December 19, 1917: Private John Laughlin MacDonald

MacDonald John Laughlin headstone

Date of Birth: December 25, 1893 at Frasers Grant, Antigonish County

Parents: Donald J. and Catherine “Cassie” (Fraser) MacDonald

Siblings: Brothers Duncan R., Ronald J., John D., John D., William Dan & R. John (died in infancy); sisters Mary Agnes, Sarah Catherine, Mary Ann, Mary Jane & Christina (died in infancy)

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital status: Single

Occupation: Farmer (Fraser’s Grant); employee, Morgan Bros. Creamery Company (Boston, MA)

Enlistment: May 24, 1917 at Boston, MA

Units: 5th Regiment (Massachusetts); “A” Company, 101st Regiment

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Catherine (Mrs. Donald) MacDonald (mother)

Date of Death: December 19, 1917 near Neufchâteau, France

Cause of Death: Cerebrospinal Meningitis

Final Resting Place: Immaculate Conception Parish Cemetery, Heatherton, NS

John Laughlin MacDonald and his twin sister, Mary Ann, were born at Fraser’s Grant, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, the fourth and fifth in a family of 10 children. John Laughlin’s mother, Catherine, was the daughter of John “Ban” Fraser and Mary Chisholm. The community of Fraser’s Grant is named for Catherine Fraser`s grandfather and his brothers, who obtained land grants in the area. The three pioneer Fraser brothers were also siblings of Bishop William Fraser, the first Bishop of what is known today as the Diocese of Antigonish.

John Laughlin’s father, Donald (Dan), was the son of John MacDonald, a native of Peanmeanach on the Ardnish Peninsula, near the Arisaig/Mallaig area of Scotland. In 1844, John emigrated to Fraser’s Grant with his wife, Mary Smith, and two children. Three more children were born to Pioneer John and Mary during the years after their arrival. The family was known locally as “The Cramps,” with John L.’s father, Donald, referred to as “Dan the Cramp.”

A noted cousin of John Laughlin, Dr. Ronald J. MacDonald, was a runner who won the 1896 Boston Marathon. He later travelled to Paris, France to compete in the 1900 Olympics marathon, where he finished sixth or seventh, according to some sources. On his return journey, Ronald ventured to Scotland to visit his grandfather’s home on the peninsula, and discovered a grand-aunt living in the old home. During World War Two, the area was cleared for use as a Special Forces training ground and is deserted today.

On March 26, 1913, John Laughlin MacDonald, his brother Duncan, and sister Sarah travelled from Heatherton by train to 299 Dudley Street, Roxbury, MA, where several of their mother’s siblings resided. For the next four years, John Laughlin worked at various company stores in the Dorchester and Jamaica Plains areas and eventually obtained employment with Morgan Bros. Creamery Company, Boston.

Prior to his enlistment, John Laughlin was residing at 154 Norwell Street, Dorchester, MA with his brother, Duncan, and sister, Mrs. Neil McInnis. On May 24, 1917, John Laughlin enlisted with the 5th Regiment (Massachusetts). Two months later, he reported for duty. Shortly after the Regiment mustered on August 10, John Laughlin was transferred to “A” Company, 101st Infantry Regiment.

Following the April 6, 1917 American declaration of war on Germany, military authorities had re-designated the 9th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry as the 101st Infantry Regiment and assigned its personnel to the 26th Infantry Division’s 51st Brigade. The 101st mustered at Framingham, MA on August 22, 1917 and arrived at St. Nazaire, France on September 21, thus becoming the first “National Guard” unit to arrive overseas and the first to deploy on the Western Front.

As most of the 26th Infantry Division’s personnel were “raw recruits,” its units relocated to Neufchâteau, southwest of Nancy, France, for training under the direction of experienced French forces. In January 1918, the 26th joined with three recently arrived US Divisions to form the United States I Corps. Shortly afterward, the Corps moved into a quiet sector of the forward area. In late February 1918, the 101st’s soldiers launched a raid into the German line, the first such action by an American unit during the war.

John Laughlin never made it into the front trenches. Sometime during training at Neufchâteau, he fell ill and was admitted to a military hospital, most likely at nearby Bazoilles-sur-Meuse. He died of cerebrospinal meningitis on December 19, 1917 and was interred in a nearby cemetery. After the war’s conclusion, the United States Government provided families with the option to repatriate their loved ones’ remains or have them interred in an overseas American Military Cemetery.

The MacDonald family chose repatriation. Private John Laughlin MacDonald, “A” Company, 101st Infantry, is listed among the remains placed aboard the funeral ship U.S.A.T. Wheaton, which sailed from the port of Cherbourg, France on May 1, 1921 and landed at Hoboken, New Jersey. Arrangements were then made to transport his body to Nova Scotia. At the time of his death, John Laughlin’s sister, Mrs. R. J. Kelly, was living at 59 Radcliffe Street, while a second sister, Mrs. Neil Mc, Innis, resided at Norwell Street, Dorchester,MA. According to The Casket, he was also survived by brothers Ronald J., Joseph D., William and John, and two sisters, Mary Ann and Jane, all of Fraser’s Grant.

A Halifax newspaper reported the arrival of John Laughlin’s remains:

“Rosalind in Port. The Red Cross liner makes first call of Summer Schedule—Body of dead hero sent by U. S. Government.

“Making the first call of her summer schedule, the Red Cross liner Rosalind, Captain H. C. Mitchell, arrived in port at nine o’clock yesterday morning after a run of 44 hours from New York and leaves today for St. John’s, Nfld. The steamer brought 42 first and second class passengers to land here and has aboard 87 first and 38 second class for St. John’s. The Rosalind also brought the body of another Nova Scotian, who died in the American Expeditionary Force. It was that of Private John L. MacDonald, of Heatherton, Antigonish Co., formerly a member of the 101st Regiment and who died in France on December 19, 1917. It was accompanied by Corporal H. S. Hays of Company G, 16th Infantry, 1st Division, who will go with the body to Heatherton.”

The remains were transported to Antigonish County by train. Private John Laughlin MacDonald was buried in Immaculate Conception Parish Cemetery, Heatherton, on June 28, 1921. His twin sister, Mary Ann, passed away on October 12, 1924 and was buried beside him. Their headstone reads: “John L. MacDonald, died in France Dec. 19, 1917, age 24 years. Mary Ann MacDonald, died Oct. 12, 1924, age 31 years. R.I.P.”

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