On this day in 1917, James ‘Jimmy’ Guard (1889-1917) died in hospital after a shell exploded near him in the First World War.
Buried alive in the act of saving a fellow soldier, James burst both his eardrums in the explosion at Vimy Ridge, France in February 1917.
He developed an infection – mastoiditis – and was admitted to Tooting Military Hospital in London.
He died there on April 1, 1917 – just over a year after he left Canada to fight in the war. He was 28.
His body was conveyed by special train to Devon for his funeral in his home village, Rose Ash.
James was a sergeant in the 44th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry when he was wounded.
He enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in 1916 in Winnipeg when he was 27.
He joined the 61st Battalion of the Canadian Infantry 12 years after emigrating to Canada with his brother, Philip.
James sailed to England on SS Olympic on April 2, 1916.
Transferred to the 44th Battalion at Shorncliffe, Kent on May 12, he went to France on August 10, 1916.
Promoted to sergeant on January 20, 1917, he was admitted to the British Army’s General Hospital in Camiers on February 14 after the explosion.
Admitted to Tooting Military Hospital later that month, he was ‘seriously ill’ there in early March 1917.
His medical report revealed that he became deaf after the explosion. His ears bled hours after he was rescued.
He had two operations, in February and March 1917, in an attempt to treat the mastoiditis.
He ‘passed into a coma’ on March 30 and died two days later.
James was buried at St Peter’s churchyard, Rose Ash – next to his parents.
His coffin was covered in the Union Jack during his funeral at the parish church.
He is also remembered on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.
James was one of 16 children of George Gard (1841-1897) and Mary Ann Burnett (1843-1897). James’s first cousin – Philip Gard (1885-1915) – who died in the Battle of Loos in France on September 25, 1915 – married Henrietta Lewis (1893-1934) in 1915 in Exeter. Henrietta’s sister, Laura Mary Lewis (1888-1940) married William Henry Bristow (1889-1978) in South Molton in 1913. William was the brother of Ethel Bristow (1886-1967) who married John Burnett (1878-1954) in 1906 in South Molton. John was the son of George Burnett (1826-1910) and Amelia Arscott (1836-1908). Amelia was the daughter of John Arscott (1807-1879), my great-great grandfather.
Born on March 8, 1889 in Rose Ash, James emigrated to Canada in 1904, when he was 14. He sailed from Liverpool with his brother, Philip Gard (1886-1977).
Trench mortar shells smashing barbed wire at Vimy Ridge, where an explosion burst James’ eardrums in 1917. Public domain image created January 1, 1917 (Canada. Department of National Defence, via Wikimedia Commons). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smashing_barbed_wire_with_trench_mortar_shells.jpg