October 1, 1918: Private Ambrose Chisholm

Chisholm Ambrose

Date of Birth: May 15, 1894 at Brophy’s P.O., Antigonish County

Parents: Colin R. and Marie (MacNeil) Chisholm

Siblings: Brothers John, Daniel & Roderick; sisters Mary Ann (Mrs. Charles W. Crossman), Clementina (Mrs. William J. Robins), Theresa (Mrs. John C. MacKinnon), Margaret (Mrs. Kenneth Mosher) & Emma (Mrs. Morris Burris)

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farm Hand

Enlistment: January 5, 1918 at Brandon, MB

Units: 1st Depot Battalion, Manitoba Regiment; 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish)

Service #: 2129073

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Colin Roderick Chisholm, Brophy’s P.O., Antigonish County (father)

Date of Death: October 1, 1918 near Cuvillers, France

Final Resting Place: Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France

Ambrose Chisholm was the son of Colin Roderick and Marie (MacNeil) Chisholm. The family lived in a part of Antigonish County now seldom visited by residents. Brophy’s P.O. was located between Fairmont Road—then called Hallowell Grant—and the South Lakevale Road. During the 1870s, 15 families lived along the road or on side lanes leading to homesteads. The road was named for Martin Brophy, who ran a small store and post office near the crossroads with the MacDougall – MacKenzie Road that ends at Morristown.

Colin R. Chisholm lived his entire life on the homestead of his parents, Roderick and Elizabeth Chisholm, located near the crossroads. While the 1871 and 1881 Canadian census records state that Roderick was born in Nova Scotia around 1816, the 1891 census claims that he was born in Scotland. Colin had four brothers—Donald, John, Alexander and William—and two sisters—Margaret and Mary—but by 1901, all had left the homestead, Donald and John relocating to Lockwood, Saskatchewan.

When Roderick passed away in 1895 and Colin took over the homestead, he already had a growing family that eventually included four boys and five girls. His aging mother, Elizabeth, also resided in the household. The family was known locally as the “Collie Rorys.” Colin was married to Marie MacNeil, daughter of Donald and Ann (MacDougall) MacNeil, Morar, Antigonish County. Donald was the son of Donald (Og) MacNeil, a Morar Pioneer who married Mary MacKinnon, an aunt of Bishop Colin F. MacKinnon.

Sometime after 1911, Ambrose Chisholm left the family homestead and moved to Miami, MB, a farming community southwest of Winnipeg, where he found work as a farm hand. In the autumn of 1917, Ambrose registered as required under the Military Service Act (1917), completed his medical examination at Fort St., Winnipeg, MB, on November 27, 1917, and was declared fit for service. He formally attested with the 1st Depot Battalion, Manitoba Regiment, at Brandon, MB, on January 5, 1918.

On February 19, 1918, Ambrose sailed from Halifax aboard SS Megantic and landed at Liverpool, England, two weeks later. He immediately reported to the 11th Reserve Battalion, Dibgate, the unit responsible for reinforcing Manitoba units at the front. Ambrose remained in England until June 3, when he was transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish). He immediately crossed the English Channel to France and joined his new unit in the field on June 21.

The 16th Battalion was formed at Camp Valcartier, QC, in September 1914, an amalgamation of volunteers from four Scottish Canadian regiments—the 91st Canadian Highlanders (Hamilton, ON), 79th Cameron Highlanders (Winnipeg, MB), 72nd Seaforth Highlanders (Vancouver, BC) and 50th Gordon Highlanders (Vancouver Island, BC). As the 16th’s soldiers came from Highland units from across the country, it adopted the title “Canadian Scottish.” One of the initial 50th Gordon Highlanders volunteers was Arthur Currie, who Minister of Militia Sir Sam Hughes later appointed Commander of the 1st Canadian Division’s 2nd Brigade. Currie rose through the ranks to assume command the entire Canadian Corps in June 1917.

The 16th was part of the 1st Canadian Contingent that arrived in England in October 1914. The unit was assigned to the 1st Division’s 3rd Brigade, where it served alongside the 13th (Royal Highlanders of Canada, Montreal), 14th (Royal Montreal Regiment), and the 15th Battalions (48th Highlanders of Canada). By the time of Ambrose’s arrival, the 16th was amongst the Canadian Corps’ most experienced units, having seen action in every major battle involving Canadian soldiers after the spring of 1915.

Six weeks after Ambrose’s arrival, the 16th Battalion entered the “jumping off” trenches east of Gentelles, France, as the Canadian Corps launched a major counter-offensive on German forces east of Amiens. At 4:20 a.m. August 8, with two of its 3rd Brigade mates on its left flank, the Canadian Scottish went “over the top” toward the village of Aubercourt. After four hours of hard fighting, the soldiers reached their objective and a second wave of attacking units passed through their position shortly afterward.

The Battle of Amiens was Ambrose’s introduction to combat on the Western Front, and he would see considerably more action in the ensuing weeks. In the aftermath of its significant gains at Amiens, the Canadian Corps returned to sectors near Arras, where a second major push commenced in late August. While 2nd and 3rd Division units participated in the initial fighting, the experienced 1st Division battalions entered the fray early the following month.

