The View From Fogo Island

Private Maxwell Scott, World War I

Benson Hewitt editor@pilotnl.ca
Published on February 18, 2011

In 1881 the Twillingate Sun wrote that Robert Scott was one of the principal mercantile gentlemen in Fogo.

In 1881 the Twillingate Sun wrote that Robert Scott was one of the principal mercantile gentlemen in Fogo.

His family home was what is now the home of Nash and Donna Miller, and his premises – shop, stores, waterfront, were in the same vicinity. He died in 1913, and his obit in a St. John’s paper said that he was ‘over 80’. Thus, he was born c. 1883, and to the best of my knowledge in Scotland. In 1866 he married Mary Lucas. She may have died early in the marriage because when he died his wife’s name was Elizabeth, and it seems that she was the mother of their four children. One of these was Maxwell who was born in Fogo in 1892. This piece is about him.

During the latter part of 1916 with the World War now raging, he, at the age of 24 and most likely working in his father’s store as a clerk, decided that he wanted to do his part and decided to enlist. On January 2, 1917, having ascertained by his signature that he was willing to be enlisted for General Service for the duration of the war, was given the number 3379.

His medical history indicated only that he had been vaccinated three years previously, and that he had no scars. He gave as his next of kin his mother, Elizabeth Scott.

His statement of services showed that on the 31st of January, 1917 he embarked on the SS Florizel to Windsor, N.S.. From there on the 11th of June he embarked for Southampton, England, and disembarked at Rouen, France, 12/6/17. He then joined the Newfoundland Battalion 2/7/17, which would have been a little over two weeks later.

On his Company Conduct Sheet it showed several minor misdemeanors;  on 11/5/17 that he was unshaven on parade and given two days C.B. and on the 21/5/17 he was also given two days C.B for failing to salute an officer. (Both of these incidents took place before sailing overseas.)

Then this cryptic entry: Found dead 31/7/17.  Because of the particular circumstances, a Court of Enquiry was called for 2/8/17 to take evidence and this court consisted of Lt. Col. A.L. Hadow, as president and Major Forbes Robertson and Captain Paterson, as members.

The first witness was Pte. C. Stevens who stated on the day in question he happened to go behind decoy lines and saw a man lying down. He said that at first he thought that the man was asleep but on going up to him, saw that he was dead. He said that the man was lying on his face and his rifle was there. He reported that he did not touch him, but went straight off to report to the officers who were sitting around a table in the officers’ lines.

The next witness was Father Nangle, RC Chaplain, who stated that upon hearing of the matter he went at once to the place and reported that he saw Pte. Scott lying on his face in the bushes with his rifle by his right side. He said that he then picked up the rifle and opened the breech, and found an empty case in the breech, that the magazine was not charged and the ‘cut off’ was closed, and that his bayonet was lying on the other side of him.

Captain Tocher stated that about 8 p.m. on the day in question he also saw the body of Pte. Scott and that he had been dead not less than 16 hours, and that he had died from a wound which had passed through the base of the heart, and the upper portion of the left lung. He had observed, he continued, that the entry of the wound was the front of the chest and the point of exit below the shoulder blade, that the wound of entry was powder pocked as if fired at close quarters. He concluded that this would have occurred whether shot through the clothes or not, and that death had been instantaneous, and from the position of the wounds, that it had been self-inflicted.

The next witness was Pte. F. Sealey, who testified that on the day before his death just after roll call at night, he saw Pte. Scott run past his bivouac with rifle and bayonet fixed, and that he was carrying it at ‘high port’. He also noted that when Scott passed the drain close by, that he carried the rifle at the ‘secure’. He concluded his testimony by saying that he did not see him any more and thought that he was going to get his rifle inspected.

Another witness was Cpl. H. Hull who stated that Pte. Scott was in his section and that he had been present at roll call the night before his death. He then stated that Pte. Scott was a very quiet man and never seemed to associate with anyone else. Also, on that particular day he observed that he neither ate his dinner or tea, and when he (Cpl. Hull) asked him what the problem was, he did not answer. Cpl. Hull concluded that on the day of his death he found that Pte. Scott was missing from his bivouac, and that he noticed that all his kit was present excepting his rifle and bayonet. 

The final witness was Pte. Stewart Bennett who told the enquiry that he had known Pte. Scott at home (Fogo) in Newfoundland, and that he was a quiet sort of chap, but that he had never noticed anything wrong with his mind. He reported that he had spoken with him on the evening he was found missing, but that he had said very little. He concluded by saying that Pte. Scott was a very distant kind of chap.

All this evidence having been presented to Lt. Col. A.L. Hadow, Comdg. Newfoundland Regiment on 2nd of August, 1917, gave this opinion: “I think there is no doubt that it was a case of suicide, and from some papers which were found in his possession, and which I have examined, he appears to have been of a somewhat morbid disposition.”

A second cryptic opinion, this time by Brig. Genl. D.E. Kayley, Comdg. 88th. Brigade went thus: “I am of the opinion Pte. Scott committed suicide.” It was noted that the fact that a shot could have gone off and not attracted attention because the scene of the death was near the incinerator into which rounds occasionally found their way.

Since there is considerably more to this particular story, I am going to conclude it in another piece.

On a brighter note I’ll conclude this piece with the closing line of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” -   “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”