‘A sol­dier in ev­ery sense of the term’

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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.

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