Private William Christopher Byron

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Connecticut.

The grave of Private William Byron
The grave of Private William Byron

William Christopher Byron was born in Almonte, Ontario on 27 June 1889 the son of Joseph and Nellie Byron.[1] His mother was Scottish; she emigrated to Canada in 1887 and settled in Ontario, where she married his father, a Canadian. His father died when William Byron was an infant. He and his mother then lived with his widowed maternal grandmother and his young uncles and aunt in Carelton Place. His mother soon remarried—William O’Doherty, a railway brakeman—and the couple had four children.[2] The family had emigrated to the United States in 1897 and settled in De Sotto, Missouri, where O’Doherty worked on the railway. Sometime after the turn of the century, the family moved to Athol, Massachusetts and there, in 1904, William O’Doherty died in a railway accident, leaving William Byron fatherless for the second time.

In 1906, his mother married again—Joseph Walsh, a weaver—and the couple had a daughter.[3] By 1910 the family lived in Stafford, Connecticut, where William Byron, his step-father and the children of working age worked in a local woollen mill. By the time he enlisted the family were living in Rockville, Connecticut, and worked in one of the town’s mills.

On 5 September 1917, Byron enlisted in Boston, Massachusetts for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He immediately travelled to Fredericton, New Brunswick and joined the 236th Overseas Battalion—a battalion largely of Scots known as ‘The New Brunswick Kilties’ or ‘Sir Sam’s Own’—and was allocated the number 1031341. After a period of training at Valcartier, he sailed with the Battalion and arrived in England on 19 November.

The men of 236th Battalion were used as drafts for other units and Private Byron was held initially on the strength of the New Brunswick Regimental Depot. He was not fully fit, however, and on 27 November a medical board at Seaford downgraded him due to varicose veins. He subsequently joined 13th Reserve Battalion at Seaford and in April 1918 he was posted between the depot units in Seaford, Bramshott and Shorncliffe, finally ending up on the strength of the Canadian General Depot Labour Pool. In this period, he suffered a bout of influenza.

In August 1918, Byron travelled to France and joined the 1st Canadian Infantry Works Battalion on 23 August. The Battalion, formerly the 1st Labour Battalion, was one of four labour battalions that had been raised in December 1916 from men unfit for service as infantry. All four were engaged in railway construction. In September 1918, the 1st Canadian Infantry Works Battalion was formed into two infantry works companies for construction and maintenance work on roads, bridges, and railways. Byron was posted to 1st Canadian Infantry Works Company.

On 19 September he was admitted to 13th Canadian Field Ambulance suffering from bronchitis. He was transferred to 23rd Casualty Clearing Station and then to No. 18 (Chicago) General Hospital at Etaples. Having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, he was sent back to England on the hospital ship Stad Antwerpen. He was treated in hospital at Colchester and at the Convalescent Depot at Epsom. In February 1919 he began his journey home when he was sent to Kinmel Park in North Wales. He fell ill again with influenza and was admitted to No. 9 Canadian General Hospital. Private Byron embarked on His Majesty’s Troopship Royal George on 15 March 1919. He arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 25 March and was discharged on 27 March; he travelled back to Rockville the following day.

Sometime after his discharge, William Byron was admitted to Norwich State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, where died of tuberculosis on 4 March 1920. He was buried in Saint Bernard’s Cemetery, Rockville, in plot Section H, Plot 61. Also buried there are his stepfather and his mother—Joseph and Ellen Walsh—and his stepbrother James Doherty. Inexplicably, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his place of burial as being in Plot 48.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Christopher Byron
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Christopher Byron

Private William Byron is commemorated on page 547 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 19, 20, and 21 November. The Book of Remembrance correctly commemorates him as serving with 1st Canadian Infantry Works Company—the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates him as serving with 236th Battalion. For his service in France he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal, which were sent to his mother, as were the memorial plaque and parchment and the Canadian Memorial Cross.

His stepbrother, Private James E. Doherty, served in the United States during the First World War with Company ‘G’, 74th Infantry, 12th Division.

1. (Back) Joseph Byron (1867-7 February 1891) married Ellen ‘Nellie’ Spence (1873-1940) on 7 July 1888 at Carelton Place, Ontario.
2. (Back) William O’Doherty (members of the family also went by the name Doherty after his death) (May 1867-3 September 1904) married Ellen Byron (née Spence): Mary J. (later Keefe) (July 1892-14 January 1949); James E. (28 February 1893-4 March 1931); Teresa Marie ‘Tessie’ (later Clark) (8 September 1895-NK); and Charles F. (May 1897-1939).
3. (Back) Joseph Martin Walsh (1871-1968) married Ellen Doherty (née Spence, formerly Byron) on 3 May 1906: Helen M. (later Gallagher) (25 December 1906-20 January 1992).

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