The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

469511 Private William Alexander Gunn

64th Overseas Battalion, C.E.F.
The Royal Canadian Regiment

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

William Alexander Gunn was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 2 Sep 1890. Gunn's family can be found in the 1901 and 1911 Canadian Censuses. In 1901, parents David (45) and Annie (30), are shown with William as the eldest of four children at 10 years of age with younger brothers James D. (8), Frank G. (5), and Harold E. (2 months). By 1911, William (20) has five younger siblings at home, James (18), Frank (15), Edward (10), George (8), and Dorothy (4).

Gunn attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) with the 64th Overseas Battalion at Sussex, New Brunswick, on 18 Aug 1915. A 24-year-old insurance agent, Gunn was described on his attestation paper as 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 143 pounds, with good physical development, a 37-inch chest, a fresh complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. Under distinctive marks, Gunn was noted to have an amputated left thumb. His religious denomination was Church of England. Gunn identified his mother, Annie E. Gunn, 49 Wellington St., Halifax, N.S., as his next of kin. On attesting with the 64th Battalion, Gunn was given the regimental number 469511.

When he enlisted with the C.E.F., Gunn was shown to be serving in the Canadian Militia. His prior service status was recorded as "At the Royal School of Instruction, Wellington Barracks, 76th Regiment, Halifax, N.S." The 76th Regiment refers to the 76th Colchester and Hants Rifles which was organized in Truro in 1910.

The 64th Battalion, C.E.F., was authorized on 20 Apr 1915 and recruited in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The Fredericton Daily Gleaner edition of 20 Aug 1915 noted the start of recruiting by the 64th Battalion at the Sussex Militia Camp. The paper noted that 160 men from Nova Scotia had passed their examinations for enlistment. The Gleaner's edition published 30 Aug 1915 listed the battalion's officers, among which was William Gunn's younger brother James, identified as one of the Lieutenants with prior service in the 69th Regiment at Annapolis, N.S.

Early in the 64th Battalion's period of training, on 10 Sep 1915, Gunn was promoted to Sergeant.

The 64th Battalion sailed from Halifax, N.S., on 31 Mar 1916 aboard the S.S. Adriatic. Arriving in England, the unit disembarked at Liverpool on 9 Apr 1916. The battalion would provide reinforcements to the Canadian Corps in the field until 7 Jul 1916.

On 21 Apr 1916, Gunn's promotion was amended to read "Acting Sergeant."

Commencing May, 1915, Gunn established a monthly Pay Assignment of $27 to be sent to his wife. As a Sergeant in the C.E.F., Gunn was paid $1.35 per day play an additional fifteen cents daily field allowance. His initial pay assignment represented about two-thirds of his monthly pay. In June, 1916, he would adjust this pay assignment to $20 per month. Chesley Gunn also received $25 monthly Separation Allowance while Gunn held the rank of Sergeant. This would be decreased in April, 1917, to $20 per month when he reverted to his Permanent Grade of Private.

On 25 May 1916, Sergeant William Gunn, "C" Company, 64th Battalion, completed a Military Will form in his soldier's Pay Book. In this will he stated "In the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my Wife, Mrs. Chesley E. Gunn, Water Street, Dartmouth, N.S."

Af the 64th Battalion was preparing to cease functioning as a reinforcing unit, the last troops were transferred out. Accordingly, on 6 Jul 1916, Gunn was transferred to the 40th Canadian Reserve Battalion. After five weeks with this unit, on 12 Aug 1916, he was admitted to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, on 12 Aug 1916, diagnosed initially with indigestion. He remained in hospital and on 5 Sep 1916 was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom, on 5 Sep 1916, suffering from V.D.H. (Valvular Disease of the Heart) and indigestion.

After a total of three months in hospital, Gunn would be discharged to duty. On 13 Nov 1916, he was prescribed six weeks physical training in order to be ready to return to full duty. Gunn would not take his next move closer to front line duty until 4 Jan 1917 when he was struck off the strength of the 40th Res. Bn. and transferred to the 26th Res. Bn.

