|Date of Birth||May 22, 1898|
|Place of Birth||Rat Portage (Kenora), Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Father, W.A. McLeod, Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Student|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||November 13, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||17|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||May 30, 1985|
|Age at Death||87|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
William (Bill) McLeod was born on May 22nd 1898 in Rat Portage (now Kenora), Ontario. He was the 8th in a family line of Bill McLeod’s. His parents were merchant, William Allen McLeod and Mary Wilson. Siblings included Julie (b. 1892) and John (b. 1900). Mary McLeod died in 1904 and William Sr. married Edith Mulraine in 1905. Her daughter, Annie, was living with the family in 1911.
Bill enlisted in the 94th battalion of the Canadian army on November 13, 1915 at Kenora. He was 17 years old so reported his birth year as 1897 to qualify. The following spring he was promoted to the rank of Corporal as the 94th trained in Port Arthur. In June 1916 the 94th was sent to Halifax to board the SS Olympic on June 28th, bound for Liverpool. The ship arrived there on July 6th and the unit was immediately sent to Kent when the Canadian army had several training camps. Bill was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion.
Bill was a prolific writer and he sent many letters home and extracts of several of these letters were published by the Kenora Miner and News. With the first of his notes he said, ‘We are in tents now and the mud is fierce.’ He later added, ‘Since I wrote the first part of this letter great things have happened. D Company has been transferred to the 17th Reserve Batt., to reinforce the 43rd or the 16th battalion at the front, and we have all the officers with us and all but a few of the men’. War had been hard for the Canadian contingents with a defeat at St. Eloi and difficult trench warfare in France and Flanders.
His first skirmish with the enemy was in England: ‘The German airplanes visited Dover on Sunday,’ he said, ‘and the only damage they did was to scare the 94th, as we were ordered to get away from the camp and you ought to see some of them go, no second invitation’.
In the summer of 1916 the British were engaged in their first major offensive on the western front and by the time Bill’s unit got there, August 28th, it was full out trench warfare in what would be known as the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history. Bill arrived in France with the 43rd Battalion and reverted to the rank of Private. Bill’s letters home said the following:
‘I’m in France now, and no worse the wear for the trip (from England). I am in the 43rd Battalion and Col Thompson who camped at the beach (Coney Island, Lake of the Woods) is our OC (officer in Command). We left England Sunday evening after travelling most of the day by train. We landed in France 10 o’clock Monday morning after most of the battalion. I and a bunch had to clean up the boat – a barque with side wheels.’
‘It was very rough coming across and most everybody got sea sick. I got to sleep before going sick but not before I had gone through most of the preliminaries.’
‘ . . . we got into the Canadian base at dinnertime today. We saw a lot of Germans on the way. They are prisoners working under French guards. They are no small looking fellows – some had wonderful physique. The country was very picturesque. We marched down long avenues of poplar trees and saw lots of ripening fruit on the way.’
‘We live in tents and have one blanket each. They say it’s warmer here at night and I’m going to find out myself tonight.’
‘Send those high legged boots for sure dad, as they are just the thing, and we are allowed to wear them.’
There were victories and defeats in the allied command’s war of the Somme, characterized by trench raids and fall-backs. The first assault, staged by British forces in July before Bill McLeod’s unit got there, was a defeat in which the British sustained 60,000 casualties in one day, including almost 20,000 deaths. The Somme offensive continued for four more months and all accounts describe it as difficult and bloody. A Niagara Historical Museum account records this description:
‘At a later stage of the Somme fighting known as the battle of Thiepval Ridge the Canadians suffered heavy losses in the taking of Regina Trench. This was a line of German defenses beyond Courcelette which it took the Corps a full month to capture. As the autumn had advanced, the weather had turned bad, and the heavy Somme mud had made the problem of the attacking troops heartbreakingly difficult. Nevertheless, in the end they succeeded in capturing Desire Trench, which was the German support line. However when the Somme fighting stopped in the later part of November there was little to celebrate. The Canadian Corps had sustained 29,029 casualties for a mere six kilometers of mud’.
