November 11, 2012
A number of months ago I sat down and started thinking of ways I could compile some information on the soldiers of Palmerston. I had been putting together a little bit of information here and there over the last few years, but I never really dug deeply into what could have been out there. With the Centenary of the First World War coming up I started thinking a little more seriously on what I could do and then Remembrance Day started looming in the near future and I thought I should do something impressive, something new perhaps!
So I started digging...and digging...and I found more than I ever believed could possibly be out there! The big thing I found is that of all the places each had a little piece of information, but no one had pulled it together into one spot. But you can’t blame them? Unless they were some glorious war heroes, why else would people care about kids from a small town in rural Ontario?
While trying to determine the best avenue for a Remembrance Day post, I started with the names on the Cenotaph. There are some curious names that don’t necessarily match up with records from the period. There are two names on the cenotaph of men that served in the First World War, but no where can I find that they indeed died in the service. In fact there are even names that to this date I can’t find a single record for!
Despite all of this there was one family name that stuck out in particular; the name McCaughrin, which in fact is on the Cenotaph twice; D. M . McCaughrin and T. A. McCaughrin, listed side by side.
One of the beautiful things about the internet is you can amass an amazing amount of information quickly and easily. I was able to find copies of the original Attestation Papers that the two McCaughrin’s completed when they “signed up.” Sure enough, they were indeed brothers, sons of Daniel and Susan McCaughrin.
For this particular post I decided to focus on D. M. McCaughrin (better known as Daniel Milton, or Milton, so as not to be confused with his father). Milton was born in Palmerston on January 24, 1881. He had a fair complexion, bright blue eyes and was of average height. He had a steely look about him with a solid square jaw and hands of a man used to hard work. He listed his trade as Railway Conductor and that he had a year of experience serving with the 30th Wellington Rifles based in Guelph.
As a side note: Milton did something very interesting, which surprisingly wasn’t very uncommon in the First World War. He actually used a different name; he enlisted as Milton McLaughlin. An interesting oddity is that on his Attestation Papers it actually states “True name: Daniel Milton McCaughrin” and it’s in the same handwriting as what appears to be Milton’s. Added to the mystery is in the 1901 Census a Daniel and Susan McCaughrin are listed, but in the 1911 Census neither appear, but a Susan McLaughlin appears with the exact same birth date as Susan McCaughrin. So it may be safe to assume Milton changed his name along with his mother after his father’s death sometime between 1901 and 1911.
When war was declared by Britain on August 4th, 1914, the Dominion of Canada was at war too. That sent out a call for volunteers; Milton heard that call! By mid-September over 32,000 volunteers had assembled in Valcartier Quebec to join the 7th Battalion. Milton, being an “older” volunteer at 33 years old and with prior militia experience was quickly mustered into the Battalion. Milton officially signed up on September 18th, had his medical exam on the 23rd and by October 14th was disembarking the Virginian in England and considered “ready to fight”.
After a period of training over the long cold English winter Milton departed for France in the spring of 1915. Milton was attached to the British Columbia Regiment which was apart of the 7th Battalion. The regiment history shows what these unfortunate men witnessed in their first official action:
The 7th Battalion's first major action was at Ypres at the Battle of Saint Julien. The Regiment was in brigade reserve on 22 April 1915 when poison chlorine gas was unleashed on the French Colonial Division to the left and north of the Canadian positions near Ypres. As the gas spread many French Colonial troops were seen running in all directions, throwing their weapons away and falling as they ran. The 7th Battalion was fallen in, less Number 1 Company which was left with the 8th Battalion in reserve, and they marched up the Grafenstafel Ridge where they remained until midnight occupying support trenches. At midnight they were moved to a new position in the hollow ground North of Saint Julian at Keerselaere. They began to dig in at the foot of a ridge, occupying old artillery dugouts and along a hedge line. On 23 April Colonel Hart-McHarg was mortally wounded while conducting a reconnaissance forward of the trenches, and command fell to Major Victor Odlum. The fighting for Saint Julien was fierce and the Battalion barely managed to escape capture when it was surrounded by the Germans. Lt Bellew won the Regiment’s first Victoria Cross for his efforts with Sergeant Pearless and the Machine Gun section, who stayed behind to try to hold off the Germans long enough for the Battalion to withdraw. Of the twenty-four officers and 900 men who went into battle, only six officers and 325 men mustered for roll call on 25 April when they were moved to the rear. The men in Number 1 Company and the 8th Battalion had been ordered out to the left to help fill the gap left by the French. They were able to hold out until 26 April in the face of gas and without support on either flank. Twenty-two out of a hundred returned to the battalion.
However, the 1st Canadian Division, including the 7th Battalion held the line and defeated the most determined attack by the Germans to that point in the war. It was the start of the enviable reputation that the Canadian troops would build throughout the war.
While Milton was one of the lucky ones not to succumb to the gas attack, he was hit in the leg by a bullet early on April 25th and was declared missing later that day at what must of have a ghastly roll call. By April 27th Milton had been found by the Red Cross, but unfortunately had succumbed to his wounds.
In that short time one of the first Palmerston boys to answer the call to arms had also become the community’s first casualty of the Great War.
Daniel Milton McCaughrin, was only one of 65,000 Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War, he was only a small town boy like so many others. But he was part of something bigger, something that made the world take notice of Canada and its determination to do what’s necessary in the face of adversity. We’ll never know what thoughts went through his mind those few days in that gruesome battlefield; we’ll never be able to appreciate how horrendous his experiences truly could have been. The best we can do is to remember the men and women like McCaughrin and be hopeful we never have to live through something like that again.
So I hope everyone takes a moment to be thankful to Daniel Milton McCaughrin of Palmerston, who died April 27, 1915 aged 34, and to the many others like him who gave their lives for Canada.