November 17, 1917: Lance Corporal Daniel MacGillivray

MacGillivrary Daniel 901723 oval crop

Date of Birth: April 27, 1889 at Rear Doctor’s Brook, Antigonish County

Parents: Ronald D. and Catherine (McIsaac) McGillivray

Siblings: Ronald, John H., Anna Belle [Mrs. John A. Boyd] and John Angus

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Shell worker

Enlistment: March 16, 1916 at Antigonish, NS

Units: 193rd Battalion; 42nd Battalion (Royal Canadian Highlanders)

Service #: 901723

Rank: Lance Corporal

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Ronald D. McGillivray, Rear Doctor’s Brook, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: November 17, 1917 near Ypres, Belgium

Final Resting Place: Oxford Road Cemetery No. 2, Ypres, Belgium

Lance-Corporal Daniel McGillivray (christened Alexander Daniel) was the son of Ronald D. and Catherine (McIsaac) McGillivray of Rear Doctor’s Brook (Highfield), Antigonish County. Their McGillivray ancestors had settled into farming at Malignant Brook (Maryvale) as early as 1813, when Hugh McGillivray and his son, John, purchased 450 acres of land from a certain John Cameron for “sixty seven pounds lawful money of Nova Scotia.”

Generation after generation, the land was passed on and divided among the offspring of John and his brother, Andrew. In time, descendants of the original settlers—including Daniel McGillivray’s grandfather, Donald—relocated to property at the “rear settlement” on the Eigg Mountain Highlands, where they cleared land, built dwellings and farmed. The 1881 Census shows Daniel’s father, Ronald D., farming at Highfield, next door to his parents and younger siblings. At the time, Ronald’s family included his wife, Catherine, and their first-born son.

Daniel’s mother, Catherine, was born at Eigg, Scotland, the daughter of Hector McIsaac and Mary McQuarrie. When Catherine was still a young girl, the family left Scotland for Nova Scotia, settling at Cape Breton before moving to the Arisaig district where she met Ronald. The couple married in 1877 and raised their family at Highfield. Years later, the obituary of their daughter, Anna Belle Boyd, noted that Gaelic was her first language.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, folks were moving down off the mountain. Ronald and Catherine lived at Highfield until 1921, when they relocated to West Street and the comforts of the town of Antigonish. Both lived to the ripe old age of 87. Ronald died in 1934, while Catherine passed away in 1938. They were survived by two sons and one daughter: Ronald, a plumber and pipe fitter who, for a time, worked for K. Sweet & Son, Antigonish; John H., Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Anna Belle (Mrs. John A. Boyd), St. Mary’s Street, Antigonish. Two sons, Daniel and John Angus, served with the Canadian Infantry during the First World War and “made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War.” Three other children died young.

On March 16, 1916, Daniel McGillivray enlisted with the 193rd Battalion, one of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s four units. At the time of his enlistment, he was working as a “shell worker.” His obituary later revealed that he had been a resident of the town of Antigonish for some time and that “his fine character and quiet disposition made him many friends among our townspeople.” A medical examination, conducted at New Glasgow on April 12, 1916, found 31-year-old Daniel physically fit for service. He was five feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 170 pounds at the time.

Daniel departed Halifax aboard SS. Olympic on October 12, 1916. The troopship arrived at Liverpool, England six days later. From there, Daniel and his fellow soldiers travelled to Witley, a military training camp in Surrey, some 40 miles southwest of London. Transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5 following the 193rd’s dissolution, Daniel proceeded to France the following day and joined the 42nd in the forward area on January 5, 1917.

The 42nd Battalion was the second of three infantry battalions recruited by the Montreal-based Royal Highlanders of Canada militia regiment, which was affiliated with Scotland’s famous “Black Watch.” The unit was authorized on November 7, 1914 and departed for England in June 1915. The 42nd crossed the English Channel to France in October 1915 as part of the 3rd Canadian Division’s 7th Brigade and before month’s end entered the Belgian trenches alongside its Brigade mates—the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, AB).

By the time of Daniel’s arrival, the 42nd was a seasoned unit, having served in the Ypres Salient for 10 months and fought with the Canadian Corps at the Somme, France in September and October 1916. Daniel served with the unit in sectors near Lens throughout the remainder of the winter. On February 13, 1917, a bullet struck him in the leg during a raid on German trenches, but he remained at duty.

On March 19, Daniel was admitted to the No. 7 General Hospital, St. Omer, having contracted the mumps. Laid up for almost a month, he was discharged on April 14 and returned to the firing line. During his time in hospital, his comrades participated in the Canadian Corps’s historic attack on Vimy Ridge, France.

Throughout the summer and early autumn of 1917, the 42nd served in sectors near Lens. On July 17, Daniel was “appointed Lance-Corporal to complete [the unit’s] establishment [complement of non-commissioned officers].” In mid-October, the 42nd made its way northward to Belgium as the Canadian Corps prepared for its role in the final stages of the 3rd Battle of Ypres—an attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

On October 30, the 42nd was in Brigade Reserve as its three “sister” units participated in the second stage of the Canadian assault on the ridge. The following night, its soldiers relieved their comrades in the front trenches and assisted with construction of a new line for several days. Following a brief break, the unit returned to Passchendaele Ridge on the night of November 14/15.

According to the 42nd’s war diary, throughout its second tour, “the shelling… of all the forward area was intense, and numerous casualties were received as a result.” Lance Corporal Daniel McGillivray was one of the affected soldiers. Struck in the back by shrapnel, he was evacuated to No. 8 Canadian Field Ambulance on November 17, 1917. Before day’s end, 32-year-old Daniel succumbed to his wounds and was laid to rest at Oxford Road Cemetery, one and a half miles northeast of Ypres, Belgium.

Included in Daniel’s obituary, published in The Casket on December 27, 1917, are two interesting tidbits of information. One revealed that Daniel’s younger brother, John Angus, was somewhere in France, also serving his country. The second stated that “but two … of the many Antigonish men drafted from the N. S. Highland Brigade are now left on the firing line.”

Lance Corporal Daniel McGillivray later became an unforgettable figure in two compelling memoirs of the Great War. Private Will R. Bird (1891-1984), a 42nd comrade and renowned Nova Scotian author, kept detailed diaries of his two years at the front. He later transcribed these notes into two volumes on “the war to end all wars,” And We Go On (1930) and Ghosts Have Warm Hands (1968). Will Bird’s books and articles have long been regarded as among Canada’s best First World War accounts.

Writing about the horrors and futility of war, Bird transports the reader onto the battlefield, with its mud and trenches, exploding shells, flying bullets, deceased comrades, body parts, lice, rats and filth. The desperate cold, the noise, the hunger, the exhaustion, the smell of death and the sense of fear are all manifest. In the midst of this scenario, we encounter Daniel McGillivray – alias “Mickey” – the gentle, war-weary soldier whose dying words become the title for And We Go On.


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