Peterborough during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Peterborough, Ontario during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Private William Waterson, DCM, Age 21. “We Loved him . . . He is dear to us . . . In grief we must send to God’s holy will (RIP).”

 Credit: Veterans Affairs Canada,
Virtual War Memorial, 2012

A few weeks ago, the Peterborough Examiner wrote several articles on the story on the local fundraising efforts to repatriate the medals of the late local resident William Waterson. The former Legion president stumbled across an E-bay auction of the medals.  The current owner, based in the United Kingdom, was selling the medals for the pricey sum of over $1000.00. The collection included Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victory Medal, and “Dead Man’s Penny” (a symbolic plaque sent to next of kin after a soldier has died).  What makes Private Waterson’s medal collection unique is the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The DCM medal was awarded to non-commissioned soldiers only upon recommendation from an officer, usually after excellent conduct in the field.

Credit: Library and Archives Canada
William Waterson was a British farm labourer that immigrated to Peterborough Ontario. He arrived in Canada at the age of 16 in 1913. After war was declared, he joined the militia, 57th Regiment Peterborough Rangers on 15 October 1915. He listed his Father, Corporal William Waterson of Royal Defence Corps as his next-of-kin. The Peterborough Recruiting Sargent that stood in front of the baby faced young man with the tiny stature of 5 1/2 feet tall may have reconsidered offering enlistment to the future DCM winner before relenting. Private Waterson's signature on his attestation papers gives an indication of his young age and lack of formal education. After receiving training, Waterson was sent overseas to France as a reinforcement, where he served with distinction in combat with the “Iron Second” 2nd (Eastern Ontario) Battalion. 

The 2nd Battalion was one of most professional Canadian units in the trenches, it was part of the first contingent of 1914 and part of the 1st Canadian Division. Even though Private Waterson was a green reinforcement with no prior combat experience when he arrived at the front line, he must have felt confident that he was in good hands; he fighting along side with seasoned war veterans. Waterson’s officers at both the platoon and company level had witnessed the first gas attack and every Canadian operation since deployment in early 1915.

       Credit: Veterans Affairs Canada,
Virtual War Memorial, 2012

Unfortunately, the 2nd Battalion war diary is scant on information and details. We do know that William Waterson died of wounds, on 10 August 1918. Waterson died fighting in one of Canada’s great military operations of the Great War – the Battle of Amiens.  On the 8 August 1918, the British Empire sent  its shocktroops; the ANZACS (Australians and New Zealanders), Canadian Corps, and 51st (Scottish Highland) Division, into battle. The surprise coordinated attack on the German line was a massive success, over 50,000 Germans were taken as prisoners, and 24,000 were wounded or killed. During the 2nd Battalion assault on Ignaucourt, Beaufort, and Rouvroy-en-Santerre, Waterson was wounded and taken to a casualty clearing station, where he died.

Private William Waterson, DCM is buried Crouy British Cemetery.  He was 21 years old at the time of his death. All Commonwealth Grave tombstones have the option of personalized grave inscriptions by next-of-kin. On Waterson’s grave, it is written, “We Loved him . . . He is dear to us . . . In grief we must send to God’s holy will (RIP).”

- Note: After reviewing Waterson's records, it is interesting to note that he is listed as receiving a wound stripe.

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