Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJune 18, 1886
Place of BirthFort Worth, Texas
CountryUnited States
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinA.E. Peterman (Uncle) 719 Second Street, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingMarine Engineer
Service Details
Regimental Number113
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion8th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentAugust 14, 1914
Age at Enlistment28
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarYes
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathNovember 26, 1965
Age at Death79

Williams, George Burton

According to his attestation papers George Burton Williams was born on 18 June 1886 in Fort Worth, Texas. He moved to Canada sometime after the 1911 Census and by 1914 when the war started he was living in the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario. Trained as a marine engineer, he was a locomotive engineer with the CPR when he enlisted.

Britain declared war on 04 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Officers and volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then proceed to Valcartier, an area about 20 miles northwest of Quebec City that would become the site of a large military camp. George was one of the first to sign up with the 98th militia unit in Kenora and he left by train on 23 August, heading to Quebec along with about 40 other volunteers. The local newspaper said that thousands of people turned out to cheer and support the men as they left.

At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. On his attestation papers and in his CEF file Williams said he had served in the 123 Marines for three and half years. Newspaper articles said he had been in the Spanish-American War, however he would have been too young — he was only 12 in 1898 — and his name is not on the list of the 650 US Marines drawn from various units from Texas to Florida who landed in Cuba that summer. The 123 Marines was a Marine Corp reserve unit in Texas and he likely joined them when he was older before coming to Canada. George’s medical exam on 17 September tells us he was 5’6″ tall with brown eyes and dark brown hair. He was found fit for overseas service and on 23 September 1914 he enlisted with the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion, a new unit made up of recruits from Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. He was listed as single and next of kin was his uncle, A.E. Peterman of Kenora. On 03 October the 8th Battalion embarked for England, leaving from Quebec City on the SS Franconia. They were part of a convoy of 32 transport ships protected by a Royal Navy escort because of the danger from German submarines. The convoy arrived safely in Plymouth, England on 14 October.

The 8th Battalion was sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. They were given a period of leave for the holiday season and after another month of training the men were sent to France in February 1915 as part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. The battalion spent a few weeks in the area between Hazebrouck and Armentières. In early April they were moved north to the Ypres Salient in Belgium and on 19 April they went into the front trenches near Gravenstafel. Chlorine gas was first used by the Germans on a large scale on 22 April 1915 at Gravenstafel Ridge and the 8th Battalion was hit by it during a second gas attack two days later. They suffered heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed – the Battle of St. Julien – when German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. From the War Diary of the 8th Battalion, 24-25 April 1915, Gravenstafel: ‘The trenches were all attacked at night, and all the men in the trenches except the reserves were weak from fumes – in fact some men had already died from fumes.’

The Canadians held the line for three crucial days, at times engaging in hand to hand combat, until they were relieved by British units on 25 April. George was reported wounded and missing on 24 April 1915 and officially reported as a prisoner of the Germans on 18 May 1915.

He was the first of five Kenora men held as POWs during the war.

His arm wound was treated in a German hospital in Munster. After 20 months in two different German prison camps he was moved to Switzerland on 05 January 1917 through an arrangement with the Red Cross where wounded prisoners were moved from prison camps in Germany to internment in Switzerland. In June 1918 Williams was returned to England for medical treatment. He returned to Kenora on 13 October 1918 and was formally discharged from the army on 18 November on medical grounds.

Despite a weakened grip in his right hand due to his war wound, he was able to return to work with the CPR as an engineer. On 22 December 1918 George married Eva Harris in Winnipeg. Eva was born in Port Arthur, Ontario in 1896, the daughter of Fred Harris and Elizabeth McKay. She was one of at least eleven children, seven daughters and four sons. At the time of the 1911 census her family was living in Kenora where her father worked as a blacksmith for the CPR. By 1916 they had moved to the Springfield district in Manitoba.

George and Eva had one son, Leith, who was born in 1919. When the 1921 census was taken George was employed at the Kenora jail as a turnkey and Eva was the matron. Not long after that they moved to Winnipeg and George worked as a locomotive engineer with the CNR for 32 years, retiring in 1954. He was a member of the Canadian Legion, Branch No. 1.

George died on 26 November 1965 in Winnipeg. His wife, Eva, passed away in 1977 and she’s buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Winnipeg.

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