Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 11, 1890
Place of BirthLiverpool
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs E. Wareing (mother), 46 Mill Hill, Blackburn, England
Trade / CallingBlacksmith
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number503726
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion4th Divisional Engineers
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Engineers
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 17, 1916
Age at Enlistment25
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJanuary 1, 1974
Age at Death83
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
PlotHonour Lane, 31E-4-4

Knipe, William James

Farrier Sergeant William James Knipe enlisted with the Canadian Engineers and served for three years in England, France and Belgium. He returned to Canada in August 1919 with a war bride.

William was the only son of James and Elizabeth Knipe of Liverpool, Lancashire, England. James worked as a carpenter and shipwright and he married Elizabeth (née Davis or Davies) in 1879. Over the next nine years they had five daughters: Sarah, Mary, Harriet, Marion and Emily. William, the youngest child, was born in Liverpool in August 1890 and his father died when he was just an infant. Elizabeth married again in 1893. Her second husband was Richard Wareing, a carter, and she had at least six more children with him.

When the 1911 census was taken William was living in Leyland, a village about 40 km northeast of Liverpool. He was lodging with a blacksmith and working as a blacksmith’s improver. His mother and stepfather were living in the nearby town of Blackburn. His oldest sister Sarah had immigrated to Canada in 1897 and she settled in Rat Portage (later called Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. In 1900 she married Alfred Edward Hargrave, a railway conductor, and they raised their family in Kenora. William joined them in 1913, arriving in Canada in November on the SS Tunisian, listed as a blacksmith, 23 years old, his destination Kenora. His sister Harriet was with him and Mary had immigrated earlier that same year. Both girls became nurses and moved to the U.S.

William made his home in Kenora and found work as a blacksmith. The war started the year after he arrived and early in 1916 along with a few other local lads he went to Winnipeg to enlist. He signed up on 17 February, joining the 2nd Field Troop, Canadian Engineers Overseas Draft. The unit was based in Ottawa and William was sent there a week after enlisting. In Ottawa he was assigned to the newly-organized 15th Field Company for three months of training before leaving for the UK on 21 May. His skills as a blacksmith were put to use and a month after arriving in England he was confirmed in the rank of Farrier Sergeant, overseeing the other blacksmiths in caring for the company’s horses and mules. In June his unit was re-designated as the 11th Field Company, 4th Canadian Divisional Engineers, and they were sent to France in August 1916.

That summer the 11th Field Company was based southwest of Ypres, near the Belgian border, and the men worked on trenches and dugouts, built gun emplacements, constructed huts and improved the camps. Horses and mules were used to haul equipment and pull limbers, wagons and water carts. In October they moved south to the Somme area to relieve other Canadian units in the assault on Regina Trench. The engineer companies were kept very busy digging new trenches, laying trench mats and building dugouts. When the Somme Offensive ended in mid-November the 11th Field Company moved north again, this time to an area across from Vimy where they spent the winter. In February 1917 William became ill with hepatitis and trench fever and he spent about a month in a hospital then a convalescent centre, rejoining his unit at the end of March. In April the engineers supported the Canadian infantry in the assault on Vimy Ridge, the first time all four divisions were used together in one operation. Following the successful capture of the Ridge the 11th Field Company stayed in the area where their work included building and repairing roads and tramlines, constructing bridges, filling shell holes, working on billets and wiring trenches. On 1 August 1917 William was given permission to marry and he left for a ten-day leave of absence in the UK. His wife Edith Mary Denison was from Nelson, Lancashire, a village close to the town of Blackburn where William’s family lived. They were married on 6 August at St. Mary’s parish church in Nelson.

That summer and fall the Canadians took part in the Battles of Hill 70 and Passchendaele. In January 1918 William had another leave of absence, this time for two weeks. During the spring of 1918 the Corps held a long stretch of the front line between Lens and Vimy and in a re-organization the 11th Field Company became part of the new 11th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. Early in the summer the Canadian units were placed in reserve before beginning several weeks of intensive training in open warfare. The final period of the war, from 8 August to 11 November, is known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. The Canadians were heavily involved in the operations in those last three months and the engineers were vital in supporting the infantry, especially in building and maintaining roads and bridges. Following the Armistice the 11th Battalion moved to Gistoux, Belgium where they stayed for the next five months. On 25 April 1919 William had two weeks leave in the UK and when it ended he was kept in England and transferred to the Canadian Engineer Reinforcement Depot.

William spent another four months in England, embarking from Liverpool with his wife in August 1919 on the SS Tunisian. He was discharged in Quebec and arrived back in Kenora at the end of the month. After the war William and Edith decided to make their home in Kenora. Sadly they lost an infant son William James Jr. in 1921 and an infant daughter Marjorie in 1925. William found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway and by 1934 he was an engineer. He was very involved in local politics and he was a member of the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. He also belonged to the Sons of England Benevolent Society, serving for a time as the president of the local chapter. He passed away in Kenora in January 1974, at age 83. His wife died in 1988 and they are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

William’s oldest sister Sarah Hargrave passed away in Kenora in 1968 and she’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery with her husband. Her daughter married a local war veteran, William Lyons Thompson, and they later moved to Edmonton. William’s sister Marion died in England in 1914 and the other three girls all moved in the U.S. During the war Mary and Harriet both served as nurses with the U.S. Army at military hospitals in New York and St. Louis, Missouri. The three sisters, Mary, Harriet and Emily Knipe, are all buried in Exeter Public Cemetery in Huron County, Ontario.

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

By Becky Johnson

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