May 8, 1918: Sergeant John Cameron MacEachern

MacEachern Sgt John Cameron

Date of Birth: January 25, 1898 at Cape George, Antigonish County, NS

Parents: Laughlin J. & Annie (Beaton) MacEachern

Siblings: Sisters Sadie & Ruth; brothers Donald Laughlin, and Peter M. Gildersleeve (three other children died in infancy and a fourth in childhood)

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Student

Enlistment: March 8, 1916 at Broughton, NS

Unit: 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders)

Service #: 877949

Rank: Sergeant

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin; Laughlin James MacEachern, Inverness, Inverness County, NS (father)

Date of Death: May 8, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Final Resting Place: Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church Cemetery, Cape George

John Cameron MacEachern was born at Cape George, Antigonish County on January 25, 1898, the son of Laughlin J. MacEachern, a member of the large Cape George MacEachern family. Lauchlie, or “L J” as he was known, was the son of Donald (Donald Lauchlie) MacEachern, a grandson of Laughlin, MacEachern and a great-grandson of Donald (Pioneer) MacEachern, Eigg, Scotland, who emigrated from Knoydart, Scotland to Nova Scotia in 1786.

Donald (Pioneer) died in 1815, just before his widow and children received their land grant at the point of the Cape, in the area of the present-day lighthouse. All his children were born in Scotland, with the exception of a son Laughlin, who was born and lived at the Cape, where he raised a family of 12 and acquired the title of “Squire” MacEachern.
Donald (Donald Lauchlie) MacEachern, son of “Squire” MacEachern, married Mary Gillis of South River, Antigonish County, daughter of John Gillis and Ann (MacDonald) Gillis. The couple raised a family of six daughters and three sons, L J being the youngest. L J married Annie Beaton, a native of Inverness, Cape Breton and daughter of John (Red) Beaton, who first immigrated with his family to Inverness, but later relocated to the north side of Cape George.

L J MacEachern first worked as a clerk at Graham’s Cape George store, but soon went into business himself, buying and selling fish. He later added cheese and lobster factories, and, following the opening of a local coal mine, built and operated the Imperial Hotel at Inverness. L J also opened a store at Broad Cove that was operated by his cousin, John (Teacher) MacEachern. L J eventually sold some of his Cape Breton business interests and returned to Cape George.

L J also represented the Cape George District on Antigonish County Municipal Council from 1893 to 1914. He passed his business knowledge on to his sons, Gildersleeve and Lauchlie, who operated pop factories and car dealerships in Antigonish. At the height of the 1930’s Depression, L J never forced payments on the credit extended to the hard-pressed fishermen and farmers of the area. He passed away in 1947, by which time his sons had established businesses in Antigonish.

While John Cameron MacEachern was born at Cape George, he traveled to Broughton, Cape Breton County, in April 1916 and enlisted with the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders), a Nova Scotia Highland Brigade unit that mobilized there. Broughton was a company-designed, coal-mining town that had been abandoned in 1907. The 185th housed its recruits in the town’s vacant hotels. This was the peak of activity for Broughton, which no longer exists.

John Cameron’s enlistment papers record his birthday as January 24, 1888. This appears to be a recording error, as the form’s reverse side lists his age as 18 years. His stated occupation—student—also makes it unlikely that he claimed to be 28 years old. John Cameron listed his father’s address as Inverness town, suggesting that L J may have returned there for business reasons, following the completion of his term on Antigonish County Council.

John Cameron was assigned to Company A’s 4th Platoon, as it drew its personnel from the farming districts of Richmond, Inverness and Victoria Counties. The Company’s Commanding Officer, Captain John MacIsaac, was a member of the family that established Antigonish Wholesalers on College Street. The second in command was Captain Angus L MacDonald, later Premier of Nova Scotia.

The 185th broke camp on May 26, 1916 and boarded trains that carried them to Camp Aldershot, near Kentville, for further training. Throughout the summer of 1916, its personnel trained alongside the 85th, 193rd and the 219th Battalions, as the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade prepared for overseas service. On October 11 and 12, the four battalions travelled from Aldershot to Halifax. The soldiers marched through the city’s streets amidst great fanfare, boarded SS Olympic—sister ship of the famous Titanic—and set sail for England on the morning of October 13.

The 185th arrived in England on October 18 and travelled to Camp Witley, where the unit was destined to remain. Within months of its overseas arrival, the Highland Brigade lost over 800 men in “reinforcement drafts” to front line units. The 219th was amalgamated with the 85th Battalion, while the 193rd ‘s remaining soldiers joined the 185th ’s ranks. Officers and ranks considered not yet fit for front line duty were sent to the 17th NS Reserve Battalion at Bramshott.

The 185th remained intact and was slated to join a planned 5th Canadian Division. When military authorities dissolved the 5th Division in early 1918, the opportunity to go to the front lines as a unit vanished. Drafts from its ranks later joined the 25th and 85th Battalions in France. On February 28, 1918, the 185th’s remaining soldiers marched to Bramshott and were absorbed by the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia).

During his time in England with the 185th, John Cameron MacEachern was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. However, during the spring of 1917, he became ill and returned to Halifax, where he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital. Sergeant John Cameron MacEachern died of tubercular meningitis on May 8, 1918. His remains were transported to Antigonish County, where he was laid to rest in Holy Rosary Cemetery, Ballantyne’s Cove, Cape George.

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