James William Williams 1888-1916
& Evelyn Meredith 1889-1985
Jim Williams is the oldest son of Lennox Williams and Nan Rhodes. Born in 1888, married Evelyn Meredith January 3, 1916. He was killed in the First World War at the Somme in November 18, 1916 at the age of 28.
Jim with some of his first cousins, Frank (Morewood) is my grandfather, about 1892.
Jim with his mother Nan Rhodes Williams.
Jim with his father Lennox Williams, about 1894.
Jim with Granny Anne Dunn Rhodes.
Granny, Frank and Jimmy, Charlie Rhodes and Mary Williams Wallace at Benmore (Quebec).
First cousins: Nancy, Catherine, Gertrude,
Dorothy, Billy, Gertrude,
Jim and Bob Campbell (?)
Jim is at the bottom of this photo of his family and some friends.
Jim with cousin Alice Burstall, not sure what's going on ...
Granny and many first cousins, from left:
Catherine, Sidney, Bobby, Charlie, Jim (center), Billy, Nancy, Gertrude, Gertrude, Dorothy.
Frank Morewood and Jim were cousins and good friends
Poitras, Jim, John, Lennox (his father), Charlie with some fish
Evelyn Meredith Williams
Prayers on the porch at Brynhyfryd?
Evelyn Meredith is second from the right.
Jim Williams and Evelyn Meredith Williams
Sep 11th (1916?)
My dear Nan & Daddy,
I am writing this by the light of the moon at 2:30 AM, sitting on the fire step of a trench.
Things are pretty quiet tonight – just occasional shots with a few bursts of machine gun fire.
Our friend the Bosch is just 160 yards in front of us. I received a letter from you this morning – in fact I have had quite a number from you lately but have not had time to answer them. We will be leaving the trenches before long for a rest, bath and brush up generally. We will have had 24 days of it working 19 hours a day and very often 21. In the front line the officers go to bed at six a.m. and get about 4 hours sleep. The men are getting pretty tired. It is the first time in and 24 days is a longer period in trenches without a rest than any Canadian battalion has ever had. We have been fortunate as regards casualties though we have had quite a number. I had 3 men in my plat(oon) killed back in the reserve trench and two wounded. One of the men killed was an excellent NCO and an awfully nice fellow. I shan`t be able to replace him.
Thank you for remembering me in your prayers. I expect they were answered last Tuesday night when we had quite a bombardment on. We blazed away at the Hun and their artillery replied. In the of trench which I was commanding it was like Hell let loose for a while. A man was blown in pieces ten yards from me, I was knocked down and the wind taken out of me – I got up and started on when another landed where I had been lying blew me along the trench – fortunately in toto and not in ( Narus partibus). I had to retire when the shelling ceased as I was a bit shaken up. I am all right now and think I got well out of it. They levelled about 30 yards of my trench with the ground, however a working party built it up again before the next morning. Our artillery gave three shots to their one so they have shown no inclination for another bout since then.
Evelyn is now on the ocean on her way home. I think it was undoubtedly the wisest course for her to take. She will be happier at home and the climate will be more agreeable.
We have had two or three gas alarms since we came to this place. They are rather terrifying at first. The gas has never reached us yet but on the occasion of the 1st alarm we really thought it was coming. One of my sentries said he heard the hissing noise it makes when coming out of the cylinder and shouted ``Here it comes!`` Gongs sounded – sirens blew and tin cans rattled all down the trench and we stood there waiting for it to come over the parapet with very mixed feelings I can assure you. It was a dark night with a drizzling rain and we couldn`t see a thing. A flare went up and the men looked very uncanny with their gas helmets on and the bigh goggles with a rubber tube sticking out in front to breathe out through and on top of it all their steel helmets. It was a great relief when the order came down about an hour afterwards to take helmets off as the gas had passed over some distance to our right.
I have had three different servants during the last 3 days. The night I was biffed about my man while coming up a communication trench was blown six feet in the air. He was coming to join me, which he did – apparently none the worse for his ascent – the next day however he was a bit broken up and asked to be relieved so I got another man who wore his boots right down to his socks so I had to get another. In the meantime my first man has been wounded in 3 places – not seriously but he is hors de combat for some time. I think my present man will be kept on permanently. For a servant out here you do not want a valet who will keep your trousers nicely pressed but rather a stout fellow who will plough through mud and water after you with a bomb in one hand and a cup of hot coffee in the other.
