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AT THE LIBRARY: John MacPherson’s role in the Great War

BY ERIC STACKHOUSE 

On Nov. 29, 1915, John Henderson MacPherson journeyed from his home in Gairloch to Pastor J.F. Tupper’s residence in Westville to enlist in the Great War.

This is his story, as gathered by piecing together his historical traces in library and archival records.

John, also known as “Jack,” lied about his age. He was only 15 and the minimum was 18. His mother was buried in Kansas City and his father died in 1914 and he was an only child.

Jack joined a new battalion, the 106th Nova Scotia Rifles, then being formed in northern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. He officially signed his papers in Pictou in December, again, lying about his age. Whatever hesitation the officer had, all he showed was some simple arithmetic written on the corner of the form, to ensure the result was 18 years of age. Described by friends as a “bright and pleasant boy…, the fun of the platoon”, Jack’s medical says he was 5 foot 2 inches tall, 125 pounds, of medium complexion with blue eyes and medium brown hair. He looks young in his battalion picture.

Jack’s company trained in Pictou. The town was proud to host the recruits, offering entertainment, accommodation, and the best seats in theatres. On July 15, 1916 all battalion companies marshalled in Truro and made their way to Halifax to board the Empress of Britain, a Canadian Pacific Steamship, to make the Atlantic run to Liverpool, England. Arriving on July 23rd, the 106th travelled to Shorncliffe Camp for trench training.

With the heavy losses of the battles of Courcellette, Thiepval Ridge, and Regina Trench, the existing Canadian battalions needed reinforcements. The 106th was broken up in England and the soldiers assigned to existing battalions. Jack must have showed promise as he was among the first to go to France. He joined the 26th New Brunswick Battalion at Bertacourt on Oct. 10 in the Picardy Region of France as they were marching to the Front. On Oct. 15 the 26th was ordered into the trenches near Bully-Grenay, a coal mining region near Vimy. Jack’s new company, “A”, moved up Bully Alley Trench to Trench 210 facing the German lines. It was called a “quiet” area, letting the veterans rest and the new recruits adjust.

On Oct. 18, as A Company was making trench repairs, the Germans fired 60 “Minnie” and “Fishtail” mortars. Five men were wounded by shrapnel, including Jack MacPherson. The medics prepared him for travel and he made his way by ambulance and train to the 18th Casualty Clearing Station 20 kilometres away in Lapugnoy. The 18th was considered an excellent field hospital but at 3:45 a.m. Oct. 19, 1916 Jack died of wounds, 16 years of age. He rests in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery in Section II, Grave C1. The grave and cemetery are well tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. John H. MacPherson is remembered on the county Cenotaph in Pictou, a cenotaph at Gairloch Church, and a family gravestone in St. Andrews Cemetery.

Each of the names listed on our many war memorial cenotaphs around the county, have many stories to tell. Your public library is here to help you take that journey.

The public library has a wealth of information and research materials available for library visitors and patrons to browse, from online access through www.NovaStory.ca and www.Ancestry.ca, to special cabinets of rare books and archival materials, friendly helpful library staff, and the Heritage Room at the New Glasgow Library.

For more information on upcoming library programs, special events and services, drop by your local library branch, follow us on Twitter, find us on Facebook, or visit us online at www.parl.ns.ca.

Eric Stackhouse is chief librarian, and branch librarian for Westville Library. 

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