|Date of Birth||March 4, 1892|
|Place of Birth||Keewatin, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Duncan McLeod (father), Keewatin, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Niagara Camp, Ontario|
|Age at Enlistment||23|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||15/08/1917|
|Age at Death||25|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France|
Four months after their success at Vimy Ridge the Canadian Corps fought at the Battle of Hill 70, suffering almost 6,000 casualties in the ten day operation. One of the fallen was Private Alexander McLeod.
Alexander was the son of Duncan McLeod and Mary Munro of Keewatin, Ontario. Duncan was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland. Mary was also from Scotland and they both immigrated to Canada in the 1880s. They settled in the small town of Keewatin in northwestern Ontario where Duncan worked as a labourer, lumberman and carpenter. Duncan and Mary had seven children, all born in Keewatin: John (1888), Maggie (1890), Alexander (4 March 1892), Eunice (1893), William (1895), Duncan (1897) and Mary Christina (1899). Alexander’s mother died the day Mary Christina was born, when he was seven years old. His father continued to live in Keewatin but most of the children were sent to stay with friends and relatives. Two of the girls were married in Keewatin, Maggie in 1908 (to James Murphy) and Eunice in 1911 (to Don McLean). At the time of the 1911 census Alexander was living with Maggie and her husband on Superior Street in Keewatin. He was 19 years old and working as a sawyer in a box factory.
Four years later when Alexander enlisted he was living in southeastern Ontario. He signed up on 3 August 1915 at Camp Niagara, joining the 37th (Northern Ontario) Battalion. After three months of training his unit left for England, embarking from Halifax on 27 November on the SS Lapland. In February 1916 Alexander was transferred to a new unit, the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion, and they trained at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent. The battalion was sent to France in March but Alexander was kept at the Canadian Pioneer Training Depot for another two months. He embarked for France on 25 May and joined the 3rd Pioneers in Belgium at the end of the month.
Pioneer battalions worked closely with the engineers, spending a large part of their time at or near the front lines. Their work included mining, wiring, tunnelling, railway and road work, constructing water systems, and building and repairing trenches and dugouts. A few day after Alexander joined his unit they were at the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916), and the battalion suffered 180 casualties in the two-week operation. That fall they were moved south for the Somme Offensive and in April 1917 they were at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A month later, in May 1917, the battalion was broken up and the troops were all transferred to other units. Alexander was one of 250 men who were assigned to the 7th Infantry Battalion. He joined his new unit in the field on 18 May and three months later they took part in the Battle of Hill 70.
Hill 70 is on the northern edge of the city of Lens in France and the 7th Battalion moved into the area on 20 July 1917. At the end of the month they started intensive training for the upcoming operation. On the night of 14 August Alexander’s unit took up positions in the front line and the assault began at 4:30 the next morning. The 7th Battalion advanced up the hill against formidable defences – deep trenches, thick barbed wire, concrete pill boxes and entrenched machine guns. The Germans also bombarded them with mustard gas shells and high explosives. It was a hot day and the troops were weighed down with gas masks and their full uniforms and equipment. Despite this, they reached the objectives and held their position until being relieved two days later. Alexander was killed in action on the first day of the operation, 15 August. By 17 August his battalion had suffered 442 casualties out of a total of 661 men engaged, a loss of 2/3 of their strength.
Alexander’s final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France, the Lewis War Memorial in Stornoway, the Loyal Lewis Roll of Honour, the Keewatin Cenotaph and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque in Keewatin. The plaque is a memorial to staff and citizens who served in the Great War. At a ceremony in Keewatin on 4 August 1919 Alexander’s family was presented with a medal in honour of his service. It was inscribed: He fought for freedom and honour. In commemoration of A. McLeod who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918. Presented Aug. 4/19.
His father Duncan and his brothers John Murdo, William George (MacLeod) and Duncan Jr. all enlisted during the war. William and Duncan Jr. were living in Scotland and they served in the British army with the Seaforth Highlanders. John joined the 179th Battalion in Winnipeg in April 1916. He was sent overseas and returned to Canada in March 1919. Their father signed up with the 94th Battalion in Kenora in January 1916, when he was 50 years old. He served overseas and returned home in February 1918. He died in Keewatin in December 1925, shortly before his 60th birthday.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of Alexander courtesy of Lake of the Woods Museum Archives.