Date of Birth: April 12, 1877 at Dunmore, Antigonish County, NS
Parents: John “Glas” and Ann (McLean) McDonald
Siblings: Brothers Duncan, Hugh, John J., Lauchlin Hugh, Alexander & John Archie; sister Flora C.
Father’s Occupation: Farmer
Marital Status: Single
Enlistment: May 10, 1915 at Calgary, AB
Units: 56th Battalion (Calgary, AB); 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry)
Service Number: 446725
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: John McDonald, Dunmore, Antigonish County, NS (father)
Date of Death: August 4, 1926 at St. Martha’s Hospital, Antigonish, NS
Final Resting Place: South River Cemetery, St. Andrews, Antigonish County
Daniel “Dan” McDonald was born at “Big Brook” South River—later renamed Dunmore—Antigonish County, the fourth of John and Ann (McLean) McDonald’s eight children. John was the son of Duncan “Glas” and Flora (McPherson) McDonald, who settled in the Dunmore area of the South River about 1830. Dan’s mother, Ann, was the daughter of Donald and Catherine (McDonald) McLean. His maternal grandmother, Catherine, was a daughter of John “Borodale” McDonald, Dunmore, Antigonish County.
Around 1900, at the age of 23, Dan was the first of his siblings to leave home. He made his way across Canada, finding work as a lineman, and residing for a time in British Columbia, where his brother, Alexander, soon joined him. Dan was working as a lineman in Calgary, AB, when he enlisted with the 56th Battalion’s 1st Reinforcement Draft on May 10, 1915. At the time, he was actually 38 years old, but claimed to be only 36 on his attestation papers.
Dan arrived in England in mid-July 1915 and reported to Shorncliffe Military Camp, where he spent three months in training. On October 12, 1915, he was transferred to the 5th Battalion and immediately embarked for France. Dan joined his new unit in the field 11 days later.
The 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry) was established at Camp Valcartier, QC, in August 1914, and consisted of volunteers from all four western Canadian provinces. The unit departed for England with the 1st Canadian Contingent in October 1914 and was assigned to the 1st Canadian Division’s 2nd Brigade following its overseas arrival. The 5th commenced service in Belgium’s Ypres Salient in mid-February 1915 and was an experienced unit by the time Dan joined its ranks.
Dan served with the 5th Battalion in sectors near Ypres throughout the winter of 1915-16. The arrival of spring brought improved weather conditions as fighting intensified throughout the salient. During a routine late April tour at Hill 60, near Zillebeke, Belgium, the 5th’s war diary reported daily trench mortar and artillery fire on its positions, as well as adjacent sectors of the line.
On the afternoon of April 24, 1916, the situation was particularly perilous: “[The] enemy started a most intense bombardment on our front commencing about 2 p.m. and kept it up until 6 p.m., utterly wiping out our front line…. Whole trenches were completely blown in and when the bombardment ceased our men were just holding small holes here and there.”
During the bombardment, a sand bag struck Dan in the chest, filling his right eye with sand as it burst. Rendered unconscious for several minutes, he was buried under a pile of earth and sand until rescued by comrades. Once the shelling ceased, Dan was evacuated to No. 17 Casualty Clearing Station for treatment, as he “could not see, eyes full of sand.”
Transported by ambulance train to Boulogne, France, Dan was admitted to 3rd Canadian General Hospital, where medical personnel treated him for “sacroiliac strain and conjunctivitis [swelling of the thin, transparent layer of tissue lining the eyelid’s inner surface].”
On May 22, Dan was invalided to England, where he was admitted to Tooting Military Hospital. Shortly after his arrival, medical records stated that he was also suffering from “shell shock”: “General condition highly strung—jumps in his sleep and frightened by any sudden noise.” While his appetite was good, it was “doubtful” that he was sleeping soundly.
Medical notes also described rheumatic pain, a condition that Dan had experienced prior to the April 24 incident. Transferred to Canadian Red Cross Special Hospital, Buxton, in early June, Dan was discharged to Bearwood Convalescent Home, Woodcote Park, Buxton, in late August. An August 26 note indicated that Dan was still suffering from shell shock and “cannot sleep at nights.”
While an early September 1916 Medical Board predicted that Dan would be “fit for duty” after 12 weeks’ training, comments indicate that he was “still nervous” and experiencing “sleeplessness, headache… [and] weakness in [his] left arm.”
Discharged to duty on September 6, Dan spent the remainder of the year at the 2nd Canadian Corps Depot, Shoreham. By early 1917, it was increasingly apparent that he was no longer fit for front line duty. On February 20, 1917, he proceeded to Canada “on furlough” aboard SS Grampian. Dan arrived at Halifax seven days later and remained on leave until June 1, when he reported to military hospital at Halifax.
Dan spent the remainder of the year as an “outpatient.” A detailed medical report, dated January 14, 1918, concluded that he was still suffering from the “effects of shell shock.” While doctors noticed “a fine tremor of hands and head—and some nervousness,” Dan’s condition had “improv[ed] considerably in this respect.” He also experienced pain in the small of his back and shortness of breath after exertion. While the report attributed his disability to military service and described its duration as “indefinite,” it went on to comment that “farm work should greatly improve [Dan’s] general condition to nil in one year” and recommended that Dan “be allowed to pass under his own control.”
On January 31, 1918, military authorities agreed that Dan was “no longer fit for war service” and formally discharged him. The following day, he received a six-month pension of $180.00 to assist with his transfer to civilian life. While he returned home to Dunmore, Dan did not make a full recovery as predicted. On June 6, 1919, he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax. He was still suffering from “pain in left side and back…[and] nervousness,” and was “very easily startled.”
Dan stayed in hospital for one month before returning home to Dunmore, where he remained until his death on August 4, 1926 at 48 years of age. He was laid to rest in South River Cemetery, near St. Andrews. Dan’s obituary in the Antigonish Casket stated: “At St. Martha’s Hospital August 4, 1926, the death occurred of Dan MacDonald (Grey) of Dunmore. Cause of death was pneumonia. The deceased served in the Canadian Forces, for a long time in France and Belgium, during the war, as a result of which he returned home with his health undermined. He never recovered from the effects of his war experience and was therefore easy prey for pneumonia. He is survived by five brothers, Hugh at home; Duncan of Frasers Mills; John of Glen Road; and Archie and Alex of Western Canada. R.I.P.”