William James Anstey (aka James William Anstey, sometimes known as William and sometimes James), a member of the Wentworth, Ontario Ansteys of Canada, was born on 7 August 1885 in Hamilton, Ontario to Charles White Anstey and Sarah Jane Davey.
He married Frances Alma England (b 1886) in Hamilton in December 1903 and they had children Lillian Ethel Anstey (b 1905 Hamilton); Francis Charles Anstey (b 1907 Hamilton); and Florence Loretta Anstey (b 1909 Hamilton). In 1909 the family were living at 141 East Avenue N – William was a clerk. In the 1911 Canadian Census they were living in Wentworth – he was still a clerk.
Around a year after the outbreak of World War One, on 9 September 1915, William volunteered in Hamilton for active service with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (Regimental Number: 174502). On his Attestation Paper he indicated that he was living at 129 Fennel Ave, Hamilton with his wife and family; that he was a letter carrier by trade; that he “belonged to the Active Militia“; and that he was Wesleyan Methodist by religion. The ‘Hamilton Daily Times‘ 23 August 1915 confirmed that he had “been taken on strength of D, 13th Company“. The ‘Hamilton Daily Times‘ on 8 September 1915 further reported that “W. J. Anstey, letter carrier was presented with a wristwatch at the Post Office before leaving to join the 86th Battalion“.
We know quite a bit about William’s war story, in no small part thanks to his ‘War Service Gratuity‘ form which he completed in February 1919 after his return to Canada. On this form he stated that he was “training with the 86th Machine Gun Battalion from 9 September 1915 until the battalion left for England in May 1916“. He was then with the “86th Machine Gun Battalion in England from May 1916 to October 1916” and then transferred to the “1st Canadian Machine Gun Company from November 1916 to 7 December 1917“, “serving at the front” at which point he “left the unit” and “spent the balance of his time in hospital and then at the C. M. G. Depot in Seaford from April 1918 to December 1918“.
Filling in the gaps, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion which William originally joined in September 1915 had recruited in Hamilton, Wentworth and Dundas, Ontario and was mobilised at Hamilton. They departed for Camp Niagara on 23 September 1915 for training, remaining there until early November 1915, when they returned to Hamilton. They were subsequently stationed at the Old Armouries on James Street waiting for the order to set sail.
William finally left Halifax, Canada with his battalion on 19 May 1916, arriving in Liverpool, England ten days later, and moving into Risborough Barracks at Shorncliffe for further training. He then arrived in France on 8 October 1916, joining the 1st Canadian Machine Gun Company in the field on 22 November 1916.
[Note: On 22 June 1916, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion was redesignated as the Canadian Machine Gun Depot.]
William would certainly have taken part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, part of the Battle of Arras, as well as the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917, both on the Western Front. On 30 August 1917, a few days after the end of that battle, he was fined three days pay for “neglecting his duties as batman” (part of the Machine Gun crew), then on 8 December 1917 he was granted 14 days leave, at which point he went to England.
Twenty days later on 28 December 1917, William was “apprehended in England as an absentee and will be returned to France“. This ‘absentee alert’ was cancelled however when it was realised that he had been “hospitalised while on leave“. In fact he had contracted gonorrhoea, and was duly sent back from France to England on 17 January 1918 to be hospitalised at the Special Division Military Hospital in Chiseldon from 25 January 1918 until 10 April 1918, at which point he returned to his unit at the C. M. G. Depot in Seaford.
After the termination of hostilities in November 1918, William returned to Halifax, Canada on the ship ‘Carmania‘, arriving on 30 December 1918 and thence posted to “Cas Co Ex Camp“. By this time he was a Corporal in rank, still attached to the 1st Machine Gun Company (Canadian Machine Gun Depot), and he was formally discharged due to demobilisation on 25 January 1919 at Nbr 2 District Depot, Toronto. In his medical at time of discharge his health was deemed “good“, so presumably he was no longer suffering any effects from his illness.
William returned to live with his family at 14 Alanson Street, Hamilton. In February 1919 he wrote that he had “not received a War Service Badge but expected to receive ‘A Class’ [badge]“.
William was still living in Hamilton, at 64 West Avenue N, when his wife Frances died in January 1932. She was buried in Hamilton Cemetery, and William himself was buried there too when he died in 1968, aged 82. The inscription on their gravestone reads “ANSTEY – Francis Alma ENGLAND – June 11, 1886 – Jan. 20, 1932 – wife of William James ANSTEY – Aug. 7, 1885 – Feb. 25, 1968.“
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