Lt. Col. Phinney

Lieutenant Colonel E.C. Phinney
85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Battalion

Nothing is so picturesque or evokes so much human interest as the rapid rise of a young man to high and important positions. This is true of a civilian and truer of a soldier … A six-footer, every inch of his body compacted of sound bone and muscle, it might have been expected that he was born to be a stalwart athlete and a leader of men. His career is proof of the fact.

(Evening Mail, 11 Mar 1916, 7)

Born in Bear River, Nova Scotia on 16 May 1886, Earle Caleb Phinney was an all-round athlete and graduate of Dalhousie Law School. He joined the 40th Battalion as a lieutenant and by March 1916 was a major in the 85th under Lieutenant Colonel Allison Hart Borden. When Borden was elevated to command the Highlander Brigade (85th, 185th, 193rd, 219th Battalions), Phinney assumed command of the 85th. After arriving in England in October 1916, the brigade was broken up. Only the 85th Battalion would go to France.

Phinney agreed to revert back to second-in-command and Borden to resume command of the 85th, which deployed to France in February 1917 as part of the 12th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. After distinguishing himself at Vimy Ridge, Phinney suffered a gunshot wound in May. Although initially not severe, it became infected and he was evacuated. Following hospitalization in England he was granted rest leave to Canada.

On arrival back in Bear River, Nova Scotia, townspeople celebrated the returned hero: “We rejoice with you and yours that your life has been spared, and that you are making such good recovery from your wound, and it is our earnest hope that your recovery may be speedy and complete.” Phinney returned to England in October 1917 but failed to pass the medical board.

At the start of the war, the press had praised his fitness and athletic physique. By late 1917, suffering from “post-infective neurasthenia,” he was described as “slightly over weight, flabby and slightly anemic. His present complaints are frequent attacks of palpitation of the heart; shortness of breath on slight exertion; occasional dizziness; a feeling of fatigue on awaking in the morning.”

According to the regimental history of the 85th Battalion:

During all the period of training in Canada, England and France he had shown great executive capacity. The same cool, determined, vi- gorous policy for which he had been noted he now carried out on the battle field. He moved about everywhere during those five long days and nights bobbing up at the most unexpected places regardless of its dangers. He displayed excellent tactical skill and was able to find a ready solution for every problem, however difficult.

He died in Halifax on 1 March 1944 following a long illness.


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