24th Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment), 14th October 1916
Synopsis of Life and Military Service
Private John Henry Willis of the 24th Canadian Infantry Battalion was killed as a result of a training accident on 14 October 1916.
Although in a Canadian regiment he was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on 2 November 1893 and baptised on 31 December 1893 at St Mary’s church, Portsea, Hampshire. He married Sarah Ann Willis (nee ?) on 10 October 1914. The 1911 census records his occupation as a boot trade repairer. His military records show that his civilian occupation in Canada was that of a mill man.
It’s not clear when he emigrated to Canada but he enlisted on 20 December 1915 at St John’s, New Brunswick. His records state that he was 5 ft 7 inches tall, with a light complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. His chest measurement was 34 ¼ inches and had an expansion of 1 ¼ inches, and his religious denomination was given as Church of England.
He was attached to 115th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force on 24 December and posted to ‘C’ Company on 1 January 1916. On 23 July 1916 he boarded the SS Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic, at Halifax, Nova Scoatia and arrived in Liverpool, England on 31 July 1916. He subsequently arrived in France on 6 October 1916 and was transferred to the 24th Canadian Infantry Battalion on 13 October.
On arriving in France, John joined his colleagues at the Canadian Base depot in Rouelles. The next day he was sent to the central training school in Le Havre to undergo live grenade instruction. It’s likely he would have been using a Mills Bomb No. 5 which could either be fitted with a percussion or time delay fuse of around four seconds. Each man undergoing the training was being instructed in the art of throwing a grenade and witnesses state that when it came to John’s turn, the bomb exploded almost on the instant of leaving his hand. The instructing officer, 2nd Lieutenant Philip Amyas Vaile was killed instantly, being hit by shrapnel in the head and heart, two other men were wounded and John was mortally wounded in the head. Although he was taken to the 2nd General Hospital he died of his wounds at 12.20 the same day.
Both he and 2nd Lieutenant Vaile are buried in Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France.
John Henry Willis was born on 2nd November, 1893 at Portsmouth, Hampshire.
His family is shown as follows :-
- Father – John Willis, born c.1858 at Hamilton, Hants – Dockyard Labourer.
- Mother – Priscilla Willis (nee Spriggs), born c.1859 at Malta.
- Sister – Alice, born c.1881 at Portsmouth, Hants.
- Brother – Frederick, born c.1882 at Portsmouth, Hants.
- Brother – Howell, born c.1883 at Portsmouth, Hants.
- Brother – Charles, born c.1886 at Portsmouth, Hants.
- Brother – William, born c.1888 at Portsmouth, Hants.
- Brother – Albert George Victor, born c.1898 at Portsmouth, Hants.
It’s not clear whether he met his wife in the UK or in Canada. His military records show a next of kin address for her in Canada but this is then scribbled out to show her living with John’s parents in Trevor Road.
- 1893: 61 Bolton Rd, Hampshire
- 1901: 35, Harold Road, Town, Portsmouth, Hampshire
- 1911: 35 Trevor Rd, Southsea, Hampshire
- 1915 Charles St, Fairville, St John’s, New Brunswick, Canada
John Henry Willis was awarded the Victory and the British War Medals for his service in the Great War which were sent to his widow along with a Death Plaque and scroll.
John Henry Willis has no known memorial other than his headstone.
Links to Additional Information
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – John Henry Willis
- Lives of the First World War – John Henry Willis
- A Street Near You website – John Henry Willis
- Find a Grave – John Henry Willis – Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France.
- Hampshire, Portsmouth Baptisms.
- England and Wales Births 1837-2006.
- 1901 England Wales & Scotland Census.
- 1911 England & Wales Census.
- Library and Archives, Canada : Personnel Records of the First World War.
- Trevor Torkington