Friday, 1 April 2016

Harry's Journey: Epilogue

While Harry Murray returned home to Stellarton, NS following his military discharge, the 85th’s “Concert Party” remained active through the summer of 1919. An August 28 news item printed in the Antigonish Casket promoted one of its performances:

“The 85th Battalion Band Concert Party is coming to town Saturday night to put on ‘The Old Homestead’ at the Celtic Hall. This is the same company and the same play that used to keep the boys of the Highland Brigade in good spirits behind the lines in France, and is well worth taking in. The 85th party has been touring the province during the past few weeks and the provincial papers speak of the performance as a wonderful exhibition.”

During the post-war years, the former 85th Band renewed its affiliation with the 78th Pictou Highlanders. Still under the direction of Dan Mooney, the group included members from several Pictou communities, although Stellarton still provided its core. The band played annually at the Pictou Highlanders summer camp until “depression years” budget cuts drastically reduced militia funds. In 1923, the band performed at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the ship Hector’s arrival, and was a popular attraction at local skating rinks, Sunday night theatre concerts, political rallies and various holiday festivities.

By 1939, Dan Mooney and a half-dozen pre-1914 members—including Harry Murray—were still part of the band. While a summer fire destroyed the Stellarton rink and the adjoining band headquarters, two members bravely rescued the band’s larger silver instruments and musical collection, the only losses being a set of bells and a baritone horn.

When Canada declared war on Germany in August 1939, the 85th’s former CO, James L. Ralston—now National Minister of Defence in Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberal government—contacted Harry with a special request. Could he gather any ex-85th band members willing to serve and bring them to the newly established Infantry Training Depot at Aldershot?

During the summer of 1940, Harry assembled four former members, added a contingent of younger musicians, and headed to camp, enlisting for military service on August 27, 1940. Sadly, Harry and his former 85th comrades, well into mid-life, married with children and civilian careers, no longer possessed the energy of their former military days. Harry was discharged as “physically unfit” on July 12, 1941—not a surprising judgment, considering that he was 57 years old at the time—and, as with his former 85th band mates, returned home. After the Second World War, the 78th band gradually faded into history, largely due to its members’ age, family and work commitments.

By that time, Harry was similarly committed to work and family. During the 1920s, he operated a candy store in Stellarton, in addition to playing bass in a silent movie orchestra. Throughout the summer months, the group performed at the Digby Pines resort hotel.

Harry’s single life came to an end on June 18, 1924, when the 40-year-old bachelor married Jean Blackwood Dick, age 26, a native of Joggins Mines and trained nurse. The couple subsequently welcomed two children into their family, a daughter, Jeanne, and a son, Robert “Bob.” During these years, Harry managed Stellarton’s Jubilee Theatre and Westville’s Roxie Theatre, all the while continuing to perform with the 78th band and on stage, whenever the opportunity arose.

During the “depression years,” Harry worked for a time on road-building crews. In 1938, he obtained a position as caretaker for New Glasgow’s Provost Street post office. The job included accommodations in an apartment located on the building’s upper floor. Harry worked there until retirement, at which time the family relocated to a home in New Glasgow.

Harry and Jean Murray on the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary
Daughter Jeanne served as a “WREN” with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, later working as a stenographer in Windsor and Liverpool. Bob moved to Antigonish, where he married, raised a family, and worked in the office of a local automobile dealership. He followed the family tradition, taking music lessons in his youth from his aunt Mamie and becoming an accomplished violinist. As with his father, Bob made frequent appearances in community musical productions, a passion he pursues to this day.

Harry Murray passed away at New Glasgow in 1974, at 90 years of age. The Stellarton community band played “Colonel Bogey’s March” during the interment ceremony at Heatherdale Cemetery, Alma, a fitting tribute to a man who enthusiastically combined a passion for music and entertainment with dedicated service to his country.

The following sources provided information for this blog’s supporting posts:

Cameron, James M.. “Stellarton, the Birthplace of the First War’s 85th Band.” New Glasgow Evening News, no date indicated.

Hayes, Lt. Col. Joseph. The 85th In France & Flanders.  Halifax: Royal Print & Litho Ltd., 1920. Available online.

Hunt, M. S.. “The 85th Battalion Brass & Reed Band. Nova Scotia’s Part in the Great War. Halifax, NS: The Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co., Ltd., 1920. Available online.

