CEF Soldier Detail

Company Quartermaster Sergeant William Alexander
Died: October 18, 1917

Regimental Number:
20726
Survived War:
No
Force:
Army
Regiment:
Canadian Infantry
Battalion:
10th Battalion
Company:
Headquarters Company
Place of Birth:
London
Country:
Next of Kin:
A. M. Alexander; brother; of 266 Hargrave Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Address at Enlistment:
Date of Birth:
September 18, 1880
Trade or Calling:
Rubber Worker
Marital Status:
Single
Prior Military Experience:
Yes
Place of Enlistment:
Valcartier, Quebec
Date of Enlistment:
September 24, 1914
Age at enlistment:
34
Height:
5 Feet 6 Inches
Chest:
38 Inches
Expansion:
4 1/2 Inches
Religion:
Church of England
Enlisted or Conscripted:
Enlisted
Saw service in:
Europe    
Cause of Death:
Executed
Battle Died/Wounded:
Date of Death:
October 18, 1917
Age at Death:
37
Buried at:
Barlin Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
Plot:
II. D. 43.
Commemorated:
 
Prisoner of war:
No
Interned:
Gender:
Male
Ethnic Origin:
Caucasian
LAC Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1Box 1Box 83-992
Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Research Notes
A. B. Godefroy "For Freedom and Honour?" 
In Godefroy's opinion, a perfect case to support the question of "pardons" is that of Company Quarter Master Sergeant William Alexander. He was born in England in 1880. After eight years with the British Army he emigrated to Canada and managed the Auto Tire & Vulcanizing Co, in Calgary. With the outbreak of war he joined the 10th (Alberta) Battalion at Valcartier Camp. As a consequence of his military experience he was made a Colour-Sergeant but on the reorganisation of the battalion reverted to that of Sergeant. Another of the first to go overseas, he reached France in February 1915. He was heavily involved in the Second Battle of Ypres. Canadian losses were extremely high. He went on to fight at Festubert and Mount Sorrel and the Somme. The 10th, or the "Old Red Patch", were considered "elite assault troops". The 1st. Division had never been beaten which held true at Vimy and Arleux. The attack on Hill 70 in August 1917, however, was to prove fatal for Alexander. Not at the hands of the enemy, but his comrades.
During the course of these battles, Alexander, had behaved "exceptionally well". Briefly absent through sickness a couple of times he was eventually hospitalised with a swollen knee. On discharge he joined his comrades for the attack on the well-fortified Hill 70. Previously, two British Divisions had been annihilated on its slopes. Although successful in taking the Hill, three hundred men, almost half the unit, were down. They were then ordered to attack the Quarry the following day. By then they were down to less than 130 men. Next, Alexander, as a platoon sergeant in D Company, was ordered to lead an attack on Chalk Quarry. When zero hour came he was missing and a corporal led instead. After twenty minutes vicious fighting and repeated counter-attacks by the Germans, the position was won. The 10th came out of the line having suffered 400 casualties and won more than 80 awards for bravery, including a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Two days later, Alexander was found in a village where the battalion had previously been billeted before the attack. He said he had been knocked down by a shell but had no visible injuries. He admitted he had not gone sick nor had he reported to a superior officer, but instead had gone back to where his battalion had been billeted. He had fought tenaciously with daring and courage under hellish conditions for thirty-three months, but in the end it counted for nothing. He was placed under arrest and one month later charged with desertion, sentenced to death and shot.
Canon Frederick George Scott was in a state of shock and the military authorities, probably feeling shamed, informed his kith and kin he had been killed in action. When eventually they did tell the family the truth, his brother in Winnipeg wrote back saying,
"But my lot was even worse than that, to be shot like a spy and a traitor to his country, that was the lot for my brother, even in death. He is still my brother and his noble spirit will live forever with me even in death, and his death was awful to be shot like a dog. ...May the Lord have mercy on the man who judged him, if he was wrong."
Rank Regiment Unit Company
Company Quartermaster Sergeant Canadian Infantry 10th Battalion Headquarters Company
Images
William Alexander

When on active service - desertion, in that he, in the field on 16 August 1917, when acting as platoon sergeant of No. 14 Platoon, during active operations (Battle of Hill 70), absented himself without leave from his platoon and remained absent until 18 August 1917.  He was tried for desertion on September 29, 1917 and executed by firing squad at 6.10 a.m. on October 18, 1917 near Houdain. Alexander had 8 years prior service with Kings Royal Rifle Corps.

 "Those who go to war at the request of their nation do not know the fate that lies in store for them. This was a war of such overwhelming sound, fury and unrelenting horror that few combatants could remain unaffected," said Minister Duhamel. "While we cannot relive those awful years of a nation at peril in total war, and although the culture of that time is subsequently too distant for us to comprehend fully, we can give these 23 soldiers a dignity that is their due, and provide closure to their families."   (The Honourable Ron J. Duhamel, Minister of Veterans Affairs  11 December 2001) 

The Government of Canada has offered an apology and formally announced its regret for this situation. On December 11, 2001, Veteran Affairs Minister, Dr. Ron Duhamel rose in the House of Commons and with sincerity and passion, read the names of those 23 Canadians into the Parliamentary record and announced their names will be written into Parliament Hill's Book of Remembrance. He was whole-heartedly supported by all of Canada's opposition Parties.