Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 25, 1894
Place of BirthAcadia Mines, Colchester County, Nova Scotia
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJane Smaill (mother), Edinboro, Manitoba
Trade / CallingMechanical engineer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number1039505
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion3rd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentEdinboro, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentAugust 21, 1916
Age at Enlistment22
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathDecember 21, 1966
Age at Death72
Buried AtCremation (Vancouver Crematorium, Vancouver)

Smaill, William Hubert

Sapper William Hubert Smaill enlisted in Winnipeg in August 1916 and served in France and Belgium with the Canadian Railway Troops. He was invalided to Canada in September 1918 and his British war bride followed two months later.

William Hubert was the oldest son of William Smaill and Jane Robinson Batt. William Sr., a chemist and civil engineer, was born in 1870 in Montreal. His wife Jane was from Ireland. They were married in 1892 in Montreal but William was living in Acadia Mines, Colchester County, Nova Scotia at the time. William Hubert was born in Acadia Mines on 25 January 1894. He was followed by a daughter, Margaret Kathleen, who was born in 1896 in Montreal. Not long after that the family moved to northwestern Ontario where William Sr. worked as a mining engineer. Two children were born in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora): Elsie (1899) and Carlton (1901).

When the 1916 census was taken William Sr. and his family were living in the RM of Springfield, Manitoba where he was a railway superintendent. The war was in its second year by then and William Hubert enlisted in Winnipeg on 21 August 1916. He gave his occupation as mechanical engineer and next of kin as his mother Jane Smaill in Edinboro, Manitoba. He joined the 239th Battalion (Railway Construction Corps) and was assigned to ‘B’ Company. The unit had been mobilized at Valcartier, Quebec and recruits were mostly experienced railway men. William was sent to Valcartier shortly after enlisting and he embarked for the UK a few months later, sailing from Halifax on 15 December 1916 on the SS Olympic and arriving in Liverpool near the end of the month.

In February 1917 the 239th Battalion was redesignated as the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops and the unit was sent to France in March. William served with the 3rd Battalion in France and Belgium for the next eleven months. Railroads were essential for moving men, equipment and supplies and the railway troops were responsible for their construction and maintenance. Work listed in the war diaries included grading, laying ballast and track, unloading and shipping materials, doing repairs and maintenance and carrying out night patrols.

In January 1918 William had two weeks leave in Biarritz, France. He was admitted to a field ambulance on 1 February then transferred to a casualty clearing station. On 9 February he was sent to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples. He was suffering from myalgia and diagnosed with pes equinus of the left foot and impaired hearing in one ear. He was evacuated to England and he spent a month at Fullerton Military Hospital in Hammersmith followed two and a half months at Granville Special Canadian Hospital. He was discharged to duty on 30 May and assigned to the Canadian Railway Troops Depot. However William’s foot continued to be a problem and a medical board recommended that he return to Canada for further treatment.

On 5 September 1918 William was granted to permission to marry. His wife, Gladys Clark, was the daughter of James and Emily Clark. She was born in 1890 in Rastrick, Yorkshire and she had two brothers, Donald and Duncan. William and Gladys were married in Fylde, Lancashire. William sailed for Canada on 22 September on the SS City of Poona and he was discharged in Winnipeg on 14 November, due to being medically unfit for further war service. His character was described as very good. His wife travelled separately, sailing from Southampton on the SS Olympic via New York and arriving in Winnipeg in mid-November.

William’s parents had moved to Winnipeg while he was overseas and he and Gladys settled there too. Both William and his father were employed on the construction of the Winnipeg Aqueduct, his father as field superintendent and manager of the Winnipeg Aqueduct Construction Company. The William Smaill fonds in the City of Winnipeg Archives includes a collection of photos of the construction project. William’s father also wrote an article about the aqueduct construction and the considerable difficulties that had to be overcome. It was published in the January 1917 edition of The Excavating Engineer (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). The aqueduct supplied Winnipeg with water from Shoal Lake in northwestern Ontario and most of the construction had taken place during the war years. It was completed in March 1919. Not long after that William’s parents moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where his father was involved in the building of the Ballantyne Pier and the Second Narrows Bridge.

William and Gladys stayed in Winnipeg and they had a daughter, Muriel, who was born in 1920. When the 1921 census was taken William was working as an engineer at a pumping station and his sister Elsie was a student nurse at the Winnipeg General Hospital. Sadly, their brother Carlton died in the Winnipeg General Hospital on 27 November 1921, at age 20. His funeral was held three days later and he’s buried in St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. Over the next twenty years Winnipeg city directories listed William as an engineer with the CNR and a stationary engineer.

Gladys passed away in Winnipeg in December 1945, at age 55. Her remains were forwarded to Burnaby, British Columbia for interment in Ocean View Burial Park. By the following year William was living in Vancouver and by 1947 he was remarried and retired. His second wife, Laura Pollock (née Murray), was born in 1889 in the RM of Morton in Manitoba. Her parents were William Murray and Mary Jane Birbeck and her family had moved to Vancouver in the early 1900s. Laura married her first husband, John Alexander Pollock, in 1910 in Vancouver and she was widowed in 1943. She had at least three children, Kathleen, Norma and John.

William died in the Vancouver General Hospital on 21 December 1966, at age 72. He was predeceased by his father in 1947 and his mother in 1952, both in Vancouver. Laura passed away in Matsqui, British Columbia in 1977, at age 87.

By Becky Johnson

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