Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMarch 31, 1895
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Ida McDiarmid (mother), Columbia & First Ave. Kamloops, B.C.
Trade / CallingBank Clerk
Service Details
Regimental Number524557
Service RecordLink to Service Record
BattalionNo. 2 Field Ambulance
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Army Medical Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentVernon, British Columbia
Date of EnlistmentOctober 4, 1915
Age at Enlistment20
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathFebruary 27, 1969
Age at Death74
Buried AtEdmonton Cemetery, Edmonton, Alberta
PlotSection L, Block 25, Plot 3

McDiarmid, James Willard

Private James Willard McDiarmid enlisted in October 1915 at age 20 and served overseas with a field ambulance unit for almost three years. He returned to Canada in May 1919. His only brother Findlay Howard McDiarmid was killed in November 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele.

James was the youngest son of James and Ida McDiarmid of Kamloops, British Columbia. James Sr. was a carpenter originally from New Brunswick and his wife Ida (née McNabb) was from Ontario. Their oldest son Findlay Howard was born in July 1893 in Rat Portage, Ontario, and James Willard was born two years later, on 31 March 1895. At the time of the 1901 census the McDiarmid family was still living in Rat Portage (now called Kenora) but by 1911 they had moved west to BC. They settled in Kamloops where James Sr. worked for the city as a carpenter. James Jr. was employed as a clerk at the Imperial Bank of Canada and he joined the local militia, the 102nd Regiment Rocky Mountain Rangers. The Rangers trained with other militia units in the nearby town of Vernon where a permanent summer training camp, Camp Vernon, had been established in 1912.

The war started in August 1914 and James and Howard enlisted together on 4 October 1915. They signed up at Camp Vernon with the No. 1 Field Ambulance Depot, Canadian Army Medical Corps and they were given consecutive regimental numbers, 524556 and 524557. The recruits trained in BC over the winter and in March 1916 they headed east and embarked for England on the SS Metagama. Howard and James both spent 2-1/2 months at the Canadian Army Medical Corps Training School before being sent to France in early June 1916. They were assigned to No.2 Canadian Field Ambulance and after three weeks at the Base Depot they joined their unit at the end of June in a small draft of reinforcements.

Field ambulances operated advanced and main dressing stations, which were located just behind the front lines. They provided short term medical care, collecting casualties, treating them and evacuating them to the clearing stations and hospitals as needed. They also operated rest stations and provided stretcher bearers for moving the wounded. No. 2 Field Ambulance was in the 1st Canadian Division and in September and October they were at the Somme Offensive in France. The Somme has been called the graveyard of armies and in less than three months there the Canadian Corps suffered 24,000 casualties. In mid-October the 1st Canadian Division was relieved and along with the 2nd and 3rd Divisions they moved north to the area between Lens and Arras, opposite Vimy. On 27 November James was wounded but his injury wasn’t serious and he was treated and released to duty.

Over the winter of 1916-17 the Canadian battalions received reinforcements to bring them back up to strength. Early in 1917 they began to prepare for their next big operation, the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-14 April 1917). The carefully planned assault was a remarkable success, the first time all four Canadian divisions were used together in one operation. Early in March No. 2 Field Ambulance had been moved to Г‰coivres, 30 km west of Vimy, and they stayed there until after the battle was over. Casualties for the Canadian Corps for the six days at Vimy were 10,600 men killed, wounded and missing. The Canadians remained in the area between Lens and Arras until early in October, when they were sent to the Ypres Salient in Belgium for the Battle of Passchendaele (26 October-10 November 1917). Ambulance units were often within range of German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire and in early November James’ brother Howard was seriously wounded. He died of his wounds on 7 November 1917 and he’s buried in a military cemetery in Belgium. The Passchendaele operation ended on 10 November and at the end of the month James was given two weeks leave.

The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, started with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 and ended with the Armistice on 11 November. The Canadians had some of their greatest victories during that time but they also suffered heavy losses, with 20% of their total battle casualties occurring in the last three months of the war. At the beginning of August No. 2 Field Ambulance was based southwest of Amiens but the fighting was moving away from trench warfare into a more open phase and James’ unit moved several times over the next two months. By the end of October they were about 20 km north of Cambrai and on 30 October 1918 James had ten days leave in Paris, returning on 9 November. After the Armistice the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions were ordered to occupy Germany and No. 2 Field Ambulance went with them. They arrived there on 6 December and spent most of their time in the municipality of Urbach in the south part of Germany, about 100 km from the French border. From the War Diary of No. 2 Field Ambulance, 31 December 1918: ‘The record of the Field Ambulances since coming to France in 1915 is one to be justly proud of and is second to none. I thank you one and all from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done and wish you the best of luck and prosperity in the future. R.P. Wright, Colonel.’ For James’ unit the work was done and they were moved back to Belgium on 9 January. Two and a half months later they embarked from Le Havre for England. James returned to Canada early in May 1919 on the SS Scotian and he was discharged in London, Ontario on 17 May. His intended address was Victoria, BC where his mother was living.

After the war James went back to working in the banking industry and by 1947 he was manager of an Imperial Bank of Canada branch in Edmonton, Alberta. He was married to Edna Mae Richmond and they had two children, their son Dr. Howard Richmond McDiarmid (1927-2010) and their daughter Barbara. James died on 27 February 1969, at age 74, and he’s buried in the family plot at Edmonton Cemetery in Edmonton, Alberta. His wife Edna passed away in Victoria, BC in September 1974.

By Becky Johnson


Obituary courtesy of Edmonton Public Library; grave marker photo courtesy of City of Edmonton.

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