Every once in awhile, a forgotten soldier from the past re-surfaces. Thanks to notes and photos received from the great niece of William James MacNamara, Barbara Dunster (nee Quinn), we can piece together his life and pay tribute to this forgotten soldier who gave his life in World War I.
William James MacNamara was born in Lyn on January 10th 1892. He was the son of John T. MacNamara and Beatrice (Cook). John was a farmer and stone mason living in the Lyn area. The family consisted of thirteen children, with their youngest child dying shortly after birth and one daughter dying of consumption at the age of thirty-three.
Growing up in Lyn, William would have attended the two story, relatively new, Lyn Public School on the west side of the village. He would have enjoyed village life, fishing in the Lyn pond, and in the winter skating on that same pond.
As a young man he joined the “Boys Cadets” and spent two years with them. Later on in his late teens, he was a Lay Minister at the Presbyterian Church in Lyn. He worked in general construction in and around the Lyn area.
When the war in Europe broke out on July 28th, 1914, William, like all the other young men his age, wanted to do their service for King and Country. On September 23rd, 1914 William at the age of 22, joined the army at Valcartier Quebec, the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent in 1914.
On August 10, 1914, the government established the strength of the First Canadian Contingent for overseas service at 25,000, the figure requested by London. Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes, eager to lead and coordinate personally a speedy call-up, chose to forgo the established mobilization plan and issued a more direct call to arms. Men from all classes and ages rushed to enlist at armouries and militia bases across the country. They all traveled to a single, hastily prepared camp at Valcartier for equipment, training, and preparation for war. Eventually the camp held over 35,000 troops.
We are not sure of William’s training dates or when he left for England, but we do know that he was assigned as a Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. The chances are very good that he met up with the 3rd Battalion as they were training at Camp Bustard in England.
Before leaving for Europe, William became engaged to Ethel MacKenzie of Lyn.
Through the war diaries of the 3rd Battalion, we are given a look into what his life would have been like.
“On Sunday Feb. 7th, 1915 during a heavy rain storm the battalion was preparing to leave England and move to the front. On Feb 17th they reached Armentieries, France (Northern France, near Belgium) and were billeted there and given instructions on the trenches at the front.”
We are going to skip ahead to November 6th when the 3rd Battalion was moved to Dranoutre to relieve the 2nd Battalion. An 8PM entry, notes: “Relief completed. Mud very bad, dugouts fallen in. Parties of 4th C.M.R. attached for training, about 15 O.R. to each of our companies. 2nd Canadian Division on our left, 4th Battalion on our right.”
A November 16th entry finds them still in the trenches at Dranoutre.
“9 a.m. Our guns opened on German line near PETITE DOUVE FME., and continued intermittently until dusk.
3:00 p.m. Heavily shelled by a 5.9” on a train, using A.P shells. Lt. H.C. JONES and 7 O.R. wounded by one. Our heavies retaliated. Two 9.2” shells landed in our own lines, fortunately causing no casualties.
6:00 p.m. 1 O.R. wounded in D4 by rifle grenade.
9-10p.m. Our heavies pounded PETITE DOUVE steadily
2 p.m. 5th and 7th Battalions raided German line near PETITE DOUVE, bayoneting some 20 or 30, bombing others, and returned with 12 prisoners. Germans failed to retaliate. D section profoundly peaceful throughout the night. Weather –unsettled.”
On Sunday, December 5, 1915, we see the first entry noting Lt. MacNamara: “Location: DRANOUTRE
10:30 a.m. Church parade, A & D Corp. REV. CAPT. GORDON took the service.
CAPT. COOPER, LT. MACNAMARA and 21 O.R. went on leave.
2:30 p.m. Band gave concert in the square. CAPT. VALIQUET went to 1st Bn. Weather—rain, later fair Mild.”
We know from other sources that Lt. MacNamara would go to London for leave and stay at the home of Mrs. J. Hueston. At the time, she lived at Isleworth Court, 22 Palace Rd., Streatham Hill, London, SW. It was very common for Londoners to open their homes to servicemen on leave.
An entry from December 19, 1915 gives an idea of what life was like for William MacManara:
“Location: In Trenches
3:00 am Heavy rifle fire from YPRES salient.
5:25 am Heavy gun fire from YPRES salient. (Word received Germans had attempted a gas-attack , but were stopped by our guns.)
5:45 am Gas very noticeable in our trenches.
3-4pm Heavy gunfire from YPRES salient—Gas again very noticeable.”
The next two entries where we see Lt. MacManara’s name, is when he was promoted to Captain on Feb. 23rd, 1916.