Fortunately Bill was spared. His descriptions in his letters home said:
‘Dear Folks: I suppose you have been looking hard for a letter from me, but I could not possibly write as I just came out last night from seven days in the front line but as we are out for a few days I can write a lot. It was a wet miserable trip raining every day we were in’.
While it was tense, he told this tale about an experience his friend Vic Torrance had which has to be categorized as ‘comic relief’. He says, ‘Vic Torrance and I held the bombing post for the seven days (The Heroes). Vic just about got scared white the first night on. He was looking over the parapet towards Fritz when all at once a big rat ran right past his face. He almost went straight up . . . it’s funny what little things will frighten a fellow when he is not looking for it’.
Bill was thrilled with a parcel he got from home:
‘I got Ma’s parcel of Jem Jems while at the bombing post, and if anything could come in more useful and taste so good I don’t know what it could be. Your boots, Dad, came in good as I was in the mud all the time and some of it was deep. Miss Miller, I thank you for the socks; they are just fine and they are just what we need up here; and Lela for the box of candy that is coming, and when I get Eva’s socks I will be well fixed. I can certainly handle all that comes.’
‘We did not suffer so bad in the trenches this time’, he said, ‘as Fritz did not give us so much of his artillery, but he sent over a bunch of Rum Jars and Minnie Wafers (those Minnie Wafers are not a biscuit) but when you see two lengths of stove pipe coming over from Fritz you want to beat it. You can see them coming so they give you a fighting chance. They certainly have an awful explosion’
Bill McLeod reported to the medical tent for an eye wound in October but it must have cleared up because there is no record of it in his letters home.
On December 12th, 1916 he reported to the medical tent again because he apparently had a bad cold. He was diagnosed with bronchitis and sent to a field station to recover. He rejoined his unit in January, 1917, but this issue would re-surface in later years.
The 43rd Regiment reported trench raiding in April, 1917 and it was in one of these on April, 24th that Pte. W.A. (Bill) McLeod was wounded. He had taken shrapnel in the face near the right eye. He was removed from the field and immediately sent to hospital in England. An attending medical official reported on May 4th that the wound had healed but there was still shrapnel in the wound. This was removed the next day and he was sent to a convalescent depot in Hastings. On July 31st 1917 Bill was assigned to Communications headquarters in Stafford and worked as an acting sergeant (without sergeant pay). He was transferred to the 11th Reserve Battalion in October and then to the Fort Garry Horse Regiment in April 1918. He served with this unit in France for the next year until being returned to England in preparation for his return to Canada on 20 May 1919.
After the war Bill suffered a long time with a lingering sinus condition that began with his bronchitis complaint in September 1916. Officially described by a Medical Board report of May 6, 1919 as Catarrhal Otitis Medial & Tubal, it had left him quite deaf. The report also declared that he was just 140 lb and that he had a bullet mark under his right eye.
Bill McLeod was discharged from the Fort Garry Horse on June 2nd, 1919 in Winnipeg. He had served for 3 years and 175 days.
Bill returned to his family but he had a lingering interest in the military. He was an active member of the local militia most of his life, the 116th Independent Field Battery, and served as its commander for many years. He also served in in England during World War II. He achieved the rank of Colonel.
Bill married Elizabeth Locke on July 5th, 1921. He and Elizabeth had four children, Margaret (b.1923), Mary (Saunders b.1925), Nora Anne (Abbott b.1926), and William Edward (b.1934). His first daughter, Margaret, died at a very early age. He spent his life in Kenora and ran a shoe store there that also sold women’s hats manufactured in a millinery operation upstairs in his store at 158 Main Street South. Bill ran the shoe store until 1975 when he sold it but the name, McLeod’s Shoe Store, carried on for several years after that.
Active in community affairs, Bill was a member of the Rotary Club, the Masonic Lodge, the Shrine and the Legion.
Bill’s wife, Elizabeth died in 1978 and Bill died on May 30, 1985. They were both interred in the McLeod family plot in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora.
By Don Cameron