On the morning of September 2, the 13th and 16th Battalions occupied the extreme right flank of the Canadian trenches opposite the Drocourt-Quéant Line, part of a formidable German defensive system known as the “Hindenburg Line.” At 4:50 a.m., the two units advanced toward Cagnicourt. After two hours of brutal fighting, the soldiers managed to penetrate the German line and reach the village’s outskirts. Shortly afterward, the 14th and 15th passed through their 3rd Brigade comrades and secured Cagnicourt. While the day’s gains marked the soldiers’ second significant advance in less than a month, it proved to be another rehearsal for engagements yet to come.

By the end of September 1918, the Canadian Corps had managed to cross the Canal du Nord, the last major German defensive system protecting the city of Cambrai, an important railway hub in Germany’s supply lines. The Canadian Corps, under command of the 1st British Army, was situated between the villages of Sains-les-Marquion and Moeuvres, making its way toward the northern outskirts of Cambrai.

Throughout the August and September advances, to maintain the momentum of the advance, the Canadian Corps “leap-frogged” its units through one another. The attack on the outskirts of Cambrai followed the same pattern. On September 30, the 3rd Brigade took up positions in shell holes on the Douai-Cambrai road north Cambrai, in relief of the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade. The following day, three 3rd Brigade units were slated to attack. On the northern flank, the 13th Battalion would move toward the villages of Sancourt and Blécourt. Meanwhile, the 14th Battalion would advance to the left of the 13th toward the village of Bantigny, while the 16th advanced on the 14th’s right toward Cullivers. The two units would then attempt to seize an area of high ground on the other side of Cuvillers.

At “Zero Hour”—5:00 a.m. October 1—the attack commenced, with the 14th and 16th Battalions moving eastward, south of Sancourt and Blécourt. The 14th captured Bantigny and the 16th secured Cuvillers by 7:45 a.m. Both units advanced beyond the two villages toward their final objective, but soon found themselves in front of the Canadian Corps, with both flanks exposed to enemy fire. To further complicate matters, the battalions lost contact with one other.

A German counter-attack at Bantigny succeeded in penetrating behind the 16th ’s line, forcing both units to withdraw to the two villages they had captured earlier in the day. The 16th’s war diary tallied the day’s casualties—five Officers and 19 “other ranks” (OR) killed, eight Officers and 200 OR wounded, four OR wounded and missing, and 99 soldiers unaccounted for.

Ambrose was reported “missing” following the day’s fighting. It was not until October 17 that he was officially reported “killed in action” during the attack “from positions west of the Douai-Cambrai Road to Cullivers.” At some point during the 16th’s advance, Private Ambrose Chisholm was struck and killed by an enemy machine gun bullet.

Ambrose’s remains were located and buried at Canadian Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, along with another Antigonish native and 16th Battalion comrade. Private Roderick A. Chisholm of Meadow Green, Antigonish County, son of Alexander D. and Janet Chisholm, was killed in the same attack.

Ambrose was not the only family member to serve overseas. His older brother, Daniel William, had departed for the Unites States prior to the war and became a “naturalized” American citizen in 1913. Dan enlisted at Fargo, North Dakota, on December 13, 1917, and departed for Europe with Battery “E,” 21st Field Artillery, on May 26, 1918. He served in France for the duration of the war, his unit participating in the American Expeditionary Force’s capture of the Saint-Mihiel Salient in September 1918. Discharged at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on August 4, 1919, he returned to Homer, North Dakota, where he worked as a farm hand.

Following the war, life in Antigonish County continued for the Chisholm family. While Dan returned to work in North Dakota, more children departed the homestead. John moved to Cow Bay, NS, while Roderick settled in Vancouver. Three of Colin’s daughters left for “the Boston States” and another married John C. MacKinnon of Antigonish, while Emma remained at home.

On May 10, 1935, 77-year-old Colin was directing a team of horses, attached to a wagon, back to the homestead from Antigonish town when the team bolted. Neighbours John Chisholm, Ronald MacLellan, Cameron MacLean, and James Walsh saw the unhitched horses galloping down the road at a fast pace. They managed to stop the horses and noticed a broken yoke attached to their harness. Following the road back toward town, the men came across a set of broken reins, the wagon, and Colin’s remains on the side of the road.

The neighbours contacted Constable Woodland of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and an inquest was held later that night. Coroner MacLeod convened a jury of Antigonish men—foreman A.D. Cameron, Gil MacEachern, John MacMillan, Thomas Dunphy, Colin H. MacLean, Allan MacMillan, James Bonner, Joe Hanrahan, James MacNeil, John MacDonald, Archie Fraser, and Philip McDoubey.

After interviewing witnesses, inspecting the wagon and damaged equipment, the jury concluded that Colin met his death from injuries sustained in an accident. The inquest concluded that, while attempting to control the horses, the driver fell forward and was caught under the wagon. Colin was laid to rest in Lakevale. His wife, Marie, passed away in 1945 and was buried beside him. The couple’s daughter, Emma, was the only child still residing at home. Following her mother’s passing, Emma boarded in Antigonish town for a period of time before moving to Truro, where she married Morris Burris.

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