Gunn would serve a further three months in his new unit. On 9 Apr 1917 Gunn reverted to his permanent grade (rank) of Private at his own request. This reversion in rank was a common occurrence for reinforcements in order to proceed overseas to France. Units at the front did not want to receive non-commissioned officers without front line experience, preferring instead to promote from within their own ranks men who had proven their capabilities and readiness for promotion. In order to join a draft of reinforcements, it was necessary to relinquish rank that may have been held in Canada or England, though many men advanced once again in rank soon after gaining experience in the trenches.

On 13 Apr 1917, William Gunn was struck off the strength of the 26th Res. Bn. to proceed overseas to The Royal Canadian Regiment. He landed in France the following day and was taken on the strength of The RCR while remaining at the Canadian Base Depot (C.B.D.) until sent forward.

After a week at the Base Depot, Gunn left on 21 Apr 1917 to join the Regiment. It was not until 1 May 1917 that he arrived at and joined The RCR in the field. The activities of The RCR in the first weeks after Gunn's arrival at the unit are summarized in the unit's "Battle Bar Document" (prepared after the war by the Militia Department in anticipation of the possibility of clasps for the British War Medal):

When Gunn entered the front line with The RCR on 12 May 1917, it would be his first and last trip into the trenches. In those few days he would have experienced a wide range of infantry activities in the forward area. Repairing and rebuilding trenches, wiring parties, sentry duty, and patrols, as the Canadian Corps worked to consolidate new lines after the Vimy Ridge attack the previous month, Gunn would have had few idle hours.

On 18 May 1917, Gunn was wounded in action by fragments of a hand grenade, suffering S.W. (shot wounds, which could refer to wounding by bullet, shrapnel, or splinter) of both legs. The Regiment's War Diary entry for the day read as follows:

"18.5.17. – VIMY.

"Fair and warm. Offensive and Defensive patrols out on all Company fronts. "B" Company patrol met a patrol of the enemy, who when opened up on by our patrol with a Lewis Gun, retired. Work on strong points in the front line was commenced to-night. A company of the P.P.C.L.I. worked on the communication trench. No. 4 Company of the P.P.C.L.I. was relieved to-night by a company of the 25th Battalion."

As a soldier of "B" Company, it is possibly that Gunn was a member of the patrol that engaged the enemy in No Man's Land. Although no casualties were noted for the 18th of May, the following day's entry lists 1 O.R. killed in action and 12 O.R. wounded in action. These figures likely account for the wounded of both dates. On 19 May 1917, Gunn was admitted to No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station. His service record notes that he was described as "dangerously wounded" but did not record further details in that first entry.

On 20 May 1917, Gunn's left leg was amputated because of the onset of gas gangrene. His right patella (knee cap) was wired to hold its fragmented pieces together and give them a chance to knit back together. Still at No. 23 C.C.S. on 25 May 1917, Gunn was recorded as "Now out of danger" and transferred to the 368th Hospital Barge for evacuation from the forward area. On 27 May 1917, he was transferred to No. 9 Red Cross Hospital at Calais.

Gunn was back in the operating room on 4 and 10 Jun 1917. The first operation removed the wires holding his right kneecap together, and the second was for further treatment of the wounds in his right leg. On 22 Jul 1917, he was considered to be "making good progress."

On 12 Aug 1917, Gunn was invalided (wounded) and evacuated to England on the hospital ship H.S. Ville de Liege. On crossing the Channel, he was posted to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot (N.S.R.D.) at Bramshott. The N.S.R.D. was part of the new regionally based reinforcement system, with named Depots taking in troops from battalions raised in those areas in Canada and providing reinforcement drafts to similarly designated fighting units. The RCR, having been headquartered in Halifax in the decade before the War, was associated with the N.S.R.D. These Depots also became the parent unit for any soldiers returned to England from their affiliated battalions in France and Flanders.

Arriving back in England, Gunn was transferred to the 3rd Western General Hospital at Cardiff on 13 Aug 1917. Notes made at this facility recorded his condition: "Left leg amputated in France — Gas Gangrene. Right Patella fractured. 5.10.17 Systolic murmur at apex. 5.11.17 Haemeturia pain over left kidney. Xray — nil. 3.12.17 No renal symptoms at present. Stump healing. Small sinus over Right Patella. Sys. Murmur apex. General condition good." Gunn's leg wounds were healing well throughout the 113 days he spent in this hospital.

