|Date of Birth||March 24, 1883|
|Place of Birth||Islington, London|
|Next of Kin||Lucy Girling (wife), Keewatin, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Miller|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Keewatin, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||May 22, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||33|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||19680117|
|Age at Death||84|
|Buried At||Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario|
Acting Lance Corporal Walter James Girling was married and the father of two young children when he enlisted in May 1916. He became ill in October 1917 at Passchendaele, while serving with the 44th Battalion, and he spent the rest of the war in the UK.
Walter was born and raised in Islington, London, England. His parents were Alfred Girling, a silver smith and silver polisher, and Frances Reynolds. Alfred and Frances were married in Islington in 1880 and Walter was born on 24 March 1883. He had one brother, Ernest Alfred Edward, who was two years older than him. Their father died in 1898 and when the 1901 census was taken the two boys were living in Islington with their widowed mother. Walter, age 18, was working as a lapidary and he was probably in the volunteer army by that time too. He said he served for nine years with the 6th Battery, City of London, which was a volunteer artillery unit.
Walter was married at St. Peter’s Church in Clerkenwell, London on 25 December 1907. His wife, Lucy Lilian Frances Bennison, was born in Clerkenwell in 1882, the oldest of eight children of William Christopher and Sarah Bennison. She worked as a carpet maker and upholsteress. Walter and Lucy’s first child, James William, was born in 1908. Walter immigrated to Canada in 1911, arriving on 5 July on the Royal Edward. His destination was listed as Keewatin, Ontario, where he found work as a miller in a flour mill. His wife and son joined him a year later, arriving in August 1912, also on the Royal Edward. A second child, daughter Irene Lillian, was born on 4 June 1913 in Keewatin.
By the fall of 1915 the war was in its second year and Walter enlisted the following spring, signing up in Kenora on 22 May 1916 with the 141st ‘Bull Moose’ Battalion. The unit was based in Port Arthur and in August the Kenora and Keewatin volunteers were sent there to train. Walter attended a School of Instruction for four weeks in September and October, and he was promoted to Sergeant on 1 November. In January 1917 he was sent to Winnipeg to take a three-week musketry course. While he was there he developed an infection in his eye and he spent about five weeks in St. Joseph’s Hospital. He rejoined his unit in early April and later that month they left for the east coast. The recruits embarked from Halifax on 28 April on the SS Olympic and arrived in England on 7 May. They were absorbed into the 18th Reserve Battalion to be used as reinforcements for other units.
A few days after joining the 18th Battalion Walter reverted to the rank of private, due to an excess of non-commissioned officers. On 8 September he was drafted to a new unit, the 44th (Manitoba) Battalion, and sent to France. After some time at the base depot and the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp he joined the 44th Battalion in the field in mid-October. They were based at Zuytpeene, France at the time, near the Belgian border. On 21 October the unit moved into Belgium to take part in the Battle of Passchendaele. The men were billeted near Ypres and they spent the first few days getting their camp in order. On the night of 25-26 October the battalion moved into support trenches where the troops helped to bring in supplies and evacuate the wounded before taking over a section of the front line. The weather was cold and rainy and Walter became very ill while they were in the trenches. He said he collapsed several times and the last time he was unable to get up. He was admitted to No. 12 Canadian Field Ambulance on 28 October and by early November he was back in England.
Walter spent a month at 1st Western General Hospital in Liverpool, followed by two months at Woodcote Convalescent Centre in Epsom. He was diagnosed with trench fever at first, then with impaired hearing, chronic infection in both ears as well as a heart condition. In February 1918 he was transferred to the Manitoba Regiment Depot and from there to the 18th Reserve Battalion. On 1 June he was appointed Acting Lance Corporal and in August he attended a four-week musketry course. He passed the course and qualified as a Class II Instructor (Lewis Gun). A week after the Armistice he was transferred back to the Manitoba Regiment Depot, pending his return to Canada. He embarked on 22 November on the SS Aquitania, arriving in Quebec six days later. He was discharged in Winnipeg on 18 January 1919, listed as medically unfit for further service.
After the war Walter and Lucy settled in Winnipeg and he returned to his career as a lapidary. By the late 1940s they had moved to Toronto, where they lived on Broadway Avenue in Eglinton. Walter passed away in Toronto on 17 January 1968, at age 84. His wife died in 1974 and they are both buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
Walter had been honoured at a ceremony in Keewatin on 4 August 1919, when medals were awarded to returned veterans and the families of fallen soldiers. He is commemorated on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Great War Roll of Honour and the Municipality of Keewatin For King and Country 1914-18 memorial plaque.
By Becky Johnson