Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 11)

 

 

 

Part 11- Grand Manan Recruits and the 115th Battalion

Following the declaration of war by Canada on August 4th, 1914, a call to arms for volunteers went out across the nation. The response from New Brunswick communities was immediate and nowhere less enthusiastic than on Grand Manan. In the weeks following news that German troops had swept over tiny and relatively defenceless Belgium, the outrage expressed by all levels of the civilian population across the province contributed to the surge in enlistments. The sign up process from Grand Manan was clearly island wide affecting nearly every family and their near relations.

Under the initial voluntary recruitment system in New Brunswick, ten battalions were raised across the province. They included the 26th, 55th, 64th, 104th, 115th, 132nd, 140th, 145th, 165th, and 236th Canadian Battalions. The “Fighting 26th “ became the primary operating fighting battalion during the war while the other nine battalions were broken up after their arrival in England and supplied reinforcements to infantry units in France. In order to maintain a distinctive and continuous New Brunswick character for an infantry battalion at the war front, the 26th received many reinforcements from these other units under Canadian military policy.

Such was the case for the 115th Battalion which became the principal recruiting unit for Grand Manan and many parts of Charlotte County in the fall and winter of 1915-16. With sign-up at recruiting meetings held in the island communities, potential soldiers swore to attestation papers that they were fit for service. In addition to committing themselves to at least a year of service or for the duration of the war and six months thereafter if required, the eager recruit had to meet the age recruitment of between 18 and 44 inclusively. Furthermore, the medical requirements, which were initially performed on the island usually by Dr. Macaulay, meant the recruit had to be at least five feet, three inches tall, with a minimum chest measurement of 33 ½ inches. Likewise, he had to have a sound heart, lungs, joints, limbs and eyesight. As the war dragged on and casualties rose, some of requirements were not always strictly adhered to.

115th Battalion on Parade in Saint John, 1916. Source:  NB Musem

115th Battalion on Parade in Saint John, 1916. Source: NB Musem

By February, 1916, upwards of twenty fresh recruits took the ferry to Saint John and marched to the Saint John Armoury. Here they underwent a second level of medical scrutiny to receive a smallpox vaccination amidst a rigorous daily training routine that was not unlike that to which the 26th recruits were exposed.  They were outfitted with uniforms and field equipment, a Ross rifle, and assigned a bunk along with a pillow, two blankets and a palliasse or thin straw mattress.

Life in the barracks typically may have included rising at 0630 hrs. for roll call followed by a brisk run around the grounds or drill hall depending on the seasonal limitations. After clean up and the making of cots and laying out of equipment, the new soldier was provided with breakfast at 0800hrs. which usually consisted of bread, butter, bacon, jam, cheese, tea or coffee. Throughout the rest of the morning soldiers participated in drills, instruction, and other physical training sessions. A dinner at 1230 hrs comprised roast or hashed beef, potatoes, turnip or parsnips, carrots, bread, butter, tea or coffee. Rounding out the day, they enjoyed a supper similar to breakfast and the allowed time off after 1730 hrs. in the city at the YMCA , churches or other social gatherings ,or, to remain in barracks. Lights were out at 2215hrs. following the last roll call of the day. Certainly this would not have been the regular routine of a farmer or fisherman from a small isolated community like Grand Manan.

 

115th Battalion at Saint John before departure in 1916. Source: NB Museum

115th Battalion at Saint John before departure in 1916. Source: NB Museum

Most of the local men who went into the 115th Battalion headquartered in Saint John were transported to Halifax and finally departed from there on 23 July 1916 along with elements of the 103rd, 109th, 112th and the 116th. They arrived in Liverpool, England on 31 July 1916. A total of 620 of the 801 men of the 115th who arrived in England at the training camps were drafted to other battalions in France including the 24th, 26th and 78th. Others were broken up and absorbed by the 13th and 17th Reserve Battalions to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field.  Of the remaining 181, some may have been found unfit, over age, under age or had skills from civilian life that could be used elsewhere such as with the engineers, foresters or millwrights.

 

The photo shown here of the nineteen Grand Manan volunteer soldiers in the Great War would seem to be dated on or just before July, 1916. It was probably their last opportunity to get a collective recollection of these young recruits before leaving Saint John and likely being dispersed across England and France as reinforcements to various infantry battalions. A check of available attestation records for these soldiers confirms that all but two, Ron Carson and John Titus who signed up in 1915, are recruits in January-February, 1916.

Grand Manan Soldiers-115th Battalion, 1916 Source-PANB, P8-1012

The composition of the recruits was representative of all the island communities including White Head. Of those standing in the photo, it shows left to right;

  • Paul Ingersoll
  • Pete Murphy
  • Ralph Ingersoll
  • John Titus
  • George Dalzell
  • Ronald Carson
  • Walter Flagg
  • Jimmie Gilmour
  • Owen Ingalls
  • Harold PentzKneeling, left to right are;
  • George Raymond
  • Jack Wilson
  • Wellington Flagg
  • John Morrison
  • Walter Thomas
  • Hollis Richardson
  • Carl Ingalls
  • Wilfrid Dalzell
  • Craig Cook

In addition, I have discovered in the photo collection of the Grand Manan Museum copied by the Provincial Archives an additional period photo which is not identified at all. This group shot shown here of World War 1 soldiers is obviously taken at a training camp, possibly even in England, but not at the front. A comparison with the first photo suggests some strong physical similarities between some of them. Readers are encouraged to provide any suggestions about the identities of this Grand Manan group. You can contact me through my e-mail attached to this article or by phone at 506-471-7511.

 

 

Postscript:

Related to my previous installment about Sam Greenlaw, I discovered in the St. Croix Courier an item dated Jan. 16, 1919, which noted that he called on friends in St. Stephen on his way to Fredericton. The editor commented:

“Sergt. Greenlaw was one of the most popular men in the famous Kilties Regiment and saw service for three months with them in the front line trenches. He was twice wounded and was ordered home, arriving on this side on the same transport that brought Sergt. Wesley Carson.”

 

 

I can be reached directly through the Island Times or readers can visit my recently launched web site to commemorate Grand Manan and the Great War at; www.grandmananfundyhistory.com