Loyal to the End: The Passing of “Billy” Dewar

William Robb Dewar was Canadian. He was Scottish. He was subject of the British Empire and after living in Canada for three years upon landing in Canada he achieved the status of being a Canadian citizen. This was his right under The Immigration Act, S.C. 1910, c. 27. He earned that right fully with his service to his adoptive country enlisting with the C.E.F. on October 26, 1914 and being demobilized from the army on April 11, 1918. He served 1,264 days with the C.E.F. representing 14% of his lifespan, up to that time. The balance of his lifespan would be influenced by his wartime service and his physical and mental health were affected by his army service.

Private William “Billy” Dewar was known to the Battalion outside his immediate platoon and company. He was the first soldier of the Battalion to be wounded and it is with certainty that this event was shared amongst the troops at the time it happened and after the war at the yearly reunions the 18th Battalion Association had.

His obituary reflects the experience of a veteran at that time and the following newspaper obituary and notice is illuminating to the time and to the changing world since Private Dewar’s Death.

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Private Dewar died of myocarditis and coronary thrombosis. Family lore relates that his health was poor after the war and near the end of his life he had been in and out of the Westminster Hospital at London, Ontario for many times before his conditioned worsened. The report of his death on his Veterans Death Card indicates that his death was due to his military service and this is how the family remembers the circumstances and cause of his death.

Dundas Street Centre Methodist Church, Interior View, London, Ontario

Dundas Street Centre Methodist (later United) Church, Interior View, London, Ontario. 1896.

He was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion at the Royal Canadian Legion #263 Duchess of Kent in London, Ontario. This Legion was located close to where the Dewar family lived in London and has since been amalgamated with Royal Canadian Legion #317 Victory Branch. The obituary indicates he was an “adherent” of the Dundas Centre United Church but this detail was inserted for public consumption by his wife, Jean Dewar, as he never went to church again after the war and any association with a church would have been through the efforts of his wife, who was very active with every church to which she was a member. His membership in Freemasonry would appear to contradict this fact and the context of his membership is not known though membership requires the recognition of a “Supreme Being”. Perhaps Private Dewar’s issue was the expression of a religion through an organized institution and he preferred a private expression to his conception of a supreme being? This would reconcile the apparent contradiction between his dislike of organized religion as he would not attend church, funerals, or weddings in a building representing conventional Christian religion.

William Robb Dewar Obituary Long

The first article gives a broad biographical view of his life, very typical of the British and Imperial influence on Canadian immigration at the turn of the 20th century:

DEWAR, GALT WAR VETERAN, SUCCUMBS; SERVED WITH 18th BATT.

William Dewar, a veteran of the last war, and for 14 years a resident of London, died yesterday in Westminster Hospital, age 46 years. He had been in ill health [before being] brought to hospital only [four] days ago.

Mr. Dewar was born at Leif Scotland, a son of Mr. and Mrs. David Dewar, now of Galt. [He] came to London and enlisted with the 18th Battalion[1] and [went] overseas for four years and [was twice] wounded. He lived in London [for] 14 years after his return from overseas and only [last] summer moved with his family to Galt. [He] was a member of the Duchess Kent No. 263, Canadian Legion, of the 18th Battalion Association, Galt Lodge A.F. & A. He was an adherent of Dundas Centre United Church in this city.

Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Jean Dewar; three children, William, Millicent, and Ruth; his parents in Galt, and three sisters, Mrs. Hugh Gordon and Mrs. Alfred McCann of Galt, and Mrs. [?] Little, of Kitchener.

The funeral will be held from the Harrison and Skinner funeral home tomorrow at 2.30 p.m. [to] Woodland Cemetery. The service will be in charge of Rev. Dr. William Beattie and Rev. Dr. C.V. McLean.

Source: Possibly the London Free Press. April 19, 1940.

William Robb Dewar Obituary Short

The next notice points to Private Dewar’s loyalty to his unit — Every one of the pallbearers is was a member of the 18th Battalion:

WILLIAM DEWAR – The funeral of William Dewar, who died Thursday at Westminster Hospital in his 46th year, was held at 2.30 o’clock this afternoon from the Harrison & Skinner funeral home. Major the Rev. Dr. William Beattie conducted the service, assisted by Rev. Dr. C.V. McLean, pastor of Dundas Centre United Church. The pallbearers were: Robert Bell[i], Thomas Davies[ii], William Waite[iii] and George [Cruickshank[iv]]s. Interment was made in Woodland Cemetery.

Source: Possibly the London Free Press. April 20, 1940.

Reverend William Beattie Source Canadian Letters

Reverend William Beattie. Source: Canadian Letters.

Of note is the service being presided by Reverend William Beattie. Reverend Beattie was a senior member of the C.E.F. Chaplain Service having served as the Senior Chaplain for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions.

