September 3, 1918: Driver Robert Devaney

Devaney Robert

Date of Birth: May 4, 1896 at Halifax, NS

Parents: Henry & Jeanette Devaney

Siblings: Brothers Walter & Harry

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farm labourer

Enlistment: November 16, 1914 at Fredericton, NB

Units: 23th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery (CFA); 5th Brigade, CFA

Service #: 85704

Rank: Driver

Previous Military Service: 18th Field Battery, Antigonish (two years)

Next of Kin: Walter Devaney, Pomquet River, Antigonish County, NS (brother)

Wounded: October 28, 1916 near Thiepval, France

Date of Death: September 3, 1918 near Cagnicourt, France

Final Resting Place: Quéant Road Cemetery, Buissy, France

Robert Devaney was born at Halifax, NS on April 14, 1897 to Henry and Jeanette Devaney. Robert had two brothers, Walter and Harry. Through unknown circumstances, all three boys came to live and work on farms in the Antigonish area. Robert arrived sometime after 1901, and was listed in the 1911 census as the adopted son of James and Annie McDonald, Cloverville. At the time of Robert’s enlistment, Walter was working on a McDonald farm along Pomquet River Road, while his brother, Harry, was living with another McDonald family at Monk’s Head.

As a young lad of sixteen years, Robert joined the 18th Battery, a reserve artillery unit in Antigonish, and trained with the Battery for two years prior to the outbreak of the First World War. When Britain declared war on Germany, Robert was quick to volunteer for active service. While he stated his age at enlistment as 18 years six months, this was most likely an exaggeration, as he was closer to 17 years old at the time.

A well-built boy standing five feet nine inches and weighing 150 pounds, Robert put his previous artillery experience to good use, enlisting with the 23rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) at Fredericton, NB, on November 16, 1914. The 23rd Battery’s ranks consisted of 152 men from the Maritime Provinces, a number of whom were from Antigonish and probably served with Robert in the 18th Battery.

Robert departed for England with the 23rd Battery on February 22, 1915 and crossed the English Channel to France on May 28. His unit was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) and served in the Ypres Salient for almost one year before relocating to the Somme region of France in September 1916. As a “driver,” Robert worked with horse teams, moving field batteries’ ammunition supplies to the front.

The following month, a steady, cold rain turned the ground to thick mud. The harsh weather and relentless enemy “counter-battery” fire made an artilleryman’s life unimaginably difficult. On October 28, 1916, a piece of artillery shrapnel struck Robert in the chest and he was evacuated to No. 13 General Hospital, Boulogne, France.

Robert was subsequently transferred to England for further treatment and spent a total of 83 days in several hospitals before he was deemed fit for duty. He returned to France on April 21, 1917 and served in the line without incident for 17 months. On June 6, 1918, Robert received a Good Conduct Chevron, in acknowledgment of almost four years of military service.

On September 2, 1918, Allied forces launched a series of attacks on the Drucourt-Quéant line, a section of the German “Hindenburg Line” defensive system. The assault was part of a massive Allied counter-offensive that eventually ended the war. The battle took place a few kilometers from Cambrai, in northern France. Historians have described the “D.Q.” line as a kilometer-wide barrier of dugouts, fortifications, trenches, and rows of barbed wire.

The operation’s objective was to seize control of Canal du Nord, a strategic waterway, and push German forces back toward the Belgian border. The Canadians bravely took on the task of capturing the strategic objective. During the subsequent fighting, enemy airplanes dropped bombs on Allied artillery positions. Driver Robert Devaney was killed when one such shell struck his unit’s position on September 3, 1918. Robert had served at the front for more than two years, enduring harsh conditions and recovering from a severe injury. His death at the age of 21 years, only 69 days before the Armistice that ended the fighting, makes his passing all the more tragic.

Robert posthumously received the 1914-1915 Star, awarded to all soldiers who served in any theatre of war against the Central Powers between August 5, 1914 and December 31, 1915. He also received the Victory Medal (1914-1918), awarded to those who served in a theatre of war between August 5, 1914 and November 11, 1918, and the British War Medal, which was awarded to all ranks of Canadian military forces who crossed the Atlantic to Europe between August 5, 1914 and November 11, 1918, or who had served in a theatre of war.

Driver Robert Devaney was laid to rest in Quéant Road Cemetery, Buissy, France. His brother, Walter, Pomquet River, received notice of his brother’s death shortly afterward. In another sad twist of fate, Walter passed away on December 21, 1918, at age 19, three and a half months after his brother was killed in action. Robert and Walter’s youngest sibling, Harry, later moved to Goshen, where he passed away in 1980.

One thought on “September 3, 1918: Driver Robert Devaney

  1. Thank You Jocelyn.
    I have wondered for a long time about the cenotaph,Robert Devanney and his brothers, and if they came from my family. It all makes sense now. They were not from my direct line but from another Devaney family from Halifax that could be related to mine as both of our Devanney ancestors came from Westmeath Ireland but 30 yrs apart.

    My ancestor was Robert Devaney of Westmeath arriving around 1820 (a long line of Robert’s ending with the death of my 2nd cousin who was the 6th Robert Devanney in 7 generations.)

    John and Mary Devaney came to Halifax near 1850 via Newfoundland. According to burial records John Devaney was from Westmeath Ireland also…not a common name in that county now or even at that time. Mary was from Newfoundland and quite a bit younger than him. They had 8 children: Elizabeth, Daniel, Mary, Robert, Clarrisa, Henry, Florence and Annie.. Henry married Jeanette Kenney of Halifax but I could not patch together their children until now.

    Robert’s uncle Robert, for whom he was probably named, also died in a tragic accident. In 1898 he died in a mining accident, a dynamite explosion in the Molega mines. Almost all of the males in this family were masons or stonecutters. I also am not sure why the three brothers, Robert, Walter and Harry ended up in Pomquet as farm hands…perhaps further investigation will tell that story.

    Glenn Devanney
    Stillwater Lake, NS


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