Private John Henry McDonald enlisted in Kenora, Ontario in February 1916 and eight months later he was wounded at the Battle of the Somme. He spent the rest of the war in England and returned to Canada in March 1919.
John was the son of Donald John McDonald and Julia Ann Vankoughnett of the Township of Foley, District of Parry Sound, Ontario. Donald was a farmer who had emigrated from Scotland as a young boy and his wife was born in Ontario. Between 1868 and 1891 Donald and Julia had at least 11 children, three daughters and eight sons. John, the second youngest, was born on 16 January 1889. In 1911 when he was 22 he moved west and settled in the small town of Keewatin, Ontario.
In the fall of 1915 the war entered its second year and John enlisted a few months later, signing up in Kenora on 16 February 1916. He joined the 94th Battalion, which was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. On 25 May the Keewatin and Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the battalion and they were given a huge sendoff at the Kenora train station. The battalion left for Quebec on 9 June and spent a short time at Valcartier Camp before embarking from Halifax on 28 June on the SS Olympic. They arrived in England on 6 July and the men were all transferred to reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.
John spent five weeks training with the 17th Reserve Battalion. Along with several other Kenora lads he was sent to France on 24 August and drafted to a front line unit, the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders). After some time at the base depot and with an entrenching battalion he joined his new unit in the field in late September, during the Battle of the Somme. On 20 September the 43rd had attacked the Zollern Graben Trench with a loss of 150 men. They were relieved on 21 September for two weeks of rest and refitting and it was during that time that John joined them in a draft of reinforcements.
Early in October the battalion had a two day rotation in the front line then on 8 October they were back in action, taking part in the assault on Regina Trench, which was northwest of the village of Courcelette. They ran into problems during the early morning advance when they encountered uncut barbed wire and faced strong German counter-attacks. The unit had 360 casualties that day and John was one of the injured, suffering a serious shrapnel wound to his chest and back. He was sent to a casualty clearing station and four days later he was admitted to No. 13 General Hospital in Boulogne. In early November he was evacuated to England where he would spend the rest of the war.
John was a patient at the Duchess of Connaught Red Cross Hospital for six weeks, then he recovered at a convalescent centre in Uxbridge. On 27 February 1917 he was well enough to be transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre and a few weeks later he was assigned to the Manitoba Regiment Depot. In June he was transferred to the Canadian Army Medical Corps Depot and later that month he attended a School of Cookery in Westenhanger, Kent. In July 1918 he was attached to the Granville Special Orthopaedic Hospital in Buxton where he served, possibly as a cook, until February 1919. John embarked from Liverpool on 23 February on the SS Belgic and arrived in Halifax on 2 March. He was given two weeks landing leave, which he planned to spend in Parry Sound. He was discharged on 29 March 1919 in Toronto, "having been found medically unfit for service."
John returned to Keewatin and less than a month after his discharge he married a local girl, Myrtle Agnes Brownlee. Myrtle was born and raised in Keewatin, the daughter of Charles Brownlee, a barber, and his wife Bridget Agnes. When the 1921 census was taken John and Myrtle were living in Keewatin and he was working as a captain on a ferry boat. Myrtle's widowed mother was living with them and she died the following year.
John worked as a captain on the Argyle ferry boat each summer until 1943. He also had a 34-year career as a packer at the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. He and his wife raised ten children, six sons (Charles, Donald, Jack, Alex, Glen and Roy), and four daughters (Beryl, Betty, Myrtle and Ethel). John became a member of the Keewatin branch of the Canadian Legion. He passed away in the Kenora General Hospital on 15 July 1958, at age 69. Myrtle died three years later and they are both buried in Elmwood Circle Block in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
John is commemorated on the Municipality of Keewatin "For King and Country" 1914-1918 plaque.
By Kenora Great War Project