Lieutenant Colonel W. Rhoades, D.S.O., M.C.
5th Canadian Mounted Rifles
Up to this time the Colonel’s cheery voice had always been heard, whenever a shell or bomb burst very near, calling “Are you all right. Captain?” — and I would answer, ”Yes, Sir, are you?” I was not badly hurt and called out, “Are you all right. Sir?” Getting no answer, I felt over for the Colonel, and found him lying unconscious, but breathing faintly. I cannot attempt to tell you how we got our dearly loved Commanding Officer out of the fire trench.
(Rhoades to Lt.-Col. Baker’s sister, 4 June 1916)
William Rhoades was a twenty-one year veteran of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Born in Nottingham, England on 15 September 1874, he immigrated to western Canada in 1893. He served with the Yukon Field Force during the Klondike gold rush and fought in the Boer War. On the formation of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles in 1915, Rhoades enlisted at the rank of captain.
As battalion adjutant, Rhoades formed a close friendship with his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Harry Baker. Rhoades later admitted to Baker’s sister, “To me especially, as I was probably always the closest to him, he has been like a big-hearted brother.”
During heavy enemy shelling at the battle of Sanctuary Wood in early June 1916, Rhoades called out to his superior but heard no reply. Second-in-command Major Dennis Draper carried Baker’s unconscious body out of the trench, but the 5th C.M.R. commander died shortly thereafter. Command passed to Draper and Rhoades received a promotion to major.
Rhoades conveyed his personal grief to Baker’s sister: “there is not one, I know, of those of us who are left, who would not have gladly given up his own life could your brother have been spared.”
On 25 May 1918, Draper was promoted to brigadier general and relinquished command of the 5th C.M.R. to Rhoades. By the end of the war, he had earned the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order and Bar.
After thirty-five years of military service, Rhoades retired from the army in 1929. He died in Toronto on 2 September 1955.