October 10, 1918: Sergeant Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison


Date of Birth: October 20, 1879 at Melford, Guysborough County

Parents: Euphemia (MacIsaac) and Roderick Morrison

Siblings: Brothers Roderick, Stephen & Michael; sisters Catherine Ellen & Mary Ann

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Lumberman

Enlistment: July 16, 1917 at Camp Aldershot, NS

Units: Nova Scotia Forestry Draft; No. 139 Company, Canadian Foresty Corps (CFC)

Service #: 2330457

Rank: Sergeant

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Stephen Morrison, 11 Tremont St., Weymouth, MA (brother)

Date of Death: October 10, 1918 at Jedburgh, Scotland

Final Resting Place: Castlewood Cemetery, Jedburgh, Scotland

Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison was born at Melford, Guysborough County, on October 20, 1879, the fifth of Euphemia (MacIsaac) and Roderick Morrison’s six children. Roderick, a native of River Inhabitants, Richmond County, was living at Cape Porcupine, near Auld’s Cove, at the time of his February 13, 1867 marriage to Euphemia, who was the daughter of John and Catherine MacIsaac, Tracadie, Antigonish County.

The family settled at Melford, near Mulgrave, where they raised a family of four boys and two girls. Roderick passed away sometime before 1891, and his two oldest sons departed for the United States before the turn of the century. Neil, as he was known to family, remained in Nova Scotia, where he resided with his maternal uncle, Neil MacIsaac, at Grosvenor, Antigonish County, and worked as a lumberman.

Following his uncle’s death in June 1911, Neil remained on the Grosvenor property. His mother, Euphemia, moved in with her son sometime after her brother’s death and passed away at Grosvenor on December 5, 1916. With no family commitments to keep him in Nova Scotia, Neil enlisted with the Nova Scotia Forestry Draft at Camp Aldershot, NS, on July 16, 1917.

Early the previous year, the demand for lumber products at the front prompted the British government to request Canada’s assistance in providing the manpower and expertise required to harvest and process timber in the United Kingdom. In response, Canadian military authorities recruited several battalions specifically dedicated to the task and transported the units to England. Part of the campaign included a “Nova Scotia Forestry Draft” that solicited volunteers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The first “forestry” recruits departed for England in early July 1916 and were assigned to units operating in the United Kingdom. On November 14, 1916, the Canadian government officially established the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) to oversee the work of its forestry units. By year’s end, 11 CFC Companies were operating in Britain, while three others had crossed the English Channel to France.

Recruitment continued into the following year as the CFC expanded its overseas operations. By the end of 1917, 58 CFC Companies were working in four separate districts in France, in addition to England and Scotland, supplying British and French units in the forward area with much-needed lumber products. Neil Morrison was part of this dramatic expansion, departing for England aboard HMT Canada on November 6, 1917. Upon arriving overseas, he reported to the CFC’s Headquarters at Sunningdale, England.

On February 27, 1918, Neil was assigned to No. 139 Company, CFC, a newly-formed unit that was preparing to depart for No. 52 District operations at Jedburgh, Scotland—approximately 75 kilometres southeast of Edinburgh—where its personnel were to establish a timber and sawmill operation in nearby forests. An experienced woodsman at the time of his enlistment, 39-year-old Neil Morrison was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the day following his transfer to No. 139 Company.

The unit’s personnel arrived at Jedburgh in early March and spent the remainder of the month erecting the required camp facilities—mess buildings, barracks and stables. In early April, work commenced on constructing a saw mill. By mid-month, progress to date permitted commencement of logging operations in the nearby Dades Forest. Meanwhile, work on the mill continued throughout the month of May as the Company built its ranks to full strength.

After several test runs, the mill commenced regular operation on June 3, processing timber “practically all day.” By that time, No. 139 Company’s ranks consisted of five Officers and 167 “other ranks.” A complement of heavy draft horses hauled felled timber to loading areas, where trucks loaded and transported the logs to the mill yard. Harvesting and lumber production were in full swing throughout the summer months, increasing significantly as loggers entered dense sections of the local forest.

As a non-commissioned officer (NCO), Neil was responsible for overseeing the logging and transport crews working at the harvesting site. As with any forestry operation, the potential for injury was always present. An October 7 war diary entry proudly noted that the Company had toiled in the area for seven months without a casualty. Within days, its unblemished record came to an end.

On the morning of Thursday, October 10, 1918, Sgt. Neil Morrison, “an experienced bushman,” was performing his routine duties, overseeing operations at the harvesting site’s loading area. Approximately 150 feet away, personnel were felling a cluster of approximately 30 trees, several of which were already on the ground.

Around 9:00 a.m., Neil was standing alongside Private A. Mercier, loading logs onto trucks for transport to the mill. Private William B. Smith was also present, in charge of a horse team bringing felled logs “unto the skids.” Private Malcolm Alex McDonald stood at the end of the skids, with Sgt. Morrison to one side and Pte. Smith approximately 12 feet away. Another enlisted man, Private W. Bollard, was driving a truck wagon and was approximately 30 feet from the skids.

According to Pte. McDonald, “there was a very strong wind blowing that morning, and I saw a tree, which was standing about 75 feet from us, falling.” He immediately shouted, “Look out for the horses!” and jumped around the end of the skid. McDonald first “saw the tree lying across one of the horses,” its crotch having struck its back. He then noticed Sgt. Morrison “lying between the skids. He was unconscious when I saw him at first, but after he had been moved… he partially recovered…. He never fully recovered consciousness while I was there.”

In McDonald’s opinion, Neil could have escaped the falling tree by going around the end of the skid, but based on the location where he was struck, he surmised that “he had endeavoured to protect the horses.” Witnesses later acknowledged that “the tree that fell had not been hacked or sawn,” but had fallen due to the strong winds.

While nearby workers assisted in moving Neil about 150 yards from the accident site, a colleague hastened to camp and retrieved the unit’s Medical Sergeant, Charles R. Cannon. Upon reaching the site a little more than one hour later, Cannon observed that Neil “had a severe cut out of [the] top of his head, and was conscious.” He administered first aid and supervised Neil’s transport to the residence of Dr. Hamilton Hume in nearby Jedburgh.

After examining Neil, Dr. Hume recommended he be admitted to Cottage Hospital for treatment. A thorough examination at the hospital detected more than the deep scalp wound Sgt. Cannon had noted—Neil’s spine had been fractured in two places along its mid-dorsal section. As the hours passed, Neil slipped into a state of shock, his condition worsening as the day progressed. Sergeant Nathaniel Morrison passed away in hospital at 8:15 p.m. October 10, 1918.

Three days later, the “funeral service of Sgt. Morrison took place at 2 p.m. All ranks of 139 Company attending, also 129 Company.” A subsequent Court of Inquiry concluded that the incident was entirely accidental. Neither Sgt. Morrison nor any of the CFC personnel present at the time were at fault. Neil was laid to rest in Castlewood Cemetery, Jedburgh, Roxburghsire, Scotland.

The Antigonish Cenotaph Project is affiliated with the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Its goal is to research and preserve the stories of our town and county’s fallen First World War soldiers. Current and previous stories are available online at antigonishcenotaphproject.wordpress.com .

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