‘A soldier in every sense of the term’
BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL
Staff *The following is the third and final part of a three-part series based on the Glengarry Historical Society’s event, featuring seven area speakers, which took place at the Church on the Hill in Alexandria on January 7:
Attendees at the recent Glengarry Historical Society (GHS) event in Alexandria learned how a promising and potentially brilliant military career for one local man ended during one of the bloodiest battles of the Great War.
GHS President Robin Flockton, recalling the brief life of Maj. Martin Louis Shepherd, uncle of the late Gary Shepherd, spoke of how the Moose Creekborn and Alexandria- educated young man appeared “to be very interested in the possibilities of a military career, from an early age, and as soon as he could,” joined the militia – the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment, commanded at the time by Lt.-Col. A.G.F. Macdonald, the first editor of
Martin Louis Shepherd’s obituary in the Sept. 22, 1916 edition of – he’d been killed exactly one week earlier during the Battle of Courcelette, part of the four-month-long of the Somme offensive in northern France, at the age of 24 – noted how he “had attended the public and high schools here (Alexandria) and on completing his course at the latter institution and choosing the military life as his calling, about seven years ago,” enlisted with the 59th.
In November 1911, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and was given command of the regiment’s signalling corps in 1912 – a busy and rewarding time in the aspiring young soldier’s life.
“That year, he placed an ad in asking for 10 or 12 bright young guys who would become his signals troop, or platoon,” said Mr. Flockton
“And later that year, he also impressed Sam Hughes (the famed federal Minister of Militia and National Defence) at the annual (training) camp in Kingston,” with the signallers competence.
With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the 59th was assigned to guard/patrol the Cornwall canal and other area locks along the St. Lawrence River system. Lt. Shepherd “was very hard at work setting up communications between all the various locations, right down to the Quebec border, and slightly beyond,” explained Mr. Flockton.
At the end of October 1914, a group of nearly 50 members of the 59th – including Lt. Shepherd – enlisted and were subsequently sent to Petawawa.
By Sept. 15, 1915, they were in the thick of the fighting along the Western Front in France.
Precisely one year later, then-Maj. Shepherd was killed in action while leading his troop against German forces southwest of Courcelette.
“The attack was launched at 6:20 a.m. and he had led his company up to within 500 yards of the sugar refinery when he was shot by a sniper’s bullet,” read the “circumstances of casualty” report, a copy of which is posted on 21stbattalion.ca.
“The bullet passed through his heart and death was instantaneous.”
In concluding his presentation – which was based on his own research, as well as contributions from Gary Shepherd’s widow, Colleen Shepherd – Mr. Flockton told how Maj. Shepherd appeared to have had “a very strong mentor” in Col. Macdonald.
“It became quite obvious, during my research, that there was quite a close relationship between the colonel and this very keen young man who wanted to have a military career,” said Mr. Flockton.
Maj. Shepherd’s obituary in penned by his former commanding officer, seems to reflect that sentiment.
“That he was a soldier in every sense of the term was exemplified from the fact that he merited promotion on the battlefield, having first gained his captaincy and at the time of his death, held the rank of major,” wrote Col. Macdonald.
“Possessed of an affable and kind disposition, he was a prime favourite in any circle where he mingled and his death is one that is a decided blow to all...The termination of his brilliant career has called forth most palpable regret by all who were fortunate enough to be associated with him in the past, and the universal sympathy of Alexandrians goes out to the grief-stricken family in the loss of one so full of promise and hope of future usefulness.”
Two months later – November 23 – Lt.-Col. Macdonald was grieving once again, after receiving the news that his son, Lt. George Fraser Macdonald, 22, had been killed in action, also on the Somme, five days earlier. Ironically, in his last letter home, to his mother – a copy of which was published on the front page of on December 1, dated Nov. 5, 1916 – Lt. Macdonald expressed condolences to an Alexandria family who’d recently lost their son.
“I wish Donald (his eldest brother, a lawyer in town) would tender my sympathies to Mr. Shepherd and tell him how I ran across some of Lewis’ old officers not long ago, and they all spoke so highly and nicely of him,” he wrote.