Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthDecember 20, 1887
Place of BirthLondon
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Ambrosina Thomas (wife), 18 Balmoral Street, Montreal, Quebec
Trade / CallingIron worker
Service Details
Regimental Number24912
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion13th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentValcartier, Quebec
Address at EnlistmentMontreal, Quebec
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 23, 1914
Age at Enlistment26
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathFebruary 21, 1968
Age at Death80
Buried AtBrookside Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Thomas, William

Private William Thomas (aka William Britton) enlisted early in the war and spent four and a half years overseas. After he returned home he re-enlisted and served in Canada with the military police until January 1920.

William was originally from London, England but he was living in Montreal when the war started. He had immigrated to Canada as a teenager and he was married in Montreal on 1 October 1908, at age 20. His wife Ambrosina or ‘Zena’ McLeod was from Midlothian, Scotland, the daughter of Bruce and Elizabeth McLeod. William and Zena had three children: Elizabeth Gladys (b. 1909), William Jr. (b. 1910) and Bruce Kitchener (b. 23 September 1914, the day William enlisted). For the marriage and baptism records William’s surname was recorded as Thomas. Also living with the family at the time of the 1911 census was George Britton, age 54, a machinist who had emigrated from England around 1905.

Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then go to Valcartier Camp, northwest of Quebec City, where the Canadian Contingent was being assembled. William had his medical exam at Valcartier on 30 August and he signed his attestation there on 23 September, using the name William Britton. He listed his next of kin as his wife Zena Britton, his birth date as 20 December and his age as 26. He was assigned to the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada which became the 13th Overseas Battalion. His unit embarked with the Canadian Contingent in early October, sailing on the SS Alaunia as part of a convoy of 32 transport ships. They arrived in Plymouth, England about two weeks later.

The Canadians trained on Salisbury Plain in southern England for several months. William’s unit was sent to France on 15 February 1915 and they went into the trenches for the first time at the end of the month. William suffered a sprained ankle that April and he was out of action for about six weeks. It happened again in July, laying him up for another two weeks. That fall the Canadian Corps was based near Ploegsteert and St. Eloi in Belgium. Around 23 September William reported sick and by the end of the month he was in a hospital in Wimereux, with suspected enteric fever. He was a patient there for six weeks, diagnosed as seriously ill with paratyphoid fever. In mid-November he was evacuated to England where he recovered at Moore Barracks Hospital for another five weeks. On 24 December he was transferred to Monks Horton Convalescent Hospital where he stayed until March 1916.

After recovering William was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion then transferred to the 73rd Battalion. In May he returned to France and he was back with his original unit, the 13th, by the end of the month. Just a few days later they were at the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916). As soon as it ended William became ill with influenza and it was mid-August before he rejoined the 13th Battalion. Later that month they moved south with the rest of the Canadian Corps to take part in the Somme Offensive. William’s unit was involved in several operations over the next few weeks and he was wounded on 27 September, suffering contusions from a shell explosion. He was out of action for only two days but instead of returning to his unit he was attached to the 3rd Infantry Brigade as a cook. He served in that position for the next 16 months.

In February 1918 William returned to the UK and the following month he was granted a furlough to Canada. He arrived in Halifax in early April and he was back in England on 3 June. He spent the rest of the war in the UK, serving with the 20th Reserve Battalion and the 1st Quebec Regiment Depot. In March 1919 he contracted influenza and he was in a military hospital in Ripon, Yorkshire for two weeks. He embarked for Canada on 16 April on the SS Belgic, arriving in Halifax a week later. He was discharged on demobilization on 25 April in Montreal. William enlisted again on 16 June and he was assigned to the Canadian Military Police Corps. He served until his second discharge on 15 January 1920. He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star and the Victory Medal.

When the 1921 census was taken William was living in Montreal with his wife Ambrosina and their three children, all listed with the surname Britton. It seems his marriage ended not long after that. He headed west and spent some time in Iroquois, Ontario before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was married in Winnipeg (as William Thomas) on 20 December 1924 to Flora Kathleen Neill. Flora was born in 1903 in the county of Devon, England and came to Canada at age 20 to work as a domestic servant. William and Flora had two children, a daughter Peggy Eleanor (1925-1998) and a son William Frank.

In the late 1920s William’s job took him to Kenora, Ontario for awhile and he joined the local branch of the Canadian Legion there in March 1927. Back in Winnipeg he had a long career as a cook and chef and he was a member of the Sir Sam Steele Branch of the Legion. He retired around 1958 and passed away at Deer Lodge Veterans Hospital in Winnipeg on 21 June 1968, at age 80. He was survived by Flora, their daughter Mrs. Peggy Scott (later Mrs. Peggy Bradstock) and their son William Frank of San Diego, California. Flora died in 1986 and she’s buried with William in the Field of Honour at Brookside Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

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