|Date of Birth||January 1, 1896|
|Place of Birth||Glasgow|
|Next of Kin||Mr. Thomas McKay (father), Glasgow, Scotland|
|Trade / Calling||Switchman|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st Canadian Divisional Train|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Army Service Corps|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 31, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||20|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Decorations and Medals||Military Medal|
|Date of Death||July 13, 1966|
|Age at Death||70|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
|Plot||7AE-2-4, Peaceful Hollow Block|
Private James Stuart MacKay served in France, Belgium and Germany for two and a half years, most of that time with the 43rd Battalion and the 1st Canadian Divisional Train. He earned a Military Medal for his actions at the Vimy front in April 1917.
James was born on 1 January 1896 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His parents, Thomas Stewart MacKay and Matilda Henderson, were married in Glasgow in 1885 and they had at least three children: Margaret, Thomas and James. All three of them immigrated to Canada sometime before the start of the war. Margaret made her home in Russell, Manitoba and her two brothers settled in Kenora, Ontario.
The war started in August 1914 and Thomas enlisted the following spring. In November 1915 a new unit, the 94th Battalion, was organized in Port Arthur and it was recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. James enlisted with the 94th on 31 January 1916 in Kenora. He was 20 years old and working as a switchman at the time. The volunteers trained in Kenora during the winter and on 25 May they headed to Port Arthur to join the rest of the battalion. They left for the east coast two weeks later and spent a short time at Valcartier Camp in Quebec before embarking from Halifax on 28 June on the SS Olympic. In England the recruits were absorbed into reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.
James spent five weeks with the 17th Reserve Battalion. On 24 August he was sent to France and transferred to a front line unit, the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders). He joined them in a draft of 70 reinforcements on 20 September, during the Battle of the Somme. His unit took part in several operations at the Somme before being relieved in mid-October and moved north to the Vimy front, where the Canadian Corps spent the winter. Early in the new year they began training for their next major assault, the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-14 April 1917). Following the successful capture of the Ridge the Canadians made further advances before consolidating the line and digging in. German artillery and machine guns were very active and James earned a Military Medal while acting as a company runner.
His Military Medal citation reads: ‘As a Company runner Pte. McKay displayed splendid courage and devotion to duty, delivering despatches to Bn. Hdqrs. during the advance operations of the Battalion between April 13th and April 17th 1917, over open ground under heavy shell and M.G. fire, and in the face of dangerous sniping by enemy.’
James spent the first two weeks of August at an army rest camp and he rejoined the 43rd Battalion in time for the Battle of Hill 70 (15-25 August 1917). Following the operation they remained at the front, at Cité St. Pierre, holding the line and providing work and carrying parties. James was accidentally injured on 30 August, suffering a laceration to his leg. His wound healed within a few days but for most of the next three months he was out of action due to heart-related illness. Following his recovery he was posted to the Canadian Infantry Base Depot and in December he was given a two-week leave of absence in the UK, which lasted until after Christmas. When James returned to France he was reclassified as B1, fit for non-combatant work. He was posted to the Canadian Labour Pool in March and the Canadian Army Service Corps Labour Pool in May.
On 9 July 1918 James was transferred to a new unit, the 1st Canadian Divisional Train, and he served his last ten months with them. The unit was part of the Canadian Army Service Corps, which was responsible for the transport and supply of food, ammunition, equipment, clothing and supplies for the Canadian troops. When James joined his unit in July they were based just west of Arras. The final period of the war started in August and the fighting moved away from trench warfare into a more open phase. The 1st Divisional Train relocated several times, working near Amiens in August then moving north and east with the troops, past Cambrai towards Belgium. When the Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November they were close to the Belgian border. They continued advancing with the 1st Canadian Division, crossing into Germany on 6 December and remaining there with the occupying forces until mid-January 1919, most of that time based in Cologne.
James’ unit returned to Belgium in January and spent another two months there. According to the unit’s war diary they turned over their 390 horses to the Belgian government on 24 March and the next day they entrained for Le Havre on the coast. The men underwent medicals before embarking for England on 28 March on the Duchess of Devonshire. They proceeded to Bramshott Camp and four weeks later James was on his way back to Canada. He arrived in Halifax on the SS Baltic on 7 May and was officially discharged on demobilization on 9 May in Toronto. His brother Thomas Stewart MacKay had also survived the war and he arrived home in March 1919.
After the war James returned to Kenora where he had a long career as a fire ranger with the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Sometime between 1929 and 1934 he married a local girl, Kathleen Anne Montgomery. Kathleen was born in Kenora in August 1912, one of five children of Thomas and Catherine Montgomery. James and his wife raised two daughters, Arlene and Patricia, and two sons, James and Thomas.
During the Second World War James enlisted with the Veterans Home Guard (Reserve), a corps made up of veterans of the Great War. They provided home guard services at essential sites such as power plants and factories as well as at internment and prisoner of war camps. James was a long-time member of the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. He retired in May 1964 after 44 years with Lands and Forests, the last 17 years as Chief Ranger.
James passed away in the Kenora General Hospital on 13 July 1966, at age 70. James, his wife Kathleen (1912-1994) and their sons Thomas Stuart (1942-1994) and James Russel (1945-2013) are all buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
By Becky Johnson