November 7, 1918: Major Edward Alexander Chisholm, MC With Two Bars

Chisholm Maj Edward A greyscale

Date of Birth: July 26, 1892 at Linwood, Antigonish County

Parents: Duncan Alexander and Mary Margaret (MacGillivray) Chisholm

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Siblings: Brothers Daniel George, Hugh Alexander, John Francis “Frank” & Angus Vincent “Gus” (twins), William Robert & Duncan Raymond; sisters Mary Mabel & Annie Frances

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Law Student

Enlistment: November 24, 1914 at Fredericton, NB

Units: 23rd Battery, 6th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery; “C” Battery, 161st (Yorks) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Service #: None (Commissioned Officer)

Rank: Major

Previous Military Service: 18th Battery (Antigonish), Canadian Field Artillery (three years)

Next of Kin: Duncan Chisholm, Linwood, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: November 7, 1918 near Grand-Fayt, France

Final Resting Place: Grand-Fayt Communal Cemetery, Nord, France

Edward Alexander Chisholm was born at Linwood, Antigonish County, on July 26, 1892, the youngest of Mary Margaret (MacGillivray) and Duncan Alexander Chisholm’s nine children. Duncan was a native of Long Point, Inverness County, while Mary Margaret was a daughter of Hugh and Janet (MacFarlane) MacGillivray, South River. Her paternal grandfather, Alexander (Captain) MacGillivray, was a native of Arisaig, Scotland, who immigrated to Arisaig, NS, in 1791 and operated a mercantile business there.

As a young man, Duncan apprenticed with a Lower South River carriage maker, and may have initially met his future wife during his time there. He later departed for the Boston area, where he practiced his trade. On July 17, 1873, Duncan and Mary Margaret were married in a ceremony that took place at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The young couple established residence in nearby Roxbury, where their first six children were born.

In 1882, the family returned to Nova Scotia, where Duncan purchased a house and farm at Linwood from his brother Colin. The family’s American connections earned its members the local nickname “Yankee.” While William Robert was the first of the three youngest children born after the couple returned to Canada, he was known throughout his life as “Will Yankee,” and passed away at Havre Boucher on November 16, 1969.

Four of Duncan and Mary Margaret’s children served during the First World War. Their second son, Hugh Alexander, graduated from St. Francis Xavier College with a Science degree in 1900 and went on to complete medical studies at McGill University, Montreal. Hugh enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) during the First World War and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his efforts during the Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium (April 1915). He was Assistant Director of Medical Services at London, England during the war’s final 18 months.

Duncan and Mary’s second-youngest child, Duncan Raymond, completed civil engineering training at Boston and New York and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Toronto in September 1917. Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in January 1918, Raymond served with the Royal Air Force in France during the war’s final seven months. A third brother, Angus Vincent “Gus”—the last of the Chisholm siblings born in Massachusetts—served as an Ensign with the United States Navy during the war.

Not to be outdone by his older siblings, Eddie—as he was known to family and peers—attended St. Francis Xavier High School during the 1910-11 school term and “followed the work of the Freshman Year” at StFX from September 1911 until the spring of 1912. After a year away from studies, his academic performance was sufficient to warrant admission to Dalhousie University’s law program in October 1913.

Eddie also took an active interest in military activities, enlisting with the 18th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. He served for three years with the Antigonish-based militia unit prior to the outbreak of war in Europe. In the autumn of 1914, Eddie set aside his studies and joined the 23rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery (CFA), at Fredericton, NB. He received the commissioned rank of Captain at the time of his enlistment.

In late February 1915, Eddie proceeded to England, where he was assigned to the Reserve Brigade, CFA, Shorncliffe in late April. While awaiting a transfer to a unit at the front, he qualified as a “Musket Instructor” in mid-June. As a 23-year-old Officer, he faced the unattractive prospect of spending months in England training soldiers while awaiting the opportunity to serve in France or Belgium.

Eager to see action at the front, Eddie soon found a suitable opportunity. On November 22, 1915, he received a transfer to the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and was assigned to “C” Battery, 161st (Yorks) Brigade. At the time, the unit was preparing to depart for France and seeking to complete its complement of Officers.

On December 30, 1915, Eddie departed Southampton with the 161st Brigade and landed at Le Havre, France, the following day. Within one week, the unit was deployed in the forward area near Albert, France. Shortly after landing on the continent, Eddie was promoted to the rank of “Acting Major” while commanding “C” Battery in the field.

The 161st Brigade spent almost 17 months in the Albert area, where it served throughout the bloody 1916 Somme offensive. During that time, Eddie was one of six Officers “mentioned in despatches” by General Sir Douglas Haig, British Commander-in-Chief, in recognition of their role in an April 1, 1917 attack on German artillery positions at Savy, France.

In late May 1917, the 161st Brigade travelled northward by train toward the Belgian border and entered the line near Messines, Belgium, early the following month. On September 23, 1917, the unit’s war diary reported that Acting Major E. A. Chisholm had been awarded the Military Cross, possibly in connection to his performance at Savy. Unfortunately, no citation is available.

