September 2, 1918: Private John Grant

Grant John

Date of Birth: December 1, 1896* at Malignant Cove, Antigonish County

Parents: Colin and Amanda (MacDonald) Grant

Siblings: Brother Angus Dougald; sisters Elizabeth “Bessie,” Mary “Pepper,” and Catherine (Mrs. Alex MacIsaac)

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Labourer

Enlistment: January 31, 1918 at Victoria, BC

Units: 2nd Depot Battalion, British Columbia Regiment; 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada)

Service #: 2138552

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Amanda Grant, Antigonish, NS (mother)

Date of Death: September 2, 1918 five miles east of Arras, France

Final Resting Place: Wancourt British Cemetery, Wancourt, France

John Grant was born at Malignant Cove, NS, on December 1, 1896, the son of Colin and Amanda (MacDonald) Grant. Colin was the son of Dougald and Catherine (MacDonald) Grant, a grandson of John Grant, and a great-grandson of Donald (Pioneer) Grant, who first settled in Prince Edward Island with his wife Catherine MacDonald, son John, and three daughters. Several years later, Donald, Catherine, John and daughter Mary relocated to Knoydart, Antigonish County, along the shores of the Northumberland Strait and close to the county line. The couple’s other two daughters had married and remained in PEI. Mary later married Lewis (Loddy) MacDonald, who had arrived in Antigonish County aboard the Jane in 1790.

John, son of Donald (Pioneer), raised a large family of six boys and four girls at Knoydart. One son, Angus, remained on the family farm. Another son, John, became “Reverend John,” a noted priest now buried at Broad Cove, Cape Breton. In a sad twist of fate, two sons, Donald and Duncan, drowned off Arisaig, while another son, Colin, travelled to Quebec to study for the priesthood. Ordained by Bishop Fraser in 1836, he served as an assistant in Antigonish for a number of years and is remembered as the priest who “vanquished the Beech Hill Bòcan” in 1837.

John’s remaining son, Dougald, moved to Malignant Cove when an opportunity arose to buy property there. He married Catherine MacDonald and raised an extended family at the Cove. Dougald’s daughter, Sarah, married Donald (Brown) MacNeil of Doctor’s Brook, while his son, Colin, married Amanda MacDonald, also a native of the Cove.

John Grant’s mother, Amanda MacDonald, was the daughter of Angus MacDonald and Betsy Ross. Angus, known locally as “Angus Dougall Mor,” was the son of Dougall (Mor) MacDonald. Dougall and his three brothers—Donald (Straight), John and Hugh (Ban)—were pioneer settlers at Malignant Cove.

The 1901 census lists Colin as head of a Malignant Cove household that included his wife Amanda and five children—two sons Angus Dougald and John, and three daughters Bessie, Mary and Catherine. Several years later, Colin’s elder son, Dougald, moved to Kamloops, BC. Unfortunately, he passed away there on April 9, 1913, at only 22 years of age. It is unclear if his brother, John, had moved out west by that time, but military records do indicate that he was working for the West Kootenay Power & Light Company, South Slocan, BC, at the time of his enlistment.

On October 17, 1917, John reported for a medical examination at Grand Forks, BC, as required by the Military Service Act (1917). At the time, he was a month and a half shy of his twenty-first birthday. Early the following year, John travelled to Victoria, BC, and formally attested for overseas service with the 2nd Depot Battalion, BC Regiment, on January 21, 1918.

John spent the next several months training in preparation for overseas service. After making his way across Canada by train, he departed for England aboard HMT Scotian on April 16, 1918. The vessel arrived overseas 12 days later, carrying a large draft of reinforcements ready for service in France. On August 14, 1918—only four months after leaving Canada—John and a group of his British Columbia comrades were transferred to the 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

The 72nd was affiliated with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, a British Columbia Highland militia regiment. Authorized on July 10, 1915, the unit had landed in France in mid-August 1916 as part of the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade. The 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) became one of its Brigade mates several weeks after the Canadian Corps’ April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge.

Immediately prior to John’s arrival, the 72nd saw action during the Battle of Amiens (August 8 – 18), an event that marked the beginning of a major Allied counter-offensive. John was part of a group of 20 “other ranks” who arrived in the 72nd’s camp near Vrély, France, on August 19. One week later, 3rd Canadian Division units launched a second attack on the German line east of Arras, France.

Fighting continued for the remainder of the month, as fresh Canadian units attempted to break through the Hindenburg Line, a major German defensive system. On the night of August 31, the 72nd returned to the trenches and prepared for a 12th Brigade attack, scheduled for September 2. The objective was to break through the Drocourt-Quéant section of the Hindenburg line, east of the village of Vis-en-Artois.

At 5:00 a.m. September 2, three 12th Division units—the 38th, 72nd and 85th Battalions—“went over on a 500-yard front.” In little more than two hours, “all objectives were taken and the Battalions were establishing themselves” in the captured Drocourt-Quéant line, south of Dury. Private John Grant was killed sometime during the attack. His “circumstances of casualty” card described the incident: “South of Dury, he was wounded by shell fire and despite receiving treatment he succumbed shortly after.”

John’s mother soon received official notification that her son had been killed in action, along with a letter from Major Kirkpatrick of the 72nd Battalion, which read in part: “While your son had not been with this battalion a very long period, he was with us long enough to prove himself a very capable and popular soldier. His cheerfulness and willingness under all circumstances were an inspiration to all with whom he came in contact, and his loss is deeply mourned by all ranks.”

Private John Grant was laid to rest in Wancourt British Cemetery, alongside a number of his comrades. Of the 222 Canadians soldiers buried there, 40 were members of the 72nd Battalion, all killed on the same day—September 2, 1918—during the same battle. On July 4, 1921, John’s grieving mother, Amanda, passed away at Arisaig at 61 years of age. Her husband, Colin, was 86 years old when he died at Malignant Cove on June 17, 1933.

Amanda’s nephew, Ronald William, son of William J. MacDonald, also served with the CEF and died of tuberculosis at Yorkshire, England, in August 1919. Amanda’s sister-in-law, Sarah, who was married to Donald (Brown) MacNeil, lost a son, John Angus. Wounded in action while serving at Gallipoli, Turkey, with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, John Angus died of those wounds at Alexandria, Egypt, on September 2, 1915 and is buried there. Altogether, Amanda (MacDonald) Grant lost one son and two nephews during the “Great War.”

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