The Minute Book
Friday, 19 December 2014

"Foghorn" MacDonald Attains Distinction (1916)
Topic: CEF

Canadian Scot Becomes Major

"Foghorn" MacDonald Attains Distinction in Service at Front
Comes From West
Belongs to "Black Devils," Eighth Canadian Battalion

Toronto World, 30 October 1916

London, Oct. 21.—"Foghorn" MacDonald admits he's as "Scotch as oatmeal." But what he doesn't have to admit is that he is beyond doubt the best-known man in the wonderful big army Canada has sent over to fight for the mother country; General Sir Sam Hughes, Canadian minister of militia and defence, is not jealous of "Foghorn's" distinction. The rawest rookie in the rearmost ranks of the Dominion forces proclaims it on the fighting line, and looks up to this world-wandering scion of the Clan MacDonald as a shining example of what a lowly 'buck' can do in trying times like these.

For "Foghorn" came over as a private himself just two short years ago. Some of his home folks told him he was a "darned old fool" to enlist at 53. But "Foghorn" had been a miner all his days. He had hit the western trail from sun-baked Batopilas in the wilds of Mexico, to the snow-shrouded valleys of the Yukon, and he knew what perseverance and pluck and courage and sacrifice could do.

He knew he would "make the grade," and so did a great crowd of his friends who gather a day or two ago to "wet" that new third stripe and crown on the cuffs of his khaki army jacket. He was back from the front to receive this latest promotion, and he was toasted a major of his majesty's forces.

"Foghorn" was born Neil Roderick MacDonald, but there are comparatively few who know him by that distinguished name. It's just plain "Foghorn" nowadays from one end of the trenches to the other, and one earful of that low rumbling, window-chattering, rock-shivering voice explodes all possible doubt as to the derivation of the nickname.

There are plenty of Germans who know "Foghorn," too. In the days of the death stonewalling, when trenches crept closer and closer together, he was one of those who burrowed beneath the earth and set off great mines under the enemy. He had not been a mining engineer in vain, Often his voice would go booming across "No Man's Land" hurling picturesque invective at the Germans.

Not to know "Foghorn" MacDonald is to miss one of the big human personalities of this war. It is not difficult to realize what a tower of encouragement and strength he is to the soldiers at the front.

"He is the sort of officer whose men would follow him to the gates of hell itself and walk in laughing," declared Major "Eddie" Holland, a long-time friend, and a V.C. of the South African War.

Called Black Devils

"And speaking of hell," he added, "there may or may not be something to the fact that "Foghorn" belongs to the Black Devils.

That is the name the Germans have given the Eighth Battalion, Canadian Infantry, and the battalion has adopted as its insignia a small black imp dancing in glee. They were delighted with the appellation, and are living up to it according to all reports from the Somme.

It has been said of "Foghorn" that "he not afraid of any man—and very few women." His home is in the great American west. He has lived much in the Unites States and almost every province of Canada can claim him as their own. His heart is as big as the world in which he has lived; and he has a way of calling a superior officer "Bill" or "Jim" or "George" and referring to a corporal as a "brother officer," that is quite baffling to the Englishman's idea of discipline. Someone spoke to "Fog" about it.

"Well, sir," he explained, "it's a man's war, by God, sir, and I respect every mother's son who's out there doing his bit. I was once a full-fledged 'buck' myself once, and I know what they have to go through."

Acts as Transport Officer

"Foghorn" has been serving for some time as transport officer of the "Black Devils," and has been riding about the front lines on what he described as a "mighty fine hoss," Where he got the horse he will not tell you. "It wouldn't be passed by the censor," he says.

A good transport officer tries to keep his losses to a minimum and to make the deficiencies good as quickly as he can. "Foghorn" had his men in then Black Devils trained to the minute in that respect.

"One night," he says, "we were taking some loads of ammunition away up in front. It was blacker than the ace of spades, and if you struck a match you'd get your eye shot out. But in the midst of all this blackness and the shelling we were getting, I heard one of my men say to his partner, "Keep your eye out for a good hoss, Bill, this ought to be a good night to get one."

A day or two ago a staff colonel, fresh from Canada, walked into the Savoy Club. "Hello Foghorn," he called out; "I heard you a couple of blocks down the street and came in to see you. Do you remember me?"

"Remember you?" repeated "Fog," "why, bless your brass-hatted old soul, I'd know your hide in a tanyard."

A "brass-hat" is the army name for all staff officers, and it comes, of course, from the abundance of gold braid they wear on their caps.

Someone asked how things were going at the front.

"Going?" said "Fog," "why, the boys are getting so gay out there one of our battalions came parading up to the front line trenches the other day with a brass band playing for all it was worth. They were right where you could get killed any minutes, too., and even my old hoss thought they were crazy."

"Guess I'll be getting back to the front soon myself," he concluded, with a sigh, "this quiet life of London is getting on my nerves."

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST

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