“Wednesday, January 19, 1916
Entry: Capt TROY, Lts. BURKE, MacDONALD and MacNAMARA & 4 n.c.o.’s returned from Divisional Training School. Played the Highland Light Infantry at football, wining 3-2.
Wednesday, February 23, 1916
Entry: Gas Alert. Working parties. Still cold, snow on the ground.
Dinner by Capt DYMOND and Capt. MacNAMARA to wet their stars.”
Life continued for the men of the 3rd Battalion and the next three entries can help to give to an idea of what the daily life would have been like for the now Capt. MacNamara.
“Thursday, March 2, 1916
Location: BRIGADE RESERVE
Entry: 4:30 am – Field guns, heavies & hows all opened up. MGs opening indirect fire on approaches appalling now. Germans contributed a splendid display of rockets & flares. The strafe lasted violently for 30 minutes, then gradually died down. It was a demonstration to cover attack on International Trench in YPRES salient. Attack was successful. Little reply to our bombardment. Draft of 26 O.R. reported. Bathing & working parties. Gas Alert. Weather – snow.
Monday, March 13, 1916
Entry: Our guns active all day. Meagre reply from enemy. Minenwerfer fairly active, wounding 1 O.R. Relieved by 2nd Bn, and moved to billets at DRAMOUTRE.
Monday, March 27, 1916
Entry: Violent bombardment by our artillery from 4-5 am, trench mortars joining in. Little retaliation. Germans shelled us heavily but without effect about 12 noon and about 5 pm.”
The next mention of Captain MacNamara is on Sunday, April 2nd and Monday April 10th, 1916 when he went on leave, again presumably back to London.
“Location: SCOTTISH LINES
Entry: Church parade. Rev. Capt. GORDON took the service. Capt ALLEY, Capt MacNAMARA and Lt ANGLIN with R.S.M. and 6 n.c.o.s went up to check over Brigade Support positions.
Moved to Brigade Support. Owing to UPPER GORDON TERRACE and KINGSWAY having been badly smashed by shelling this afternoon, whole Battalion quartered in BEDFORD HOUSE. Sgt EVANS wounded near R.10. Weather fine.
Monday, April 10, 1916
Location: BEDFORD HOUSE
Entry: Capt MacNAMARA and Lt. McLEAN and 15 O.R. went on leave. Lt. KIDD wounded in leg in front trench. Moved to relieve 2nd Battalion. 2 O.R. wounded by shell at BEDFORD HOUSE. Relief complete 11.15 pm.
On Saturday, April 22, 1916 we see that he has returned from a 12 day leave.
Entry: Rainy. Capt MacNAMARA and Lt McLEAN from leave. Lt McDONALD to be Brigade Wiring Officer.
On Monday, May 29, 1916, he was transferred to “D Company”
Entry: German and British aeroplane brought down. Capt McNamara to duty with D Coy.
On June 1, 1916, he was transferred back to “C Company”
Place: Dickebusch Huts
Entry: Arrived from trenches about 2 am. Colonel Allan, acting Brigadier General in absence of Brigadier General HUGHES. Capt DYMOND returned from leave. Capt. McNAMARA posted to C Company, Lieut SIMMIE to Grenadiers.”
Little did he know that 12 days later, at the age of 24, he would die in an attack on the German Lines. His wounds and death are recorded in the following entry on June 13th 1916.
Entry: 12.45 am – 1.30 am Intense bombardment by our artillery. 1.30 am, artillery lifted to our original support lines, and front line, and C, A and D Coy’s, with bombers and M.G., rushed German front line from S.P. 11 to MACHINE GUN TRENCH. Right attack met little opposition and bayoneted the Germans in the trench. C and A Coy’s met rifle and M.G. fire, but pushed on, carried trench and bayoneted most of the occupants. Capt. MACNAMARA was hit in both legs in this attack. Capt DYMOND was wounded. 1.40 am B Coy left X TRENCH, and two platoons to consolidate German front line. From 12.45 am on, the German shell fire along X TRENCH, and in front of it was very heavy.
