Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Les soldats de la Grande Guerre : Projet de biographies historiques sur les soldats de Fredericton

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Dolan, John Frederick

Private 111145
6th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles
4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles


Private John Frederick Dolan was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on July 23, 1889 to James Dolan and Catherine Mulligan. According to marriage records, the Dolans lived at 333 Charlotte Street in Fredericton and James, the father, worked as a caretaker. James and Catherine would have three children together. In addition to John, Mary was an older sister, and Daniel Leo, was the younger brother. The 1911 Census shows that just prior to the war, all three children, Mary, 26, John, 20, and Daniel Leo, 16, were still living at the Dolan home, although John would attend the University of New Brunswick to study civil engineering during this period of time. Mary would marry Enoch Colby in January of 1914.

John F. Dolan grew up to be a well-respected New Brunswick athlete in professional baseball and, according to newspapers, was “one of the finest football and basketball players” while a student at the University of New Brunswick. The University of New Brunswick’s First World War Honour Roll also reveals that John was a member of St. Dunstan’s Church choir early in his life and that he enjoyed taking part in community and college plays as an actor.

When war broke out in Europe John had been working as a surveyor with the Saint John Valley Railway. Although newspapers in November of 1914 suggest that he was one of the local Fredericton recruits with the 26th Battalion stationed in Saint John, his service records reveals that he did not formally enlist until June 4, 1915 in Amherst, Nova Scotia with the 6th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Being young, educated, experienced, and well-liked, at 24 years old and single, John was the ideal soldier. According to his attestation papers, he stood five feet seven inches tall, had blue eyes, dark brown hair, and had what was described as a dark complexion. Private Dolan weighed 142 pounds, was in good shape for training, and would soon leave with his unit to Camp Valcartier.

Wartime Experience

Private Dolan and the 6th CMR would be at Camp Valcartier by July and while appearing to have everything the military wanted in a soldier, John’s service record over the next year would illustrate an uneasy relationship with military discipline. By July 8, arriving at Valcartier with his unit, John would be “AWL” for three days from his unit and would lose pay as a result. The 6th CMR would leave for England on July 18 aboard the S.S. Herschel from Quebec and arrive at Devonport on July 26, 1915. Shortly after arriving in England John would again be disciplined for being “AWL” from his unit on July 31, and then in October, he would lose pay for discipline issues while on military parade. In late October, 1915, Private Dolan would leave with the 6th Battalion, CMR, arriving in France October 24 and just prior to leaving John would name his brother Daniel Leo in his will.

Despite his run-ins with military discipline, Private Dolan spoke well of his superiors, his friends from back home, and of his experiences in the trenches in late December.

I have met nearly all the boys from home, including ‘Tit’ McGibbon, Karl Walker, ‘Cort’ Otty and others, and all the old officers of the old 12th are O.K., with Col. Harry McLeod as one of the best when it comes to meeting a friend from your own home town. He is a prince. All I can say is, “This is the life,” as far as it has gone. It may be harder this winter, but we will never have the hardships endured by the fellows in the First Contingent.”

By January, 1916, Private Dolan would join the 4th Battalion, CMR, and would soon learn that he would experience equally difficult hardships during his time in Northern France and Belgium. By January, John would be admitted to hospital where he would stay for about a week, and by February he was again being disciplined for his conduct while on duty. A military court would find him guilty for “drunkenness while on active duty” and he would spend 28 days as “field punishment” in a confinement camp. As punishment, he would spend two hours over a three day period, cuffed to a heavy stationary object. By March, 1916, Private Dolan and the 4th CMR were in Belgium near Sanctuary Wood and Zillebeke. On May 3, John would again be punished three days for disobeying orders. It is during this period of time that Private Dolan’s whereabouts and activities would create questions over what actually happened to him.

On the opening day of the battle of Mount Sorrel, June 2, the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were in trenches close to Armagh Wood when a four hour “tornado of fire” came down on to their positions. According to Nicholson (1962), that morning the 4th CMR had their trenches vanish and those within completely blown away. The position that Private John Dolan was in at the time received 89 percent casualties, where only 72 of 702 officers and men came out unhurt. According to the 4th CMR diaries, there were 258 prisoners taken by the Germans, including Private Dolan. While John’s circumstances of death would suggest that he was “shot by a machine gun bullet from a German aeroplane near Zillebeke”, letters written home by Privates J. Edwin P. Tracy and Fred W. Boyd reveal that he was taken as a POW and taken to Deakoner, Anstaalt, Duischarg, Germany. The Daily Gleaner, June 29, 1916, would report:

Official telegrams from Ottawa brought the word that five young men from Fredericton were members of the 4th Canadian mounted rifles were reported missing on the 2nd of June 1916. That very day the third battle of Ypres began. The five members were Corporal Alleyne Y. Clements of Claremont, Privates Fred W. Boyd, John F. Dolan, and John Carten, of Fredericton, and, John Saunders of St. Marys. They were members of the D Company and the Machine gun section of the 4th Canadian mounted rifles. The soldiers unit was in the thick of fighting and suffering heavy losses.”

A year would go by before any more news of John’s whereabouts would be shared in newspapers. On November 27, 1917, after reporting on local men involved in the battle of Passchendaele, special word had been received that John had made his escape with five other soldiers and was quarantined in Holland. The report would suggest that according to word received by John’s father, James Dolan, John had attempted to escape three times but had been captured and taken back. Despite reports of his escape and safety, John would never arrive home and his official record presumed him to have died on June 2, 1916, during the battle of Mount Sorrel in Belgium.

Given all that is known of John, an educated and experienced young man, who challenged discipline, yet spoke highly of his mates and superiors, it is a safe bet that Private Dolan would never have given up an opportunity to get home to family and friends after being taken prisoner by Germans in Belgium. When his mother, Catherine, passed away in the winter of 1923, newspapers reported him as being killed during the Great War, the only way a family and community could finally come to terms with their loss. While we do not know for certain when Private Dolan died and how, we can find solace in the fact that he likely did so with a fight.

Lest We Forget

Private John F. Dolan is remembered with honour on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are approximately 54, 399 names to soldiers with no known grave and whose bodies have never been recovered.

*This biography was researched and written by Kylie Solomon, Jasper Green & Rileigh Arbeau, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.