May 23, 1918: Private Arthur MacDonald

MacDonald Arthur

Date of Birth: March 1, 1897 at Dunmore, Antigonish County

Parents: John B. and Harriet Anne (Mounce) MacDonald

Siblings: Brothers William, Hugh, and George; sisters Charlotte Ann and Grace Mary (twins), and Lydia

Father’s Occupation: Farmer and various clerical jobs

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farmer

Enlistment: December 9, 1915 at Calgary, AB

Units: 89th Battalion (Calgary, AB); 38th Battalion (Ottawa, ON)

Service #: 183844

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Harriet MacDonald, Red Willow, AB (mother)

Date of Death: May 23, 1918 at Étaples, France

Final Resting Place: Étaples Military Cemetery, Extension Pas de Calais, France

Arthur MacDonald was the fourth of seven children born to John B. and Harriet (Mounce) MacDonald of Dunmore, Antigonish County, NS. John B. was the son of John MacDonald, Middle South River, Antigonish County. Harriet was the daughter of William and Charlotte (Anne) Mounce, Windsor, Nova Scotia.

According to family sources, John B. “loved to roam,” travelling the continent and working at various jobs in several locations. He worked on railroads in the United States for a period of time, and supposedly ventured to the Yukon with a friend during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Until 1893, John B. and Harriet resided in California, where Arthur’s oldest brothers, William and Hugh, were born. The family then moved to a small farm at Dunmore, Antigonish County, where Arthur’s brother, George, was born on December 30, 1894. Arthur and his three sisters also joined the family following John and Harriet’s return to Nova Scotia.

In 1907, when Arthur was about 10 years old, his parents sold their Dunmore farm and moved to North Vancouver, BC, where John B. worked at various clerical jobs. He became active in local politics, winning a seat on the North Vancouver City Council. Their large home also served as a boarding house, with Harriet providing meals for family and residents.

In 1913, the MacDonalds briefly returned to Antigonish to settle their twin girls in boarding school at Mount Saint Bernard. John B. then decided to move the family to Red Willow, 100 kilometres east of Red Deer, AB, where he once again tried his hand at farming. Another family story claims that, before leaving North Vancouver, John B. purchased several horses from the local Fire Brigade for a good price, assuming that they would be suitable for farm work. He soon discovered that hauling a horse-drawn pump was considerably different than pulling a plough.

After two years working on the farm, Arthur decided to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. On December 9, 1915, he attested with the 89th Battalion (Alberta) at Calgary, AB. At the time, Arthur was three months shy of his 19th birthday. The 89th departed from Halifax aboard SS Olympic on May 31, 1916 but was disbanded shortly after arriving in England.

Arthur was briefly transferred to the 97th Battalion (American Legion) in early October but was reassigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment/Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Depot, Seaford, in late November. After several months’ training at Seaford, he received a transfer to the 38th Battalion (Ottawa, ON) on February 16, 1917.

The following day, Arthur crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot at Le Havre, France and joined the 38th in the forward area before month’s end. Arthur’s new unit was part of the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade, which participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge. During the day’s advance, the Brigade successfully captured a section of the ridge west of Hill 145. Before month’s end, the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was permanently assigned to the same Brigade.

Throughout the spring and early summer, the 38th completed regular rotations in the Avion Sector, near Lens, France. On the evening of June 24, 1917, its soldiers returned to the front line, in preparation for an attack on “Ontario Trench,” a strategic area of high ground occupied by German forces. In the early hours of June 26, the battalion successfully captured the position. During the advance, however, Arthur suffered “gas poisoning” and was evacuated for medical treatment.

The following day, Arthur was admitted to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples. He remained under medical care until mid-August and finally rejoined his 38th comrades in early October. While the battalion followed the Canadian Corps to Belgium later that month, its soldiers remained in reserve while its three Brigade mates participated in the second stage of the Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

Following the 38th’s return to France in November, its soldiers served in sectors near Lens during the winter of 1917-18. In early January 1918, Arthur was fortunate enough to obtain 14 days’ leave to England. Shortly after returning to France, however, he was admitted to No. 51 General Hospital, Étaples, for treatment of a bacterial infection. Arthur spent the remainder of the winter and early spring at the British medical facility. During his time there, family recollections indicate that Arthur volunteered his services as a motorcycle messenger.

Étaples was not only a major centre for British and Canadian hospitals. It also was a significant area for receiving and shipping military supplies to the forward area. In the aftermath of its failed “Spring Offensive” (March – April 1918), German military authorities employed the newly developed Gotha bomber to target strategic locations behind Allied lines, in an effort to disrupt the flow of supplies to the forward area.

Étaples was one of the locations selected for bombardment. On the night of May 19, 1918, German aircraft conducted a major raid on facilities in and around the city. While railway lines and supply dumps were the primary targets, several bombers attacked medical facilities, despite the fact that the locations were well-marked as such.

A number of bombs struck No. 51 General Hospital’s buildings, causing significant damage and injuries. During the raid, Arthur “was wounded in the side by splinters from an enemy bomb” and evacuated to nearby No. 7 Canadian General Hospital for treatment on May 20. Medical officials described his condition as “dangerously ill” at the time of admission.

Arthur lingered for several days before passing away from “wounds received in action (enemy aircraft)” on May 23, 1918. Private Arthur MacDonald was laid to rest in Étaples Military Cemetery Extension, Étaples, France.

Special thanks to Arthur’s niece, Sister Harriet Hermary, Alberta, who provided valuable information on the MacDonald family and Arthur’s military service.


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