Date of Birth: January 1, 1880 at Morvan (Upper Keppoch), Antigonish Co., NS
Parents: Roderick (Rory) and Mary (MacDonald) MacDonald
Siblings: Brothers Alexander, John (died young), John Robert, Joseph, Andrew and Duncan; sisters Jane, Ann, Sarah Belle, Mary and Flora Agnes
Father’s Occupation: Farmer
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Coal miner
Enlistment: October 5, 1915 at Sydney, NS
Units: 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders); Base Depot, Canadian Forestry Corps
Service #: 222336
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: Mrs. Margaret (née Muir) MacDonald, New Aberdeen, Cape Breton Co., NS (wife)
Date of Death: May 25, 1918 at Princess Christian Military Hospital, Surrey, England
Final Resting Place: Englefield Green Cemetery, Surrey, England
Allan Roderick MacDonald was the second of 12 children born to Roderick (Rory) and Mary (MacDonald) MacDonald of Morvan (Upper Keppoch), Antigonish County. Rory was the son of Alexander MacDonald, whose family was known as the “Stanley” MacDonalds. Available information suggests that Alexander and his sister Mary, along with her husband, Allan C. “Little Allan” MacDonald, were members of the ill-fated Highland Scottish settlement of Stanley, York County, NB.
In 1836, the Royal Adelaide set sail from Greenock, Scotland to St. John, NB with 317 adults and 23 children. The settlers were initially recruited by the New Brunswick Land Company (NBLC) to take up land in the newly established community of Stanley. The vessel arrived late in the fall and the first winter proved disastrous, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 40 settlers. Some of the survivors left the area in the spring, but the others stayed in Scotch Settlement, determined to start a new life on the land.
A dispute with the NBLC hampered the settlement effort and the Highland Scots suffered the same circumstances during the winter of 1837-1838 as the previous year, with little food to eat and no money to purchase provisions. The following year, the vast majority of these Highland Scots scattered to other settlements in the Maritimes and Upper Canada, with Alexander, Allan C. MacDonald and his wife coming to Antigonish and taking up lands at the Keppoch.
Alexander soon married Ann MacDonald of South River and they made their home atop Keppoch Mountain in Morvan, not far from the former Immaculate Conception Church. The Keppoch was settled around 1820 and grew to become a community of 64 families, including a store, a school, two post offices, a church and a cemetery. By 1900, the farm land in the Keppoch had become spent and depopulation was rapidly occurring. Like so many of the other families in the area at that time, Roderick “Rory” and his family left the Keppoch in the early 1900’s and later settled in Pictou County, where there was paid employment in the coal mines. By the 1930’s, the school had closed and the last of the remaining families in the Keppoch had moved down from the mountain, leaving the forests to reclaim the inhospitable land.
Allan Roderick’s mother, Mary, was the granddaughter of Allan Du MacDonald, an immigrant from Lochaber, Scotland. In the early 1800s, Allan Du and his two brothers, Angus Ruadh and Donald Breac, settled in the Upper Springfield and Beauly areas of Antigonish County, where many of their descendants still remain.
Allan Roderick attended school at Morvan until the age of 13, leaving to work on his father’s farm until the age of 16. He then left home to work in the coal mines. Allan moved to Bridgeport, outside of Glace Bay, where he became a miner with the Dominion Coal Company. He was living there in 1901 with his sister Jane, who was married to Michael Fraser. The following year, Allan married Margaret Catherine Muir, the widow of Alexander MacMillan and a former Westville resident. Margaret already had three children by her previous marriage—William, Ida May and Margaret—and four more were born following her marriage to Allan—Roderick, Ethel and two others who died in early childhood.
As Allan carried heavy family responsibilities, the reasons behind his decision to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force are unknown. Allan enlisted with the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) at Sydney, NS on October 5, 1915. The 85th Battalion was authorized on September 14, 1915, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. Borden, and recruited its ranks throughout Nova Scotia. In June 1916, while Allan was training at Camp Aldershot, tragedy struck the family back home in Cape Breton. His only surviving son, Roderick, aged 13, had contracted tuberculosis and died on June 4. Allan took leave from his military training to deal with the family crisis and then returned to his unit’s ranks.