War diary of the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa. Available online.

A special thank you to Robert “Bob” Murray, Antigonish, who provided supporting photographs, along with information on Harry’s family background and post-war life.

The entries from “Harry’s 85th Diary” are the property of Robert “Bob” Murray, Antigonish, NS and are reproduced on this blog by permission. All other rights are reserved. Any further publication, reproduction or distribution of this blog’s content without express permission is strictly prohibited.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Harry's Journey: Service in France & Belgium

On April 30, 1917, Pte. Harry Murray was attached to the Canadian Corps Composite Company, at its permanent base near Le Havre, France. He remained there for almost two months, rejoining the 85th at St. Lawrence Camp, Bois de la Haie, on June 25. With the exception of 14 days’ leave to Scotland in late March 1918, Harry remained with the 85th in the forward area for the duration of its time on the continent.

Lt. Col. Joseph Hayes, the 85th’s Medical Officer and later chronicler, summarized the band’s contributions to the unit in these words: “Above all, the Silver Band and later, the Pipe Band as well, were sources of ever present entertainment for the Battalion when out of the line.” Hayes rated the band as “unexcelled in the Canadian Corps,” and elaborated on its routine:

“Coming out of the line or back from a ‘Show’ [battle] it was invariably met by them. During the time ‘out’ the days were replete with Band Concerts—if the billets were scattered, they took turns with the different companies. When the Battalion went ‘In’, the Bands accompanied it as far as regulations permitted, and everyone seemed to step a little smarter, and to hold their head a little higher, as the Bands swung into the old familiar Regimental, on parting.”

The band provided nightly entertainment during the 85th’s time in Divisional Reserve. Harry contributed his percussionist talents as kettle drummer, in addition to his “rounded cantabile baritone” voice as vocalist. The group was renowned for its versatility, particularly the musical talents of its soloists—Thomas Roy (euphonium); Percival Barnes (piccolo and flute); Ronald McDougall and Duncan William Cameron (cornet); James Campbell Profit and Alex Myers (clarinet); and Alex McDougall (trombone)—and the trombone quartet of Alex McDougall, John James Gray, Clarence Edgar Purvis and James Roy. The 85th’s Silver Band soon became a 4th Division fixture, entertaining each Brigade’s battalions during their breaks from front-line service.

Harry and a small group of band mates also drew upon their pre-war theatrical talents, forming a “concert party” to entertain their comrades. Harry assumed the “lead” role in the party’s small theatrical productions, sketches and vaudeville routines, with George Edward Rackham of Amherst—a missionary to China during the post-war years—playing his “foil.” Talented step dancers Frank Arthur Ryan (Moncton), Charles William Appleton (Stellarton) and Ronald McDougall (Pictou) also participated, Ryan in particular renowned for his “eccentric dancing specialties.”

In early 1918, spurred on by their initial successes, Harry decided to tackle a much more ambitious project. Calling upon memory and previous experience, Harry wrote out the entire script of “The Old Homestead,” a popular Pictou County production. With the assistance of the “concert party” and band members, Harry directed and produced the show, reputedly the only complete stage production presented to Canadian troops in the forward area.

"The Old Homestead" Movie Poster (1935)
Impersonators Charles Appleton (Stellarton), George Rackham and Frank Ryan played the female parts, while Harry, Fraser Mooney (Stellarton), William McLeod (Stellarton), Bill Cameron (New Glasgow), Charles “Chud” MacDonald (Westville), John James Gray (Joggins Mines), Albert Gallant (New Glasgow) and brothers Angus and Archie McDougall (Stellarton) played the male parts. The 85th’s “handyman tailor” altered costumes purchased from local French shops, while Harry and William McLeod painted the scenery, with assistance from the Y. M. C. A. staff.

According to Hayes’ account, the group first presented the play during the 85th’s second stay at Raimbert, France in late February and early March 1918. Hayes described their efforts as “an unqualified success, and in the next few months the performance was given several times before the Battalion as well as before the other Battalions of the Brigade.” In subsequent months, the troupe presented “The Old Homestead” to units in the British and American sectors.

Similar entertainment troupes were widespread amongst Canadian and British units throughout the forward area in war’s final two years. It has been suggested that the decision to allow the 85th’s silver band to remain intact within its ranks set a precedent soon emulated by other units, whose bands or instruments had remained in England.

