He is Still Living

Private John Dobson (Military Medal ), reg. no. 651436.
WARNING: Some details in this post may be disturbing to readers.

In a news clipping titled Letters from the Soldiers in the Paisely Advocate dated October 16, 1918, Private Edgar Joseph McAfee writes in it, “Let me know in your next letter if Jack Dobson is still living. I helped carry him out of a shell hole. A dud shell struck had struck one of his legs.”

Jack Dobson was still very much alive.

Private John Dobson (Military Medal[i]), reg. no. 651436 had been with the 18th Battalion upon his arrival to the front on April 12, 1918. Just over four-months later, on August 26, 1918[ii], he was severely wounded during an action near RAKE Trench in front of the village of Guemappe, France, south-west of Arras. This action was only one day of a range of aggressive action by the Battalion that started August 25, 1918, as part of operations during the Battle of Arras[iii].

The 18th’s War Diary relates in some detail the events of that day:

“At 3:00 a.m. following intense 5 min. barrage Bn. jumped off TILOY [sic] TRENCH in front of TELEGRAPH HILL in support of 21st Cdn. Bn. The artillery preparation was good. Owing to getting lost in the darkness, the tanks detailed to go over with the Bn. failed to turn up per schedule, so the Unit was without their assistance in the initial kick-off.

MINORCA TRENCH, a difficult nut to crack, was set as the first objective, and SOUTHERN AVENUE TRENCH as the second objective. Both positions were won by 8.00 a.m. “D” Coy. holding the last named defence line in conjunction with the 21st Cdn. Bn. “A” Coy. remained in GORDON TRENCH, and “B” Coy at the first objective, MINORCA TRENCH.

Up to this time the casualties had been far smaller than anticipated, although Lieut. McHardy had gone only a short distance from the Assault trench when he sustained mortal shrapnel wounds.

The German resistance had been slight but at this point was considerably strengthened. At 1. o’clock, the Bn. was ordered to capture the village of GUEMAPPE. Personal reconnaissances in broad daylight and under sever fire by Major C.M.R. Graham and Capt. D.A.G. Parsons, M.C., O.Cs respectively for “D” and “C” Coys. were first conducted. Waiting until artillery support, inadequate as it was to meet the situation, had been obtained, “C” & “D” Coys at 4.00 p.m. advanced and captured the ruined town. Casualties in the face of both terrific machine gun and artillery barrages laid down by the enemy were fairly heavy.

Lieut. Brackin [sic], who had done brilliant work up to this moment, was instantly killed by a shell and Capt. Parsons and Lieut. Edwards sustained wounds that resulted in their immediate evacuation.

Resultant of the progress, “C” and “D” Coys occupied and consolidated STAG TRENCH, and “A” and “B” Coys moved forward to RAKE AND GORDON TRENCHES respectively. At. 11 p.m. “A” Coy under the fine leadership of Lieut. Spence, went forward, despite most stubborn opposition, and captured CALVARY TRENCH. Unfortunately, the achievement went for naught, as the Unit on their immediate left was held up and the Coy. at 3.00 a.m., 27th, after 4 hours of desperate fighting was compelled to withdraw temporarily to RAKE TRENCH. Approx. all ranks 10 killed & 15 wounded. 1 O.R. ret. from leave & 1 O.R. on leave. 2 O.Rs ret. from army rest camp.”

Approximate area of operations where Dobson lost his leg. Series Number Id: GSGS 3062; Sheet number: 51b SW2; Edition number: 8a, Location: Research Collections; Fonds: WW1 Trench Maps: France; Box number: PC24; envelope_number: 729

With all this action going on Private Dobson had his own worries. As related in the news clipping, he had been hit by a dud shell, the force of the impact destroying a portion of his right-leg and injuring his left foot. A news clipping relates, “It [the right leg] was so badly shattered that it was left hanging by a shred, and without waiting for medical assistance he completed the amputation with his own knife and dressed the wound.”[iv]

Retrieved by his comrades he was moved off the line to the 4th Canadian Field Ambulance, then to a Casualty Clearing Station, where his wounds were dressed and the right leg wound addressed by a proper amputation procedure, and then admitted to No. 7 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, where they dressed the wounded right leg, and the terminal phalanx of his left foot was also amputated.

It is not known how his mother, Mrs. Thomas Dobson and wife, Laura Agnes Dobson, nor his two children, Robert Thomas John (approx. 5-years old) and Edmond Emerson (approx. 2-years old) took the news. But Dobson seems to have taken the wounding in stride, even in a positive light as two news clippings relate his response to the loss of his leg. The Paisley Advocate relates on September 25, 1918,

“He [Dobson] has been badly wounded, he says, and lost a leg. While such a loss is very much a misfortune, Pte. Dobson appears to be extracting a good deal of satisfaction from the fact it will put him out of the war for good [emphasis, mine], and he hopes to get home to Canada before a great while.”