Robert Bell was not an ‘original’ member of the Battalion. He originally enlisted with the 70th Overseas Battalion in London, Ontario on October 20, 1915. By this time the 18th Battalion was well in the fighting at Ypres and he joined the Battalion in time to be wounded, earning a wound stripe, at the action a Courcelette on the Somme on October 5, 1916, just three weeks after his arrival to active service. He did not serve with Private Dewar but likely made his acquaintance after the war in London.

Thomas Davies enlisted in Galt the day before Private Dewar and they held consecutive regimental numbers, 53901 and 51902, respectively. Davies was a transplanted Welshman who later earned the rank of sergeant with the Battalion. He was three years senior of Private Dewar, being 23-years old when he enlisted. He served the Battalion well, though he had a small altercation while drunk at Boulogne which resulted from the subsequent Field General Court Martial with the loss of his lance-corporal stripes. The Battalion obviously held Davies in high regard because after this sentence was implemented in August 1917 he became a sergeant by January of 1918. The charges, being affected by another unit outside the Battalion family had little bearing on the regard the Battalion had for Davies and his martial abilities led to a series of promotions after his conviction.

William Waite was from Windlesham, Surrey, England and an original member of the Battalion, enlisting October 23, 1914 at London, Ontario having had prior military experience with the Royal West Kent Regiment. He served the entire war with the C.E.F. on the Continent and, after suffering from “shell shock” from his experience on the September 15, 1916 attach at Flers-Courcelette, was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Entrenching Battalion after his recovery from October 1916 to his return to the 18th Battalion in August 1917. He appears to have lived in London after the war and shared the same trade as Private Dewar as they were both carpenters.

George Barker Cruickshank was a machinist. He was also the senior member of this group of men, enlisting at the ripe old age of 31-years of age. Private “Billy” Dewar was the youngest at 20-years. He enlisted in Galt, Ontario two days after Private Dewar, on October 28, 1914. He had prior military experience with the Royal Army Medical Corp have served with this unit for 3 years. Being born at Glasgow, Scotland, he was a fellow Scot and they shared a geographic connection with their heritage and background. He served with the Battalion from it inception and served in the Ypres sector until contracting trench fever, which necessitated treatment. He was out of action from June 1916 until his return to the Battalion at war’s end on October 17, 1918.

All these men served with the 18th Battalion, and some, like Cruickshank and Davies, probably where in the same company as they were recruited together in Galt. Almost certainly they were together as they left Galt to go to London where the 18th was forming up.[v] They may have trained together and then served together until the wounding of Private “Billy” Dewar in September 1915.[vi] From their, circumstance almost insured that these men would not serve together continuously as illness, wounds and re-assignments took the course of their military service.

Perhaps it was after the war that the real bond between these men was formed from their share experiences serving with the “Fighting 18th”. It was certainly no accident that each of the pall bearers was a veteran and a former member of the Battalion in which Private Dewar served.

The designation of Major Rev. Dr. William Beattie as the officiant at the funeral is an interesting detail. Reverend Beattie was a senior member of the Canadian Chaplains Service serving as the Senior Divisional Chaplain for each of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Divisions during his service. He was also, ironically, the only native born Canadian soldier in this article. It would be interesting to know how he became involved in the service. Was it a duty he felt necessary to carry out after the war for any veteran who passed, or did he have a personal connection with Private Dewar that insured this senior chaplain would preside over the funeral of a lowly private with a good conduct stripe?

The mist of time and memory have obscured the details of the funeral of Private William Robb Dewar, reg. no. 53902. He was honoured by being put to rest with his comrades and a senior officer of the C.E.F. was part of the funeral service. The last soldier who would have been able to share this moment of time, Thomas Davies, died on New Years Eve at the age of 71 fifty-five years ago. Thus, this event is lost in time forever.

Regardless, we continue to remember them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] He enlisted with the 18th Battalion in Galt, Ontario and then went to London to train with this unit.

 

[i] Bell, Robert:  Service no. 124178

[ii] Davies, Thomas:  Service no. 53901

[iii] Waite, William Stephen:  Service no. 53169

[iv] Cruickshank, George Barker:  Service no. 54014

[v] See the blog article “The Drummer Sergeant” for some detail about the men from Galt who traveled to London upon their enlistment.

[vi] See this blog article with details of the wounding of Private Dewar. He was the first soldier of the Battalion to be wounded due to action.

2 thoughts on “Loyal to the End: The Passing of “Billy” Dewar

  1. This tribute and background is wonderful. Really brings things into perspective.

    I am not sure if I read something (earlier maybe ? ) that the Dewar family lived on Norfolk Ave. Galt. Interestingly, my Grandfather, Robert P. McHoul, who served in the CEF 18th, also lived on Norfolk at that time !!

    Mike

    • There is a very good chance they knew each other. Galt was small at the time and the were born in the same area in Scotland (Leith and Glasgow).

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