|Date of Birth||January 11, 1899|
|Place of Birth||Centralia, Huron County, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Henry Essery (father), Crystal City, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Student|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Crystal City, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||April 4, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||17|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||March 29, 1974|
|Age at Death||75|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Private William Harold Essery enlisted in April 1916, at age 17, and served in France with the 5th Battalion. He was wounded in September 1918 and spent the next year recovering in hospitals in England and Canada.
William Harold, usually known as Harold, was born in Centralia, Stephen Township, South Huron, Ontario. He was the youngest son of Henry (Harry) Essery and Margaret Abbott. Harold’s grandparents, John and Mary Essery, were from Devonshire, England and they’d immigrated to Canada before Confederation. They settled in Stephen Township, which was in Canada West at that time, and took up farming. Harry was born in Stephen Township around 1862 and he was married in Centralia in 1885. His wife, Margaret Ann Abbott, was born in Biddulph Township, Ontario, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Abbott. Harry was a farmer and he and his wife had at least five children: Verne Henry (1887), Sarah Genevieve, Mary Gertrude (1891), William Harold (11 January 1899) and Doris Grace (1903). Sarah died in August 1894 when she was about five years old.
Harry’s sister Emma Essery had married Thomas Greenway in 1877 and they moved to Manitoba the following year. Thomas was a merchant, farmer and politician. He served as an MLA for many years and as the Premier of Manitoba from 1888 to 1900. When Thomas first moved to Manitoba he bought a large farm west of Emerson and the town of Crystal City was founded nearby. His farm, Prairie Home Farm, became known for its excellent livestock and the annual local auction of breeding stock was attended by hundreds of farmers and ranchers. Harry and his family moved to Crystal City around 1905 and for the next ten years he worked with the Greenways and helped to operate their farm.
The war started in August 1914 and Harold and his brother Verne both enlisted. Harold signed up in Winnipeg on 4 April 1916. He was a student at the time, 17 years old, and his family was still living in Crystal City. His parents moved to Winnipeg a short time later and they were living there at the time of the next census in June 1916. Harold joined the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion, which was recruited mainly among staff and students at western universities and Brandon Collegiate. The battalion was made up of four companies and over the summer they trained at Camp Hughes near Brandon. Company ‘A’ from Manitoba arrived at the camp on 4 June and they were joined over the next four weeks by the companies from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They were formally reviewed on 29 September and they entrained for the east coast on 26 October. The troops embarked from Halifax on 1 November on the SS Southland, arriving in Liverpool about ten days later.
At the time soldiers were required to be 19 years old before they could serve in a front line unit so Harold trained in England until the summer of 1918. He was with the 19th Reserve Battalion from November 1916 until October 1917. Following that he spent two weeks with the 15th Reserve Battalion before being transferred to the Young Soldiers’ Battalion on 31 October. The young soldiers’ unit was based at Bramshott where the lads were given a graduated program of training and a curriculum of classes with a schoolmaster. For most of December Harold was on command with the Canadian Ordnance Depot at Liphook, located just south of Bramshott.
On 30 May 1918, at age 19, Harold was transferred from the young soldiers’ unit back to the 15th Reserve Battalion. The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, started with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and ended with the Armistice. The Canadians were heavily involved in operations in those last three months. On 19 August Harold was drafted to a front line unit, the 5th Battalion, and sent to France. When he joined his new unit in the field in early September the Canadian Corps had just captured the Drocourt-Quéant Line and their next major operation would be to cross the Canal du Nord.
The offensive started on 27 September and by the afternoon Harold’s unit had crossed the canal and advanced as far as Haynecourt. Harold was one of the casualties that day when he was hit in the right arm by a machine gun bullet that shattered his humerus. He was taken to No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station then moved by ambulance train to No. 18 General Hospital in Camiers, where he was admitted on 29 September. At the hospital he had exploratory surgery on his arm and fragments of bone were removed. On 21 October he was evacuated to England on the hospital ship Princess Elizabeth and he spent the next three months at Berrington War Hospital in Shrewsbury.
On 15 January 1919 Harold was transferred to Granville Special Canadian Hospital. A medical report noted that the compound fracture of his right humerus would require a bone graft in the future and in the meantime a moulded splint was applied. On 13 March Harold was moved to No. 5 General Hospital in Liverpool to await his return to Canada. He sailed on the hospital ship Araguaya on 14 April, arriving in Canada via Portland, Maine about twelve days later. On 29 April he was admitted to the Manitoba Military Hospital in Winnipeg. It was also known as Tuxedo Military Hospital and he was a patient there for six months.
Harold had a bone graft on 17 July. The stitches and first cast were removed on 11 August and the second cast came off in early October. After undergoing an exercise regimen he was released from the hospital on 29 October and discharged from the army two days later, due to being medically unfit. His brother Verne had joined the 10th Corps of Guides in March 1916. He served in Canada with the Guides and the 10th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment, getting discharged in April 1919.
When the 1921 census was taken Harold was living in St. James with his parents and working as a clerk for a dairy company, Crescent Pure Milk, where his father was also employed. He was married in St. James on 7 May 1921. His wife, Lily Rose Perry, had arrived in Quebec on the SS Metagama just a week earlier. She was born in London, England in July 1896 and was 24 years old. The passenger manifest recorded that she was on her way to Mr. Harold Essery in Winnipeg and she was coming to Canada ‘to marry.’ Harold and Lily lived in Winnipeg for about 14 years and they had four children: Gordon (1924), John (1928), Ione and Margaret. By 1924 Harold was working as a clerk for the Canadian Pacific Railway and he was with them for 40 years, most of that time as a ticket agent.
Around 1935 Harold and his family moved to Kenora, Ontario. He became a member of Knox United Church, serving as Sunday School Superintendent and later as an elder. He was also active in the local Boy Scouts. His son Gordon served in the navy during the Second World War. Harold retired in 1964 and passed away in Lake of the Woods District Hospital on 29 March 1974, at age 75. His funeral was held three days later and he’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Lily died in 1981 and Gordon in 1991 and they are also interred there. John passed away in Calgary in 2015. Harold’s parents and his brother Verne are buried in Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of Harold is courtesy of his grandson Dan Essery.