Banners commemorate St. Mary’s First World War heroes

SHERBROOKE – John William “Jack” Tate had an adventurous heart and a wandering eye. Born in 1880, the eldest of 10 children to Daniel and Catherine Ann Tate of Melrose, he left home to see the world, travelling to Liverpool and China before the Great War changed everything.

He was already an “old man” when he enlisted in 1914, to fight for “King and Country.” He was a member of the newly formed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Brigade — the best of Canada’s Expeditionary Force. And he was among those whom his commander called “magnificent” on that day in 1915 when, trying to save a wounded comrade on the Western Front, he was cut down by a German sniper, the first Nova Scotian to die in that war.

Private Jack Tate stood five-foot-nine, had dark brown hair and hazel eyes.

That we know any of this is thanks to local historians Meghann Jack and Bruce MacDonald; Deputy Warden James Fuller; and members of the Sherbrooke branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, who are launching a month-long project to commemorate St. Mary’s First World War heroes. Starting Nov. 2, 15 elegantly designed banners — each depicting the name, age, place of birth, rank, battalion and circumstances of death of an individual soldier from the municipality — are scheduled to go up in Sherbrooke’s public places.

Coloured in rich gold and brown hues — designed by South Shore graphic artist Marieka de Roos — the displays bear the motto, ‘We Will Remember Them’ and, wherever possible, original service photos of the men. They’ll also be accompanied by QR codes — adjacent to the banners’ poles— which take you to MacDonald’s blog, First World War Veterans of Guysborough County, for more details about their lives.

There, for example, you will learn that “Jack and his fellow Canadians logged their first day of duty at the front lines on January 6, 1915, relieving the 55th French Regiment and occupying 1,150 yards of trench ‘… in waterlogged condition … [with] few dugouts’. The Brigade Major’s report stated: ‘All men are over their ankles in water — some up to their knees. All cheerful …. Draining [is] impossible until rain stops as [the] ground [is] completely flooded.’”

Jack also had “scars on his back, neck and head [which] suggest that he was no stranger to physically demanding tasks, a valuable asset for an infantryman preparing for the trenches of the Western Front.”

Meghann Jack — a member of the volunteer St. Mary’s Genealogy Research Centre, which came up with the idea — said the project began in the summer of 2021. “We’ve always admired communities, like Antigonish, that have done veterans’ banners. They are really lovely. We thought that this would be wonderful. How can we make this happen?”

She approached Fuller, who was happy to help. “I just thought it was a great idea,” he said. “So, I used some of my district funds to help support it. Other councillors also tossed in cash and it got support from the legion. So, it really is kind of a community effort.”

Armed with about $2,000 in municipal holiday community grant funding and another $1,800 from Fuller’s and other councillors’ discretionary funds, Jack went to local First World War expert Bruce MacDonald whom, she said, was key.

“I’d known of Bruce’s excellent work on veterans in Guysborough County and, when I reached out to him, he was so happy and so generous. We were able to get most of the photos from Bruce. He also had a lot of the history on the regiments the veterans had served in.”

For MacDonald — a retired social studies teacher — the project struck a personal note. “My grandmother, who born in Salmon River, had two brothers who served in the First World War. One of them was killed in action in 1915. So, that’s really what got my interest up. And, in digging around in that story, I got interested in basically looking at First World War fatalities and Guysborough in general and went from there.”

Jack said the Sherbrooke Legion also played an important role in the banners, which are being installed by the Genealogy Research Centre’s Keith Gallant, along with Sherbrooke Village’s Rodney MacDonald and Allan MacKeen. “Partnering with the Legion was very important. They actually did the work of selecting which veterans should be commemorated, because they’re also experts in local veteran history.

“Certainly, our goal is to get people to know more about these men. I think, increasingly, they’re not really in living memory anymore. It’s fading from living memory. So, this is about keeping that memory alive, as we move farther and farther away from the actual events of these conflicts … These were all local veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal