James Wallace Wishart was born in the village of Carp, Ontario on 6 September 1894. He was the eldest child of Alexander David Wishart, a Clerk from Osgoode, and his wife, Lila Wilson. The Wishart family was from a Scots Presbyterian background, James’ Great Grandfather emigrating to Canada from Scotland in the first half of the 19th Century.
By 1901 the family were living in Fitzroy Township and then moved about 1904 to Russell County where they settled in Arnprior Township. James attended Renfrew Collegiate and before signing up, worked as an inspector of shells in one of Renfrew’s war plants. He enlisted in the 32nd Field Battery of Ottawa (part of the 8th Army Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery) on 14 October 1915. During basic training in Kingston, Ontario James impressed the Y.M.C.A. instructor enough to describe him as ‘one of the best-developed men he had ever seen.’ After James’ death, a newspaper article echoed the instructor’s impressions, printing that “he had developed into a splendid specimen of physical manhood” and that ‘Wallace’ had ‘taken an active part in all youthful good movements’ before going overseas.
As 1915 drew to a close, James left Canada for the first and last time, arriving in England on 27 December where he was based at the Canadian Camp in Shorncliffe until 23 March 1916, when he embarked for France.
Initially assigned to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column James was soon taken on strength of the 27th Battery, 7th Brigade, CFA and given the role of driver. At his request, James was transferred to the gun crew, and spent much of late spring and summer 1916 in the Dickiebusch area before moving on to Bonningues, La Boisselle and then Pozières. On 19 July he was briefly admitted to the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance suffering from a disordered action of the heart (otherwise known as ‘Soldier’s Heart’) which was often the result of stress or fatigue but was discharged back to duty four days later.
James was killed in action on 23 September at Pozières. Two weeks later on 7 October, his parents received two pieces of mail from overseas, one – a field card from James saying that he was well, the other – a letter from his Sergeant informing them that James had been instantly killed while on duty the previous month. Both of these items had reached Alexander and Lila before any official notification from Ottawa, who after being asked to clarify the situation, said they had no record of their son’s death.
The Sergeant wrote:
Before this reaches you, you will have received intimation of the sad death of your son. I am snatching a few moments to write you a few lines expressing my personal regret and deep sympathy, and would embody with it the sympathy of “B” Subsection, 27th Battery, of which the deceased was a popular member.
He had been doing his duty as a driver for some time after we came to France, but was transferred to the gun crew at his own request, and was a noticeably hard worker with the gun, always cheerful and liked by all whom he was brought into contact. The morning of his death I asked him how he liked being with the gun crew, to which he replied “Fine.” I realize the futility of any attempt at consolation, but can only inform you that he died on the firing line, where he best liked to be. His death was a deep shock to me and in fact to the whole of the Battery. His particular friend Bridge has collected personal effects, which I myself will do everything possible to ensure being safely forwarded to you. Any further information I can furnish you with I shall endeavor to do upon hearing from you. I trust you will make allowance for this note being written in pencil and hastily, as is unavoidable in our present circumstances.
J. Scruton, Sergeant.
P.S. Your son was buried with all the honours we could pay his memory to the British Cemetery, Beaucourt Wood, near Albert, France, this morning, and I have taken steps to ensure the grave being edged off and a cross bearing his name and number placed at its head, and the grave being carefully attended to. J.S.
In further messages James’ parents received after he was killed, it was commonly said that that his exemplary conduct continued throughout his military career and that he was beloved and respected by his officers and comrades alike.
Lieutenant M. O’Halloran wrote:
I am writing you this letter as I think you will like to have news of how your son gave up his life for his country. I was quite close to him when the shrapnel bullet that caused his death struck him. At the time he was working with several others building a sand bag wall to his gun pit. Your son was always “one of the boys” and everybody’s friend. When the shell burst we all dropped to the ground and for a moment I hoped that everyone had escaped, but this was not to be for I heard a quiet calm voice say “fellows, I’m hit, I’m hit” and when I turned around I saw your son collapse in the arms of his N.C.O. We had a doctor here instantly, but there was nothing he could do, for after he called out “I’m hit” the poor fellow knew nothing. The bullet had struck your son on the right side of the chest and pierced the apex of his lung.
I knew your son from the time he enlisted in the 32nd battery at Barriefield and he was always a most willing and useful soldier, cheerful when things were pretty hard and work rather stiff. It was really a sad loss to the battery and to us all.
I want to extend to you sympathy of Major Stewart, our O.C. and the other officers of the battery. Your son died a soldier’s death and deserves a place
on the Roll of Honor.
Yours very truly,
M O’Halloran, Lieut.
In his obituary James was described as being ‘a young man of exemplary character with bright prospects. He possessed a beautiful voice for singing and his services as a vocalist was often solicited for local entertainments.’ Besides his parents, his sister Helen, and two brothers George and John survived James. He is buried at Becourt Military Cemetery on the Somme in plot I.W.22.