On October 12, 1916, the 85th departed Halifax for England aboard SS Olympic, arriving at Liverpool seven days later. The unit proceeded to Camp Bramshott, where its ranks awaited orders to proceed overseas. On February 10, 1917, the 85th crossed the English Channel to the battlefields of France. Allan trained in forward area with the battalion, which was assigned to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade as a “labour unit” prior to the Canadian Corps’ April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge.
Based on the location of his enlistment, Allan was likely assigned to “D” Company, which consisted of Cape Breton recruits. Late in the afternoon of April 9, “C” and “D” Companies were called into action and proceeded up Hill 145 at 6:45 p.m., without artillery support. The inexperienced soldiers succeeded in dislodging German soldiers from several strongpoints below and atop Hill 145, the ridge’s highest elevation and the location of today’s Canadian War Memorial.
Following the ridge’s capture, Allan served a regular rotation with the 85th in the Vimy area. The horrific trauma of trench warfare, however, had a profound effect on many soldiers. On August 1, 1917, Allan was admitted to No. 26 General Hospital, Étaples, France for treatment of “psychological injuries” incurred during front line service. On September 30, 1917 he was invalided to England, where he was admitted to the Military Convalescent Hospital, Epsom. Medical staff subsequently transferred Allan to No. 4 Canadian General Hospital, Basingstoke.
On February 28, 1918, the Medical Board confirmed the diagnosis of “neurasthenia,” the contemporary term for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and placed Allan in Category B ii—fit for base duty but unfit for combat. On March 1, 1918, he was discharged from hospital and transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) Headquarters Depot, Sunningdale, later that month.
Almost two years previously, the British government had formally requested Canada’s assistance with “the production of timber for war purposes.” In response, the Canadian government created the first of several units, recruiting lumbermen specifically for the purpose of harvesting and processing timber in the United Kingdom. During the summer of 1916, the Canadian Forestry Corps established its headquarters at Sunningdale and dispatched its initial companies to forests in England and Scotland.
In September 1916, newly recruited CFC companies crossed the English Channel to France, where they commenced operations in the Normandy region. By war’s end, more than 100 Companies, consisting of 24,000 men, were serving with the CFC in the United Kingdom and four districts in France, harvesting and processing lumber for use at the front.
Allan was assigned to base guard duty at CFC’s Sunningdale Headquarters. On the evening of May 25, 1918, while off duty, Allan became involved in an argument with two CFC soldiers outside the Castle Inn, Egham, England. During the ensuing altercation, one of the soldiers struck Allan from behind, knocking him to the ground. It appears that Allan died instantly. Several witnesses stated that his head hit the road when he fell.
Dr. Floyer, a local physician, was immediately called to tend to Allan as he lay on the ground. He determined that Allan had received a fracture at the base of the skull and concluded that death was due to a concussion of the brain. Allan was buried in Englefield Green Cemetery, Surrey, England, alongside 31 other Canadian service men commemorated on a local memorial. Pte. John Munro was later charged with manslaughter and convicted at a jury trial.
Allan’s widow, Margaret, remarried Martin O’Toole in 1921 and subsequently passed away at Westville in 1926. Allan’s only surviving child, Ethel, later married Peter MacAulay Kennedy and resided in Glace Bay, where they raised a family of two boys and two girls.
Interestingly, Allan’s brother, John Robert, also joined the 85th Battalion on October 6, 1915, the day following Allan’s attestation. He travelled to England, but was discharged for medical reasons and returned to Canada. In 1917, John Robert joined No. 3 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, and served in England with the CFC until the end of the war. He later married May Kate MacInnis and settled at Queensville, Inverness County. Allan’s younger brother, Duncan, was conscripted under the Military Service Act at Camp Aldershot, NS on June 17, 1918, but the war ended before he was deployed overseas.