The 161st Brigade served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient throughout the winter of 1917-18. During the autumn of 1917, its batteries provided artillery support as the Canadian Corps captured Passchendaele Ridge. On several occasions, Eddie assumed temporary command of the Brigade during its Commanding Officer’s absence. In mid-December 1917, he received a Bar to the Military Cross for gallantry in the field. Unfortunately, no details are available as to the actions that merited the honour.

In mid-December 1917, Eddie earned a bar to his Military Cross. While the citation associated with the award provides no date, it describes Major Chisholm’s actions in detail:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed magnificent gallantry in preparing a forward position, in getting all his guns into action there, and bringing up a large amount of ammunition in a very short time. Though the position was in full view of the enemy and approached by a single road, which was in very bad condition and was continually shelled, he personally organized every detail of the work under constant heavy fire and great difficulties. The success of the battery was due to this Officer’s untiring zeal, fearless example, and determination to succeed, which were worthy of the best traditions of the regiment.”

In mid-February 1918, Eddie proceeded to England “to attend [a] Battery Commander’s course at Shoeburyness.” Six weeks later, the 161st Brigade relocated to sectors near Arras, France, where Eddie rejoined its ranks upon completion of his training. In the ensuing weeks, Allied forces withstood several German “spring offensives,” yielding territory but managing to prevent a major breakthrough.

Having successfully withstood the various German offensives, Allied commanders formulated plans for a major counter-offensive. The 161st Brigade was in the line on the morning of August 8, 1918, as the campaign commenced east of Amiens, France. Its batteries followed British infantry units as they steadily advanced eastward in subsequent weeks. In early September, Eddie and two artillery signallers were “wounded in [a] mine explosion” while in the field. Eddie spent six days in hospital before rejoining the Brigade as it approached German positions along the Hindenburg Line.

In late September, British and French forces launched an attack near Saint-Quentin, breaking through the Hindenburg Line before month’s end. Throughout the following month, Allied units steadily advanced in a north-eastward direction, toward the Belgian border. By early November, the front line was approaching the Sambre-Oise Canal, approximately 40 kilometres east of Cambrai, France.

On November 4, the 161st Brigade’s “B” and “C” Batteries fired on strategic roads behind the German line, while “A” and “D” Batteries laid down a “creeping barrage” in support of a British attack on the canal. During the subsequent advance, “C” Battery, under the command of Major Edward A. Chisholm, “captured 10 prisoners and one field gun.” Eddie later received a second bar to his Military Cross for his actions:

“Near Ora, on 4th November, 1918, he went forward to reconnoitre a position for his battery, and found the infantry held up. He went forward himself, and captured 10 prisoners and an enemy field gun. He sent back the 10 prisoners by an orderly from his battery, and then went back and led up a party of infantry to secure the gun which he had captured. He was constantly under machine-gun fire.”

In the early hours of November 5, “B” and “C” Batteries “moved off in close support of the Argylls & Sutherlands and Borders,” targeting hostile machine gun posts throughout the day. Located 800 to 1,500 yards behind the front line, both batteries endured “rifle and machine gun fire” throughout the day.

The advance continued on November 6, “the same batteries [“A” and “C”] being told off [sic] to support the leading infantry. Single guns were pushed forward by [Major E. A. Chisholm,] often in front of the Infantry, to deal with hostile machine guns.” One Officer “took a gun several hundred yards in front of the Infantry, and silenced three machine guns that were holding up the advance.”

At 8:30 a.m. November 7, 1918, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry passed through the Argyll & Sutherlands’ and Borders’ lines and continued the advance. The 161st Brigade’s “A” Battery followed in close support, while “B” and “C” Batteries provided covering fire “with a range of approximately 3,000 yards.” As the attack progressed, “A,” “B” and “D” Batteries moved by road through Maroilles and Marbaix, while “C” Battery, under Eddie’s command, advanced toward the village of Grand-Fayt.

During the day, “Major E. A. Chisholm… accompanied by [161st] Brigade Sergeant-Major Lay, endeavoured to work round a hostile machine gun to capture the crew.” During the maneuver, “Major Chisholm was killed by a machine gun bullet.” A letter from Lieutenant W. R. Goodman, 161st Brigade, to Eddie’s brother, Hugh, dated November 10, 1918, provided further details:

“[Eddie] was as you know absolutely fearless, and when going round the line during the advance on the 7th November he found a Platoon of Infantry who had their Officer killed, held up by a machine gun which they were afraid to attack. He immediately took command of them and personally led them against the machine gun post, working up behind a hedge, but when within about 15 yards of the post he was hit in the head and killed instantaneously by a bullet. The post was eventually captured and all its garrison killed. [Eddie] was buried yesterday, 9th [November] at Grand-Fayt with full honours.”

 


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