Remembering Three Generations of Military Service

As Remembrance Day approaches, we begin to reflect on the men and women who served overseas during the World Wars. Over the past few years we have shared snippets from a scrapbook in our collection. This great piece was donated to the Highland Village archives by David MacNeil, a descendant of a very active military family from the Iona & Grand Narrows area. The large scrapbook contains photos, newspaper clippings, certificates and letters of three men, John P. MacNeil, his son, Gordon Michael MacNeil and his grandson, Gordon Leo French MacNeil.

This post will give you some insight into the three men during their active military service. Follow along over the coming days, leading up to Remembrance Day, as we post excerpts from the scrapbook to Facebook.

Capt. John P. MacNeil

Caption John P

We have limited information about Capt. John P. MacNeil in the scrapbook but we do know that he served in the 94th Victoria Regiment “Argyll Highlanders”. He was the son of John (Eoin, Rory, Rory) MacNeil and Mary (MacDonald) MacNeil, who lived in Iona. After John P. ’s military service he worked 32 years as a section foreman for C.N.R.

Major Gordon Michael MacNeil

Major Gordon M

John. P.’s son followed in his father’s foot steps joining the military with the outbreak of WW1. Major Gordon Michael MacNeil, enlisted in the 25th Nova Scotia Battalion, Canadian Infantry where he would head for the Western Front in France. He would later see himself in action at Vimy Ridge.

The Chronicle, Halifax, Decemeber 1918:

“He is the only one of the original officers who left Halifax on May 20th, 1915 with the 25th Nova Scotia Battalion who is still with the famous fighting battalion of which all Nova Scotia is proud.”

During duty he was wounded twice and later decorated with the Military Cross.

His citation reads in part as follows:

“…for marked gallantry and good work during an attack on the enemy outpost line southeast of Inchy-en-Artois on the night of September 23-24 and during the September 25th, 1918. He was in command of a company ordered to establish a post in the enemy outpost line. The post was entered, all the enemy killed, and a machine gun captured, without casualty. By skilful consolidation this post was held against seven counter-attacks during thirty six hours. He personally killed seven of the enemy.”

Major Gordon Michael MacNeil would once again see action when WWII was declared. He would head overseas in November 1941 as Second in Command of the the Cape Breton Highlanders.


Major Gordon Michael MacNeil leading men from the Iona wharf as they leave for WWII.

Gordon married Annie L. MacNeil a school teacher, from Mabou. They lived in Grand Narrows and had a son, Gordon Leo French MacNeil.

Gordon Leo French MacNeil

Major Gordon LF

Gordon Leo French, like his father and grandfather, enlisted in military service, serving with the Cape Breton Highlanders and the West Nova Scotia Regiment during WWII. He saw duty in the UK and Italy. While in Italy he was promoted in the field from Captain to Major.

“By July 30, the Canadians were attacking the town of Catenanuova. Captain MacNeil, while on a reconnaissance in a platoon area during the daylight attack on Catenanuova, was informed of a strong enemy patrol which had been apparently dispersed in confusion by our artillery fire and had taken cover in an area of cactus scrub.

MacNeil, commanding “C” Company of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, realizing the value of prompt and vigourous offensive action at the right time, immediately organized the platoon and led them in a bayonet charge over a 100 yard stretch of fire swept ground, routed the Germans and took 25 prisoners.”

Major Gordon Leo French was, like his father, awarded the Military Cross which was presented to him at Buckingham Palace from His Majesty King George VI on May 22, 1946. Gordon married Mary “Toni” Wiles from England.

For more information on the MacNeil Family you can search “All Call Iona Home” and “Mabou Pioneers Vol.1 “.

Addition information was sourced and quoted from “In the Morning – Veterans of Victoria County, Cape Breton”  as well as, “The Canada Veterans Hall of Valour Official Site” http://www.canadaveteranshallofvalour.com/default.htm

Beaton Institution Citation: FT-212 Leaving for World War II, Grand Narrows and Iona. Malcolm F. MacNeil fonds. September 4, 1939. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

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