Today I’m remembering Norman Angus MacEachern, my great grandfather. He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry on February 26, 1916 – when he was 21 years old – to fight in the First World War.
On August 15, 1917, he took part in the battle at Hill 70 in France in which there were more than 9,000 Allied casualties and more than 25,000 German casualties. In recognition of his conduct in battle he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Service Order First Bar medals.
A year later, in September 1918, he was severely injured and spent 5 months in an English hospital. He eventually returned home to Wetaskiwin Alberta.
Here are a few excerpts from the regimental logs mentioning him during 1917:
On 15/8/17 on Hill 70 near LOOS, this officer gallantly led his platoon to the attack and captured all the positions allocated to him. His company officer was wounded and this officer by his assertiveness and ability at once took control of the situation and carried on to a successful conclusion.
On 16/8/17 in the attack on the CHALK PIT his company formed the right flank of the battalion. At zero hour they advanced and captured their objectives but finding that the unit on the right had not come up this officer formed a defensive flank and sent word back to battalion headquarters. He personally established a post on the extreme point of the captured area, and although this post was annihilated three times with the exception of one man, this officer personally re-established it. When the enemy counter-attacked this officer had only six men with him on the right flank, but by his splendid example held his little group together and broke up the attack. The holding of the CHALK PIT was in a very large degree due to the personal bravery and determination of this officer.
16/8/17 at 5:25 A.M. proceeded to conference at Brigade Headquarters where instructions were received to be prepared to attack the CHALK PIT and GREEN LINE at 4:00 P.M. Orders were at once issued and sent to all Companies. Receipts being returned to Battalion Headquarters at 12:00 P.M., at which time a wire was put through by Lieut. Easterbrook to the RED LINE. At 4:00 P.M. our barrage opened out in splendid style, strong and effective. At 4:21 P.M. the CHALK PIT was captured by A, B, and C Companies with D Company forward in the RED LINE as support.
A Company was under the command of Lieut. Gleam, but as he was uncertain and unsatisfactory, the command devolved on Lieut. N.A. MacEachern who handled the company in a most excellent manner, and was a splendid example to his men. On arriving at a point about 200 yards from the CHALK PIT the company came under intense Machine Gun Fire and rifle fire, suffering very many causalities from the right flank, which was unprotected on account of the 5 th Canadian Battalion, which was attacking on the right being held up. It was not possible to counteract this, for if this had been attempted there would not have been sufficient men left to carry the objective, it was therefore necessary to accept the losses and capture the objective. Losses were greatly minimized by the simple expedient of the men advancing from shell hole to shell hole, but always keeping up with the barrage.
About 74 yards in Advance of the CHALK PIT a number of the enemy were encountered and dealt with. At this point one man from the 7 th Battalion and 2 men of the 8 th Battalion who had remained in shell holes from the previous day, joined the company and joined in the attack. At 4:15 P.M. the right area of the CHALK PIT was clear and wounded were being attended to, when a German was seen coming out of a dugout on the run. The sentry promptly blew his head off, immediately an explosion took place in the dugout causing us no causalities. Shortly after this another dugout was blown in causing us no casualities. When it was considered safe a search of the other dugouts was made and a German Medical Officer and 7 stretcher bearers were found, who rendered very valuable assistance in caring for our wounded. A German Signal Sergeant was also found in a dugout. He hesitated giving up his papers , and was dealt with by Private Iwamoto who obtained an enemy code book, which was promptly turned over to Lieut. MacEachern. Two Lewis Guns and a bombing post were sent forward at once. Lieut. Graham made a daring reconnaissance forward along a communications trench, making the extreme advance of the Battalion. A block was out in and covered by Rifle Grenadiers and Lewis Guns. The balance of the Company consolidated the position as rapidly as possible, digging a trench parallel to the lip of the CHALK PIT. It became necessary to reinforce the Right Post which was under 19791 Sergeant J Wennevold, men for this purpose being drawn from “C” Company. This Post was made at M 32 d 4-1 and to the right of the Battalion Area, but as the 5 th Battalion had not come forward it was necessary to have this post very strong to protect our right flank. During the whole consolidation the whole front was subject to heavy Machine Gun fire and shelling from Field Guns. At 5:15 P.M. the enemy was observed to be massing on the right front. Word was sent to the artillery. Machine Guns and our Lewis Guns turned upon them., when our artillery barrage opened the enemy disappeared in confusion, his Machine Guns and snipers remaining very active.
An enemy aeroplane made a reconnaissance of the area, and in a short time the very heavy artillery turned on to the CHALK PIT and vicinity, The enemy obtained an enfilade fire down the CHALK PIT from the direction of LENS, also a number of batteries worked for over an hour shooting from the left.