This battalion should be very popular, as a very small amount of drill is necessary, and the work of laying railways behind the lines will be particularly interesting.
(Toronto Star, 5 Jan 1917, 16)
Born on 28 September 1878 in Muskoka, Ontario, Walter Adam McConnell was a railway engineer and graduate of the Engineering Corps of the School of Science. In January 1917, he was authorized to raise the 256th Railway Construction Battalion. McConnell and the majority of his recruits had belonged to the 109th Regiment, the Home Guard unit organized by Lieutenant Colonel W. T. Stewart two years earlier. Including the volunteers in the 256th, by 1917 the 109th Regiment had provided a total 200 officers and 5,000 men for overseas service.
As a young man, McConnell had worked on the Canadian Pacific, Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways. He had studied engineering at the University of Toronto, but went to work in the city’s construction industry before completing the degree. After joining the 109th as a private, he took an officers’ training course and received a commission.
Re-designated as the 10th Battalion in General Jack Stewart’s the Canadian Railway Troops, the 256th proceeded to France in June 1917 under the command of McConnell. The 10th constructed communication and transportation lines around the Somme front until the armistice. Following a tour of the railway operations, General Richard Turner complimented McConnell’s efforts, “It was a great pleasure for me to see this work, which is very essential to winning the war.”