|Date of Birth||December 31, 2018|
|Place of Birth||Marylebone, London|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Jane Bircham (wife), 428 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Bricklayer|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Address at Enlistment||428 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||December 22, 1914|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||October 23, 1950|
|Age at Death||72|
|Buried At||Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
Private William James Bircham was married and the father of six young children when he enlisted in December 1914. He served in France and Belgium with the 29th Battalion and returned to Canada in May 1919.
According to his service file William was born on 31 December 1880 in Marylebone, London, England but from other records it seems more likely that he was born in 1878 or 1879. His parents, Philip Bircham and Honora (Nora) Sullivan, were married in Marylebone in 1878 and they had one other son, Philip, who was born in 1883. William’s father passed away in 1886 and his mother remarried three years later. She had at least three children with her second husband, Henry Bennett: Elizabeth (1889), Henry Jr. (1891) and Nora (1894). When the 1891 census was taken Henry and Nora were living in Marylebone and Henry was employed as a builder’s labourer. Philip Bircham was living with the family but William wasn’t and he may have been an inmate at the Upton House Truant School in Hackney at the time. The 1891 census of the school included a William Bircham of the correct age. William’s mother passed away in Marylebone in 1896, at age 40.
William was married at St. Mary’s Church in Paddington, London on 4 August 1901. He was 22 years old, a labourer and his address was 13 Dudley Street. One of the witnesses to the marriage was his brother Philip Bircham. William’s wife, Jane Sherin (née Wheeler), was a widow with two young children. She was born in London and she had married Frederick James Sherin in Paddington in 1897. They had a son, Charles Frederick (1897), and a daughter, Louisa Harriett (1899).
William and Jane had three children born in Paddington: William Thomas (1901), Norah (1903) and Philip (1905). In the summer of 1906 they immigrated to Canada, arriving on 28 June on the SS Dominion. Their destination was Winnipeg, Manitoba but by early 1907 they were living in Kenora, Ontario. William’s brother Philip immigrated in February 1907, arriving on the Lake Champlain and also going to Kenora. William and Jane had a son, Fred Henry, born in Kenora in March 1907 followed by a daughter, Annie, in March 1909. It appears William made a trip back to England, returning to Canada on 5 June 1910 on the Lake Champlain. He was travelling alone, his destination was Kenora and his occupation was bricklayer. By the following year he and his family had moved to Winnipeg and another daughter, Elizabeth Clara, was born there in December 1911.
William’s sister, Norah Bennett, immigrated to Canada in the summer of 1913, arriving in June on the Empress of Britain, on her way to Winnipeg. She was married in Winnipeg in March 1914 to George Harris. The war started that summer and George returned to England to serve with the Royal Engineers. William, his brother Philip Bircham and his stepson Charles Frederick Sherin all enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. William and Philip both signed up in Winnipeg on 22 December 1914, joining the 44th Battalion. William trained with his unit until the fall of 1915 when he was sent to England with the 2nd reinforcing draft. He embarked from Montreal 4 September 1915 on the SS Missanabie and arrived in the UK about nine days later.
William was assigned to the 30th Reserve Battalion and stationed at Shorncliffe Camp. He served as a cook for his unit and took a cooking course in January 1916. In March his brother Philip was sent to France and he was wounded and captured at the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916). He spent the next two and a half years as a prisoner of war. In June and July 1916 William was in the hospital for five weeks getting treatment for hemorrhoids. In January 1917 he was drafted to a front line unit, the 29th Battalion, and sent to France. In April the Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge then stayed in the Vimy area holding the new front line and taking part in further operations. William was charged with drunkenness while on active duty in September and again in October. He was sentenced to 21 days Field Punishment No. 1 the first time and 42 days the second time.
The Canadians spent the winter of 1917-18 in the Arras area and in the summer of 1918 they were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare. They were heavily involved in the final three months of the war, a period known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. After the Armistice the 29th Battalion took part in the March to the Rhine and spent some time in Germany as part of the occupying forces. In January 1919 William was given leave in England and that same month his brother Philip was repatriated to the UK. While William was there he was admitted to the hospital, suffering from rheumatic arthritis. He was a patient at the military hospital in Paddington and No. 16 General Hospital in Orpington from 26 January until 11 March. After recovering William was kept in the UK and assigned to the 1st Reserve Battalion. He embarked for Canada about two months later on the SS Cassandra, arriving in Quebec on 13 May and getting discharged three days later in Winnipeg. His brother Philip returned to Canada a few days before him. His stepson Charles Sherin had served for about a year but only in Canada.
After the war William and Jane continued to live in Winnipeg and when the 1921 census was taken they were living on Henry Avenue. William was doing ‘odd jobs’ and six children were still at home. Jane passed away in St. Boniface Hospital on 2 May 1936, at age 59, and she’s buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Their son Fred served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, from December 1941 to April 1946.
William died at the home of his sister, Mrs. Norah (George) Harris, on 23 October 1950, at age 72. His funeral was held two days later and he’s buried at Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens (formerly called Assiniboine Memorial Park Cemetery). His son Fred (1907-1989) and Fred’s wife Ivy are also buried there. William’s sister Norah Harris died in 1991, at age 97, and she’s interred at Transcona Cemetery. His brother Philip Bircham (1883-1949) and stepson Charles Sherin (1897-1953) are buried in Brookside Cemetery.
By Becky Johnson
Photos courtesy of Bircham public family tree on Ancestry.com.