Monday, November 05, 2012

Veterans' Week 2012: Private William Vanasse, WWI Veteran

Veterans' Week November 5 to 11

Yesterday, I wrote about what Canadians can do to remember Veterans' Week this year. Here is the first in a series of articles I'm posting on my blog as a way of remembering those who served Canada.

Private William Vanasse, WWI Veteran

My great-uncle William Vanasse was my paternal grandmother's elder brother. A younger son of Olivier and Elisabeth (Vanasse) Vanasse, he was born on 23 February 1893 in Chichester, Pontiac County, Quebec.

William Vanasse with his brother Joseph and sister Cecilia.

I know few details about my Dad's Uncle Willie: he lived on his father's farm on Allumettes Island, was a soldier in World War I, and suffered from shell-shock. Wanting to know more about him and his war experience, I decided to look for William's recruit papers last year at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website. His attestation papers provided minimal information about him when he enlisted in June 1917. For example, he was 24 years old, was 5’8” tall, had brown eyes and black hair, was unmarried, worked as a bushman (roller and trailcutter), and had never previously served in a military force. (Although his younger brother Joseph also served in WWI, it seems that neither their brothers George nor David did.)

Now that I knew some basic details, I ordered William’s World War I complete service file from LAC and received it by email a few weeks later as a 39-page PDF document. As I examined William’s regimental paperwork, I learned that he was sent overseas in August 1917, just 43 days after he enlisted, sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the S.S. Grampian.

S.S. "Grampian" of the Allan Line.
(Photo source: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-010252. Online MIKAN no. 3398145.)

He disembarked in Liverpool, England after a 13 day voyage and reported to his base at Sunningdale, near Windsor. William spent the next ten months occupied with railway construction and forestry duties with the Canadian Forestry Corps. (The CFC was created in 1916, because the British government needed wood in the early years of the War. It was easier to recruit skilled Canadian lumberjacks to work in the forests of England, Scotland, and France than to import lumber from Canada.) The following year, in June 1918, William was transferred to France where he spent the next 6½ months, before returning to England in January 1919. He was demobilised a few weeks later, arriving back in Canada that March.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any mention of battle fatigue or shell shock in William’s medical file, although influenza and “flat feet” are reported. Despite the lack of documentary evidence for shell shock, personal family knowledge attests that William was a casualty of this serious disorder.

William never married. He died, aged 62, at the Veterans’ hospital in London, Ontario on 13 May 1955 after a prolonged illness. His obituary stated that “he served overseas with both the infantry and construction battalions” in World War I. William’s funeral was held in Ottawa and he is buried there in Notre-Dame Cemetery.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff.


  1. One can only hope his life on earth had much goodness as well....we are all here for a reason. I enjoyed stepping back in time!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Karen. I never knew my great-uncle Willie, but from what my father told me, his family took care of him when he returned from the War. (My grandmother and her eight siblings were close.) I think at some point, though, it probably wasn't enough and maybe that's why he went to the Vets' hosp.

  2. I found this blog entry while searching around for images of the Grampian. This is the best so far- so much detail. My family came to Canada from Iceland on the Grampian. Thanks for posting and sharing, I have taken a peek at William Topley's work and it's great!