1.50 am our artillery lifted to original German line, and the attack pushed forward to the crest, two platoons of B Coy. supporting the right. The crest was carried with slight loss, many Germans being bayoneted before they could get away. Some 60 or 70 wounded and unwounded prisoners were sent back. The consolidation of the line was at once begun. Capt. COOPERS, Lt. WILLIS, Lt. HUTCHISON, Lt. SLOANE, Lt. HOBDAY, Lt. GRASSETT, Capt. MARANI, Lt. WEDD were all wounded in this stage of the fight. Major MASON, in charge of the forward lines, was hit in the head, and later in the foot, but carried on until noon when he had to come out. The 1st Canadian Battalion, in support, sent a company forward to 1st German line, and later sent two companies, and then the remaining companies forward to our regained front line to help consolidate and hold the position. Two of our Lewis guns became choked with mud, and Lt. CRAWFORD turned three captured German guns on the enemy.
From this time – 2.30 am – on, German artillery fire on our new positions, especially on MOUNT SORRELL and on X TRENCH, was heavy, and continuous throughout the day. The woods and trenches were searched with shrapnel and H.E. and many casualties were caused. The band under Sgt. YOUNG, displayed great devotion in carrying wounded to the rear. Lt. KIPPEN, Intelligence Officer, and his scouts, before and during the attack, gained at great risk much valuable information and got it to Battalion H.Q. The signalers’ efforts to keep communication with MOUNT SORRELL were excellent, but the heavy shelling cut lines as fast as they were laid. A party under Sigr BLACKHALL, which went forward with the attack, got communication for enough time to give Battalion H.Q. in X TRENCH, information as to our new positions, but the lines were soon cut. The lines to Brigade were also cut and pigeons proved most valuable. After Major MASON was forced to leave, Lt. Col. CREIGHTON of the 1st Canadian Battalion took over immediate command on MOUNT SORRELL. Lt. SIMMIE was wounded while endeavouring to get supplies of grenades forward.
During the afternoon the enemy’s artillery fire increased Lt. Grasett who though wounded had carried on, was killed, Lt. GORDON, badly wounded, started for the rear but up to the 16th inst has not been heard of Lt. Weston was killed. Capt. MacNamara was carried out, bleeding to death. He died on the 14th. A direct hit on the H.Q. dugout on MOUNT SORRELL killed Capt. Vandersmissen, and fatally wounded Lt. Col. Creighton, who died on 16th June. A hit at the door of Battalion H.Q. in X TRENCH wounded 2 O.R. inside and slightly wounded Lt. Col. Allan, who carried on.
11 PM, relieved by 8th Canadian Battalion, and moved to F Camp. Total casualties:- 3 officers killed, 1 officer died of wounds, 1 officer missing, 11 officers wounded. 40 O.R. Killed, 92 O.R. Missing, 207 O.R. wounded.”
From family notes we have learned that William, as we read above, was wounded in the field and left to die. A close comrade of William’s begged to stay with him, but William encouraged him to go and be safe. He related this story to William’s mother when he returned to Canada after the war.
William would have been removed to No.3 Causality Clearing Station where according to official notes, he died of his wounds on June 14th, 1916, one day after he was critically injured in an attack on the German lines.
There is a note on Captain MacNamara’s record to indicate that he may have first been buried at Dickebush New Military Cemetery, Belgium, but another notes states that he was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium Plot 6, Row A, Grave 20.
On December 3rd, 1916, his mother Beatrice received a hand written letter from Mrs. H.F. Hueston.
“He was a dear, dear friend of mine, and has been my guest here at this house every time he was on leave in London. I have your dear Son’s best uniform in my possession, and ask if you would like to have it. Perhaps the sight of it may be altogether too painful for you, and that is the reason for writing to ask you about it before sending it. The uniform I speak of is one that he kept for best wear while in London and that is how it comes to be in my possession. I used to look after it for him while he was away at the front.
Dear mother of his, I am truly sorry to re-open your wound in this manner, He spoke of you so very often to me, and told me how proud you would be of him being a Captain. May God have mercy on the lad, and grant his dear soul eternal rest and peace. Hoping to hear from you and offering my sincere and heartfelt sympathy in your irreparable loss. Yours very Sincerely, J.Hueston”
And so our story of William James MacNamara comes to an end. Remembered by only a few over the past 100 years, now his life has re-surfaced to be with us once more.
We owe our eternal gratitude to all those men like Captain MacNamara who gave their lives so we could live in freedom today.
For his service Captain MacNamara would have received the following two medals:
The Victory Medal (also called the Inter-Allied Victory Medal), is a United Kingdon and British Empire First World War Campaign medal.
The British War Medal is a campaign medal of the United Kingdom, which was awarded to officers and men of British and Imperial forces for service in the First World War.
After the war, William’s family would have received:
The Memorial Plaque, which was issued after the First World War to the next-of-
kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war.
Note, for additional reading:
For the complete diary of the 3rd BN, it can be found at the following website: