The Birthday Boy

Brigadier General Victor Williams
8th Infantry BrigadeWilliams

 The whole front was a tangled mass of ruins. Only a few isolated posts were alive. General Mercer was dead. And General Williams, leg broken and spine twisted, yet fighting gamely against odds, with only a wooden wiring-stake for a weapon was being clubbed into submission by the butt-end of a Mauser in the hands of a German infantryman.

(Toronto Globe, 2 Jun 1928, 17)

Victor Arthur Seymour Williams was the most senior Canadian officer taken prisoner during the First World War. He was captured at the battle of Mont Sorrel on 2 June 1916, incidentally his forty-ninth birthday.

Born in Port Hope, Canada West, on 2 June 1867, Williams was the son of Arthur Trefusis Heneage Williams, who had led the attack on the Metis holdout at Batoche during the 1885 Rebellion and died on campaign. The younger Williams entered the Royal Military College but withdrew to join the Northwest Mounted Police. A Boer War veteran, he served as camp commandant at Valcartier and joined the staff of British General John French.

In December 1915, he was placed in command of the 8th Infantry Brigade, comprising the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. On 2 June 1916, Williams and 3rd Division General Malcolm Mercer left to inspect the frontlines. Caught by German artillery bombardment, both were left dazed and shell shocked. Mercer was killed when struck by another shell and Williams was taken prisoner.

He spent several months in German prisoner-of-war camps before being interned in Switzerland. He was released home in summer 1918. Explaining his experience as a POW, he stated, “I disappeared and might as well have not existed.” When asked to elaborate on his suffering, the general simply replied, “I don’t like to talk about it. It is all past now.”

He remained involved in the Canadian Army after the war and was promoted to major general. In 1922, Williams was appointed Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. He retired in 1939 and died at Sunnybrook Hospital on 12 December 1949.

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