Well – the moon is on the wane and this luneral letter must end. I will now patrol my trench and see that all are awake.
My love to my fair sister and brother and to yourselves.
Your letters are very welcome.
Your affectionate son
J W Williams (transcribed by Jim's great neice Catherine)
The Sackville Connection
After Jim's death Evelyn Meredith married Donald Fisher of Sackville, New Brunswick, and she stayed in touch with the Williams family. We recently met their grandaughter Meredith Fisher (below right holding the photo with my wife Heather) and some of the photos above came from a Fisher album. Meredith also found in her attic a trunk full of photos and other items from World War One, belonging to her grandfather and to Jim Williams. In particular, there was a tie that appears in one of his (civilian) photos above, and his spats, with his signature on the back, shown below.
Our daughter Sarah (and Al) recently moved to Sackville and opened a coffee shop (The Black Duck) and often see Meredith and her daughter Robin. Many of the Fisher family went to BCS, and must have known my father (who taught there for 39 years) and many other Tadoussac people. Also the Fishers have a summer house in St. Patrice, which is just on the west edge of Riviere du Loup.
MORE LETTERS written by Jim Williams have been compiled into a very interesting book by Catherine Williams! Ask her to borrow a copy!
I have a copy also in Tadoussac.
The following was written by John Leggat
Lieutenant James William Williams
87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Canadian Expeditionary Force
James William Williams was my Great Uncle, the eldest of four siblings and the brother of my maternal grandmother Mary Wallace (nee Williams). He was born in Quebec City in January 1888. He was the son on the Rt. Rev. Lennox Williams, Anglican bishop of Quebec and his wife Nan (née Rhodes). He served as an officer in the 8th Battalion Royal Rifles of Canada (militia) and volunteered for overseas service in September of 1915 along with my maternal grandfather, Jack Wallace. At the time, they were both lieutenants in the Royal Rifles.
Officers of the Canadian Grenadier Guards (87th Battalion) Jim Williams second from left, Jack Wallace second from right
They proceeded overseas with the 87th Battalion Canadian Grenadier Guards in 1916. Before the battalion left Quebec City, Jim married Evelyn Fisher and Jack became engaged to my grandmother.
After sailing to England in April 1916, the battalion was stationed there as part of the 12th Infantry
Brigade (until June) and then 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division until August of
the same year. On August 11/12, the battalion crossed over to France and served the duration of the
war as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Infantry Division.
Jack and Jim met up with another one of my uncles upon arriving in France. He was Ronald Alexander, a
permanent force officer with the 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles). At the time Ronald was serving as a
major in the battalion and assumed command of the unit in November 2016. Ronald’s military career
included staff appointments at RMC in the period between the wars. He retired as a major-general and
commanded Pacific Command during WWII. He married Jim’s sister Gertrude in 2017. His memoires
describe the conditions at the Somme in September and early October 1916:
“On the 10th of September the [24th] Battalion arrived in “the
Brickfields”. These consisted of the completely flat plain behind
At 3:15 p.m. on the 29th of September we attacked the enemy’s front
line, known as Regina trench, but failed to take it owing to uncut
wire entanglements and withering fire. At 6:00 p.m. the enemy
counter-attacked but we successfully stopped him. On the 29th and
30th, we were very heavily shelled not only by the enemy, but also
with our own guns. We repulsed another enemy counter-attack.
