Brigadier-General W.F. Sweny
4th Bn., Royal Fusiliers (City of London)
The marriage of my father to Alice Roy took place October 28, 1885, and would have occurred at an earlier day had not opposition been made to this step on the ground of the deceased wife’s sister’s relationship, which in England, though not in Canada, was then a legal bar … [she wrote] “I consider that for me there can be no higher ideal than to become a mother to my sister’s two boys and to make their home what no other woman in the world could make it.” She always called herself our mother, instead of our aunt.
(W.F. Sweny quoted in Montreal Gazette, 20 Feb 1925, 6)
Born in Belfast on 25 June 1873, William Frederick Sweny was the son of Colonel George Augustus Sweny, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny. After the death of his mother in 1880, he and his brother were cared for by his aunt who married his father in Toronto in 1885. After Sweny graduated from RMC, in 1893, he was commissioned in his father’s old regiment, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London). He served in South Africa and Egypt before he was attached to the Canadian militia in January 1914. He transferred back to the British Army at the outbreak of the Great War.
Sweny had several commands throughout four years of war. Following the death of Lieutenant-Colonel M. C. A. Green on 17 November 1914, Sweny took over the 2nd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. He next transferred to command the 2nd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment on 9 February 1915. Wounded at Hill 60 in April, he rejoined the Royal Fusiliers once he had recovered. He commanded the 4th Battalion from 17 July until 14 December 1915, when he was promoted to brigadier general of the 61st Brigade, 20th Infantry Davison.
In early June 1916, he received multiple gunshot wounds to the hand, leg and jaw. After a month’s recovery he returned to the field but on 25 July was admitted to No. 14 General Hospital suffering from shell shock. He was granted three-month medical leave in September and returned for rest in Toronto where he visited his parents. His father had helped to found the Canadian Red Cross in 1909 and remained active in the society’s war work and fundraising until his death in 1918.
When Sweny arrived back to England in January 1917, the forty-four year-old general was rejected as medical unfit for active service. Nevertheless, he eventually found another field command with the 72nd Brigade during the fighting at Vimy Ridge and Messines in spring 1917. At the time of the armistice, he was in charge of the 41st Brigade. By the end of the war, he had been three-times wounded in action and seven-times mentioned in dispatches.
He died in London on 16 August 1950.