For Mrs. Dobson, this was not the only son she had in khaki. She had three more sons serving, two on the continent. They all joined the 160th Bruce Battalion and now were overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Her son Robert was serving with John in the 18th Battalion.

 Dobson, EdmundDobson, FrankDobson, JohnDobson, Robert William
Reg. No.651666651282651436651284
Unit160th Overseas Battalion160th Overseas Battalion.160th Overseas Battalion160th Overseas Battalion
D.O.B.January 28, 1895May 15, 1897December 1, 1892April 14, 1888
BornPaisley, OntarioPaisley, OntarioPaisley, OntarioPaisley, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentPaisley, OntarioChesley, OntarioChesley, OntarioPaisley, Ontario
Next-of-KinMrs. Thomas Dobson, mother.Mary Ann Trotter, mother.Mrs. John Dobson, wife.Mary Ann Dobson, mother.
Marital StatusSingleSingleMarriedSingle
Military ExperienceNoneNone1-year, 32nd RegimentNone
Apparent Age21 years18 years, 8 months25 years27 years
Height5’ 7.5”5’ 4.5”5’ 5”5’ 5”
Chest Measurement37”35.5”36.25”37.5”
Chest Expansion3”3.5”3.25”2.5”
HairDark BrownBrownBrownBlack
Distinctive MarksNoneNoneNoneScar on right leg just below knee.
Religious Denom.MethodistMethodistMethodistMethodist
AttestedPaisley, OntarioChesley, OntarioChesley, OntarioChesley, Ontario
DateFebruary 9, 1916December 27, 1915January 21, 1916December 28, 1915
Service Summary160th Bn.; 4th Res. Bn.; 18th Bn. April 12, 1918; Wounded August 27 /18; Discharged March 14 /19. Moves to Hamilton.160th Bn.; 4th Res. Bn.; 18th Bn. Temporarily at CIBD, Etaples; transferred to 43rd Bn..; discharged March 29 /19.160th Bn.; 107th Pioneer Bn.; 2nd Bn. Cdn. Eng.; discharged June 16 /19.160th Bn.; 4th Res. Bn.; 18th Bn. April 12, 1918; Discharged May 24 /19.
DischargedMarch 24, 1919March 29, 1919June 16, 1919May 24, 1919
DeceasedUnknownJuly 28, 19931976May 23, 1960

Another article in the same paper, dated October 30, 1918, where Chaplain, Captain R.J. Renison relates,

“Another man, Dobson of Paisley, whose leg was shattered with a shell, completed the amputation with his own jack-knife and dressing his own wound. He thought his other foot was gone, but when the doctor told him it was only broken[v] he said, ‘I’m glad, that’s Jack-a-loo.’”

Private Dobson was to return home early December 1918 to a reception at his hometown and then went to the Dominion Orthopaedic Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, for further treatment and a fitting of a prosthetic for his missing leg. He was discharged “Medically Unfit” on March 14, 1919 at Toronto, Ontario, and indicated that he would be residing at 5 Abermarle Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario.

Private Dobson’s experience was unique, and to most, terrifying. Yet, the news clippings portrays a soldier of good and positive humour who takes such adversity as it comes and sees the positive, as is witnessed by some of the statements he made. He also was a man of cool and determined demeanour to have the guts to address his wounded leg is such a final matter. There was no doubt in his mind that the leg was lost and concluded that it needed to be removed completely as a part of his effort to save himself. If one considers the intensity of the action of that day, as related in the War Diary, as “Casualties in the face of both terrific machine gun and artillery barrages laid down by the enemy were fairly heavy.”

It was one of these artillery barrages that led to Private Dobson’s wounding changing his life forever. He lost his leg, and part of his foot and, as his wife was from there, moved from his rural home in Paisley to city of Hamilton, Ontario. In 1976 he returned home and is buried at the Starkvale Cemetery, Paisley, Ontario after a long, and hopefully, happy life.

[i] Notes indicate he earned this decoration during operations August 8, 1918. The London Gazette. 7 February 1919. Supplement: 31173. Page: 2130.

[ii] There is some interpretation required to determine the date of his wounding. One record indicates he was wounded on August 27, 1918, but all other references and movements consistently show he was wounded on August 26, 1918.


[iv] The Paisley Advocate. December 18, 1918. Page 1. Reception for Returned Soldier.

[v] Obviously, the injury to Dobson’s left foot was severe enough that amputation of a portion of his foot was done.

3 thoughts on “He is Still Living

Add yours

  1. Amazing story and great research- thanks for sharing. Typo in main text, 3rd para should read Battle of Arras but the note below it is correct. Dobson’s attitude towards his terrible wound is worthy of a study in itself. Again, well done./


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