|Date of Birth||October 13, 1872|
|Place of Birth||Liverpool|
|Next of Kin||John Williams (father), 19 Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, England|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Valcartier, Quebec|
|Date of Enlistment||September 22, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||42|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||June 14, 1916|
|Age at Death||43|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres|
Shortly after Britain declared war in August 1914 the Canadian government proposed raising an Expeditionary Force to send overseas. By late September a contingent of 32,000 volunteers had been assembled at the new military camp in Valcartier, Quebec. Two thirds of the men in this 1st Canadian Contingent were born in the British Isles, including Lance Corporal George Williams.
George was born in October 1872 in Liverpool, England and immigrated to Canada when he was about 34 years old. By the time of the 1911 census he was living in Kenora, Ontario, working as a labourer and lodging at 513 Third Street South. Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Officers and volunteers were told to go to Valcartier, an area about 20 miles northwest of Quebec City that would become the site of a large military camp. George left Kenora by train on 23 August 1914, along with about 40 other volunteers. The local newspaper reported that thousands of people turned out to cheer and support the men as they left for the east. At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. George’s medical exam on 27 August tells us he was 42 years old, 5′-5″ tall with blue eyes and brown hair. He was declared fit for service and on 22 September he enlisted with the 8th Battalion, a new unit made up of recruits from Winnipeg and northwestern Ontario. In October the 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 a few more weeks of training they were sent to France in February 1915. Two months later the men were in the trenches in Belgium. The 8th Battalion was in the area of Gravelstafel Ridge in April 1915 when the Germans used chlorine gas on a large scale for the first time. The battalion suffered heavy casualties in the gas attack and in the Battle of St. Julien which began on 24 April. Just weeks later they fought at the Battle of Festubert in France, then in June they took part in the operations at Givenchy. George suffered fractured ribs and he spent the first two weeks of July in the hospital. On 29 July he was promoted to Lance Corporal and in September he had ten days of leave. ‘The Canadian Corps now settled down to a dismal winter in a section of the front between Ploegsteert Wood and St. Eloi [Belgium]. As steady rain filled the trenches with muddy water the men were forced to fight not only the enemy, but also trench foot, colds, influenza and lice.’ (www.veterans.gc.ca)
In the spring of 1916 the Canadians were in the Ypres Salient, holding the front line between St. Eloi and Hooge. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June with an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack on 3 June failed and plans were put in place for a second one, this time with more artillery support. The 8th Battalion moved into position on 12 June and the assault began just after midnight. The battle ended on 13 June when most of the lost areas were recaptured but late that day the 8th was ordered to go to Mount Sorrel to relieve two other battalions. They were heavily shelled on the way in and suffered 100 casualties. Artillery fire had destroyed many of the trenches, making them impassable, and for 24 hours no food or water could get through to the men. The Germans continued to shell their position. The battalion was finally relieved late on 14 June and back behind the lines by 2:30 am. George was one of the casualties that last day, killed in action on 14 June.
From the War Diary of the 8th Battalion, 15 June 1916: After we held a muster parade to-day our casualties on Mount Sorrel were found to be as follows:- Officers 1 killed 5 wounded, ORs [other ranks] 64 Killed, 195 Wounded, 2 Missing. This was out of a total of 20 Officers and about 550 O Ranks actually in action. (A casualty rate of almost 50%.) 18 June: The Battalion held a Memorial Service for those who had fallen in the recent action. The names of all those who fell in action were read out by Capt. Barton just previous to his service which was a most impressive one.
George’s final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, which bears the names of more than 54,000 men who died in the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial and on the Roll of Honour for the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles).
George was eligible for the 1914-15 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He had named his next of kin as his father John Williams of 19 Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, Lancashire. After the war medals were sent to the families of deceased soldiers but George’s father could not be located.
By Becky Johnson