Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 8)



Part 8- Healers and Heroes


In the last installment we saw how the war challenged the faith and outlook of two island clergyman. Events on the battlefield may have played a role in the postwar decision of Harry Sherman Shepherd to seek a religious calling that took him to the far reaches of Canada.

Harry Sherman Shepherd

Sherman, born Oct. 26, 1896, was the sixth of nine children in the household of Alvin and Letitia (Gilligan) Shepherd. At the beginning of the war when he enlisted he described himself as a student. Likely he may have been away in Halifax attending Kings College from which he was to graduate in 1924 following his call up on May 10, 1918, to the 1st Depot Battalion of the New Brunswick Regiment as a private. These battalions were formed in 1917-18 following the introduction of conscription to provide reserve troops in England for infantry battalions fighting particularly in France. The unit of the New Brunswick Regiment often supplied the 26th Battalion with reinforcements.

When Sherman arrived home after 1919 he seems to have settled into island life as a weir fisherman who lived with his parents and sisters. These details are recorded in the 1921 census taken in the spring by none other than Sherman himself as census taker; similar government positions were often set aside for veterans. It may have been at this time that Sherman decided to advance his education in Halifax where he probably pursued religious studies at the traditional Anglican institution of Kings College. Here he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1923 and was eventually ordained in 1926 as an Anglican minister. Rev. Shepherd took up his first parish in Derby-Blackville at Holy Trinity Church on the Miramichi from 1925 to 1929.

It was in that latter year that he left the Diocese of Fredericton to accept a challenging position in Northern Canada as the principal of the first residential school at Shingle Point in the Yukon Territory not far from the border with Alaska. Joining the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, Rev. Shepherd spearheaded the opening of the school in August, 1929 with seventeen students. His sister, Priscilla, trained as a nurse at the Augusta Hospital in the State of Maine sometime before 1921, followed her brother to this bleak and isolated location at the most northerly tip of the Yukon. A report commented on how harsh life was at the mission and school at Shingle Point.   “St. John’s School complex was situated on a windswept sand spit, exposed to high tides, Arctic gales and blizzards and often overrun by beached ice floes during spring break up. In winter’s total darkness, the scattered school buildings were linked with rope lifelines as a safety measure to prevent students from getting lost during frequent storms.”

Records seem to indicate that they stayed at the mission through 1935. In 1936, Shepherd moved his family to Aklavik on the Mackenzie River delta where he became principal of the All Saints School and Canon of the All Saints Cathedral. Photography was an avid hobby for Shepherd and also Shingle Point’s Matron in Residence, Marguerite Latham. Together, they developed more than 1,200 photos of daily life in the residential school system. Marguerite, by the way, was to become his wife. By 1947 Rev. and Mrs. Shepherd along with their three children (Faith, Ted and John) left the region for the Diocese of Moosonee in northern Ontario where he served until 1954. For the next decade he then ventured south to the Diocese of Toronto and eventually returned to New Brunswick in 1965 where they first settled in Moncton and then retired to Nashwaaksis/Fredericton. Marguerite died in 1974, followed by her husband two years later. Both are buried in Bleumortier’s cemetery near Castalia.

Anna Isabell Shepherd

One is left to wonder if Sherman may have decided to enlist because his older sister, Anna Isabell, had already signed up a year earlier in March, 1917, in the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) as a nursing sister. Possibly the motivation behind her enlistment may have been a result of family events affecting the stability of the household in the 1910s. In April, 1912, the death of their eldest brother, James Edwin, at age twenty-six must have been heart wrenching; but the loss of their mother, Letitia, in March, 1915, at age fifty-two, must have been devastating.

Anna had received her early nursing education probably at the Augusta State Hospital School of Nursing Students, the same school attended later by her sisters, Priscilla and Helena. In 1898, she was listed as a resident of Portland, Maine where she was employed as a practical nurse. This experience would prove extremely beneficial when the call went out for medical personnel for distinct military unit to support the war effort. According to her attestation documents Anna enlisted in Kingston, Ontario, and, proceeded from there to England and eventually France.

More than 3,000 military nurses served in the CAMC of which more than 2500 served overseas. Recruits had to be already trained as professional nurses and volunteer for service. Nurses carried out their work behind the lines but close to the fighting in the trenches. Wounded soldiers arrived by truck or rail to clearing stations or forward dressing stations where nurses were among the first to meet wounded soldiers, cleaning wounds and offering comfort. In addition to participating in surgeries, nurses undertook daily wound care, bandaging and caring for convalescing soldiers.  In their distinctive blue uniforms and white veils, they became known as “bluebirds’. Not immune to the fighting, Canadian nurses suffered 53 killed from enemy fire, contagious disease or drowning at sea.

Anna was to return to New Brunswick aboard the “Megantic” from London on August 15th, 1919. While she may have returned to visit her family on Grand Manan it seems that she set out right away to cross the country to Vancouver and eventually arrive by train on the Great Northern Railway at Blaine, Washington in Nov. 1920. Settling at Everett where other Grand Manan families had resided since the 1880s, she boarded with her cousin, Lulu (Russell) Covey, daughter of William and Mary Alice (Shepherd) Russell, originally from Seal Cove. Here she gained employment in the local hospital for at least the next decade and took out citizenship in 1930. Possibly the fact that Lulu was also a nurse may have provided a contact for employment after the war. Anna was still listed as a professional nurse in Everett as late as 1930 and living at 2509 Oakes Ave.

Sometime before 1935 Anna returned to the east coast and Seal Cove where she carried on her nursing profession across the island until her death on July 26th, 1965.