At 3:15 p.m. on 1 October our barrage went over our heads and we
went over the top. The 5th C.M.R. on our left failed to get across,
which left my left flank in the air. The 25th Battalion on my right was
held up by wire. Some of the 24th Battalion succeeded in getting into
a German trench, but whether it was Regina trench or not, we did
not know. Our casualties had been very heavy and the whole situation looked very critical. That night we finally came to the
conclusion that the 24th were in Kenora trench, but Regina trench everywhere was in enemy hands. On
2 October, the Battalion, or what was left of it, was relieved. In order to pick up the wounded in
Nomansland, one of our stretcher bearers painted a red cross with jam on a white bandage and walked
out holding it aloft. In a few minutes both sides were picking up their wounded under the protection of
a white flag. Back in the Usna Valley the battle scared remnants of the [5th Infantry] brigade were fed
from a field kitchen. They only totalled 600 and of these less than 100 were mine. There were tears
running down the cheeks of Brig. Gen. Archie MacDonnell [RMC #151, Commandant RMC 1919 to 1925]
as he stood and looked at what was left of his brigade”
During this period my Uncle wrote these words to his parents:
“I am writing this by the light of the moon at 2.30 a.m., sitting on the fire step of a trench. Things are pretty quiet tonight - just occasional shots with a few bursts of machine gun fire. Our friend the Bosch is just 160 yards in front of us. We will be leaving the trenches before long for a rest, bath and brush up generally. We will have had 24 days of it working 19 hours a day and very often 21. In the front line the officers go to bed at 6 a.m. and get about four hours sleep. The men are getting pretty tired. It is their first time in and 24 days is a longer period in trenches without a rest than any Canadian battalion has
ever had. We have been fortunate as regards to casualties, though we have had quite a number. I had 3 men in my plot killed back in the reserve trench and two wounded. One of the men killed was an excellent NCO and an awfully nice fellow. I shan’t be able to replace him. Thank you for remembering me in your prayers. I expect they were answered last Tuesday night when we had quite a bombardment on. In the sector of trench which I was commanding it was like Hell let loose for a while. A man was blown to pieces ten yards from me. I was knocked down and the wind taken out of me - I got up & started on when another landed where I had been lying & blew me along the trench - fortunately in toto and not in nariis partibus. I had to retire when the shelling ceased as I was a bit shaken up. I am alright now & think I got well out of it. They levelled about 30 yards of my trench with the ground, however, a working party built it up again before the next morning. Our artillery gave three shots to their one so they have shown no inclination for another bout since then. We have had two or three gas alarms since we came to this place. They are rather terrifying at first. One of my sentries said he heard the hissing noise which it makes when coming out of the cylinders & shouted “here it comes”. Gongs sounded - sirens blew and tin cans rattled all down the trench and we stood there waiting for it to come over the parapet with very mixed feelings I can assure you. It was a dark night with a drizzling rain & we couldn’t see a thing. A flare went up & the men looked very uncanny with their gas helmets on & the big goggles with a rubber tube sticking out in front to breathe out through & on top of it all their steel helmets. It was a great relief when the order came down about an hour afterwards to take the helmets off as the gas had passed over some distance to our right.
I have had five different servants during the last 3 days. The night I was biffed about my man, while coming up a communication trench was blown six feet in the air. He was coming to join me, which he
did - apparently none the worse for his ascent - the next day however, he was a bit broken up & asked to be relieved so I got another man who wore his boots right down to his socks so I had to get another. In the meantime my first man has been wounded in 3 places-not seriously but he is hors de combat for some time. I think my present man will be kept on permanently. For a servant out here you do not want a valet who will keep your trousers nicely pressed but rather a stout fellow who will plough through mud and water after you with a bomb in one hand and a cup of hot coffee in the other!”
“We have been in this town for two days now. When I last wrote we expected to go into the front line that night and I had just about said my last prayers as we were in for something pretty heavy however, the weather put a stop to it and we were taken back here till things dry up a bit which is just as well as we hadn’t many men to carry on. Our ranks were badly depleted in our last tussle with the Hun. I am told that the Battalion was mentioned in dispatches for what we did. It is an awful country up there near the front. You cannot find four square yards which has not been ploughed up by a shell and dead Huns lie round all over the place, also our own dead, some of whom have been there for months and the stench is awful. One of our men found Harry Scott’s body and buried it. It is hard enough to get the wounded out of that place and as a rule all one can do for the dead is to recover their identification discs. The whole place is under shell fire all the time.”