Gunn was admitted to No. 4 Canadian General Hospital at Basingstoke on 3 Dec 1917. An admission card at this facility confirms that Gunn was a soldier of "B" Company in the Regiment. Notes on his progress here stated: "General condition excellent. A "Stokes-Gritti" amputation (i.e., the amputation of the leg through the knee in which the patella is preserved and applied to the end of the femur). Stump lower third left thigh healed satisfactorily. Movements left leg normal. A healing wound over right patella presenting a scar 10x5 cm. in centre of which is a granulating area 4 cm. in diameter. Multiple scars of thigh just above knee. X-Ray shows union of patella — wire intact. Movements — extension knee full flexion 170. Heart and lungs no lesion found. Boarded I. to C. (invalid to Canada)." At No. 4 Cdn. Gen. Hospital, Gunn would undergo further operations on his left leg in January, February, and March, 1918.

On 30 Sep 1918, Gunn was admitted to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Liverpool. Admitted as a stretcher case with his leg wounds, his principal diagnosis was changed to influenza and pneumonia. On 1 Nov 1918 he was placed on the "Seriously Ill List" and subsequently placed on the "Dangerously Ill List."

William Gunn died in hospital at 6.20 a.m. on Saturday, 2 Nov 1918. During most of his last five days in hospital Gunn had been running a fever at or over 104°.

Gunn was buried on 5 Nov 1918 in Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool. His next of kin on the hospital card recording in death and burial was noted as his wife, Mrs. Chesley E. Gunn, c/o John Myers, Water Street, Dartmouth, N.S.

A form for the War Service Gratuity to Dependents of Deceased Soldiers was completed on behalf of Gunn's widow on 30 Jul 1920. This form shows that Mrs. Ida E.C. Gunn (widow) had already received a Special Pension Bonus of $80. This amount was deducted from the Gratuity of $180 she was entitled to receive and a cheque for the remaining $100 was issued.

For his service in the C.E.F., Gunn was entitled to receive the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were despatched to his widow, Mrs. C.E. Gunn, at Shore Road, Dartmouth, N.S., on 27 Sep 1922. Chesley would also receive the Memorial Plaque and Scroll and a silver Memorial Cross. Gunn's mother, Mrs. Annie E. Gunn, would also receive a silver Memorial Cross. The plaque and crosses would be despatched in 1921 and 1922.

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Two of William Gunn's brothers also served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

Temp. Captain James David Gunn

James David Gunn had previously served in the the 66th Regiment, Princess Louise Fusiliers (3 years), and the 69th Annapolis (6 months) when he attested for service as an officer of the 64th Overseas battalion, C.E.F. He reached France on 18 Jun 1916 to join the 13th Canadian Infantry Battalion as a Lieutenant. Four months later, on 8 Oct 1916, James Gunn was reported wounded and missing in action. The following month he was confirmed as a Prisoner of War at Parchim. In December, 1917, after over a year in the POW camps, Gunn was transferred to Fribourg, Switzerland, to be interned there. He was returned to England in June, 1918, suffering from nerve damage and paralysis affecting his right leg, the result of a bullet wound. With a promotion to Temporary Captain back-dated to August, 1917, he was invalided to Canada on 24 Jul 1918.

282103 Private Edward Harold Gunn

Edward Harold Gunn, born in 1901, was 15 years old in March 1916 when he claimed to be 18 and attested for service with the 219th Overseas Battalion at Halifax, N.S. After eight months with this unit he was struck off strength and re-attested for overseas service with the "Draft Giving Field Artillery Howitzer Ammunition Column." Edward reached France to join the 3rd Division's Ammunition Column on 13 May 1917. Five months later, on 18 Oct 1917, he was sent back to England having been identified as a "Minor." He returned to Canada, sailing from Liverpool on 17 Nov 1917 and was discharged from the C.E.F. at Halifax on 30 Jun 1918 at the age of 16 and medically unfit for further service.

Pro Patria


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