Tuesday 27 October 2015

William Mulhearn - From Winnipeg

William Mulhearn
As I'm in Winnipeg today it seems appropriate to post this story about a young man who settled in Winnipeg at the turn of the last century and was killed ninety-eight years ago today. Buried in a quiet cemetery in Ypres, he was killed while on a seemingly routine work detail in the early phases of "Passchendaele".  I came across his grave on a rainy Spring day and decided to learn just a little more about William Mulhearn; one of 12,000 Canadians, and 16,000 casualties in the Canadian effort to capture Passchendaele Ridge.

October 1917 was eventful for British, ANZAC and Canadian soldiers as the Third Battle of Ypres ground it's course through the mud of the salient.  Australians and New Zealand troops had been fighting in Flanders since the British offensive began in July, but the Canadian Corps were newcomers.  They had arrived in mid-October to relieve the ANZAC troops, after fighting around Arras in the aftermath of their Victory at Vimy Ridge, and their capture of Hill 70 around Lens.  

The objective for the Corps was Passchendaele, a ridge stubbornly held by the Germans, despite repeated efforts by the British to dislodge them.  Passchendaele Ridge had been a key objective for the Allies, from which they would have a clear line to attack the Belgium channel ports. The Canadian attack on the ridge was mounted in 4 phases, the first of which was launched on October 26th.
The grave of William Mulhearn in Ypres
Reservoir Cemetery: "A loving husband, a
father kind, a beautiful memory, left behind."

William Mulhearn was a Cheltonian; his name is remembered on the Cheltenham War Memorial in the centre of the Cotswold village and it was there that he met, and married, his wife in 1904. They had three children before they left for Canada, and had two more after they settled in Winnipeg. Mulhearn enlisted with the Canadian Army in 1916 and was assigned to the 10th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, part of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade.  

In the third week of October, Mulhearn’s battalion took up position around Potijze, just outside of Ypres. Most of their work involved road repair near Zonnebeke Station, particularly hazardous as German guns targeted the roads; although they weren’t exempt from building latrines, clearing dug-outs, building frames for gas doors at the Battalion H.Q., and even repairing bath mats in front of the divisional quarters. 

Shortly before 9 a.m. on the 27th, Mulhearn was working with five men, strengthening the walls and cover of the quarters for the Commander Royal Engineers, when an artillery shell exploded near by. He and one of the men, Sapper Smith, were killed, while four others were wounded, one severely in the head.


  1. This is amazing as William was my great uncle and I've been researching our family history. Where did you get the photograph?

  2. Hello Jo, it's funny how these things work - I think that's why I was able to pull many of these stories together, through random connections. To be honest, I tracked down the photo back in 2009 so I'll have to wrack my brain, and see if I took notes or kept an old email. I seem to recall that it was from someone in Cheltenham. I'll see if I can find anything more. But it is definitely him as I confirmed everything before I put it into the book that preceded this blog. In terms of events around his death, that would be from the battalion diary. Battalion diaries seldom mentioned the names of individual soldiers, but in this case it did.

    1. And here's an old "roots" link which kicked off some of the background.

    2. Thank you so much its so exciting to put a face to him at last. I've visited his grave myself and have been so pleased to add these extra details to his story

  3. Hi.

    I’m a local history blogger from Winnipeg working on a series of Manitobans killed in the first World War: http://westenddumplings.blogspot.com/2014/08/100-manitobans-who-died-in-wwi.html . One that I am working on is that of Mr. Mulhearn.

    I’m putting the finishing touches on it and notice that you have a great photo here of the man. Would I be ale to use that in my blog if I attribute it to yours with a hyperlink? I link to this post later in the story as you give great background on what his unit was doing there. My posts focus mainly on their lives at home as I am not that versed in military history.