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Those Who Came After The Original 500

William James Short   Regt # 878
Donated by Hubert Short

William James Short’s Early Years & War Service - World War One

William was born at Old Bonaventure, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland on December 23, 1899 and had a total of 2 half brothers and 1 half sister and 4 brothers and 5 sisters. His Father having been married twice.

At the age of 5 years (his Mother having died in childbirth - having her last child), William and his brother (Levi) were brought into St. John’s and placed in the Church of England (now Anglican Church of Canada) Orphanage. Which was situated where the Arts and Culture Center is now located on Prince Philip Parkway.

He stayed there until 1910 and was then placed in a foster home with a family named Godsey, who lived on Colonial St. across from the old Colonial Building on Military Road. As far as we can find out, as he didn’t tell us an awful lot , he went to school at Bishop Field College and worked part time with a firm owned by the Baird family on Water St. By the way. he also went to Bishop Field College. He knew the streets of old St. John’s very well.

You must realize that life was very, very different then, from what yours, your fathers and mine are and have been like. None of the amenities, that we have had over the past 70 years. Very low wages, scarce food, no radio, television or any other electronic equipment. Houses were not near as comfortable as they later became with centralized heating. I remember vividly our home in what is now Grand Falls-Windsor before central heating and insulation.

>So, when the First World War broke out in August 1914 and the call went out for volunteers to go and fight “the Hun” for King and Country, most young men looked on this as a great adventure. None of them, or very few of them had any idea of the savagery and the horrors of war. William was only 14 years old at the time, but had had some quasi military training in one of the boys brigades that the various churches sponsored in Newfoundland. His being the Church Lads Brigade (CLB), having started with the Brigade company at the Orphanage.

He did tell us that he lied about his age to join up, Birth Certificates not being required at that time - I’m not sure if these certificates were ever required for volunteers during the First World War. He told us that he was turned down the first time he offered to enlist, so he went to MacDonalds Fruit Store on Rawlins Cross, bought 5 pounds of bananas, ate them all at once then went back, was reweighed and passed.

His Regimental Number was #878 and he was posted to #3 Platoon, C Company and proceeded overseas sometime early in 1915. Somewhere in the house, either here or in Grand Falls-Windsor there is a picture of William on sentry duty at Edinburgh Castle - in Scotland in early 1915 and it is one of the saddest looking soldiers that I have ever seen, a little boy in full military equipment with a rifle and bayonet bigger that he was. he only stood 5ft-8in.

In the Spring of 1915 the Newfoundland Regiment (the prefix Royal didn’t come until much later after the regiment had gone through many great battles and suffered a great number of casualties) was sent with a large British force to fight the Turkish Army at a place called the Dardenelles, at the entrance to the Black Sea. Turkey was on the German side in the First World War. In later years these battles have been referred to as Galipoli. In my mind I have always thought of Galipoli as that awful hellhole. For it was here that 15 year old William was taken very ill with fever and received a shrapnel burst in the back.

The effects of these injuries followed him for the rest of his life. As a boy I remember helping him to take little grains of shrapnel out of his back - especially during very cold spells in the Winter months. He told me that his last recollection of Galipoli was taking a message from the Battalion HQ up through the trenches to his Company HQ and waking up in Cairo, Egypt several months later. After convalescence in Egypt the Regiment returned to England sometime in 1915.

After his return to from the Middle East, William, as part of his Regiment, went to the trenches in France and sometime, either late in 1915 or the Winter of 1915/1916 he was wounded again, this time it was bullet wounds in his legs. It was a miracle that he didn’t lose his legs. The wounds were through the fleshy parts of both his legs - missing the bones, 2 in the calves and 2 in the thighs. These wounds, however had him out of service, in hospital when the Battle of the Somme started on July 1, 1916 - Beaumont Hamel. He never refereed to this battle as Beaumont Hamel, him and his old comrades always referred to it as “the July Drive”.

After he returned to the Regiment, either in late 1916 or early 1917 he was wounded again. This was a most serious wound; his position in #3 Platoon, C Company was the Lewis gunner. The Lewis gun was a 37 round fully automatic machine gun and was the platoon’s principal automatic fire weapon. William had gone forward, with his loader, to fire on a German position. This was during a very heavy engagement - with considerable return fire. During this engagement William was hit on his water bottle by a German shell. The round went through the water bottle, through the right hip and blew his right buttock off. This wound put him out of action until the late Fall of 1917.

While recovering from this last wound, I believe William became a little despondent - not hard to accept when you realize that here was a 17 year old boy who had been through hell and back. However, a Sergeant named Reuben T. Vardy took compassion on him and got him back on the straight and narrow. So much so that in 1917 together with several Comrades he was sent to Bushy Parks, England, where he trained as an officer and commissioned. Consequently in the Summer of 1918, the under age soldier was Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the now Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

He went back to France until the Armistice on November 11, 1918. He stayed in the British Army for a while after the war and then came home to Newfoundland and eventually moved to Grand Falls, but that is another story.

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