother, John Leo, who also worked for the Maine Railroad, enlisted with the American Army at Fort Slocum, NY on June 24, 1917. John was eventually declared medically unfit due to lung and heart problems, and was discharged at Camp Stanley, Texas on October 20, 1917. Following a period of time in veterans’ facilities, John was released from hospital and eventually returned to the Landing family farm. He passed away at Antigonish in 1939.

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