McCartney's Journeys

John McCartney's Militarry Experience

In 1914 war erupted in Europe. The United States entered the war on 6 April 1917. Jack was 20 years old and wanted to help in the war effort. We don’t know if he tried to enlist in the US Army, but had he done so he would have been rejected. Jack was a rather short young man, being only five feet and four inches tall. Enlistment in the United States Army was out of the question since their minimum height requirement at that time was 5 feet, 6 inches. The Canadian Army had a much lower height requirement, so Jack went to Canada to enlist.

Photo of John McCartney in his Canadian Expeditionary Force uniform.

On Wednesday, 19 December 1917, Jack was sworn in as a member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and assigned to Military District 4, 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment. He was shipped out immediately and arrived in England, presumably for training. He was then transferred to the Victoria Rifles, the 24th Battalion, part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division on 11 May 1918.

From 11 March to 14 June there is no information as to where he was. It is common in US military organizations for a soldier to spend time in a “replacement” unit until it is determined where he or she is needed most. It is possible that a replacement center and additional training would account for the missing months.

On Friday, 14 June 1918, Jack arrived in France and was assigned to the Victoria Rifles, the 24th Battalion, part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division.

His time serving in the trenches of France was short-lived. About two months after arriving, on Sunday, 18 August he was admitted to the Bear Wood Field Hospital. He had been wounded. According to his hospital records he had a “gunshot wound” in his left knee and a compound fracture of the tibia. Surgery was not as well advanced at that time, so the doctors decided not to attempt removal of the bullet because of the possibility of losing the leg. Jack carried the bullet in his knee for the rest of his life.

Jack jokingly called the bullet his weathervane since any changes in the barometric pressure would cause it to bother him. He could tell two or three days in advance of when it would rain. In fact, I think he was more accurate than the meteorologists on television when I was growing up.

According to John Keegan in his book The First World War, the Second Division saw action near Damery, France,approximately 71.5 miles east and slightly north of Paris, on the 16th and 17th of August. Since Jack served in the 5th Battalion, Second Division, and he was admitted to the hospital on 18 August, it is most probable that he was wounded at the battle of Damery.

Jack remained in hospital until Saturday, 5 October 1918, when he was reassigned to the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Even though they retained the “Mounted” in the title, the 5th had been converted to an infantry unit. His wound continued to be a problem and he was sent back to the hospital twelve days later, 17 October. He was finally discharged from the hospital on Wednesday, 20 November 1918, and sent to a demobilization unit.

He was sent back to Canada, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the ship Olympia on Saturday, 15 February 1919. He was sent to Toronto, Ontario, for final demobilization, one year and three months after he enlisted. A transportation allowance was issued to cover the cost of his return to New York City.

For more about World War 1, check out our series of articles, starting with World War 1, The War Begins, the YouTube videos The Great War narrated by Indy Neidell or, if you prefer reading we suggest John Keegan's book The First World War, published by Vintage Books.