William Waterson

Eleanor and William Waterson Sr. welcomed their son, William Waterson, on Mar. 5, 1897.  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 four, Ethel aged six and Violet aged one as their children.  

However, Ethel is not listed in the 1911 census and none of the Waterson children were reported to have died. It is also interesting to note that William’s father is not listed in their household in the 1901 census and Eleanor is listed as the head of the household.
Her mother, Elizabeth Brett, was also living with them at this time. England census records from 1911 show that William had four younger sisters. The age gap shows that Violet was three years younger; Dorn, was seven years younger; Theresa, who was eight years younger; and Gurty, who was ten years younger.  

At the age of 14, William was working as a tin packer, according to the census. This document also states that Eleanor and William Sr. had only been married for nine years. If this is accurate, William and Violet were born before Eleanor and William were 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 aboard the SS Empress of Britain, arriving in Quebec on May 9th.  William was 16 years old at the time and came to Canada to work as a farm labourer in Dartford, Ontario.  

This was part of a program referred to as the British Home Children. In England, children and youth were often moved to Canada in order to find better opportunities, such as employment. Many of these children were orphans.

One article from the Peterborough Examiner in 2012 stated that William was one such orphan. However, William’s father was listed in his military will from Mar. 15, 1917; and his mother received his pay during the war, so it could not have been accurate.

William’s name can be found on the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial in Peterborough, which is meant to honour British Home Children that immigrated there. 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’s name cannot be found on the War Memorial in Confederation Park on George St.

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.

Despite not having his name on the memorial, William enlisted with the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough on Oct. 15, 1915.  After enlisting, he received basic training before going overseas. On Jul. 25, 1916, he arrived in England on the SS Empress of Britain, the same ship he traveled to Canada in.  

Waterson was transferred from the 93rd Battalion to the 39th Battalion on Oct. 6, 1916.  At this time, he was admitted to the West Sandling training camp.

Due to the fact that the 39th Battalion was absorbed with half of the 168th Battalion to form the 6th Reserve Battalion, he was transferred from his training camp in West Sandling on Jan. 4, 1917.  This was an Eastern Ontario unit commanded by LCol. M. A. Colquhoun.

The 154th Battalion was also absorbed by the 6th Reserve Battalion on Jan.31, 1917. Then the 252nd and 254th Battalions on Jun. 10, 1917; and 7th Canadian Reserve Battalion on Feb. 15, 1918.  

This new assimilation of 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 then admitted by the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment) on Mar. 22, 1917.  From there, William’s reported location was France, though he was first at a Canadian Base Depot before deployment into the field on Mar. 31, rather than the training camps of West Sandling or Shorncliffe.
William was granted 14 days leave on Jan. 13, 1918. During this time, William returned to the United Kingdom but it is unclear where he was during this time. However, it is possible that he went to visit his family since his parents still lived in Norfolk.  

Although William was only granted two-weeks, he did not return to the field until Jan. 31 at 15:00 hours. This resulted in 10 days of Field Punishment Number One and four days forfeited pay due to his status of being absent without leave for those three days and fifteen hours.

Field Punishment Number One 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 Apr.11, William was sentenced to four days of Field Punishment Number Two for being absent of the parade on the 10. Field Punishment Number Two was almost identical to Number One except that the object was not fixed.

Not much is known for sure about William’s exact contributions in the war, however, the 2nd Battalion did partake in many battles during the time he served as a Pte. with them.  

The 2nd Battalion was involved in the Battle of Vimy Ridge (Apr. 9-12, 1917); Hill 70 (Aug. 15-25, 1917); and Amiens (Aug. 8-12, 1918). It was during the Battle of Amiens, just months prior to the Armistice, that William lost his life at the age of 21.  

He was admitted to Casualty Clearing Station Number Five on Aug. 10, 1918 and died the same day from a gunshot wound to the head. Pte. William Waterson is buried at Crouy British Cemetery, Crouy-Sur-Somme.

“We loved him in life,” the epitaph reads.  “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 Nov. 15, 1918.  The actions which resulted in this award are detailed in the London Gazette:

“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.  It was then awarded to a Canadian for the first time on Apr. 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 Apr. 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, with public assistance, to ensure the medals came back to Peterborough.

It is was on Apr. 2, 2012 in the Peterborough Examiner that Edgerton wrote of the importance of bringing home the medals and honouring those who served.

“Chances are if he had survived the war he would have come back to this area,” Edgerton wrote.  “I’d like to see this man recognized.”

The medals eligible for purchase were the Allied Victory Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and 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. The seller was delighted at the fact that the medals would be going to a community in which they belonged.  

The Peterborough Examiner highlights in May 2012 that the medals were purchased for 2,000 British pounds. This was thanks to the $4,000 in donations from 94 different individuals.

The medals will ultimately be placed permanently in the Memorial Centre but as of Nov. 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. “G
uide 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.