|Pte. William Robertson Spears' Headstone|
While William briefly returned to civilian life, he was determined to serve overseas. On October 3, 1916, he joined the 246th Battalion’s ranks and spent the winter of 1916-17 training in Halifax. On May 31, 1917, he departed for overseas as part of a reinforcement draft of 13 Officers and 230 “other ranks” (OR). Upon arriving in England, William was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit tasked with providing reinforcements for Nova Scotia’s 25th and 85th Battalions. On August 27, William proceed to France for service with the 85th Battalion.
While William joined his new unit in the forward area in mid-September, for unexplained reasons, he returned to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) before month’s end. During his absence, the 85th followed the Canadian Corps to Belgium, where it participated in the second stage of the attack on Passchendaele Ridge. On November 7, William rejoined the 85th’s ranks near Caëstre, France, as the battalion rebuilt its ranks following significant combat losses during its Passchendaele tour.
William spent the winter of 1917-18 with the 85th in sectors near Lens, enduring conditions that varied from “snowing and strong wind” to “thawing fast and… becoming very muddy.” During late February and early March 1918, the unit enjoyed a lengthy break from the line before returning to support positions near St. Émile on the night of March 13. For several days, the situation in the sector was quiet as soldiers provided work parties for trench maintenance.
The 85th’s war diary entry for March 18, 1918 makes no reference to loss of personnel: “Fine Relieved 38th CI [Canadian Infantry] Battalion in front line left sub-sector St. Émile sector.” A monthly casualty list included in the diary’s appendix, however, tells a different story. According to its contents, four OR were wounded by artillery fire, while a fifth was “injured in the back by falling brick” when a shell struck a section of the 85th’s trench. The document also reported one March 18 fatality—Private William Robertson Spears, most likely killed in the same artillery barrage that wounded his comrades. William was laid to rest in Loos British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
|Loos British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France|