Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthFebruary 1, 1898
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJoseph Brown (father), 115 First Street, Rideout, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingTeamster
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439060
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion1st Company, Canadian Machine Gun Corps
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Machine Gun Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at Enlistment115 First Street, Rideout, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentDecember 28, 1914
Age at Enlistment16
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 8, 1965
Age at Death67
Buried AtAssumption Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
PlotVeterans Section

Brown, William Thomas

Private William Thomas Brown enlisted underage when he was 16 years old and he served for more than four years in Canada, England, France, Belgium and Germany. He was wounded twice but he survived the war and returned home in May 1919.

William was the oldest son of Joseph Brown and Mary Robinson of Kenora, Ontario. Joseph had immigrated to Canada from London, England and his wife was from Manitoba. By the time William was born, on 1 February 1898, they were living in Rat Portage (later called Kenora), where Joseph worked first as a labourer then as a car repairer and inspector for the Canadian Pacific Railway. William had three brothers (Harry, Joseph and Roy) and two sisters (Florence and Rose), all born in Rat Portage/Kenora.

William enlisted on 28 December 1914 at age 16 but he passed himself off as two years older. He was 5′ 7″ and 140 lb, and working as a teamster at the time. Volunteers were being raised for a third overseas contingent and when the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was organized in mid-March the Kenora lads were transferred to the new unit. It was based in Port Arthur and the recruits were sent there in June to join the rest of the battalion. While they were training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Belgium. Men were needed to replace casualties in front line units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. William left for England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 recruits from the 52nd Battalion. They embarked from Montreal on 4 September 1915 on the SS Missanabie and arrived in England nine days later.

William was transferred to the 12th Reserve Battalion and he trained with them for five months. On 17 February 1916, just after his 18th birthday, he was sent to France and assigned to the 4th Infantry Battalion. When he joined his new unit in mid-March they were in the Ypres Salient in Belgium. Over the next few months they had regular rotations in the front line. In August and September William was out of action for four weeks due to illness and during that time the Canadians were moved south to the Somme area. The 4th Battalion was there when he rejoined them in mid-September and they took part in several operations over the next month. In October William was ill again, suffering from colitis, and he spent two weeks in a hospital in Etaples. While he was away his battalion moved back north to the Lens-Arras area, across from Vimy, where they spent the next year.

Early in 1917 the Canadian Corps began training for their next big operation, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The assault started on the morning of 9 April and the 4th Battalion was kept in brigade reserve for the initial attack. Around noon they moved forward to help consolidate the new front line. They were on the far right flank of the Corps, advancing toward Farbus Wood, and they faced heavy artillery shelling on the way. William was one of the casualties that day, suffering a wound to his right thigh and fingers. He was evacuated to No. 22 General Hospital in Camiers then, ten days later, to Bangour War Hospital near Edinburgh in Scotland. After three months of treatment he was moved to a convalescent centre and at the end of July he was well enough to be transferred to a reserve battalion.

William was kept in England for another seven months. In February 1918 he contracted parotitis (mumps) and he spent two weeks in the hospital. On 16 March he was sent back to France and transferred to his old unit, the 4th Battalion. He joined them at the beginning of April but in May he was posted to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps reinforcement pool. That summer the Canadians were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare and they were heavily involved in the final three months of war. William was attached to the 1st Company, Canadian Machine Guns Corps on 11 August, just as the Battle of Amiens was ending, and a few days later his unit moved to the Arras area where they took part in further operations.

At the end of September the Canadians crossed the Canal du Nord and captured Bourlon Wood (27 September-1 October 1918). The 1st Machine Gun Company took part in the five-day battle and the men were relieved on 2 October but William was wounded that last day, suffering a shell or gunshot wound to his left thigh. He was admitted to No. 2 Australian General Hospital in Wimereux on 4 October and discharged to a rest camp at the end of the month. On 21 November, ten days after the Armistice, he was back with his unit. They entered Germany in early December, along with the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions, and remained there with the occupying forces for a month. They spent another two months in Belgium and during that time many of the troops took courses through the Khaki University. On 19 March 1919 they were moved by train to Le Havre, embarking from there for Weymouth, England on 25 March on HTMS Mona’s Queen. From the 1st Company’s war diary: The good people of Weymouth extended a warm welcome to the men, and besides exhibiting large numbers of Canadian Flags, big Posters were displayed, bearing the legend: ‘Welcome Boys’ ‘Thank You Boys’ ‘God Bless You Boys’

The men proceeded to Bramshott Camp and were immediately given leave. William arrived back in Canada on 26 April 1919 and he was discharged on demobilization on 5 May in Toronto. His father Joseph Brown enlisted in 1917 and served overseas with a railway unit. He was killed in France in March 1918.

William returned to Kenora and when the 1921 census was taken he was living there with his widowed mother, his three brothers and his sister Rosie. Florence had married war veteran Morton Frank Guest and they were living next door. William later moved to Winnipeg. He died in Deer Lodge Veterans Hospital on 8 July 1965, at age 67, and he’s buried in the Veterans section at Assumption Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

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