Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 7, 1895
Place of BirthLiverpool
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Thomas Armstrong (mother), 1st St. N.,Kenora, Ontario (later Kamsack, Sask.)
Trade / CallingTrainman
Service Details
Regimental Number439103
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion27th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 26, 1915
Age at Enlistment19
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathOctober 28, 1963
Age at Death68
Buried AtMount Pleasant Cemetery, Edmonton, Alberta

Armstrong, Walter

Private Walter Armstrong enlisted in February 1915 and served overseas with the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion. He was wounded four times, including once by mustard gas. He survived the war and returned to Canada in September 1919 with a war bride.

Walter was born on 7 May 1895 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England. He was the only son of Thomas Armstrong, a boilermaker, and Sarah Jane Parry. Thomas was from County Durham in northeast England and his wife was born in Ireland. They were married in Lancashire in 1890 and they had four children: Sarah, Martha, Walter and Henrietta. In 1906 when Walter was 11 years old his family immigrated to Canada. They arrived in Quebec in June on the Empress of Britain with their destination listed as Fort William, Ontario. By the time the 1911 census was taken they were living in Kenora and Thomas was working as a boilermaker for the railway.

The war started in August 1914 and Walter enlisted six months later when volunteers were being recruited for a third overseas contingent. He signed up in Kenora on 26 February 1915, at age 19. He was working as a trainman at the time and next of kin was his mother Sarah in Kenora. Full time training with pay started for the recruits on 3 March 1915. The men were briefly attached to the 44th Battalion but when the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was organized in mid-March they were transferred to the new unit. It was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora lads were sent there in June to join the rest of the battalion.  A few months after Walter left his parents moved to Kamsack, Saskatchewan where his father found work with the CNR.

While the 52nd Battalion was training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Flanders. Men were needed to replace casualties in the front line units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. Walter was sent to England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 men from his unit. He embarked from Montreal on 4 September on the SS Missanabie and arrived in England nine days later. He was assigned to the 12th Reserve Battalion and after four more months of training he was sent to France. He was transferred to the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion and he joined them in the field in February 1916.

In early March Walter contracted a contagious skin infection and he was sent to a rest station then to No. 3 General Hospital in Boulogne. While he was there he became ill with influenza and it was late March before he rejoined the 27th Battalion. In April they took part in their first significant operation, the confused and disastrous fighting at St. Eloi craters, and the unit suffered heavy casualties. During the summer the Canadian Corps held a section of the front line in the Ypres Salient and in late August they were moved south to take part in the Battle of the Somme. The first major offensive for the Canadians started on 15 September near the village of Courcelette.

On 14 September the 27th Battalion left the brickfields near the town of Albert and took over a section of the front line. The assault near Courcelette began the next morning and in three days of fighting the battalion suffered almost 400 casualties. Walter was one of the injured, with a shrapnel wound to his neck and left thigh. He was evacuated to England and treated at Parkgate Hospital in Cheshire. He spent two months there followed by ten days at a convalescent centre in Epsom. In late November Walter was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre. He was posted to the 11th Reserve Battalion in January 1917 and by February he was back in France with the 27th Battalion.

That spring the Canadians captured Vimy Ridge then stayed in the Vimy area for several months, holding the new front line. In August they took part in the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens and Walter suffered his second wound there, a shell or gunshot wound to his left hand. It wasn’t serious and he recovered for a few days at No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station. In October the Canadians were back in the Ypres Salient for the Battle of Passchendaele and afterwards they returned to the Lens-Arras front, where they spent the winter. The German spring offensive began in March 1918 and over the next few months the 27th Battalion moved several times. In late May they were based near Mercatel, south of Arras, and on 3 June they relieved another unit in the front line. German artillery was active, especially gas shelling, and Walter was poisoned by a mustard gas shell. He was evacuated to No. 12 USA General Hospital in Rouen then spent a few weeks in convalescent centres, rejoining his unit in late July.

The final period of the war started with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and ended with the Armistice three months later. After their success at Amiens the Canadian Corps moved north to take part in the 2nd Battle of Arras. On 26 August the 27th Battalion carried out an assault near Neuville Vitasse, facing heavy machine gun fire as they advanced east of the village towards Wancourt Ridge. Walter suffered a bullet wound to his right ankle and for him the war was finally over. He was evacuated to England and admitted to Duston War Hospital in Northampton on 1 September. After three weeks there he was moved to the nearby Auxiliary Hospital in Cottesbrooke, then to the convalescent centre at Epsom.

On 12 December, a month after the Armistice, Walter was found fit for duty and transferred to a reserve battalion. He was married about three weeks later. His wife, 23-year-old Mary Priscilla Durham, was born and raised in Little Neston, Cheshire. The villages of Neston and Little Neston are right next to Parkgate, where Walter spent two months recovering from his wounds in 1916. He was married on 6 January 1919 in Liverpool, where he had lived as a child. Married soldiers were among the last to be sent home and it wasn’t until the fall that Walter and Mary left for Canada. They arrived in Halifax on 12 September on the SS Cedric and he was discharged in Halifax a week later.

Walter and his wife settled in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, where his parents lived, and they made their home there for the next forty years. Walter worked as a machinist and became a member of the Kamsack Legion, Branch No. 24. He and his wife had three sons, Walter (Durrie), Robert and Dennis. Around 1960 they moved to Edmonton, Alberta. Walter passed away in the Veterans’ Pavilion at University Hospital in Edmonton on 28 October 1963, at age 68, and he’s buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. His wife died in July 1981, at age 84.

By Becky Johnson

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Obituaries courtesy of Edmonton Public Library

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