Private James Abercrombie, reg no. 123978 enlisted in Chatham, Ontario at the age of 19 years, 6 months, enlisting with the 70th Overseas Battalion on October 1, 1915. After initial training in Canada he transited the Atlantic via the S.S. Lapland, arriving in England May 5, 1916. Over a month transpired where his whereabouts were unknown but he arrived in Shorncliffe and served in that location from June 25, 1916 to June 7, 1916. He then was transferred to the 39th Battalion and moved to West Sandling on June 7, 1916. The very next day he shipped to France and was taken on strength with the 18th Battalion. He joined the Battalion in the line on September 17, 1916 at the Somme, serving dutifully with the Battalion until wounded during an accident on June 14, 1917.
The War Diary entry relates on that date: “Battalion training to according to syllabus. 3 o.rs accidentally wounded.” Private Abercromby was one of those three men. He suffered a slight wound to his left hip. The report on the accident found:
“#174556 Pte. Edwards[i] was instructing on the Lewis Gun. He put in a live round in mistake for a dummy and pressed the trigger, exploding the round. The bullet hit the spare part wallet and entered the ground. A partof the spare parts hit Pte. Abercromby.”
The report attached not blame to Private Abercromby and the accidental wounding, as far as Private Abercromby was concerned, was unavoidable. It did find that the officer in charge of the training and responsible for inspecting the ammunition would be disciplined.
Two days after the accident he was being treated at No. 7. Canadian General Hospital, Etaples, France and was released after treatment for his wounds on July 4, 1917 and arrived back with the Battalion on July 31, 1917, which was billeted in Bovigny Woods near Barlin, France involved in training in preparation for operations around Hill 70.
A well needed leave to Paris, France for ten days started on September 11, 1917 was granted.
November 9, 1917 was the fateful day for Private Abercromby. The Battalion was engaged in the Passenchendaele sector and his Circumstances of Death Card relates:
“This man was instantly Killed by an exploding shell at Crest Farm near Passchendaele, on the night of 9-11-17.”
Private Abercromby was one of 14 members of the Battalion to perish that night. The War Diary describes, in detail, the hell that was Passchendaele, and what these men endured:
“November 9, 10, 11, 12
During the whole of this tour the Officers and men held this part of the line under the most severe conditions possible. Great difficulty was experienced in the evacuating of casualties from the front line to R.A.P.s and dressing stations. Front line trenches were subjected to frequent barrages and the rear country [area] was also heavily shelled and bombed. The supports on this front were reached by a series of tracks, being trench mat walks, and rations had to be carried by mules up these tracks. Each track being subjected to continual shellfire, the transport and ration parties where fortunate in escaping with the loss of 3 men killed and 1 mule which fell off the duckboard track and owing to the depth of the mud, had to be shot. Splendid work was done by the Battalion Stretcher bearers in tending and evacuating the wounded.[ii]“
His medals were forwarded to his sister Tina Williamson resident at 8 Frejama [sic] Place, Mount Dennis, Ontario. He is commemorated, along with 54,394 identified casualties including 6,928 Canadian soldiers, on Panel 10 – 26 – 28 at the Menin Gate.
With special thanks to the tireless work of Dawn Hueston, with which whose efforts help us all to remember our veterans and honour their memory.
NOTE: For a very good overview of the Lewis Gun and its operation please go to this link.
[i] Edwards, William: Service no. 174556 (Military Medal) was later to earn a commission as a lieutenant and survived the war. No relation to the author.