Date of Birth: May 24, 1894* at Halifax, NS
Parents: Edward and Mary E. Mansfield, Halifax, NS
Siblings: Sisters Ada & Minnie
Marital Status: Single
Enlistment: December 21, 1915 at Antigonish, NS
Units: 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles); 40th Battalion; 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles)
Service #: 715835
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: Ada Mansfield, Halifax, NS (sister)
Date of Death: August 8, 1918 near Guillaucourt, France
Final Resting Place: Crucifix Corner Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux, Somme, France
* Date of birth obtained from William’s attestation papers. The 1901 Canadian census gives William’s date of birth as April 24, 1890. However, William is not mentioned in 1891 Canadian census records, while his parents and older sister are listed as living in Halifax at that time. The 1911 census lists William’s birth date as November 1892.
William Mansfield was born at Halifax, NS, the son of Edward and Mary E. Mansfield, Argyle Street. The 1901 Canadian census lists 11-year-old William living with his parents and two sisters, Ada (age 19) and Minnie (age 6). His father, Edward, was working as a “cable foreman,” a classification that changed to “electrician” in the 1911 census. Edward and Mary also took in boarders to supplement the family income.
On November 25, 1903, William’s sister, Ada, married George Leonard Allan and in 1911 was still living with her parents in 1911, along with her younger sister Minnie, age 17, and three other boarders. By this time, however, William had moved to Antigonish County, where he resided with the family of John J. MacDougall at Big Marsh, Antigonish County. While listed as a “domestic,” it is more likely that William was a farm hand. The reason for William’s relocation is not entirely clear, but may have been connected to the crowded household and his mother’s health. Mary subsequently passed away on March 24, 1913, the primary cause of death listed as “alcoholism.”
At the time of William’s arrival in Antigonish County, the MacDougall family had resided at Big Marsh for at least three generations and descendants remain there today. By 1911, John J. MacDougall, son of John and Ann (MacGillivray) MacDougall, and his wife, Mary, had two young sons, while John J.’s mother also resided in the house. Two more sons and a daughter later joined the growing household.
William Mansfield worked on the MacDougall farm for five years, at which time the call to military service caught his attention. On December 21, 1915, he travelled to Antigonish and joined the 106th Battalion, which was recruiting in the local area at that time. Several other young Antigonish County men joined the 106th during the same month: John Daniel Boyd, Morristown; Alex K. Chisholm, Brierly Brook; Daniel Fraser, New Glasgow (born at Eigg Mountain); Alex Grant, Tracadie; Joseph Lennon, Antigonish; Archie MacPhee, North Lochaber; Willard Pettipas, Tracadie; and Sydney Garfield Swaine, Grosvenor.
Authorized on November 18, 1915, the 106th Battalion was based at Truro, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Innis. Officially classified as a “rifle battalion”—purportedly the first in the Maritimes—the unit sought to appeal to men who had joined the region’s recently popular rifle clubs. It was soon recruited to strength and sailed for England on July 15, 1916. Following its encampment at Lower Dilgate, England, the 106th met the fate of many units arriving overseas at that time. Within months, it was dissolved and its personnel dispersed as reinforcements to battalions in the field.
Private William Mansfield was initially transferred to the 40th Battalion on October 5, and subsequently re-assigned to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) on November 27, 1916. Nova Scotia’s longest serving Western Front unit, the 25th was authorized on November 7, 1914 and crossed the North Atlantic with the 2nd Canadian Contingent. The unit was subsequently assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade and first entered the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in late September 1915.
The 25th received its initial combat experience in the St. Eloi craters (April – May 1916) and later fought at Hill 62 during the battle of Mont Sorrel (June 1916). Moving southward to France in the late summer of 1916, the unit fought at Courcelette and Regina Trench during the Canadian Corps’ time at the Somme (September – October 1916). Afterward, the battalion relocated northward to sectors near Lens, France, for the winter of 1916-17. Private William Mansfield joined the 25th’s ranks on December 2, 1916 and served with the battalion during three major battles—Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Hill 70 (August 1917) and Passchendaele (October & November 1917)—in subsequent months.
In the spring of 1918, Germany launched a massive offensive aimed at ending the war in its favour. After signing a peace treaty with Russia in late 1917, German authorities commenced planning the offensive, in an effort to end the war before the American Expeditionary Force transported large numbers of troops to the continent. The German military quickly transferred its Eastern Front forces—a total of 50 Divisions—to the Western Front, giving it a numerical advantage.
The offensive, code-named “Operation Michael,” opened on March 21, 1918 with a bombardment along 150 miles of the front line, during which German guns fired over 1.1 million shells at the British 5th Army and the right wing of the British 3rd Army. German units pushed British forces back across the Avre River, in an effort to force a retreat to the Channel ports.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Corps, located in the middle of the British line, held fast to Vimy Ridge, which the Germans avoided attacking. The offensive’s second phase took place north of Vimy, against the First and Second British Armies. At one point, three of the four Canadian Divisions hastily moved north to assist if required, but were never called into action. German forces launched two additional attacks against French Armies to the south. Time, however, was not on their side. American units entered the line in support of the French, and while the British armies conceded ground, they held the line and prevented a German advance to the coast.
By mid-year, the situation was ripe for a counter-attack. German forces were overextended, exhausted and demoralized. Having lost over 800,000 men during the spring offensive, Germany now faced the challenge of holding a longer front line. By mid-summer, Allied commanders began to implement a planned response. On July 15, 1918, the French launched a counter-offensive in their section of the line. Meanwhile, the well-rested Canadian and Australian Corps moved southward from the Vimy area and prepared to launch a second attack east of Amiens, under command of the British 4rd Army.
In early August, the four Canadian Divisions entered the line, with five Australian Corps Divisions on their left and the French First Army to their right. The attack commenced in the early hours of August 8, 1918, with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions spearheading an advance south of Villers-Bretonneux. The 2nd Division’s 4th Brigade deployed on the extreme left of this line, along the Amiens-Roye Railway, with the Australians on the other side of the railway and the 25th Battalion’s 5th Brigade in support.
At 4:20 a.m. August 8, 4th Brigade units attacked the village of Marcelcave. Once its soldiers had established a line past the village, 5th Brigade soldiers leap-frogged through its personnel and continued the attack through Piouret Wood, toward Wiencourt and Guillaucourt. The 25th Battalion participated in the assault and sustained significant casualties when it encountered considerable opposition south of Wiencourt. Lieutenant Colonel J. Wise, the battalion’s Commanding Officer, was wounded, while Captain N. H. Wetmore, its Adjutant, was killed by a sniper while going to his aid.
The 25th also suffered five “other ranks” (OR) killed and 102 OR wounded during the advance. Private William Mansfield was one of the day’s fatalities, killed in action southeast of Guillaucourt. His remains were buried in Crucifix Corner British Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux, a graveyard initially established by the Canadian Corps.
On the offensive’s first day, the Canadian Corps advanced 13 miles, an unheard of accomplishment after months of stalemate. Meanwhile, their Australian counterparts pushed forward a distance of 11 miles. German General Eric Von Ludendorff later described the Battle of Amiens as the “The Black Day of the German Army.” It marked the start of what is now known as the Canadian Corps’ “Hundred Days” offensive, which eventually brought fighting to an end on November 11, 1918.
William’s military will bequeathed his property and personal possessions to a “Miss Alice Gauthier, St. Andrews, NS.” While their relationship remains a mystery, it is likely that Alice was a pre-service “sweetheart.” Alice received William’s First World War service medals in 1921, by which time she had married John Thomas MacMillan, a native of Prince Edward Island, and taken up residence at New Glasgow, NS.
Before departing for England, William also assigned $20 of his monthly pay to Miss Gauthier, but changed the beneficiary to “Mrs. Angus MacDonald, Taylor’s Road” in October 1917. The new recipient was Margaret B. “Maggie,” a sister of John MacDougall, Big Marsh, who must have made an impression on young William during his time on the farm. Angus and Maggie subsequently relocated to town, where their two sons, John L. and Alex J., later established and operated MacDonald Brothers Grocers, Main St., Antigonish.
In the aftermath of William’s death, Pte. Archibald MacPhee, a native of North Lochaber and comrade of William’s, wrote to Mary MacDougall from Granville Special Hospital, Buxton, England, where he was recovering from wounds received in combat. A news item published in The Casket on October 24, 1918 included a passage from the correspondence:
“Billie and I were old friends, having enlisted together in Antigonish, drilled together in Canada and in England. He was a cool and fearless stretcher-bearer. The last time I saw him was when he came running up to attend me through a heavy fire on hearing I was hit. He often used to speak of you and his friends at Taylor’s Road, Antigonish.”