Status: Died of wounds
Date of Service: WWI
Home Town: Clearbrook
1. The Jacobson family before they left Norway. Back row, from Left: John, Carl, Andrew, Middle: Adil, Emma Front: Mathea, Chris, Julius, Oscar. Very front: Severin. 2. Oscar’s headstone in the Queant Communal Cemetery
Oscar Jacobson was born to Mathea Olsdatter Lunde and Wilhelm Julius (Julius) Jacobson in Lillehammer, Norway on August 3, 1894. Oscar had six brothers: John, Carl, Andrew, Adil, Chris, and Severin, and one sister, Emma. The older boys were adventurous and wanted to start a new life in America. John, a baker, came over first in 1902 at age 22 and settled in Scandinavia, Wisconsin. Carl, age 20, came in 1903 and joined his brother John in Wisconsin. Andrew came the next year, and Adil came over in April of 1906, followed by Emma the next month. Mathea and Julius decided to join them in 1907, bringing Chris, age 17, and Oscar, age 11.
In 1914 Julius and Mathea moved to a farm in Leon Township near Clearbrook, Minnesota, and sons Severin and Adil moved to the area as well. Mathea had a sister, Martha Christianson, in Holst Township. Christ, John and Andrew made Minneapolis their home. Emma married in Wisconsin but died in childbirth in 1908, leaving a daughter Mabel for Julius and Mathea to raise. More tragedy struck the family in 1921 when son John was walking down the road in Minneapolis with his brothers Christ and Andrew and was struck and killed by a “heavy automobile truck.” The brothers were on their way to cut a Christmas tree for a joint family Christmas.
Young Oscar grew to adulthood in the Clearbrook area and found work as a farm laborer and in the logging industry. He registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 when he was 23 years old. He was working for Ole Haraldson on his farm near Clearbrook at the time.
The United States had entered WWI in April of 1917 and Oscar’s brother Adil was drafted into the Army. He may have been acting on advice from Adil, or he may have had other reasons, but on March 20th, 1918 Oscar and a fellow Norwegian immigrant woodsman from Bemidji, Nels Larson, crossed the international border at Fort Francis, Ontario heading to Winnipeg. The reason they gave for crossing was to enlist.
Canada was a British dominion, which meant they were automatically brought into the war when the United Kingdom entered in August of 1914. Canada did not mobilize their militia, however, but instead raised an independent Canadian Expeditionary Force of volunteers. Although it was not legal to recruit Americans into the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) within the United States, recruiting posters and flyers were plentiful, especially along the border. Even after the declaration of war Americans continued to come north to join the CEF, some preferring to enlist voluntarily rather then be conscripted into the American infantry, and some taking advantage of the higher pay the CEF offered. Oscar may also have simply been impressed by the war record of the 78th Battalion known as the “Winnipeg Grenadiers” at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
At Winnipeg, Oscar and Nels were asked to sign a USA Recruit Attestation Paper stating they understood the nature and terms of their engagement and were willing to be vaccinated and inoculated. They were given physicals which found them physically fit. Oscar was 5’9” with blue eyes, light brown hair, 20/20 vision and a girth of 37 inches.
After a short training period in Winnipeg, the new recruits joined their unit in France which was fighting as part of the 12th Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. He became part of the Allied “Hundred Days Offensive” which began August 8, 1918. In early September the 4th Division helped to force the Germans to retreat to the Hindenburg Line by attacking the Drocourt–Quéant Line, a fortified trench system with concrete bunkers, machine gun posts and heavy belts of barbed wire.
Next came what is now known as the Battle of the Canal du Nord, where Allied troops were tasked with crossing the heavily defended Canal du Nord. After almost a month of planning and preparation, the Canadian Corps attacked across the Canal on September 27th. The had the important objective of capturing Bourlon Woods, where the German army used the high ground of the woods for their guns.
The Canal offensive was the point where Private Oscar Jacobson lost his life. The report from the Winnipeg Grenadiers said the following: “Whilst taking part with his battalion in the attack on enemy positions near the Douai-Cambrai Road West of Bourlon Wood on September 29, 1918, he was severely wounded. His wounds were dressed and he was taken to No. 12 Canadian Field Ambulance, where he died the following day.” His family heard later that he had been shot in both legs and essentially bled to death.
Oscar was buried in the Queant Communial Cemetery British Extension, Queant, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The Canadian participation in the Battle of the Canal du Nord is commemorated at the Canadian Bourlon Wood Memorial, located southeast of the town of Bourlon. The memorial is located on high ground beside the Bourlon Woods, giving a view of the town.
By war’s end, more than 35,000 Americans had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Those who made it back home were able to keep their U.S. citizenship. It was a different story for the dead. The approximately 3,500 Americans who were killed fighting with Commonwealth forces are still buried in Europe as Canadians, not Americans.
Oscar Jacobson was 24 years old.