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  • Christina Drummond

Private Ronald MacKinnon, Princess Patricia's Light Infantry

Remembering the Fallen: Private Ronald MacKinnon, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was killed in action at Vimy Ridge, between the 9th and 12th of April, 1917. His brother learned of his death when his last letter came back marked “Return to Sender: Deceased: Killed in Action.” Private MacKinnon was born in Ontario to a Scottish father and English mother, and worked as a printer before enlisting at the start of the Great War. After training he was sent to France and described the Channel crossing: “There was not room to lie down. I had to sleep on the open deck in the rain sitting up, with about half the troops throwing up their ‘bully beef’ but we did not mind it much, as we get used to everything over here.” His pay was $1 a day, plus 10 cents field allowance. In June he was wounded in the fighting at Sanctuary Wood, near Ypres, passed for duty in November and transferred to Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry. In January 1917 he wrote “I had quite a good Xmas considering I was in the front line. Xmas eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. I had long rubber boots or waders. We had a truce on Xmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars. Xmas was "tray bon" which means very good. Everything was frozen, water froze in our bottles, stew and tea was cold by the time it reached us in the front line, but then this is war and I always try to smile when things are a little rough.” After the war a collection of soldiers’ letters and diaries were collected, many describing friendly interactions with the Germans, but when published all mention of fraternization was removed and the Christmas truce stories were denied. During the war, officers were known to have sharpshooters or artillery open fire when soldiers began to get too friendly with the enemy. However, the men in the trenches went out of their way to share goodwill at Christmas. Private MacKinnon’s last letter home: “Well, by the time you get this you will have read all about it and so will know more about it than me as I will only know what goes on in my own little sector. I am a rifle grenadier and am in the "first wave". We have a good bunch of boys to go over with and good artillery support so we are bound to get our objective alright. I understand we are going up against the Prussian Guards: the bigger they are the harder they fall! I’ll go ‘over the top’ with the set purpose of doing my little bit. I often wonder if I’ll come through, and worry about my children, but I can only trust in God to bring me through. If I don’t you can rest assured that I did my duty as a Scottish Canadian.” He is buried at Bois-Carre British Cemetery, at Pas de Calais in France. Ronald was 23 years old and married with two small children; his daughter died in the influenza pandemic of 1918.

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