|Date of Birth||June 7, 1892|
|Place of Birth||Chesterville, Dundas County, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Ella Merkley (wife), Dundas, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Machine expert|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Conscripted|
|Place of Enlistment||Hamilton, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||312 Wilson Street, Hamilton, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 16, 1918|
|Age at Enlistment||25|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||September 29, 1918|
|Age at Death||26|
|Buried At||St. Olle British Cemetery, France|
Private Willis Samuel Merkley was called up for service in January 1918 and sent to France seven months later. He was killed in action in September 1918 near Cambrai.
Willis was born on 7 June 1892 in Chesterville village, Dundas County, Ontario. His parents, Salathiel Merkley and Laura Kittle, were both of German ancestry and born in Ontario. Willis had four older brothers: John Franklin, Stephen Clifford, James Archibald and Robert. When the 1901 census was taken he was living with his brother Clifford in the town of Rat Portage (Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. The household included their mother Laura, their brother John Franklin, Clifford’s wife Sarah and another child, Preston Merkley, age 3.
By 1911 Clifford and his wife had moved to the township of Oliver, just west of Port Arthur/Fort William. Willis was still living with them and working as a railroad labourer. His father Salathiel passed away in Port Arthur in April 1911, at age 62. Salathiel was married, a teamster and his birth place was recorded as Chesterville, Ontario.
Conscription was introduced in Canada in the summer of 1917, as the war entered its fourth year. Willis registered as required and had his medical on 13 October 1917 in Hamilton, Ontario. He was classified as A2, fit for overseas service. He was married in Hamilton two months later, on 12 December, to Ella Margaret Wilson. His occupation at the time was machine mechanic and his residence was Hamilton. Ella was a clerk living in Dundas (now part of the city of Hamilton). She was born in Ontario in 1885, the daughter of William Wilson, a farmer, and Mary Ann Stevenson.
Willis was called up for service in Brantford, Ontario on 16 January 1918. His address was still Hamilton and next of kin was his wife Ella in Dundas. Willis was assigned to the 2nd Depot Battalion, 2nd Central Ontario Regiment. He embarked for the UK on 7 March and arrived about ten days later. In England he was posted to the 8th Reserve Battalion and he trained with them for five months. On 18 August he was drafted to a front line unit, the 116th Battalion, and sent to France. He joined his new unit in the field in early September.
On 28 September the 116th Battalion was ordered to attack and capture the village of St. Olle, a small suburb of Cambrai. The assault started the next morning and the battalion faced heavy machine gun fire as they advanced. The operation involved other units and it was successful but the 116th Battalion suffered about 400 casualties over four days of fighting. Willis was killed in action on 29 September. His body was recovered and he’s buried in St. Olle British Cemetery, just west of Cambrai. The inscription on his grave marker reads ‘Gone but not forgotten.’ He’s commemorated on the 116th Battalion’s First World War Honour Roll.
Willis’ mother passed away in Port Arthur in 1921 and she’s buried in Riverside Cemetery in Thunder Bay. His wife Ella died in 1975 and she’s interred at Grove Cemetery in Dundas along with her parents and other family members.
By Becky Johnson
Photo above is St. Olle British Cemetery.