From a broader perspective, the conflict in France and Belgium was well into its third year by the spring of 1917, a fact that may have also contributed to this phenomenon. There is no doubt that the presence of silver bands and entertainment troupes immeasurably boosted the war-weary soldiers’ morale during their intermittent breaks from the line.

Harry Murray (right), Brussels, Belgium (February 1919)
On May 10, 1918, the entire silver band proceeded to 4th Divisional Wing camp “for a rest,” returning to the 85th’s camp early the following month. Harry and the band later spent the first two weeks of August at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre, rejoining their colleagues near Amiens on August 15. By that time, the 85th and its fellow Canadian Corps units were spearheading an Allied counter-offensive that eventually led to the November 11 Armistice. Lt.-Col. Hayes described the band’s activities during the war’s final stages:

“Later during the fighting of the summer and fall, when it was impossible for the Band to accompany the Battalion at all times, they played before several thousand Imperial and Canadian soldiers [behind the lines] at Écoivres and Marenla [France].”

On September 25, Harry was admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance on September 25 with tonsillitis and transferred to No. 12 Stationary Hospital for treatment. He returned to duty with the 85th at Agnez-les-Duisans on October 14 and remained with the unit for the duration of the Canadian Corps’ advance toward Mons, Belgium. Following the Armistice, the 85th encamped near the historic city, its soldiers preparing for their return to civilian life.

Having established itself as one of the Canadian Corps’ premier Silver Bands, the group was in constant demand. In Lt.-Col. Hayes’ words, “during the latter days of the [85th’s] stay on the continent, it had attained such a degree of popularity throughout the [4th] Division that, at times, it was almost impossible to keep it with the Battalion at all.”

85th Battalion Silver Band, Rixensart, Belgium (1919)
Between their various engagements, Harry and his mates found time to visit Brussels and various Belgian historic sites. On March 11,  1919, Harry received 14 days’ leave to the United Kingdom, rejoining the battalion at Rixensart, south-east of Brussels, on April 1. Five days later, the silver band travelled to Namur “to take part in a big Belgian military ceremony there.”

The 85th broke camp on April 25 and made its way by train to Le Havre, France, disembarking late the following evening. On April 28 and 29, personnel crossed the English Channel to Southampton in two groups and made their way to Bramshott Camp. On the month’s final day, the unit prepared for “the big parade in which 125 O. R.’s, the Silver Band and 16 Officers will take part.” In fact, the 85th’s silver band was one of only two Canadian bands to participate in the Great March of Triumph that wound its way through the streets of London on May 3.

The 85th Battalion departed England aboard the SS Adriatic on May 31and arrived at Halifax “to a tumultuous welcome” on June 10. The following day, the silver band led the battalion on a final march through the city to the Halifax Armouries, where CO Lt.-Col. Ralston issued “final dismissal” orders. After almost four years in uniform, Harry Murray was formally discharged from military service at Halifax on June 15, 1919, and returned home to Stellarton.

The 85th's Homecoming - Halifax, June 1919

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Harry's Journey: England and France

Harry Murray wrote his last diary entry on October 16, 1916, the same day on which torpedo boat destroyers met the majestic Olympic and provided an escort for the remainder of its voyage. The vessel entered Liverpool harbour in the late evening hours of October 18, its passengers disembarking the following morning and travelling by train to Witley Camp, Surrey, England.

While the Highland Brigade’s soldiers resumed training in anticipation of crossing the English Channel to France, the 85th’s band once again found itself in demand, playing concerts for the thousands of soldiers gathered at Witley. The quality of its performances drew the attention of the British Army’s Director of Musical Services, who described the group as “the best band that has come overseas from Canada,” praising “its precision in attack, its unanimity, its dynamic qualities and nuancing, and its brilliancy.”

Sadly, before year’s end, the Highland Brigade was dissolved, two of its units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—immediately disbanded and reassigned to existing units in England and France. While the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) remained in England—it was eventually disbanded in early 1918—the 85th became only the second Nova Scotian unit to cross the Channel, departing Folkestone in the early morning hours of February 10, 1917 and arriving at Boulogne, France shortly after midday.
First World War 85th Battalion post card.
At the time of the crossing, the band itself was “not [officially] on [the battalion’s] establishment,” its members making the passage as “fighting men,” assigned to stretcher-bearer duty with each of its Companies. Their instruments, however, “mysteriously” arrived amongst the Quartermaster’s stores, smuggled on board prior to departure. Once on French soil, they were quickly unpacked and the band led the way as the 85th marched to nearby St. Martin’s Camp.

