Date of Birth: January 28, 1898 at Brierly Brook [Somers Road], Antigonish County, NS
Parents: Donald (Cutler) Chisholm and Isabel “Belle” MacKenzie
Siblings: Sisters Barbara Isabel, Hannah (died in infancy), Hannah, Barbara Ellen, Annabelle, Margaret and Janet (“Jennie”); brothers Alexander and John
Father’s Occupation: Farmer
Marital Status: Single
Enlistment: December 7, 1915 at Antigonish, NS
Units: 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles); 26th Battalion (New Brunswick)
Service #: 715157
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: Isabel “Belle” Chisholm, Brierly Brook, Antigonish County, NS (mother)
Date of Death: September 28, 1918 at 83rd General Hospital, Boulogne, France
Final Resting Place: Terlincthun British Cemetery, Boulogne, France
Alexander Kenneth Chisholm was the second youngest of 10 children–three boys and seven girls–born to Donald (Cutler) and Isabel “Belle” (MacKenzie) Chisholm of Brierly Brook [Somers Road]. According to his 1876 marriage record, Donald Cutler was born at Antigonish Harbour about 1833, the son of Alexander Chisholm of that area and Barbara (Buidhe) Chisholm of North Grant. In 1838, Alexander and Barbara bought property at Somers Road, where Donald and his brother, John, later farmed. At that time, the area was referred to as Brierly Brook.
Donald Cutler farmed the property still locally described as the “Cutler farm.” Sadly, Donald Cutler passed away in 1894, leaving behind a grieving wife Isabel (Belle Cutler) and eight surviving children, all under the age of 16. The oldest, Alexander, was 15 year old when his father died. He remained on the farm for a few years but soon moved away from the area and later passed away in Idaho. The farm was then operated by the youngest child, John (Jack Cutler), until his death in 1940. To help with the farm duties and care of Jack’s invalid sister Barbara Ellen, Belle’s nephew—her sister Jennie’s son—Joseph (Joe Dan) MacDonald moved into the household. Barbara Ellen died in 1938, followed by her mother in 1942, at which time Joe Dan took over the farm. It is currently the Kell View Farm, owned by Garry Kell, a great-grandnephew of Belle.
Alexander Kenneth’s mother, Isabel, was the daughter of Alexander MacKenzie, a native of Inverness-shire, Scotland. According to Rev. D. J. Rankin’s History of Antigonish, Alexander was a notorious ploughman and expert sheep sheerer in the “Old Country.” He married Hannah Chisholm in 1846 and set out to Nova Scotia 10 days later. Alexander and Hannah settled on a farm at Beech Hill, not far off the Old South River Road, where they built a comfortable home and raised a large family.
On December 7, 1915, Alexander Kenneth Chisholm enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles), which was recruiting in Antigonish at that time. Alexander registered along with a number of other Antigonish County compatriots. Based in Truro, with two of its four Companies quartered at Pictou and Springhill, the 106th had commenced recruiting on November 8, 1915. Purportedly the first Maritime rifle regiment, the unit’s motto was “None So Reliable” and its Commanding Officer was Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Innes. At the time of his attestation, Alexander was listed at 5’11” and 160 lbs.
The 106th departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 15, 1916, and arrived at Liverpool, England, 10 days later. The battalion trained at Lower Dibgate, Shorncliffe, England. On August 1, Alexander was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. In order to expedite his departure for the battlefields of France, three weeks later he reverted to the rank of Private at his own request.
After its arrival in England, the 106th was soon dissolved and its members absorbed into other battalions to provide much needed reinforcements. On September 27, Alexander was transferred to the 26th Canadian Battalion (New Brunswick), which had incurred significant casualties at the Somme. He landed in France the next day and was immediately “taken on strength” by his new unit.
The 26th holds a place in Canadian military history as one of the most esteemed First World War battalions. Originally consisting of 1,250 men, the “Fighting 26th” departed Saint John, NB, on June 13, 1915. Upon crossing to France three months later, the unit served with the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Infantry Brigade in France and Flanders for the remainder of the war. The battalion participated in all of the Canadian Corps’ major battles, including the Somme Offensive (September – October 1915), Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Hill 70 (August 1917), and Passchendaele (October – November 1917). As a result, casualties were significant and the battalion was in constant need of reinforcements.
