Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthDecember 17, 1891
Place of BirthDonegal
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMiss Bessie McCullagh, Killybegs, Donegal County, Ireland (possible sister?)
Trade / CallingMiller
Service Details
Regimental Number439274
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentNot stated but most likely Keewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMay 25, 1915
Age at Enlistment23
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Death Details
Date of DeathMay 27, 1916
Age at Death24
Buried AtMaple Copse Cemetery, Belgium
PlotII. A. 2.

McCullagh, James

James was the youngest child born December 17, 1891 to Andrew McCullagh and Mary Anne Boyd of Killybegs, Donegal County, Ireland. His father was farming in the townland of Aghayeegoge. Siblings were Margaret, Bella, John, Bessie, Andrew (Jr), (next was Thomas), Susan and Jane (last born was James). At the age of 18, James immigrated from Ireland about 1910, most likely after his brother Thomas.  By 1909 his brother Thomas was already living in Keewatin and working at the barrel factory for the Lake of the Woods Flour Milling Company. James went to work for the Flour Mill in as a miller by the next year. Both brothers were listed as lodgers in a boarding house in Keewatin in the 1911 census. Keewatin was a smaller community just west of the town of Kenora but was very active due to the employment of the large flour mill with the railway running through it.

Although James lived in Keewatin for only a few  years before the war he joined the local lodge of the International Union of Odd Fellow (I.O.O.F.). It was a good way to ‘fit’ into a community and make new friends while being a benefit to others when needed.

At 23 years old James signed his attestation paper in Kenora, Ontario  on May 25, 1915 and was assigned to the 52nd Battalion. This was a new Battalion that was raised in northwestern Ontario during the spring of 1915. The headquarters was at Port Arthur which is now part of Thunder Bay. Thomas (#439237) had signed up with the same Battalion in Kenora four days before James. Thomas survived the war, attaining the rank of Sergeant with the 52nd Battalion (and being mentioned in dispatches).

In June 1915 James and Thomas were sent to Port Arthur with the other Kenora volunteers to join the rest of the unit and the battalion trained there for several months. Early in November they left for St John, New Brunswick and they embarked for England on 23 November on the SS California. They trained at Witley Camp in Surrey and at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire and on 16 February James was promoted to Lance Corporal (provisional). Four days later the battalion was sent to France and from there they were moved by train to Belgium. Towards the end of March the Canadian Corps took up positions in the south part of the Ypres Salient and the 52nd was moved to the area on 1 April. The battalion did several rotations in the front trenches, including a long one from 23 May to 1 June when their positions were heavily shelled.

From the War Diary of the 52nd battalion, 27 May 1916: ‘Hostile shelling severe. Capt. Hunter in S.P. 11 took precautions to have men take cover in trench. One shell made direct hit killing 5 wounding 7 O.R.’

From the Circumstances of Death record for James: Date of Casualty 27-5-1916. ‘Killed in Action.’ Location of Unit at time of Casualty: trenches south east of Zillebeke.  

James McCullagh was only 24 years old when he was killed on 27 May 1916. He is buried in Maple Copse Cemetery. The cemetery, situated in the Ypres Salient, is located near Hill 62 and just west of Sanctuary Wood.   The name was bestowed by the British Army prior to the arrival of Canadian forces in the area in 1916. The area was used as an advanced dressing station with burials taking place throughout 1916, although these graves were effectively destroyed by heavy enemy fire during the war. The Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission re-established the cemetery following the war and James’ body was exhumed and re-interred in the new cemetery.

Maple Copse contains 142 Canadian graves plus 114 from the U.K. There are also 52 unknown burials. James is one of the known graves in this cemetery.

James is commemorated on the Keewatin Cenotaph, on page 123 of the First World War Book of Remembrance, on the I.O.O.F. memorial marker in Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, and on the Roll of Honour – Lake of the Woods Milling Co. plaque in Keewatin.

By Linda Pelletier

Grave marker photo courtesy of Canadian Virtual War Memorial

McCullagh-James-90 McCullagh-James-91 McCullagh-James-92 McCullagh-James-93 Keewatin-Cenotaph-image McCullagh-James-99

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