April 27, 1918: Private Albert H. MacDonald

MacDonald Albert H headstone

Date of Birth: July 17, 1898 at Cambridge, MA

Parents: Alexander A. and Mary (MacIntyre) MacDonald

Siblings: Brothers John Angus, Roderick J., Ronald J., Basil A., & Angus A.; sisters Florence C., Margaret J., Florence Mary, Margaret Catherine “Rena”, Mary Agnes, Agnes B., & Anna Jane

Father’s Occupation: Carpenter

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Carpenter

Enlistment: June 2, 1917 (2nd Maine Voluntary Infantry Regiment)

Unit: Company M, 103rd Infantry Regiment, American Expeditionary Force (AEF)

Regimental Service Number: N/A

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: Unknown

Next of Kin: Mr. Alexander A. MacDonald, Readville, MA (father)

Date of Death: April 27, 1918 near Commercy, France

Initial Interment: American Cemetery, Vignot, Meuse, France

Final Resting Place: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA (1921)

Albert H. MacDonald was the fifth of 13 children and the third son born to Alexander A. and Mary (MacIntyre) MacDonald of Cambridge, MA. Alexander and Mary were Antigonish County natives who emigrated to the Boston area, where they married on June 21, 1893. The couple’s first five children were born in the United States. Around 1900, the couple returned to West Lakevale and were living in the Morristown District at the time of the 1901 Canadian census. The family remained in Antigonish County for almost a decade before returning to live out their remaining years in Massachusetts. Five more children were born during their years at West Lakevale, while another three arrived following their return to Massachusetts.

Both the MacDonald and MacIntyre families had deep roots in Antigonish County. Alexander’s great-great-grandfather, John MacDonald, emigrated from Scotland in 1790 and built a log house on a small knoll near the present day Arisaig Glebe House. In 1801, John sold his farm to Arisaig Parish and moved to West Lakevale, where he purchased a block of 500 acres. John had married Margaret MacDonald prior to leaving Scotland, and their son, Alexander—Albert’s great-grandfather, who became known locally as “Solomon”—was also born in the “Old Country.” Alexander “Solomon” MacDonald’s original property on the North Lakevale Road remains in the family to this day, occupied by the family of Danny “the Piper” MacDonald.

On Albert’s maternal side, Mary was the daughter of John and Flora (Mills) MacIntyre of Fraser’s Grant. John and his brother, Donald—sons of John MacIntyre, South Uist, Scotland—both immigrated to Nova Scotia. Donald arrived first, making the trans-Atlantic voyage in 1822 aboard the same ship that carried William Fraser—later Bishop of Halifax and Arichat (Antigonish)—to Nova Scotia, hence his property at Fraser’s Grant, close to the Fraser family. A few years later, John arrived and obtained land in the same area. The brothers raised large families, thus becoming the progenitors of most of the Antigonish County MacIntyre families.

After the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the United States adopted a neutral position. Several subsequent events, however, created significant tensions with Germany. On May 5, 1915, a German U-boat attacked RMS Lusitania, a Cunard Steamship Lines vessel, off the coast of Ireland. While the ship was the property of a British company, it was travelling from New York to Liverpool, England at the time of its sinking and 112 American citizens were among the almost 1,200 passengers lost at sea. The attack on an unarmed, civilian vessel aroused considerable American hostility toward Germany and prompted widespread condemnation of its U-boat strategy.

The publication of the “Zimmerman telegram” on January 16, 1917 further incensed the American public. The message, sent to the Mexican government five days earlier by Arthur Zimmerman, Germany’s Foreign Secretary, proposed the formation of a German-Mexican alliance, should the United States enter the war. A February 1 German announcement, stating its intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare on trans-Atlantic shipping the following month, prompted the United States to cut all diplomatic relations with Germany two days later.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson formally asked the American Congress to declare war on Germany. Within 48 hours, the American Senate approved the request, while the House of Representatives gave its consent on April 6. The United States, now officially at war with Germany, set about mobilizing its military forces in support of the Allied cause. On May 18, The United States Congress approved the Selective Service Act, which established a framework for a nation-wide military service registration system. By war’s end, more than 3.7 million American men had enlisted, two-thirds of whom were conscripted under the Selective Service Act.

While President Wilson agreed to provide one Division for temporary service on the Western Front under French or British command, he insisted on establishing a separate American Army in Europe, under the command of Major-General John J. Pershing. While Pershing and his Staff departed for Europe in late May 1917, months of preparation and organization lay ahead before the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was ready for combat.

On June 2, 1917, 18-year-old Albert H. MacDonald enlisted for duty with the 2nd Maine Voluntary Infantry Regiment. Initially established in 1861 for service in the American Civil War, the unit had been “called out” on April 12, less than one week after the American declaration of war on Germany. Recruitment efforts immediately commenced to enhance its strength, in preparation for overseas service. In July 1917, 2nd Maine assembled at Camp Keyes, Augusta, ME, and commenced training. Early the following month, the Regiment formally mustered into federal service.

On August 22, officials drew soldiers from 1st New Hampshire Regiment, to increase its ranks toward the required full strength of 3,600. One month later, the newly-formed unit was re-designated 103rd Infantry Regiment and sub-divided into three separate battalions. The 103rd was assigned to the 52nd Infantry Brigade, 26th Infantry Division, the first “National Guard” Division to cross the Atlantic and land in France.

By mid-September, the 103rd had acquired the numbers and equipment required for overseas service. On September 27, the unit departed from New York for Halifax, NS, aboard three separate vessels. Albert’s 3rd Battalion made the journey on SS Lapland. Two days later, a convoy of ships assembled in Halifax Harbour and departed for England under cover of darkness. Upon landing at Liverpool, England on October 9, the 103rd‘s soldiers travelled by train to camps at Borden and Southampton in southern England.

In mid-October, the 103rd crossed to Le Havre, France, and travelled by train to Liffol-le-Grand, which served as the regiment’s home base and training area for the next four months. Troops received instruction from the veteran 162nd French Infantry’s Officers, in addition to training under their own commanders.

On February 5 and 6, 1918, the 103rd moved out to Soissons, centre for French operations in the area and within striking distance of Germany’s long-range guns. The Regiment prepared to enter the line as part of a French Brigade, with one battalion occupying the front trenches, a second in support, and a third in reserve, the three units rotating regularly when deployed in the line. Two days after arriving at Soissons, the 103rd commenced its first tour of duty. During a five-week tour, the unit reported only light casualties, primarily from artillery fire, retiring to Liffol—a march of 75 kilometers—on March 19 for rest, clean-up and training.

On April 7, the 103rd relocated to the Toul-Boucq Sector, near Commercy, about 70 kilometres from Soissons. The area was part of the St. Mihiel Salient, a 200-square-mile triangle protruding 22 kilometers into the Allied line, between the Moselle and Meuse Rivers. The terrain consisted of rolling plain, with several densely wooded areas. German forces captured the salient in September 1914, disrupting communication lines between the strategic locations of Verdun and Nancy. In subsequent months, German soldiers erected heavy bands of barbed wire, artillery and machine gun emplacements to defend the position.

From April 14 to 30, the 103rd Regiment’s 3rd Battalion—Albert’s unit—completed rotations in the Saint-Agnant sous les Côtes and Bois Brûle sub-sectors, an area that spanned a distance of approximately 20 kilometers. Private Albert H. MacDonald was killed by shell fire in the Toul-Boucq Sector on April 27, 1918. He was first buried in American Cemetery, Vignot, Meuse, France. In 1921, his remains were returned to the United States for interment in his final resting place in Section Euro, Site 2902, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Interestingly, Albert’s older brother, Roderick Joseph, enlisted with the US Army on May 11, 1918 and served as a Private with the Quartermaster Corps at Camp Hill, Virginia. It appears that he did not serve overseas. Following the war, Roderick returned to Massachusetts, where he passed away on June 27, 1961. He was also laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, VA. Another brother, Ronald J., was born at West Lakevale in 1902 and served with the Canadian Forestry Corps during the Second World War. Ronald returned to the family property during his later years, and passed away at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, on December 31, 1961. One of Albert’s sisters, Margaret Catherine “Rena,” born at West Lakevale in 1904, was a member of the United States women’s discus team that participated in the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam, Holland.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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