A Soldier’s Story
Tucked behind the railroad tracks off McMurray and Albion streets is a small street with an amazing history. Located in an old factory district, Alonzo Street was designed to be a 1910s “worker’s paradise,” where factory workers could purchase a three-bedroom home for themselves and their families. For the workers of the factories and railyards that surrounded the area, these “Diamond Cottages” served as a blueprint for modern day subdivisions in a city whose population and industries were booming. In this boom, Alonzo Street began to flourish, with 15 new homes being added to a street that previously contained only two.
With the coming of the First World War, this working class neighbourhood of 17 homes produced 9 enlistees. One of these men was William West.
West was a British immigrant who came to Brantford in 1910 for work. Soon after immigrating, he would move his wife and four children to 13 Alonzo Street to be closer to his place of work as a shoemaker at the Brandon Shoe Company.
A sportsman, West was a rugby player for the Saints Rugby Club in Northampton, England. Once in Brantford, West continued his love of sport, joining the Brantford cricket club, becoming their team captain in 1915.
West dedicated much of his spare time to the club, caring for the grounds and coaching a strong team that would beat the West Toronto Cricket Club on Dominion Day in 1915. In recognition of this work, the club presented West with a watch before going overseas.
In 1916, the 35 year old West would enlist in the 84th battalion. Not having any previous military experience, West entered basic training and would be sent overseas to England in June 1916. He transferred to the 75th battalion in July and was sent to France in August.
Still caring for his wife and family, West sent them $20 a month from his pay and, in case of his death, willed all of his possessions and pay to his wife.
On November 18, 1916, now Lance Corporal West was part of an attack on a German position in the Somme on the Western Front. Wounded in his legs and chest, he was sent to the No. 9 casualty clearing station where he died of his wounds on November 23rd.
In Brantford, word of his wounds was received on December 2nd to the shock by his wife Maud, who, the Friday previous, had just received a letter from him telling her he was going into the front lines.
On December 5th, news of West’s death was delivered to Maud by a police officer accompanied by a letter from West’s commanding officer Major Jeffrey Bull.
Bull stated that West was “an example to others” with both his men and officers looking up to him. “He was honest and true in faith and duty…Always cool and collected, he was not only willing to do his bit but his all.”
Bull comforted Maud. “You lost a husband. I have lost more than a soldier and noncommissioned officer. I have lost a man whom I considered a friend and whose influence was of the best. His memory was a true hero, giving up his life for duty, will be a source of comfort to you.”
For his actions, Bull would recommend West for the Military Medal for “for conspicuous action in leading, directing and controlling his men in the advance.”
No matter the comforting words, the reality of West’s death deprived his mother of a son, his two brothers and sisters a sibling, his wife a husband, and his four children a father.
Like all neighbourhoods, the original inhabitants move on and new people move in.
Maud would remarry in 1918 to carpenter Robert Farnworth. She and her four children left their home on Alonzo Street, moving to 17 Allenby Street in Eagle Place where they would add another child to their growing family.
The loss of many factories in the area led many to forget about the small working community on Alonzo Street. Sue and Steve Dungey purchased the home at 13 Alonzo Street in 1999.
Desperately needing repair, they set on 2 weeks of hard labour, replacing wiring, installing insulation, fixing walls, a collapsed ceiling, and the removal of many trailers of garbage from the back yard, making a home for themselves and their two children. What they did not know was they had purchased the home of a First World War casualty.
Sitting in Sue and Steve’s dinning room, it is hard not to see how both World Wars have shaped their families. Their walls, adorned with family pictures, contain many photos of men in uniform and news clippings remembering their wartime service.
Steve’s grandfather, Walter Dungey and his two brothers enlisted in the First World War in Alliston, Ontario. All three survived the war and Walter enlisted again in the Second World War. He would later be memorialized with a street being named after him in Alliston.
Steve’s father Norm never forgot his father’s service, being active in Beeton, Ontario’s Royal Canadian Legion until his death in 2017, serving as their poppy campaign chairman for 30 years.
Sue’s family, from Paris, Ontario, served in the Second World War, with their uncle Bernard Barrett being killed in action in Sicily and their aunt Christina Berrett Gilroy serving as an auto mechanic. Last year, Sue and her sister Christine were invited to lay a memorial wreath at the Paris cenotaph in honour of their relatives’ military service.
After searching the Great War Centenary Association of Brantford, Brant County, and Six Nations website, Sue found out about her house’s history and William West.
“We had no idea the history behind our home until a few years ago. Often people are content to remodel and pretend it’s brand new. After learning the history of this home it made sense why the insulation was newspaper and why nothing in the add on kitchen is square and seems out of place.”
Although being buried in Contay British War Cemetery in Ancre Heights, Somme, France, West’s memory in Northampton and Brantford, although faded, continues to be remembered.
He was fondly remembered by his follow cricketers at the Brantford cricket club as they struggled to reestablish themselves in 1917 in the wake of 35 of their members enlisting, and others, like West, being killed in the war.
West is also remembered in Brantford with his name appearing on the war memorial plaque at Grace Anglican Church and on the Brant County War Memorial.
His name was also inscribed on the Saints Rugby Club war memorial at Franklin’s Gardens to their players who were killed in the war.
Due to the efforts of BBC sports writer Graham McKechnie and fellow ex-Saint player Lennie Newman, the memories of West and the other slain members of the Club have been revived and remembered in a special ceremony on November 13, 2015.
Maud and her children remembered their late husband and father. Although not receiving the Military Medal Major Bull nominated him for, Maud was sent a Memorial Plaque, referred to as a Death Penny,” William’s British War and Victory medals and, being a widow, also received a Memorial Cross and a meager war gratuity for the loss of her husband.
William and Maud’s 10 grandchildren in Canada and England also remembered William. With William’s children being so young at the time of his death, personal recollections of William are few and far between.
Granddaughter Donna Buth of Kelowna, British Columbia said her mother remembered very little of her father, but does recall him holding her as a child.
Fellow granddaughter Mary West of Brantford, recalls only two stories. One from her father recalled the distracted police officer, when delivering the news of William’s death, stepping on and braking his toy truck. The other was given to Mary’s aunt some 70 years after the war by a veteran who served with him about William’s final moments on the battlefield.
Although few in recollections, Mary and Donna both say all of William’s grandchildren still think of him and just not on November 11. Donna still gets emotional thinking of him and her mother not knowing her father. “He did more than his duty, he gave his life.”
Mary also notes the hardships William’s death caused her family remarking “If this had been the war to end all wars’ the horrendous carnage and loss could have been easier to accept. But it wasn’t!”
Mary, Donna, and other family members including family genealogist Leslie Young, are happy that others, like Graham McKechnie, Lennie Newman, and the Dungeys have taken on the memory of William. “I