Date of Birth: June 11, 1897 at Grosvenor, Antigonish County, NS
Parents: Charles and Harriet Amelia “Hattie” (Fitt) Swain
Father’s Occupation: Fisherman
Siblings: Brothers William “Willy,” Stephen, Robert Vincent, Guy Leonard, and Charles Edward; sisters Sarah Margaret, Maria Ann, Mary Florence and Violet Gertrude
Marital Status: Single
Enlistment: December 5, 1915 at Antigonish, NS
Units: 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles); 26th Battalion (New Brunswick)
Service #: 715154
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: Mr. Charles Swain, Grosvenor, Antigonish County, NS (father)
Date of Death: September 25, 1918 near Inchy-en-Artois, France
Final Resting Place: Ontario Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquion Nord, France
Sydney Garfield Swain was the oldest of 10 children born to Charles and Harriet Amelia “Hattie” (Fitt) Swain of Grosvenor, Antigonish, County. Charles was a native of Steep Creek, Guysborough County, the son of William and Margaret (Jamieson) Swain. William was of Irish descent, born at Cape Porcupine, Guysborough County, on October 18, 1819. Margaret was William’s second wife and a daughter of Kenneth Jamieson, who was born in Scotland and immigrated to Guysborough County with his father and three brothers in the early 1800s.
Sydney’s mother, Hattie, was born at Linwood, the daughter of Stephen and Sarah Margaret (Kinney) Fitt. Stephen’s father, John Fitt, was born in England around 1799 and immigrated to the Tracadie area in the early 1800s. Sarah’s grandfather, Samuel Kinney, was born at London, England, around 1760 and later settled at Tracadie, where he passed away in 1835. Charles and Harriet married at Bayfield on July 21, 1896, and subsequently resided in the Fitt family’s Grosvenor home.
Sydney Garfield Swain enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Antigonish on December 7, 1915. Authorized one month previously, the 106th established its headquarters at Truro, NS and recruited its ranks throughout northern Nova Scotia. The unit departed from Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 16, 1916, but was disbanded shortly after arriving in England.
Sydney was part of a large group of 106th soldiers transferred to the 26th Battalion on September 27, 1916. Authorized on November 7, 1914, the 26th obtained its soldiers across the entire province of New Brunswick. The battalion crossed the Atlantic to England in June 1915 and was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, where it served alongside the 22nd (Quebec’s “Vandoos”), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 25th (Nova Scotia) Battalions throughout the war.
The 26th crossed the English Channel to France in September 1915 and served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient for almost one year before relocating to the Somme region of France in September 1916. Reduced to less than 300 men “all ranks” after fighting at Courcelette (September 15, 1916) and Regina Trench (September 28, 1916), the unit retired from the line and set about rebuilding its decimated Companies.
The following month, two large drafts of 106th soldiers, one of which included Private Sydney Swain, joined the battalion’s ranks. Sydney served with the 26th in the trenches near Lens, France, throughout the winter of 1916 – 17, but was temporarily attached to 5th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, prior to the unit’s service at Vimy Ridge (April 1917). After returning to the 26th in early June, Sydney received his first combat experience at Hill 70, near Lens, on August 15, 1917.
Sydney also accompanied the battalion to Belgium in late October 1917 and participated in its November 6, 1917 attack on Passchendaele Ridge. Struck in the back and shoulder by a piece of artillery shrapnel, he was evacuated to hospital in England for medical treatment.
Discharged as “fit for duty” on May 8, 1918, Sydney spent the summer months in England with the 13th Reserve Battalion, awaiting orders to return to France. On September 5, he proceeded overseas as part of a “draft to [the] 26th Battalion” and five days later rejoined his old comrades in the forward area.
In the weeks prior to Sydney’s return, Canadian units had participated in three major attacks on the German line, part of a massive Allied counter-offensive launched in early August. While the assaults achieved considerable success, German forces still held large portions of French territory and were determined to resist any further advance.
On September 18, Sydney returned to the front trenches east of Inchy-en-Artois, France, with the 26th Battalion. In subsequent days, the unit’s soldiers attempted to establish several “forward posts” in No Man’s Land, actions that prompted persistent German resistance.
Matters came to a head on the morning of September 25, 1918, when German forces launched a “heavy counter-attack” on an advanced post manned by the 26th’s soldiers, forcing its occupants to retreat to a post closer to their front trench. The men subsequently endured trench mortar and rifle grenade fire, and managed to repel a late morning attack on their position.
In mid-afternoon, German forces regrouped and launched a second attack, forcing the soldiers to retreat to “shell holes in [the] rear.” Determined to recapture the post, the New Brunswickers launched a counter-attack during the evening and re-established control of the forward position.
While the 26th’s soldiers in the front trenches retired from the line later that night, a handful of its personnel maintained control of the advance posts. Following their relief later that night, the unit attempted to account for its personnel. On September 26, Private Sydney Swain was officially reported “missing after action,” an apparent victim of the day’s fighting.
One week later, following recovery of the dead from No Man’s Land, the “Burial Officer Canadian Corps” confirmed Sydney’s fate: “Now reported killed in action” on September 25, 1918. Private Sydney Garfield Swain was laid to rest in Ontario Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquion Nord, France.