While band members’ presence in France did not itself pose a problem, as all were enlisted men, their role within the battalion quickly became a matter of official discussion. Were they to resume their previous role, playing on ceremonial occasions and providing entertainment when appropriate? Or were they to be assigned to military tasks, in keeping with their status as soldiers? Lt. Col. Hayes, the 85th’s chronicler, summarized their circumstances in these words: “Until authorization could be obtained[,] the bandsmen were treated as ordinary fighting soldiers and played their part as such.”

85th's Officers in France, February 1917
While the battalion made its way from Boulogne to Gouy Servins, France for training at mid-month, military authorities took the matter of the band’s status under advisement, for the time being. As a result, its fate remained unclear for several weeks. On March 10, the 85th’s Adjutant recorded the following information in the unit’s daily war diary:

“Divisional authorities do not feel justified in allowing [the] Band to remain as such without some authorization. Advised that [they] would allow us 10 days in which might be received some authorization, otherwise Band should be absorbed in the ranks for regular duty.”

As a result, in Hayes’ words: “Even the band had to do its duty in the line.” Three days later, “Lieutenant Mooney and 41 OR [“other ranks”] (Band) left as [a] working party for 3rd Canadian Divisional Artillery.” According to Hayes’ recollection, its personnel were “under heavy shell fire day and night for ten consecutive days”:

“They showed themselves to be of the real Pictou Scotch brand, and completed their arduous tasks with credit to themselves and honour to the Battalion. This is doubly to their credit, as they had all been enlisted and brought overseas as bandsmen and only about a quarter of them were physically fit for front line work.”

On March 24, a “Staff Officer from GHQ [General Headquarters] called and discussed the matter of the Band with the C. O. [Lt.-Col. Allison Hart Borden].” While the 85th’s war diary recorded no details, apparently the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. Two days later, the “Band —1 Officer—41 OR returned to Battalion HQ from working party under 3rd Canadian Divisional Artillery.”

On March 26, Lt. Mooney and his charges travelled to Coupingy “to go before ADMS [Assistant Director of Medical Services] re: board,” presumably completing medical examinations to determine their fitness for service in the forward area. According to Hayes: “About this time[,] the matter was adjusted and from then on the band became a great source of pleasure and pride to the Battalion and had more time to devote to music and entertainment.”

All appeared in order on April 4, when the war diary entry reported: “Band played outside all day and gave a concert in the Y. M. C. A. [tent] in the evening.” The band and its members were to remain in France, in their accustomed role.

On the night of April 7/8, the 85th’s soldiers marched out under cover of darkness, preparing for their support role in the Canadian Corps’ historic attack on German positions at Vimy Ridge, France. While their colleagues made their military debut on the now-famous battleground, the band’s personnel remained in camp. When the tired but victorious soldiers returned to billets at Bouvigny Huts in the early morning hours of April 14, much to their delight, they discovered that band personnel had made their bunks, lit fires and prepared hot rations, in anticipation of their return.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Monday, October 16, 1916

Passed a tramp steamer this a. m.. Played from 10.30 to 11.30. Again from 2 p. m. - 4 p. m. Much calmer today or we are getting used to the roll. No excitement except about 9.30 p.m. The engines started to pop and “Pat” jumped and grabbed his pants, thinking we were hit.

SS Olympic with wartime camouflage

Monday, 28 March 2016

Sunday, October 15, 1916

Fairly rough. A great many sick. No band concert today. Nothing in sight. The day passed quietly. Little rougher tonight.

SS Olympic in rough seas

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Saturday, October 14, 1916

Still calm. Played band concert at 2.15 p.m. Getting a good deal rougher tonight quite a few sick. Very few toilet accomadations [sic]. We played at Officers’ mess tonight. It looks pretty rotten to see the Officers eating in such luxuary [sic] and the privates down in the hold like rats. Some army.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Friday, October 13, 1916

We left the wharf at 10.45 today and anchored in Bedford Basin until 5 o’clock. Then we set sail for old England. Very smooth sea tonight and nothing of any event. Slept in hammock tonight. Played band concert at 10 this morning.

Halifax Harbour Lighthouse