February 15, 1919: Gunner John Thompson McKinnon

McKinnon John Thompson1

Date of Birth: January 9, 1895 at Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA

Parents: Angus L. and Anne (McGillivray) McKinnon

Siblings: Brothers Colin Francis, Daniel & Angus Joseph; sisters Annie, Mary, Catherine, Margaret & Eunice

Father’s Occupation: Farmer

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farmer

Enlistment: October 19, 1917 at Antigonish, NS

Units: 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment; No 10 Siege Battery, Halifax, NS

Service Number: 3182344

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Angus L. McKinnon, St. Andrews, Antigonish County (father)

Date of Death: February 15, 1919 at St. Andrews, NS

Final Resting Place: South River Cemetery, St. Andrews, Antigonish County

John Thompson McKinnon was born at Roxbury, Massachusetts, on January 9, 1895 to John L. and Anne (MacGillivray) McKinnon, and was the eldest of the couple’s nine children. John L. was the son of Laughlin and Ann (McGillivray) McKinnon, Taylor’s Road. Anne was the daughter of Donald McGillivray, Dunmore, Antigonish County, a family known locally as “The Bridge McGillivrays.”

Around 1901, Angus, Annie and their three eldest children—John Thompson, Colin Francis and Annie—returned to Nova Scotia and established residence at St. Andrews, Antigonish County. By 1911, the family had grown to seven children—four boys and three girls—with two more arriving in subsequent years.

On October 19, 1917, 22-year-old John Thompson McKinnon completed his medical examination at Antigonish, as required under the terms of the Military Service Act (1917). On April 29, 1918, he reported for duty with No. 10 Siege Battery. Throughout the war, the Halifax-based unit trained personnel for service with overseas Canadian Field Artillery units, dispatching reinforcement drafts to England after recruits had completed preliminary training.

Within days of John’s enlistment, he developed a chest cough—a condition attributed to “exposure to cold… at Fort Cambridge”—and noticed blood in his sputum. As the weeks passed, he experienced tightness in his chest, weight loss and “general malaise.” On June 18, John was admitted to the Cogswell St. Military Hospital with a suspected case of tuberculosis.

A medical report, dated July 3, recommended that John be placed in “Category E”—medically unfit for service—while an x-ray taken the following day confirmed the presence of pulmonary tuberculosis in his left lung. On August 1, John was discharged from the Cogswell Street facility and transferred to the Nova Scotia Sanatorium, Kentville, for further treatment.

John was formally discharged from military service on August 13. Two days later, a medical report completed by sanatorium staff recommended that he “be given further… treatment” over a period of nine months. John, however, declined, signed the required waivers, and was “discharged from further care.” A note at the end of the report stated that, in the Medical Board’s opinion, “his refusal of treatment is unreasonable.”

On August 21, John received his last pay certificate—regular pay for 16 days @ $1.00/day, field allowance for 16 days @ $0.10/day, clothing allowance of $35.00, and a balance owed of $0.83 from the previous month, for a total of $53.43. He returned to St. Andrews, where his health continued to decline. Gunner John Thompson McKinnon died at his St. Andrews home on February 15, 1919.

John’s obituary in the Antigonish Casket reads: ” At his home at St. Andrews Ant., on Saturday the 15th inst., in his twenty-fourth year, Private John Thompson McKinnon, eldest son of Mrs. and Mr. Angus L. McKinnon. Deceased was an industrious young man, of quiet disposition, kind to everybody, and dutiful to his parents. He enlisted for overseas service a year ago, and was undergoing a course of training at Halifax, when he contacted a cold. He remained at his duties, however, until, finding no improvement in his health, the officials ordered him to the Kentville Sanatorium. There he received treatment for a time, but without any change for the better. In September he came home, but neither medical skill, the ministration of parental affection, nor the kind attention of sympathetic friends could arrest the slow, but hopeless decline that finally brought him to an early grave. His funeral took place on Tuesday and was largely attended. After Requiem High Mass by the Pastor, his remains were laid to rest in the family plot in South River Cemetery. He leaves to mourn his father and mother, four sisters and three brothers, one of the latter, Private Colin Francis, being for the last three years in France. It may be said of the deceased that ‘he died for his Country’ as truly as if he had given up his life on the field of battle.”

mckinnon john thompson headstone cropped
Gunner John Thompson McKinnon’s headstone, South River Cemetery, St. Andrews, NS

John’s younger brother, Colin Francis, enlisted with No. 11 Overseas Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column at Halifax, NS, on January 20, 1916. Colin arrived in France in mid-July 1916 and served with the 3rd Division’s Ammunition Column for the duration of the war. He returned to Halifax in late March 1919 and while he returned to his parents’ St. Andrews home after his discharge, he departed for the United States shortly afterward.

Following his return to Massachusetts, Colin commenced employment with the City of Boston as a police officer. On May 15, 1928, he married Mary Martha MacNeil, a native of Centreville, NS, in a ceremony held at Newton, MA. The couple raised a family of four children—two sons and two daughters—in their Roxbury, MA, home. Colin Francis McKinnon passed away at Boston, MA, on September 19, 1962.

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