William Henry Alcock was born 25 October 1898 in Rat Portage (later named Kenora), Ontario. His parents were George and Emma (Barker) Alcock who had married 01 January 1883 in Faraday, Hastings, Ontario. After the 1891 Canada census, the family had moved to Saskatchewan but by the 1901 Canada census they were living in Rat Portage; household members included George and Emma and children Ethel, George, Sadie, Frances, Amy, Edward, William, and Clifford. George was working as a teamster. George's parents Joseph and Sarah Alcock as well as his siblings Charles, Wellington, Joseph, Amy, Mary, and their families had also moved to the area. By the 1911 Canada census, the family was farming in nearby Jaffray; household members were George and Emma and children Emma, Amy, Edward, William, Clifford, and new additions to the family of Cecil, Gertrude, and John. Also living with the family was hired hand William Price.
William Henry Alcock enlisted in Kenora on 12 November 1915. With light brown hair and blue eyes, although he had just turned 17, he gave his age first as 19 and then as 18. With other local lads with the 94th Battalion, he left Kenora by train in May 1916, destination Port Arthur, Ontario. "On May 25, 1916, the men of "C" and "D" Companies from Kenora and Fort Frances were moved to the Lakehead and on June 9, 1916, the Battalion left for Valcartier, Quebec for "Summer Camp" as it was called. The 94th trained at Valcartier for a period until June 13th when they sailed from Halifax for England on the RMS Olympic. Although the 94th remained a battalion on paper until July 27th, 1918, with an office at East Sandling, if actually ceased to exist on July 13th, 1916 when it was broken up and the men were transferred to the 17th and 32nd Reserve Battalions to be used as replacements for casualties in front line units."
Upon arrival in England, William was transferred to the 32nd Reserve Battalion. He was immediately admitted to Moore Barracks at Shorncliffe for close to a month, suffering from parotiditis (mumps). Discharged in early August, he was readmitted for four days in September with boils.
Landing in France on the 20th of September, Private William Alcock was taken on strength with the 52nd Battalion in early October, arriving at the unit for duty on the 16th. The 52nd Battalion was raised in Northern Ontario during the spring of 1915, also with mobilization headquarters in the Lakehead. Leaving Canada 22 November 1915, the Battalion trained at Witley and then Bramshott before leaving for France 20 February 1916. By March 1916, the lads were in the trenches.
In early February of 1917, William was admitted to the No 10 Canadian Field Ambulance with chilblains of the feet. In October of the same year he was granted a 10 day leave.
With the 52nd Battalion, on 19 December 1917, Private WH Alcock was awarded the Military Medal for his work at Passchendaele. "King George V instituted the Military Medal in 1916 as WWI generated such a demand for medals. It is awarded to Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the field. The front of the medal shows the reigning monarch, while the reverse side shows FOR/BRAVERY/IN THE/FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and topped by the Royal Cypher and Crown. Canadians have received 13, 654 Military Medals, plus 848 first bars and 38 second bars." Over the course of Nov 11-14, Private Alcock delivered messages/dispatches time and time again through an area of incessant artillery and machine gun barrage. He was awarded a Good Conduct Badge on the 12th.
A story told to a community member by WW1 veteran Percy Hall illustrates the bravery of Billy; it was said that the messages/dispatches were actually grenades. "The lads were getting hammered by the Germans. They'd gone so far on route, in the trenches, but then were getting hammered by machine gun fire. The Sergeant in charge called a trench meeting to figure out the problem. They noticed that to the left and right there was no shelling, just them. So he needed a volunteer. It was likely a suicide mission and they all knew it. But Billy volunteered to go back, to the right and forward, where he could see where the Germans were, and he could throw grenades. He did that, and cleared out the nest. Although never expected to return, he did and was cheered by the lads."
On 11 August 1918, Private William Alcock was admitted to No 3 Australian General Hospital and then to No 2 British Stationary Hospital in Abberville, his lungs damaged from a gas attack at Amiens on the 8th. Notification by cable was sent to his mother back in Canada. He was evacuated from France on the 25th to the Eastbourne Military Convalescent Hospital and then later transferred to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Bexhill. His service in France had come to an end.
Despite his illnesses and the gassing, William Henry Alcock survived the war, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia 22 January 1919 aboard the Empress of Britain. Once home he found work at the local paper mill but on 05 February 1924 he was killed in an accident. Working on the rigging gang unloading machinery, he was injured and died a short time later of a fractured skull. He is interred in the family plot in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
William's father served on council and as reeve for the township of Jaffray and Melick for a number of years. He died 27 October 1930 and his mother 12 April 1951. Both are interred in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. His brother Edward enlisted 19 May 1915 in Kenora and went overseas with the 52nd Battalion; the brothers would have been reunited in the field. Edward made the ultimate sacrifice, dying of his wounds on 26 July 1917.
By Kenora Great War Project