“I expect to be in the front line tonight but orders were changed and we are still in our dugouts in reserve. We provide working and carrying parties to go up to the front but I was not called on tonight. Errol Hall went up with one & Sam & I are waiting for him to return. We lost Todd in our last turn and I must write his father (he is in the CR in Mont) as I was the last officer to see him. I was sniped by the same chaps that got him but was fortunately missed. I had to go overland about 40 yards from the Bosch line in broad daylight. They were decent enough not to fire – if they had they could not have
missed. The sniping came from further back. We had to go overland that day because the communication trenches were waist deep in mud. We had gone ahead to look over the trenches the battalion was to take over in the evening”
Events of November 18th
Shortly after 6:00 a.m. on November 18th the Canadian 11th Brigade attacked Desire Trench. The 87th Battalion was one of four of the Brigade in the assault that was supported by a heavy creeping artillery barrage. The brigade achieved its objective and two of its battalions, the 87th and the 38th continued on from Desire Trench to Coulée Trench and Grandcourt Trench, all by 9:00 a.m. Formations on the flanks, however, were not able to achieve the same results. The two battalions being in a rather precarious salient were ordered to return to the original objective, Desire Trench. It was during this withdrawal the Lieutenant Williams was killed by enemy machine gun fire. He was buried at Bapaume Military Cemetery.
The action of the day is described in both the war diary of the 87th and the war diary of the 3rd Siege Battery RCA that was penned by my paternal grandfather Lt Col William Leggat, whose unit was among those providing artillery support on the day.
Excerpts from the 87th Battalion War diary – November 18th
“The objective was Desire Support Trench .... The night was extremely cold, the ground being frozen and a light snowfall about 3 a.m. had obscured all trace of the trench lines. The attack commenced a 6:10 a.m. and following the barrage closely, the objective was taken without a great deal of resistance by the enemy. Major F.E. Hall, Lieut. E.V. Hall, Lieut. J. W. Williams, Lieut. C.H. Eagley. Lieut R.G. Lefebvre. 39 other ranks and 2 machine guns proceeded on to Grandcourt Trench, part of which they captured taking in the operation some 112 Germans who were sent back to our lines under escort of wounded men. Owing to the attack on the left not being in position to push further, Major Hall was ordered to evacuate the Trench at dusk dropping back to Desire Support Trench. This was done but in so doing Major Hall and Lieut. Williams were killed and Lieut. Hall and Lieut. Eagley wounded. Casualties among officers 4 killed and 9 wounded, and among other ranks 26 killed. 50 missing and 148 wounded.”
From the 3rd Siege Battery War Diary – November 18th
“Opened fire today at 6:10a.m. in support of the attack on Desire Trench. The weather was thick, with flurries of snow and underfoot the ground was in dreadful condition. The following divisions took part in the attack. 4th Canadian Division, support by the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisional Artillery; 19th Imperial Division, supported by the 11th and 25th Imperial and 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery; 19th Imperial Division supported by the 17th, 18th and 19th Imperial Division Artillery and one Brigade R.H.A. We expended over 600 rounds on this task. Our troops gained their objective and pushed on to Coulee Trench where they were subject to heavy bombardment and were forced to retire to Desire Trench. It is reported that we took 1600 prisoners.”
A poem by Frederick George Scott seems fitting. He was known as the Poet of the Laurentians. An Anglican Church minister, he joined the Canadian Army in 1914 at the age of 53 and went overseas as the Senior Chaplain of the 1st Canadian Division.
A Grave in Flanders
All night the tall trees overhead
Are whispering to the stars;
Their roots are wrapped around the dead And hide the hideous scars.
The tide of war goes rolling by, The legions sweep along;
And daily in the summer sky The birds will sing their song.
No place is this for human tears. The time for tears is done; Transfigured in these awful years’ The two worlds blend in one.
This boy had visions while in life
Of stars and distant skies;
So death came in the midst of strife A sudden, glad surprise.
He found the songs for which he yearned, Hope that had mocked desire;
His heart is resting now, which burned With such consuming fire.
So down the ringing road we pass, And leave him where he fell.
The guardian trees, the waving grass, The birds will love him well.
St. Jans Capelle 1915
From In Sun and Shade, A book of Verse Canon Frederick George Scott, C.M.G., D.S.O. Dussault and Proulx Rgd, Quebec, 1926
Canon Scott’s son, Henry Hutton Scott, was an officer in the 87th Battalion. He was a close friend of Jim Williams and Jack Wallace. He was killed at Regina Trench on the 21st of October 1916 and is also buried at Bapaume Military Cemetery. Scott dedicated In Sun and Shade to his son with this short verse:
“E’en as he trod that day to God, So walked he from his birth,
In simpleness and gentleness,
In honour and clean mirth
Prepared by 8833 Colonel (ret’d) L. John Leggat – January 2018