Antigonish Cenotaph Project
Private James Alexander Macdonald
Date of Birth:
Oct. 21, 1881 at Malignant Cove, Antigonish County*
Angus R. and Christina (Cameron Chisholm) Macdonald Half-brothers John (Blacksmith) and John Donald Chisholm; half-sisters Annie and Mary Chisholm; full brothers Ronald, Hugh, Alexander ‘AB’ and Donald; full sister Catherine A. Single Miner August 28, 1916 at
Siblings: Marital Status: Occupation: Enlistment:
No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance Service #: 524951 Rank: Private Previous Military Service: None
Unit: Next of Kin:
Christina Macdonald, Ashmont, Boston, MA (mother)
Date of Death:
Kingston, ON Aug. 10, 1918 at
Final Resting Place:
St Mary’s Cemetery, Kingston, ON
* Date of birth obtained from James’ attestation papers. The Canadian censuses of 1871, 1881 and 1891 indicate that James was born in 1878.
James Alexander Macdonald was born at Malignant Cove, Antigonish County, the son of Angus R. and Christina (Cameron Chisholm) Macdonald. Angus R.’s father, Ronald, farmed on the Glebe Road beside the Heffernan family and was the son of Angus (Pioneer), who settled at Big Marsh. Angus’s three brothers settled in other Antigonish County locations — Alexander at Brown’s Mountain, Laughlin and Ronald in the Heatherton area.
James’ mother, Christina, was a native of Middle South River, the daughter of Alexander Cameron — son of Ewan (Pioneer), who settled at Middle South River — and Ann Boyd — daughter of Angus Boyd (Pioneer), who settled at Boyd Settlement. Christina was a sister of the noted Doctor Hugh Cameron, who established a medical practice at Mabou, N.S.
Christina first married John (Blacksmith) Chisholm, Malignant Cove, around 1862. John (Blacksmith) was the son of John Chisholm and a grandson of Alexander (Pioneer) Chisholm, Malignant Cove. Christina and John (Blacksmith) had four children, their son John continuing the family tradition by operating a blacksmith forge at the cove.
Following her first husband’s passing, Christina married Lakevale native Angus R. Macdonald — eight years her junior — around 1870. The couple resided at the Cove, where they raised a family of six children. James Alexander Macdonald was one of their five sons. Sometime after 1901, the family moved to Ashmont, Boston, MA. Three children are known to have relocated with them — Ronald, Alexander and Catherine.
Around the same time, James departed for British Columbia, where he worked as miner at Greenwood, a “boom town” with a population of 3,000 in an area rich with copper ores. On Aug. 28, 1916, James traveled to Vernon, B.C., and enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at its Training Depot # 11, Camp Vernon. At the time, James likely misreported his year of birth by four years, perhaps believing he may have not been accepted at age 38. His attestation form states his “apparent” age as 35 years.
While James listed his mother, Christina, as next of kin and gave her Boston address, he may have been unaware that she had passed away on May 2, 1915. His brother, Ronald, was the “witness” on her death certificate. In addition, James’ military will, signed on Oct. 12, 1916, named his deceased mother as his beneficiary.
A third document, completed two days later, stated that his father was deceased and his mother a widow. This information was once again inaccurate, as Angus R. passed away sometime after 1921. James assigned $15 of his monthly army salary to his mother, but payment stopped on Nov. 1, 1916, when officials determined that she was deceased. The sum of $45 was reassigned in March 1917, by which time James may have learned of his mother’s passing.
Following his enlistment, James completed several weeks of training at Vernon, B.C., before crossing the country by train. On Oct. 31, he departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain and arrived at Liverpool, England, 11 days later. On Nov. 22, he was “taken on strength” at the CAMC Training School, Dilgate. One month later, James was assigned to the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance and immediately departed for France.
The 13th Canadian Field Ambulance (CFA) initially mobilized at Work Point Barracks, Macaulay Plains, Esquimault, B.C., on March 22, 1916, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. L. Biggar. The unit’s three Officers and 80 ‘other ranks’ (OR) left Halifax aboard SS Metagama on July 1, 1916, and arrived at Liverpool one week later. While in England, the unit was attached to the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which was part of the newly formed 4th Canadian Infantry Division. The unit reported a “strength” of 13 Officers and 226 OR when it departed Southampton docks on Aug. 12 aboard the transport Nirvana, accompanied by its vehicles and animals.
The 12th Infantry Brigade saw action at the Somme during the battle of Ancre Heights (October and November 1916). James Alexander Macdonald joined the unit in the field on Dec. 30, 1916. From April 4 to 17, 1917, he was temporarily assigned to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station, where he witnessed first-hand the results of the fighting at Vimy Ridge.
James served with 13th CFA throughout the remainder of the year. On Dec. 15, 1917, he received a 10-day leave and proceeded to Paris. While he rejoined his unit on Jan. 25, 1918, James fell ill six days later and was admitted to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. On Feb. 10, James was invalided to England. Test results received nine days later confirmed the initial diagnosis. Before month’s end, James was admitted to Canadian Special Hospital, Lenham, Kent.
On March 16, James departed for Canada aboard HMHS Araguaya, a vessel that transported over 15,000 wounded and sick Canadian soldiers home during its war service. He subsequently travelled by train to No. 3 District Depot, Kingston, ON, and was admitted to the Mowat Memorial Sanatorium on March 29. At that time, medical authorities described his condition as “a far advanced case” that was “slowly progressive.”
James was discharged from military service at Kingston on July 31, his discharge papers describing his character and conduct as “Very Good.” Private James Alexander Macdonald passed away at Mowat Memorial Sanatorium at 6:40 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, 1918. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kingston, ON, located on the Church’s west side. His brother, Alexander ‘AB’ Macdonald, was listed as his next of kin.
The Antigonish Cenotaph Project is affiliated with the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Its goal is to research and preserve the stories of our town and county’s fallen First World War soldiers. Current and previous stories are available online at antigonishcenotaphproject.wordpress.com.