Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 13, 1894
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMargaret Williamson (mother), 817 First St. South, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingLaborer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439049
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion6th Trench Mortar Battery
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Field Artillery
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontatio
Date of EnlistmentDecember 23, 1914
Age at Enlistment21
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathSeptember 7, 1964
Age at Death70
Buried AtMountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, British Columbia
PlotHORNE2/*/15/006A/0001

Williamson, Benjamin Paul

Private Benjamin Paul Williamson enlisted in December 1914 and served overseas for three and a half years, most of that time in France and Belgium with a trench mortar battery. He returned to Canada in March 1919.

Benjamin was the son of Paul Williamson and Margaret Finlayson of Kenora, Ontario. Paul was born in Selkirk, Manitoba and he worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company as a labourer and trapper. Margaret was from St. Andrew’s, Manitoba and her father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all worked in the fur trade. By the early 1890s Paul and Margaret were married and living in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. They had three sons: Hector Stuart (1891), Benjamin Paul (January 1894) and Nicol (1899). They lost three other children as infants. Sadly Benjamin’s father died in a shooting accident in March 1899, a few months before his youngest son was born. When the 1901 census was taken Margaret and the boys were living in Rat Portage, staying with her younger brother Ben Finlayson.

Benjamin was twenty years old when the war started and he enlisted just four months later, signing up on 23 December 1914 with the third overseas contingent. The men trained in Kenora over the winter and they became part of the new 52nd Battalion when it was organized in March 1915. The battalion was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora lads were sent there in June to join the rest of the unit. While they were training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Belgium. Men were needed to replace casualties in the front line units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. Benjamin was sent to England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 men from the 52nd Battalion. They embarked from Montreal on 4 September on the SS Missanabie and arrived in the UK nine days later.

After further training with the 12th Reserve Battalion Benjamin was transferred to a front line unit, the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion. He arrived at the Canadian Base Depot in France on 2 February 1916 and joined his new unit in the field in early April. They were in Belgium at the time, taking part in the disastrous actions at St. Eloi craters. When Benjamin arrived the battalion had just done a short rotation in the trenches, suffering 130 casualties over four days. For the next week the men rested, trained and provided working, carrying and digging parties. The 27th Battalion was in the 6th Infantry Brigade and on 15 April two trench mortar batteries were created from brigade personnel. Benjamin was taken on as a gunner with the second battery, 6 C/2, and lectures, training and drilling started immediately. The battery’s first rotation in the line began on 23 May and they were relieved a week later but their rest would be a short one. On the morning of 2 June the Germans bombarded the Canadian lines and blew up several underground mines, the start of the Battle of Mount Sorrel. Benjamin’s unit was brought in near Hooge on 5 June and he was slightly wounded the following day when German infantry attacked. The battle ended on 13 June with almost no change to the front lines but at a cost of 8,000 Canadian casualties.

In July the two battery units were re-designated as the 6th Light Trench Mortar Battery and along with the 6th Infantry Brigade they took part in all the major Canadian battles over the next 18 months: the Somme Offensive (1916), Vimy Ridge (April 1917), the Battle of Hill 70 (August 1917) and Passchendaele (October-November 1917). After enlisting in 1915 Benjamin’s older brother Hector Stuart had arrived in France in the fall of 1916 and he was seriously injured in October 1917 near Passchendaele. In January 1918 Benjamin was given two weeks leave and from early February until early April he was in the hospital due to illness (vds). The big German offensive had started that spring but the Canadian lines were not attacked and in May the Canadian Corps went into reserve. Benjamin was admitted to a casualty clearing station on 11 June, suffering from furunculosis (boils), a painful skin condition. By 22 June he was back in England getting medical treatment and he spent the rest of his wartime service there. He was released from the hospital in mid-September and a month later he fell and scratched his leg. The wound became abscessed, which required another seven weeks of hospitalization. The Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November but it would be months before most of the Canadian troops returned home. Benjamin spent four months with the 11th and 18th Reserve Battalions and on 13 March 1919 he embarked for Canada on the SS Cretic. He was discharged in Port Arthur on 27 March, three and a half years after going overseas.

When the 1921 census was taken Benjamin was living with his mother near the town of Mattice, in northern Ontario, and working as a clerk at a Hudson’s Bay store. By the early 1940s he was married and back in Kenora, where his two brothers still lived. His wife Hannah Sarah Caroline LeClair was the daughter of Louis and Sarah LeClair of Souris, Manitoba. After retiring Benjamin and his wife spent a few years in Winnipeg and around 1957 they moved out west to Vancouver. He passed away in Shaughnessy Veterans Hospital on 7 September 1964, at age 70, and he’s buried in Mountain View Cemetery. His wife died in Vancouver in 1979, at age 73.

Benjamin is commemorated in Kenora on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.

By Becky Johnson

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Photos from Mountain View Cemetery courtesy of H. Russell.


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