Dr. Harry Burton Lawson

Dr. John James Lawson with five children took up practice in North Head by April, 1895, after residing in Norton, Kings County for nearly fifteen years. Three years later, Gordon Redvers Lawson was born in North Head on June 1, younger brother to Harry Burton who was a decade and a half older. Harry followed in his father’s footsteps by attending medical school. While still a student he met and married Blanche Augusta Hatt, daughter of James and Catherine Hatt of North Head. She was working as a milliner in a factory in Lubec, Maine, which was not uncommon for seasonal workers from the island; so they married there on August 29, 1904. Before he formally finished medical school, they were joined by their only child, Helen Blanche on May 31, 1906, born in North Head.

By 1910 Lawson graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Boston. Life must have been difficult for the young family with Dr. Lawson trying to launch a new career as a country doctor. By 1911, he was boarding on the mainland in Rolling Dam where he was serving the local population and visiting other border communities. Meanwhile Blanche and young Helen stayed with her parents on the island. It appears that the strained situation led to their divorce before 1912 because we know that his wife re-married to Manley Stanhope of Perry, Maine.

When war was declared in August, 1914, Harry Lawson was one of the first to come forward and reports show that he had volunteered for service in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Similarly, Gordon, then a student, also signed up as well as his brother Walter Cyril, who was occupied as a teacher and became a lieutenant in the 26th battalion.

Writing home in Sept. 1915 to his friend George Short, a druggist in St. Stephen, Harry who was stationed at the 31st Casualty Clearing Station in France described how he first spent “three very pleasant months in England” at London Hospital, Cambridge Hospital and at Aldershot. But this introduction to the war setting was soon replaced by a voyage to the Dardanelles where British troops and allies were trapped on the beaches during the Gallipoli campaign. After evacuating 1200 wounded to England, he soon found himself attached to the 91st Field Ambulance unit in Egypt.

Shortly after, Dr. Lawson was re-assigned to a clearing station six miles from the fighting front in France. He observed that they were located “behind a large hill for shelter and in order to watch the fighting all we have to do is to climb the hill and use our glasses. But we have very little time outside the hospital, for you can readily see with six hundred beds and seven medical men we are kept busy indeed.” At one point in his letter, he became quite nostalgic when he remarked: “ France is a beautiful country, but in my estimation cannot compare with England; but after all … there is no place like home and the old New Brunswick is good enough…” By June of 1916, Capt. Lawson was fortunate to sail home to accompany wounded soldiers and spend two weeks with relatives in St. Stephen before returning to the front in Europe. (St. Croix Courier, Oct. 28, 1915; June 22, 1916; July 13, 1916)

Apparently, new orders must have been approved because nearly two years later he sailed from Liverpool, England, on the “Megantic” for Canada and his final destination at Rolling Dam. An officer’s declaration document signed in August, 1918, states that Lawson was then assigned to the Military Hospital in Fredericton which was then located on the Government House property where he stayed until the fall of 1920. After service in the hospital to aid returning wounded soldiers, he began civilian practice again first in Minto and then on Deer Island. It was while residing at Lord’s Cove that Dr. Lawson suffered heart failure and died on Sept. 27, 1926 at the young age of thirty-nine. He was buried in St. Stephen near his parents.

Gordon Redvers Lawson

Gordon, his brother, was likely a student at university when he signed up at age eighteen in July, 1917, in No. 9 Overseas Siege Battery stationed at Partridge Island in Saint John harbour. This was the depot battery for heavy gunners from New Brunswick who passed through the battery for preliminary training before heading overseas and then being assigned to one of the operational batteries (No. 4 or No. 6) at the front.  At the end of the war he returned to complete his education at the University of Toronto in dental surgery and while there married Leora Ryke Robinson, a native of Milltown, N.B. and also a student, in 1922. The couple eventually settled down in Minto, N.B. where he became active in local politics as a county councillor from 1927-1931. Gordon passed away in 1954 at the age of fifty-nine.

Walter Cyril Lawson

Walter was attending Acadia University when war broke out and returned to St. Stephen to enlist on Dec. 11, 1914, as Lieutenant in the Fightin’ 26th. Shipping overseas, he trained up at Shorncliffe in England and crossed to France and the battle front on Oct. 28th, 1915. It was there during the fighting at the Somme that he earned himself battle honours when, “Lieutenant W.C. Lawson made a personal reconnaissance of a mine crater in doing so across ‘No Man’s Land’ in daylight at great personal risk. Later, he organized a working party and consolidated the crater.” For this action he was awarded the Military Cross. On Nov. 6th, 1917 during the bloody attack at Passchendaele, he was severely wounded and spent a considerable time at Prince of Wales Hospital, London.

Following the war, Walter also resumed his studies toward a law degree at King’s College Law School where he was granted the degree of bachelor of Civil Law. He established a practice in Minto and soon after met and married Mary Josephine Kearney in 1925, a native of Florenceville and bank employee in Minto at the time; the ceremony being performed at his brother’s residence there in the village. Walter likewise entered local politics as county councillor from 1927 to 1935 and then the Liberal representative in the House of Assembly from 1935-1944.

When it came to the provision of medical services to the war effort, Grand Manan was home to two physicians and their families who had close ties with the war effort. The Lawsons were one of that group. The other was Dr. Brougham Frazee Johnson who will be discussed in the next installment.




Library and Archives Canada

New Brunswick Provincial Archives Vital Statistics

St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen

Hogg, Elaine Ingalls, “New Brunswick Roots and Branches”, The N.B. Anglican, Nov., 2004

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