Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthApril 18, 1888
Place of BirthHuntsville, Ontario
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinHelena Hawkins, wife, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingLocomotive Engineer
Service Details
Regimental Number669612 and 2125009
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionNo 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 1, 1917
Age at Enlistment28
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathFebruary 28, 1958
Age at Death69

Hawkins, William Nathaniel

William Nathaniel Hockin (Hocken, Hawkins) was born on 18 April 1888 in Huntsville, Ontario. His father was Nathaniel Hockin, born around 1858 in the Tay Township, Simcoe. Over the years the surname had a number of spellings, eventually with William consistently using Hawkins. His mother was Margaret Elizabeth Knott who was born in 1872 in Huntsville, with the couple marrying on 21 June 1887 in Huntsville. Other known children born to the family were Samuel (1889), Charles (1891), and Edna Emily Bertha (1897). William’s mother later married Jacob A Gerhart and the couple ended up running rooming houses and hotels, first in Biggar, Saskatchewan and then later in Vancouver.

Apparently William married Helena Irene St John in 1911 in Cochrane, Ontario. Born in 1895 in Sunderland, Brock Township, Helena was the daughter of Amos and Emily (Campbell) St John. However as fires wiped out the town of Cochrane in 1911 and the church records were destroyed, the couple married again on 16 February 1916 in Toronto. They gave birth to at least one known child, Kathleen May, around 1914.

William signed his first set of attestation papers on 3 February 1916 in Toronto with the 166th Battalion, service #669612 ( Link to Service Record).  His name was given as William John Hawkins, occupation as locomotive engineer, his wife Irene in Toronto as next of kin, and his date of birth as 18th April 1888 in Huntsville. He gave previous military service as two years with the 90th Winnipeg (drummer). Illegally absent, he was discharged from service as a deserter at Camp Borden on 23 July 1916.

William signed his second set of attestation papers on 1 February 1917 in Winnipeg, Manitoba with the No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees. He used the alias Wesley Joe Hawkins, gave his date of birth as 18 March 1884 in Owen Sound, Ontario, and his next of kin as his wife Helen Marion Hawkins in Kenora. It appears that the family had been living in Kenora where William was working as a locomotive engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees had been organized in December of 1916 and recruited amongst railway men in all military districts east of Winnipeg and mobilized at Montreal. By the time the train passed through Kenora heading east on the first leg of the journey overseas, the local numbers had grown to thirty-two men. A large crowd gathered at the station in Kenora to wish them well and a safe return.

The No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees embarked from Halifax on 4 March 1917 aboard the Ausonia. Once in England the unit was redesignated as 12th (Canadian) Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers on the 17th, and then as No 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians) Royal Engineers on the 7th of April. By the 19th of April the men were in France. ‘This unit was operating lines in the immediate rear of active operations and hauled troops, ammunition, supplies, material, ambulance trains, refugees for the battles of Messines Ridge, June 1917, and the Lys, April 1918.‘ (Library and Archives Canada). A description of some of the activities of the 58th Broad Gauge Operation Company was summarized in the Canadian Rail’s November December 1993 edition that marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the war: The Canadian Railway Troops on WW1.

William received a promotion to 2nd Corporal just before leaving for France and was granted working pay of $1.00/day. In early August of 1918 he was granted a two week leave to the UK followed by a second two week leave to France in mid March of 1919. He returned to England in mid April and embarked for Canada on May 14th, discharged from service on 30 May in Winnipeg.

William, Helena, and daughter May were found living in Kenora for the 1921 census. At the time he was still going by the name of Wesley and was working as a machinist. The family moved to British Columbia around 1923, eventually settling in Nanaimo where William worked as a tugboat captain, reassuming the name of William Hawkins.

William Nathaniel Hawkins died on 28 February 1958 at his home in Nanaimo. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, his mother, and daughter Kathleen Choquette. His mother Margaret Elizabeth Gerhart died in 1960 in Vancouver and his wife Helena died on 28 August 1975 in Nanaimo. William and Helena were cremated, disposition of ashes unknown.

by Judy Stockham





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