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the_military_career_of_a_g_f_macdonald

The Military Career of A G F Macdonald

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Lieutenant Colonel A G F Macdonald “George” Sandfield

It was no coincidence that, in 1915, the Minister of Militia and Defence, Major General Sir Sam Hughes chose Lieutenant Colonel Alexander George Fraser Macdonald to raise the 154th Battalion, the Minister had also commanded a militia regiment, the 45th West Durham Regiment and was well aware of the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment, having presented the Militia Efficiency Cup in 1913 to Captain John Angus Gilles, his Alexandria Company having won this cup three times. In 1913, Colonel Hughes invited Lt-Col Macdonald, locally known as, “George Sandfield”, to join him and a group of Militia offices to watch military manoeuvres in England, France and Switzerland. Finally, thanks to this friendship, Alexandria acquired an Armoury and a headquarters for the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment in 1914.

The “Rise and Demise of the 154th Battalion” is very much the story of one man; George Sandfield, who later in life was also referred to in Alexandria as the “Colonel”. He remained an Honourary Colonel of the SD&G Highlanders until his death in 1948.

The son of D.A.Macdonald, George Sandfield was educated at Upper Canada College in Toronto, during the time his father was Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Upon graduation he attended Loyola College in Montreal. He then worked for the Bank of Montreal. During his stay in Montreal, George Sandfield married Eugenie Hubert. He and his new wife returned from Montreal to Alexandria in 1892. He became them Editor of The News. The forerunner of to-days Glengarry News. He also assumed responsibility for his father’s business interests. The couple took up residence in the family home “Garry Fen” at the top of the Mill Square.

Following in the family footsteps, both his father and uncle John Sandfield Macdonald had been members of the 4th (Kenyon) Battalion of the Regiment of the Eastern District. George Sandfield received his commission into the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment in 1897. His opportunity to rise through the ranks of the Militia appeared at the start of the Boer War in South Africa. The British battalion undertaking guard duties in Halifax was sent to South Africa. The only Permanent Force infantry in Canada was the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). The RCR was also destined to fight the Boers. In order to replace the guardians of the port of Halifax, a 3rd Special Service Battalion of the RCR was created in 1901, for the duration of the conflict. George Sandfield volunteered for service in this Battalion. Not only did he gain valuable military experience and good standing in the Canadian Militia, but was promoted to Captain. Upon his return to Alexandria in 1903, he became officer commanding “C” Company of the 59th Regiment which was located in the town.

One of the major handicaps within the Militia structure was the lack of a central location for the officers and men to gather and train before embarking for the annual training camp.

In April 1910, George Sandfield became Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the 59th Regiment. Even before the month of April was out, George Sandfield travelled to Ottawa to lobby the Minister of Militia and Defence, Frederick Borden. His objective was to have an Armoury built and have the headquarters for the 59th Regiment in Alexandria. An official from the Ministry did come to Alexandria for a site visit, however the Laurier Government had more pressing matters to contend with, reciprocity and a navy, and was defeated the next year. The Armoury had to wait.

In October 1911, then Lt Col, Sam Hughes invited the new Prime Minister, Robert Borden to appoint him Minister of Militia and Defence. Reluctantly Borden accepted and invited Hughes into his Cabinet for the following five years. George Sandfield, already a friend of Sam Hughes, through their Militia connections, referred to Hughes appointment in The News as: “the right man, in the right place at the right time”. It is interesting that this staunchly Liberal newspaper should refer to the Conservative and Orangeman Minister in such glowing terms, however it had the right effect.

    Militia Officers’ Reward of Merit
    Montreal Gazette, Ottawa, August 3.   

