Saturday 3 July 2021

William McKay Little: A Hidden Past

On a day when the weather was perfect for a ceremony - a bright sky, occasional clouds, and a temperature that was not too severe for the marchers in the Decoration Day parade - Saskatoon added 45 new trees to the 421 that already lined Memorial Avenue, as a living memorial to the city's fallen soldiers in the two world wars.  William McKay Little, who had spent much of the pre-War years in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, was one of the men honoured on August 23rd, 1942.

Like many men from Weyburn, Little enlisted in the 152nd Overseas Battalion that began recruiting in Weyburn - Estevan in late 1915. He had just recently received his Lieutenants Certificate at the Infantry School of Instruction in Winnipeg - one of many such schools set up across Canada to provide qualified officers and NCOs for the army. Enlisting with the 152nd in June, 1916, Little shipped overseas in October and, as with many in the 152nd, was transferred to the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Western Cavalry) - he was Taken on Strength on 28th April, 1917. 

In the years before the War, William Little had been a leader in the Weyburn community, having lived in the town for more than a decade. Married, with two young daughters, Little had been one of the originals on Weyburn's first hockey team in 1903; he was a member of the Weyburn Chapter of the Masons; he was one of the town leaders who had greeted Sir Wilfred Laurier on his whistle stop in Weyburn in August 1910; and, as Manager of the newly chartered Weyburn Security Bank, his signature was on the new five dollar bank note, issued in 1911; and in 1913, having left his long held position with the bank, Saskatchewan's Lieutenant Governor appointed Little as Sheriff.

In May 1916, however, William Little was arrested while employed as Sheriff on a charge of appropriating money from the provincial government.  While he plead "not guilty" and elected for a speedy trial, he was convicted. But prior to his arrest and subsequent to his conviction, Little had enlisted with the 152nd and the Crown raised no objection to giving him a suspended sentence which would continue for six months beyond the end of the War - and restitution of $10,000.

For much of the Battle of Passchendaele, the 5th Battalion was well behind the lines, only moving forward to Brigade Support on the November 9th, and the subsequent attack by the 7th and 8th Battalions on the 10th.  From the 9th to the night of the 11th, the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion lost 320 men, one of whom was William McKay Little.

Three months after William's death, his brother George, an ordained minister who was living in Guelph enlisted with the Canadian Chaplain Service. He sailed for England and served with the 1st and 11th Reserve Battalions before crossing to France a week after the signing of the Armistice.  George returned to Canada in June 1919; he married, had two children, and died in 1958 at the age of 74.


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