Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 6)

Part 6- Mark Hill Goes To War

            That area located between Grand Harbour and Seal Cove has always been distinctively known as Mark Hill and throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was an identifiable community including at one time or another the Dakin, Cronk, Mack, Foster, Wilson, Franklin, Guthrie and Daggett families. In Hutchison’s Business Directory of 1866, approximately a dozen families occupied the area which had a reputation as one of the richest agricultural spots on the island.

            Hatsel Ray Cronk, son of Charles Henry and Margaret (Maggie Dooley) Cronk, was born at Mark Hill but was residing in nearby Seal Cove when he enlisted in Nov. 1917, and, where he left his position in the Life Saving Station to join the 1st Depot Battalion. Hatsel’s father had died suddenly in March, 1914, leaving the family of seven children without a head. His brother, Leavitt, would later marry Ethel Joy in 1927, daughter of Orlando Joy, another enlistee. And his mother, Maggie, would later marry William Mack, a next door neighbour, in 1919.  But at this crucial time Hatsel’s decision to enlist must have been prompted in part to help support his family like many other soldiers.

            As part of the 1st New Brunswick Depot, he trained up at Camp Sussex where new recruits became reinforcements for depleted battalions fighting overseas. His reserve battalion eventually filled vacancies from casualties in the 26th Battalion and the 10th-13th Canadian Reserve Battalions. We know little of his service overseas except that he returned to Grand Manan after the conflict and resided in 1921 with his brothers Harley, Leavitt and Grovenor to pursue the life of a sailor at the Life Saving Station.

Hatsel’s sister, Ethel, married Fred Gordon Foster, son of Leonard Eastman and Kate (Gordon) Foster on April 7, 1921 following the war. Like Hatsel, Fred had signed up to fight, and, on April 4, 1916, he enlisted with the 224th Canadian Forestry Battalion. At the time he was a widower from a previous marriage to Ida Stanton who had moved from Nova Scotia to Grand Manan. The 1,600 who joined this unit were assigned tasks to clear areas for airfields, build barracks and hospitals, and, produce railroad ties and lumber for trenches. Therefore any logging or sawmill experience was an asset which he certainly would have been exposed to on his father’s farm.

Mack Family are Early Recruits

In the meantime, Albert Roy Mack, a brother to William, had joined other volunteers in July, 1916 to become a member of the No. 1 Construction Battalion. This battalion was formed originally in April of that year to recruit men from across Canada amongst “skilled and experienced railway men” meant to undertake general construction work. Mobilized at Valcartier, Quebec, they left Halifax on 13 September 1916 aboard the “Northland” for a nine day sail to England. Within five weeks of their arrival, the battalion was transported to France and re-designated as a railway construction unit to become the 1st Battalion Canadian Railway Troops by 5 February 1917.

It is not known what specific role Roy Mack played in the conflict but generally these recruits became sappers, a term applied to a soldier who performed duties in bridge construction, field defenses, demolitions, and general construction such as road building and railway construction. The most common role of sapper we hear about in the First World War is in trench warfare. The very term, sapper, refers to the person who utilized a centuries old technique to dig a sap (trench) in a zigzag fashion toward the enemy lines in order to lay siege to their defenses. This method was commonly used to avoid enfilading fire by the enemy; that is, the ability to fire straight down a line of trench on the opposing force. Consequently, sappers were constantly under fire and subject to high casualty rates in the war as they built trenches toward enemy lines. The attached drawing shows the detail of construction with “duckboards” or wooden walkways to keep soldiers out of water which often contributed to deadly trench foot if they were exposed to long periods with wet feet.

Roy may also have participated as a non-combatant soldier in the construction of small gauge railways built for the fighting front in France to move munitions, food , medical supplies, and, of course, troops. In many instances, the closer they constructed railways, roads and bridges to the front, the greater the threat of enemy artillery fire. In the last two years of the war, much of the responsibility for this type of support was turned over to Canadian units.

Without a full service record, we don’t know if Roy Mack ever sustained injuries or was wounded in the line of duty. But we do know that he survived the conflict and returned to live in Seal Cove with his brother, William and his young family by 1921. Roy continued in the fishing industry as a livelihood until his death in 1966.

Joy Family Enlists

            William Edward Joy was barely married two years before he became one of the first recruits from Grand Manan. Born April 30, 1886 to John and Josephine (Matthews) Joy, William followed the sea like many others in the village and married his close neighbour, Jennie Mack, daughter of William H. and Elizabeth (Herrington) Mack in 1913. Jennie had taken on housekeeping jobs with families in the community after her widowed mother and younger brother, Wesley, started boarding at the Joys.

            William (Bill) Joy was the first man from the community of Seal Cove to enlist in the Great War. He joined the 115th Battalion, the same unit as Paul Gaskill from North Head. During the engagement at Vimy Ridge, Bill was wounded and exposed to dreaded gas attacks which may have contributed to a fever and an eight month military hospitalization. Following his stint in hospital he was invalided home in 1918 to fully recover. Within a year of being discharged he received a government appointment as a fishery patrol officer with the federal Department of Marine and Fisheries. (St. Croix Courier, Jan. 9, 1930)

During the same period Bill became a member of the Grand Manan Life Saving Station established earlier in 1911 and located at Outer Wood Island where a ten-man team responded to distress calls from small craft and numerous ships. In addition, hundreds of trips were made to Gannet Rock, Machias Seal Island, and White Head with water, mail and provisions, as well as transporting patients from Grand Manan hospital to St. Stephen through 1934 when the serviced was discontinued.

Orlando C. Joy, a first cousin to William Edward and ten years his senior, also joined the 115th Battalion in January, 1916. Orlando left behind a wife, Victoria (Foster) and three daughters in Seal Cove. That he suffered from the long term effects of the battlefield is evident when in 1933 he died from prolonged cardiac disease. The military authorities recognized that his death was due to his service overseas and thus his wife was left with a widow’s allowance and he was given the same courtesy of a burial plot in Seal Cove cemetery as if he had fallen in battle.

It should be noted that another Joy entered the military but this was with the U.S. army. Daniel Albert Joy, brother of Bill, had left the island in 1908 to attend school at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts and graduated as a nurse in the famous psychiatric institution. While there he met and married in 1908 Isabella Whiting McCabe from Pictou Co., N.S. With the entry of the United States into the war in April, 1917, Daniel registered in the draft on June 5, 1917. Whether he saw active service is not known at the present time but he certainly must have been conscious of his brother’s experience on the war front in France.

More space will be required to expand on the recruits from other Mark Hill families and the impact it had on the island communities.


Library and Archives Canada

New Brunswick Provincial Archives Vital Statistics

St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen

Ingersoll, L.K., “The Rich and the Lean Years, 1906-39”, Grand Manan Historian ,No. XV, 1971.