As a result of the plan inaugurated last year by the Minister of Militia and Defence of giving to eligible militia officers who showed marked ability in bringing their regiments during the year to a marked state of efficiency the privilege of attending the divisional manoeuvres in England, France and Switzerland during September. A number of officers have been selected this year and will leave for England towards the end of the present month, with Col. the Hon. Sam Hughes, defence minister. Sixteen officers have been chosen by the minister including….Lieut.-Col. A. G. F. Macdonald, 59th Stormont and Glengarry Highlanders, Alexandria, whose regiment has made a splendid reputation during the past couple of years…. The rule governing the selection of the above officers has been that each must have displayed energy and intelligent zeal in military service. While there may be many other officers just as capable who have not been selected, their turn will come in other years. Different officers will be chosen each year. It will be noticed that there are several officers of the Canadian permanent corps selected, and in addition to them there are a number of permanent staff officers already in England taking a course of training. The twelve Canadian officers will leave towards the end of this month, Col. the Hon. Sam Hughes and Lieut.Col. the Hon. A. F. MacLeod will be the guests of the British Government. In 1913, Sam Hughes visited Alexandria where he was greeted by the pipes and drums of the 59th and escorted from the railway station to Mill Square where he inspected a guard of honour before dining with the Officers at Garry Fen. At a concert that evening the Minister thanked George Sandfield and thanked the town for the donation of land to build an Armoury and confirmed that Alexandria and the 59th Regiment would indeed get their Armoury forthwith. The Armoury was functional by the outbreak of war in August 1914 and officially opened with a grand ball in October of that year. The cost $18,896.15.

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Garry Fen, Mill Square, Alexandria

On 4th August 1914, ”A” and “B” Companies of the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment were instructed to place military guards on the locks on the St Lawrence Canal at Morrisburg, Farran’s point and Cornwall. On the 8th of August, George Sandfield was placed in command of all troops on guard duty from Prescott to Cornwall, with his headquarters in the offices of the Morrisburg Leader newspaper. George Sandfield’s force consisted of 22 officers and 258 other ranks, many of whom would ultimately join the CEF. The Canal Guard continued until June 1917. The initial rush of volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force started to slow down by mid-1915 and recruiting volunteers, as we have seen was faltering. Now Maj Gen Sir Sam Hughes; the Minister running contrary to his military advisers, announced that each electoral district would be asked to furnish a Battalion to be raised by a “notable” person in the district, who would command the Battalion. The genesis of the 154th Battalion CEF happened on October 15th, 1915 when again Sam Hughes visited Alexandria and was feted by the town. At an evening gala at the Armoury he called upon “the men of SD&G”. On November 5th, Parliament approved the recruiting of an extra 150,000 men. Finally on December 1st 1915, George Sandfield was asked to form the 154th Overseas Battalion CEF.

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The Armoury, Alexandria. Built in 1914

The United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (and Prescott Russell) were being asked to furnish 1,007 0fficers and men. 64 horses, 18 waggons and 15 bicycles. This complement would be further sub-divided into 8 Companies of 120 officers and men, Battalion Headquarters of 81 officers and men and a Machine Gun Section of 16. Recruiting offices were immediately established to find the recruits in Cornwall, Alexandria, Maxville Hawkesbury, Morrisburg, Winchester, Iroquois Martintown and Williamstown. Chesterville, Mountain, St Andrews, Vankleek Hill and Russell. Eighteen officers were given specific responsibilities in each recruiting area. Four detachments were to be recruited in Prescott Russell with the remaining 14 found in SD&G. Working over such a large area in winter proved challenging. Training, discipline and administration was fragmented. These shortcomings were exacerbated by the lack of clothing and equipment. There were also few rifles to go around. Despite tis the recruiting teams were resourceful. The recruiting newsletter The Bugle Call was introduced on 24th December 1915 and printed in all local newspapers throughout the Counties on a regular basis. Pals were encouraged to form a Section of 14 men. Friends and neighbours were asked to think in terms of forming a Platoon of up 56 men. Posters and post cards were circulated all with the underlying message; “Be a man; enlist”. The 154th Battalion even had a recruiting song: “D” Company of the 154th Battalion was designated the Glengarry Company. It was commanded by Captain John Angus Gilles. The goal of 154<supth</sup> was to recruit 600 men by the end of February 1616. To achieve these objectives, villages started recruiting leagues and held patriotic rallies.

The Recruiting Song of “D” Company, 154th Battalion. (To a 1912 tune by Harry Lauder: “Every laddie loves a lassie”.)
General Hughes has called on us to-day.
Quick to raise a Company here in dear old Glengarry.
Just three hundred strong boys,
Hearty men and true,
For King and Country too.
The Belgians are a-calling for your help across the sea.
Serbia and Poland need your ready sympathy.
Fall in quick lads,
Join the happy band,
To represent Glengarry on our march through German land.

Chorus:
All we’ve got to do is win boys.
Beat the Germans once for all.
When we March into Berlin boys
We’ll all see Bill the Kaiser fall.

With pipers marching on ahead,
What cares old Glengarry for the German gas or lead?
We’ve just got to win boys,
And end the Kaiser’s sway.
The Huns, with fire and sword, have overrun the land,
Where plucky little Belgium made his last stand.
Drive the tyrant back lads,
Save our country too.
Glengarry has to do her share.
You see it’s up to you.

Chorus:

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The 154th Battalion formed a hockey team and played against the Ottawa “All Stars” and the 77th Battalion. Intent on pursuing the Glengarry ideal of a Highland regiment status, a sponsor for a Pipe Band was sought and it was not long before John MacMartin MPP provided the $2,568 to outfit the band and thus provide another recruiting tool, to which Archie Chisholm provided $400 for sporrans. By April 28th, 1916 recruitment had reached 1,078 and fundraising was proceeding well headed by $1,000 from the Province; SD&G donated $1,000. The residents of the village of Dunvegan, who had started a Machine Gun fund the previous year, donated $625. The Cornwall Canadian Club was a major donor with a contribution of $1,939. The Canal Patrol donated $1,115 and the Glengarry Recruiting Association gave $1,000. The Glengarry Citizens Patriotic League gave $500. Businesses donated; the J T Schell Company of Alexandria gave $1,000. Villages and individuals donated a further $2,145; and of course we must not forget the $50 allocated by the Dominion Government to cover recruiting expenses.

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The 154th Battalion Pipe Band
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The 154th Battalion Bugle Band

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Training during this early phase involved first and foremost discipline which was achieved through physical fitness and parade ground drill. Bayonet fighting and very elementary field training, all of which were limited by lack of equipment and winter conditions. Musketry would become a major focus when they finally went to camp. On 26th May 1916, “D” Company was feted by the town of Alexandria before they left for camp at Barriefield near Kingston. Here the 154th Battalion formed a Brigade along with the 155th battalion from the Belleville/Quinte area and the 156th Battalion from the Brockville area. The Acting Brigade Commander was Lieut Col A G F Macdonald. The weather in June 1916 was poor, with rain. The 154th were glad to have a substantial bank balance courtesy of their generous donors. It became necessary to provide a drainage system in the tented area and also additional cooking stoves were purchased. The Battalion cooking stoves and baking ovens consumed 35 face cords of wood per day. Kingston and towns and villages were “out of bounds”. Surprisingly only two soldiers went absent without leave. Training moved into high gear; special course in signalling, sniping and machine gun tactics were run. Sanitation and health were taught. Musketry was finally an option. The Ross Rifle was the weapon of choice and each man was allowed to fire 50 rounds of .303 ammunition. The use of grenades was taught. The digging and construction of trenches was routine. Route marches in full kit took place frequently. A distance of 20 miles or more were common distances. During this period every man in the Battalion underwent a medical and dental evaluation to ensure that the troops were really fit for overseas duty.

Training during this early phase involved first and foremost discipline which was achieved through physical fitness and parade ground drill. Bayonet fighting and very elementary field training, all of which were limited by lack of equipment and winter conditions. Musketry would become a major focus when they finally went to camp. On 26th May 1916, “D” Company was feted by the town of Alexandria before they left for camp at Barriefield near Kingston. Here the 154th Battalion formed a Brigade along with the 155th battalion from the Belleville/Quinte area and the 156th Battalion from the Brockville area. The Acting Brigade Commander was Lieut Col A G F Macdonald. The weather in June 1916 was poor, with rain. The 154th were glad to have a substantial bank balance courtesy of their generous donors. It became necessary to provide a drainage system in the tented area and also additional cooking stoves were purchased. The Battalion cooking stoves and baking ovens consumed 35 face cords of wood per day. Kingston and towns and villages were “out of bounds”. Surprisingly only two soldiers went absent without leave. Training moved into high gear; special course in signalling, sniping and machine gun tactics were run. Sanitation and health were taught. Musketry was finally an option. The Ross Rifle was the weapon of choice and each man was allowed to fire 50 rounds of .303 ammunition. The use of grenades was taught. The digging and construction of trenches was routine. Route marches in full kit took place frequently. A distance of 20 miles or more were common distances. During this period every man in the Battalion underwent a medical and dental evaluation to ensure that the troops were really fit for overseas duty.

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Boys from Dunvegan 1914

On the 23rd August 1916, the 154th Battalion returned to Cornwall to be greeted by friends and families as they marched behind the Band to St Lawrence Park. The next day at the Lacrosse Grounds, they paraded in town and were presented with Colours beautiful and laboriously made by the St Lawrence Chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE). The Colours were consecrated by the Rev Hugh Sutherland, Moderator for the Presbytery of Glengarry Following the parades and festivities, the 154th then returned to Barriefield.

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Presentation of IODE Colours

On September 14th 1916, the 154th was inspected by Maj Gen Lessard and pronounced fit for duty overseas. The General was very impressed that there were 300 French-Canadians in the Battalion. By the end of the month the roll was 957 all ranks. The thinning in numbers was due to the underage soldiers who were discovered to have enlisted. In one final endeavour to raise more men, the Pipe Band of the 154th Battalion undertook a march through the Counties. On 18th September 1916, the Band arrived in Lancaster and marched to Williamstown for the night. The next day saw them set off for St Raphael’s, North Lancaster, and Glen Nevis before stopping for the night in Alexandria. On the 20th September the band marched from Alexandria to Glen Robertson, Dalkeith and ending for the day in Vankleek Hill. Their route took them through Kirk Hill, Laggan and Dunvegan. On the 22nd September, the Band marched through Greenfield, Maxville, and Apple Hill ending the day in Martintown. The next day they set out for St Andrews, Monkland and Avonmore. The following day their route took them through Finch, Berwick and Crysler. On the 25th they headed south once more for Morewood and Chesterville. The next day they headed west to Winchester, Inkerman and South Mountain. The next day, the Band went through Brinston and Iroquois before spending the final night of their march in Morrisburg. The final day saw the Band passing through Aultsville, Farran’s point, Osnabruck Centre, Wales, Dickenson’s landing before finally ending their journey in Cornwall, from whence they rejoined the Battalion in Barriefield.

On October 5th George Sandfield achieved his wish when Maj Gen Willoughby Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff wrote:

I think we already have too many Highlanders, but a battalion associated with the 59th Stormont and Glengarry regiment (unkilted but very Scotch) has a claim which I fear we cannot disallow.

Authority was granted to bear the style and title; 154th Overseas Battalion, Highlanders. On the 21st October 1916, the Battalion left Kingston for Halifax and on 31st October it arrived in Liverpool with 29 officers and 868 other ranks. 163 of these officers and men were from Glengarry. From the relative comforts of the RMS Mauretania, the Battalion moved to camp in Bramshott in Surrey, just south of London.

Upon arrival in England, the Battalion began a program of tough training, which now include anti-gas instruction and trench standing orders. Having barely had time to settle in to a new hectic training routine, George Sandfield received news that his son Fraser had been killed during the last days of the Somme campaign on 18th November 1916. This shock was to be followed almost immediately by the dismemberment of the Battalion he had worked so hard to put together. On the 28th November 1916, 120 men of the 154th were posted to 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles in France as reinforcements. The 154th was disbanded on 31st January 1917. The Battalion headquarters remained intact for administration as part of the 6th Canadian reserve battalion and moved to Seaford in Sussex. On 6th March 1917, George Sandfield lost all that remained of his Battalion, when the headquarters was dissolved. His great work had existed for 427 days. He men of the 154th Battalion were distributed among the frontline units as follows:

4th Canadian Mounted Rifles120
1st Battalion10
2nd Battalion156
3rd Battalion4
21st Battalion182
22nd Battalion17
PPCLI46
38th Battalion110
47th Battalion17
58th Battalion20
Machine Gun Battalions32

Of these men 143 died and 397 were wounded.

During early May 1917, Brig Gen Archibald Cameron Macdonell, commanding 7th Brigade arranged for his friend George Sandfield to visit his headquarters in France. George Sandfield was taken to the recent battlefield of Vimy Ridge. He then went to visit his son Fraser’s grave on the Somme. On 6th July 1916, George Sandfield left Seaford for London and Liverpool. During his eight months in England he had lost his Battalion and his son. It must have been a very lonely journey back to Canada. He arrived back in Alexandria on the evening of the 25th July 1916. He continued to serve until the end of the war as the Militia Department member on the Exemption Tribunal for those wishing to avoid conscription in 1917 and 1918. In 1925 George Sandfield was appointed Honourary Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed SD&G Highlanders from 1925 until 1942 at which time he became Honourary Colonel until his death in 1948. The 154th Battalion Highlanders CEF was awarded battle honours for the participation of men from the original battalion. They were: Hill 70, Ypres 1917, Amiens, Arras 1918, Pursuit to Mons, the Hindenburg Line and The Great War 1916-17. On Sunday 1st August 1926, the Colours of the 154th Battalion CEF were deposited in Trinity Church, Cornwall. According to Lt Col W Boss in his “History of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders 1783-1951” describes a stately ceremony, from which the following address by Colonel A G F Macdonald is quoted;

Sir: On behalf of the officers and men of the 154th Overseas Battalion CEF, I have the honour to inform you that these are the Colours and to request that they be deposited here for safe-keeping, as a token of their gratitude to Almighty God and by Whom alone victory is secured, for his Providential care and gracious benediction granted them in the discharge of their duty. In so acting they also desire to provide a memorial to the men of all ranks who served under these Colours, and to afford and inspiration for patriotic service and sacrifice to all who may worship here for all time to come.

Regimental Colours, once laid-up, are defenceless against the predations of moths and subsequently deteriorate. Their lustre disappears, yet they remain revered artifacts of another age. The words of Sir Edward Hamley are most appropriate.

A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole,
It does not look likely to stir a man’s Soul,
‘Tis the deeds that were done ‘neath the moth-eaten rag,
When the pole was a staff, and the rag was a flag.

Lest we forget

The site chosen for the Glengarry Cenotaph was an acre-sized lot, donated by George Sandfield, on the west side of Military Road, present-day Main Street North in Alexandria, “on the highest elevation nearly opposite the Armoury where the Memorial would be seen by all passing through the County by the Grand Trunk Railway from east to west and by all travelling over the Military Road from North to South”.

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Glengarry Cenotaph, Alexandria
 Dedicated by the Governor General Byng of Vimy in October 1923
              Branch 423, Royal Canadian Legion
                  Colonel A G F Macdonald.
the_military_career_of_a_g_f_macdonald.txt · Last modified: 2019/10/28 17:43 by johnwoodrow