Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Munro
90th (Little Black Devils) Battalion
Heart disease, which originated in the first gas attack at Ypres in 1915, resulted in the death last night of Lieut.-Col. W.A. Munro, D.S.O., a prominent figure in the active militia in Western Canada.
(Winnipeg Tribune, 2 Feb 1927, 2)
A native of Toronto, William Aird Munro was born on 12 June 1872. He joined the newly formed 48th Highlanders in 1891 before moving to Winnipeg three years later. At the outbreak of the Great War, he had twenty-years’ service with the 90th Winnipeg Rifles (The Little Black Devils). The regiment’s nickname dated back to the Métis resistance of 1885. A captured rebel remarked, “The red coats we know, but who are those little black devils?” referring to the 90th soldiers’ rifle green uniforms.
Munro served as second-in-command to Colonel Louis Lipsett of the 8th Battalion, and survived its first action at the Second Battle of Ypres in late April 1915. He was, however, invalided home suffering from gas poisoning. When Munro returned to Winnipeg, he assumed command of the 90th Battalion from Colonel Cyril F. Blanchard, who had initiated recruiting for the new unit. As Blanchard commanded the 90th militia regiment, he emphasized to the press, “Owning to the similarity of numbers, any news items appearing must necessarily be confusing, unless differentiated by using the word ‘Overseas’ in the case of Col. Munro’s command.”
After disembarking in England in June 1916, the 90th (Overseas) Black Devils were absorbed into the 11th Reserves. Munro went to France in command of the 3rd Labour Battalion in February 1917. In November it was redesigned the 11th Battalion in General Jack Stewart’s Canadian Railway Troops. In recognition for his leadership in railway construction and maintenance, Munro received the Distinguished Service Order.
He died in Winnipeg on 1 February 1927 from heart disease. Doctors attributed Munro’s illness to the gas attack that he had endured at Ypres nearly twelve years earlier.