William Waterson

William Waterson was born on March 5th, 1897 to Eleanor and William Waterson Sr.  He was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England. Census records from 1901 reveal that the Waterson’s had lived at 11 Wright Yard, listing William (aged 4), Ethel (aged 6), and Violet (aged 1) as children.  However, Ethel is not listed in the 1911 census and none of the Waterson children were reported to have died in that census. It is also interesting to note that William’s father is not listed in their household in the 1901 census and Eleanor is listed the head of the household.  Her mother, Elizabeth Brett, was living with them at this time. England census records from 1911 show that William has four younger sisters, Violet, who is three years younger; Dorn, who is seven years younger; Theresa, who is eight years younger; and Gurty, who is ten years younger than William.  According to this same census, William, at the age of fourteen, was working as a tin packer. This document also states that Eleanor and William Sr. had only been married for nine years at the time of the census. If this is accurate, William and Violet were born before Eleanor and William had gotten married.  However, in the 1901 census, Eleanor Waterson is listed with an “M” for married, so it is possible that they had been married longer than the nine years.

On May 2, 1913 William Waterson left England from Liverpool aboard the Empress of Britain, arriving in Quebec on the 9th.  Waterson was sixteen years of age at the time and came to Canada to work as a farm labourer in Dartford.  This was part of a program referred to as the British Home Children. Children in England were often moved to Canada in order to find better opportunities as well as employment. Many of these children were orphans. One article from the Peterborough Examiner in 2012 stated that Waterson was an orphan. However, due to the fact that William’s father was listed in his military will from March 15, 1917, and that his mother received his pay during the war, he could not have been an orphan. William’s name can be found on the Hazelbrae Memorial in Peterborough, which is meant to honour British Home Children that had immigrated to Peterborough. Since Waterson was a Home Child, his records were sealed for 75 years.  Due to this, and the fact that he had no relatives in Peterborough to report him, William Waterson’s name cannot be found on the War Memorial in Confederation Park on George Street.

The Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial located at 180 Barnardo Avenue, Peterborough, Ontario, to honour the British Home Children who came to Peterborough between 1894 and 1923. Courtesy of Shannon Buskermolen and Melanie Thomas.

William enlisted with the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough on October 15, 1915.  After enlisting, he received basic training before going overseas. On July 25, 1916, he arrived in England upon the S.S. Empress of Britain, the same ship that he arrived in Canada on just three years prior.  Waterson was soon transferred from the 93rd Battalion to the 39th Battalion on October 6, 1916.  At this time he was taken on strength at the West Sandling training camp until he was struck off strength on January 4, 1917.  This was due to the fact that the 39th Battalion was absorbed with half of the 168th Battalion to form the 6th Reserve Battalion.  This was an Eastern Ontario unit commanded by Lieutenant Colonel M. A. Colquhoun. The 154th Battalion was also absorbed by the 6th Reserve Battalion on January 31, 1917, the 252nd and 254th Battalions on June 10, 1917, and 7th Canadian Reserve Battalion on February 15, 1918.  The 6th Reserve Battalion was used to reinforce the 2nd, 21st, 38th, and 156th Battalions as well as Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

William Waterson was taken on strength by the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment) on March 22, 1917.  Waterson’s reported location was now in France, first at a Canadian Base Depot then in the field as of March 31, rather than at the training camps of West Sandling and Shorncliffe.  William was granted 14 days leave as of January 13, 1918. During this time William returned to the United Kingdom. It is not stated where he went during this time, however, it is possible that he went to visit his family as his parents still lived in Norfolk at this time.  Although William was only granted two-weeks, he did not return to the field until January 31 at 15:00. This resulted in ten days of Field Punishment No.1 and four days forfeited pay due to his status of being absent without leave for those three days and fifteen hours. Field Punishment No.1 consisted of various labour duties and being attached to a fixed object for two hours a day, thus earning it the nickname of “crucifixion”.  Not long after, on April 11th, William Waterson was sentenced to four days of Field Punishment No.2 for being absent off the parade on the 10th. Field Punishment No.2 was almost identical to No.1 except that the object was not fixed.

Not much is known for sure about Private Waterson’s exact contributions in the war, however, the 2nd Battalion did partake in many battles during the time Waterson served with them.  Such battles include Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917), Hill 70 (August 15-25, 1917), and Amiens (August 8-12, 1918). It was during the Battle of Amiens, just months prior to the Armistice, that young William Waterson lost his life at the age of 21.  He was admitted to Casualty Clearing Station number five on August 10, 1918 and died the same day from a gunshot wound to the head. Private William Waterson is buried at Crouy British Cemetery, Crouy-Sur-Somme at plot V.C1. The inscription on his grave reads, “We loved him in life.  He is dear to us still but in grief we must bend to God’s holy will R.I.P.”

William Waterson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on November 15, 1918.  The actions which resulted in this award are detailed in the London Gazette which states, “This man, when a party of infantry were held up, approached to within a few yards of an enemy post, and opened fire with a Lewis gun.  This did not effectively silence the enemy, so he with another man worked up a trench and rushed the post, killing at least ten.” The Distinguished Conduct Medal was created in 1854 after the Crimean War, and was then awarded for the first time to a Canadian on April 19, 1901. This medal is the second highest award for non-commissioned officers, under the Victoria Cross, and was awarded to soldiers for distinguished conduct and bravery in the field.


(L) William Waterson’s framed medals owned by Dave Edgerton. (From Left to Right)- The Memorial Cross, a picture of William Waterson, the Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny, a Canadian service pin,  Waterson’s service information (Service number and unit for example), the citation of his D.C.M. from the London Gazette, and Watersons medals: Distinguished Conduct Medal, the British War Medal, and the Allied Victory Medal. Courtesy of Shannon Buskermolen and Dave Edgerton.
(R) William Waterson. Courtesy of Shannon Buskermolen and Dave Edgerton.

In April of 2012 William Waterson’s medals were up for sale and a collector came across them online.  He then made Dave Edgerton, former Peterborough Legion president, aware of their availability. Edgerton worked diligently in order to ensure that the medals came back to Peterborough, with the assistance of the public.  In the Peterborough Examiner from April 3, 2012, Edgerton wrote about the importance of bringing home the medals and honouring those who served stating, “Chances are if he had survived the war he would have come back to this area.  I’d like to see this man recognized.” The medals capable of being purchased were the Victory Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, as well as the Dead Man’s Penny. The collector was able to convince the seller to take the items off auction in order to sell them privately to Edgerton, with the seller delighted at the fact that the medals would be going to a community in which they belong.  The Peterborough Examiner highlights in May 2012 that the medals were purchased for 2000 British Pounds. This was thanks to the $4000 in donations from 94 different individuals. The medals will ultimately be placed permanently in the Memorial Centre, but as of November 2018 the medals are in the possession of Dave Edgerton who has framed them along with the citation from the London Gazette and a picture of Waterson.

Research by Shannon Buskermolen and Melanie Thomas

Ancestry® | Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records. “William Waterson.” 1901 England Census Records. Accessed through Peterborough Museum and Archives. Accessed October 10, 2017.

Ancestry® | Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records. “William Waterson.” 1911 England Census Records. Accessed through Peterborough Museum and Archives. Accessed October 10, 2017.

Canadian War Museum. Canada and the First World War. Trench Conditions: Disciple and Punishment. https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-the-front/trench- conditions/ discipline-and-punishment/ Accessed November 1, 2018.

Commonwealth War Grave Commission. “William Waterson.”  https://www.cwgc.org/find-war- dead/casualty/71592/waterson,-william/ Accessed October 15, 2018.

Eagle, Galen. “Bid to bring WW1 hero’s medals home.” The Peterborough Examiner. April 3, 2012, A1-A2. Microfilm. Trent University Archives.

Eagle, Galen. “Help needed to buy WW1 medal.” The Peterborough Examiner. April 9, 2012, A3. Microfilm. Trent University Archives.

Eagle, Galen. “Piece of ww1 history finally coming home.” The Peterborough Examiner. April 11, 2012, A1. Microfilm. Trent University Archives.

Eagle, Galen. “Medals come home.” The Peterborough Examiner. May 9, 2012, A1-A2. Microfilm. Trent University Archives.

Edgerton, Dave. In discussion with Shannon Buskermolen and Melanie Thomas. October 29, 2018. Peterborough Square.

Library and Archives Canada. “Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Groups: Reserve Battalions.” 6th Reserve Battalion (Eastern Ontario) page 13. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/Documents/reserve%20battalions.pdf Accessed October 30, 2018.

Library and Archives Canada. Home Children 1869-1932, Immigration Records. William Waterson (85122). RG 76 C1a. Item# 85122. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/ immigration/immigration-records/home-children-1869-1930/immigration-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=85122 Accessed October 18, 2018.

Library and Archives Canada. Passenger Lists 1865-1922. RG 76. Item#: 6173. Passenger lists of the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN arriving in Quebec, Que. on 1913-05-09. Image Page 51. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=6173&

Library and Archives Canada. Personnel Records of the First World War. William Waterson (195236). RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 10122 - 11. Item # 302471 (CEF). Digitized Service File: B10122-S011. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first- world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=302471 Accessed September 28, 2018.

The London Gazette. Supplement 31011. November 12, 1918, pg 13468 https://www.thegazette. co.uk/London/issue/31011/supplement/13468 Accessed October 4, 2018.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “William Waterson.” Canadian Virtual War Memorial. http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/71592 Accessed October 3, 2018.