On October 10, 1916, Alexander joined the 26th Battalion in the field, following its combat tours at the Somme. After participating in combat at Courcelette and Regina Trench the previous month, its ranks had been reduced to fewer than 300 men “all ranks.” Five days after Alexander’s arrival, the unit returned to the front trenches near Lens, France, where it served throughout the winter of 1916-17.
According to his military record, Alexander suffered a number of infectious ailments during this time with the 26th. In the years before the discovery of penicillin in 1928, infections were potentially life threatening. On March 19, 1917, Alexander was evacuated to England and admitted to Northern General Hospital, Lincoln, with an ulcer on his left foot. He later recovered at the Canadian Convalescent Home, Epsom, and was discharged to the 13th Reserve Battalion on June 16, 1917.
Alexander spent almost 10 months in England before finally rejoining the 26th in France on April 4, 1918. Nine days later, he was taken to the No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance with an undetermined ailment and moved on to No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station the same day. Admitted to No. 51 General Hospital, Étaples at mid-month, a recurrent infection kept Alexander out of action until August 31, 1918, when he rejoined the 26th in the field.
Immediately prior to Alexander’s return, the 26th Battalion had participated in major Allied counter-attacks at Amiens (August 8 – 10) and Arras (August 26 – 28). The unit spent the first week and a half of September in camp, training and resting as reinforcements joined its ranks. The unit returned to support positions near Cagnicourt, France, on September 12 and one week later entered the front trenches east of Inchy-en-Artois.
Throughout the ensuing tour, the 26th and German soldiers opposite their position wrestled for control of No Man’s Land, the New Brunswick unit establishing advance posts that were promptly subjected to German rifle grenade and mortar shelling, followed by a ground attack. On the night of September 24, a 26th platoon “pushed forward” into No Man’s Land and set up a fortified post. The position was immediately targeted by rifle grenade and mortar fire. At dawn the following morning, German soldiers counter-attacked and forced the 26th’s personnel to retreat to a second post that they managed to hold, despite fierce enemy bombardment.
The platoon endured constant fire throughout the day and repelled a late morning counter-attack. A second assault in mid-afternoon succeeded in pushing the New Brunswickers back to shell-holes located behind the post. Undeterred, the platoon reorganized and recaptured the post that evening. While a handful of its soldiers held the advance post, the remainder of the 26th’s personnel withdrew from the line on the night of September 25/26.
According to his “circumstances of casualty” card, Alexander was wounded sometime during the September 25 fighting: “[He] was in an outpost on the western side of Canal-du-Nord, when the post was raided by the enemy. He was severely wounded in the legs by machine gun bullets and after being dressed… was immediately evacuated.” By coincidence, Alexander was wounded in the same skirmish in which Private Sydney Garfield Swain, Grosvenor, was killed. The following morning, Alexander was admitted to 2/1 London Field Ambulance with “sw [shrapnel wounds] both legs” and moved on to No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station later the same day.
On September 27, Alexander was evacuated by ambulance train and admitted to No. 83 General Hospital, Boulogne, where medical records described his condition at admission as “seriously ill.” The following day—September 28, 1918—Private Alexander Kenneth Chisholm “succumbed to his wounds” in hospital. He was laid to rest in Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, one mile north of Boulogne, France.
The Casket reported that Alexander’s mother was initially informed by Ottawa that her son was dangerously wounded. The same day, another telegram arrived from military authorities, conveying the sad tidings of her son’s death. The article extended sympathy to his family and paid tribute to Alexander’s character as “a boy of excellent habits, quiet and inoffensive; his friends included all his acquaintances.”
Interestingly, Alexander’s namesake, Alexander Kenneth “A. K.” MacDonald, son of his aunt Jennie Chisholm and “Red Dan” MacDonald, was born two years later. A. K. lived and farmed at Brierly Brook for his entire life. The farm was located adjacent to a dangerous curve on the Route 4 highway, still locally known as “A. K.’s turn.”