Sergeant William Merrifield, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Sergeant William Merrifield and his gallant actions near Abancourt, France, on October 1, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform.

Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, undated. Source: National Defence and the Canadian Forces

Born in Brentwood, Essex, England, on October 9, 1890, Merrifield was a firefighter before the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted on September 23, 1914, at Valcartier, Quebec, joining the 2nd Battalion (Canadian Mounted Rifles) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1917, he joined the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion. For his bravery in November 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele, Merrifield received the Military Medal.

As September 1918 drew to a close, the Battle of Canal du Nord in France was also near its end. The Canadians stationed around the battlefield were engaged in regular patrols and reconnaissance missions. Allied artillery, including 6-inch guns and 60-pounders, fired continually, but the shells often fell short of their targets in the German trenches. In one instance, the Allies accidentally shelled and destroyed one of their own Lewis guns and caused casualties among their own soldiers. The Germans stubbornly defended their trenches, making the Canadians’ objective of breaking through the lines very difficult.

On October 1, 1918, near Abancourt, Merrifield and his men were under fire from two enemy machine-gun posts. Unable to advance further because of the German guns, Merrifield decided to attack both posts single-handedly to eliminate them. Dashing from shell hole to shell hole, he killed the enemy soldiers in the first post and sustained wounds during the assault. In spite of his injuries, he pressed on to the second post, killing its occupants with a hand grenade. He remained in battle and continued to lead his platoon until he was severely wounded.

A black-and-white copy of a typed textual record, with handwritten signatures down the right side of the page.

War Diaries, 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion, describing some events from October 1, 1918, page 4 (e001078521)

Merrifield survived the remainder of the war and was discharged on April 24, 1919, in general demobilization. He moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He died in Toronto on August 8, 1943.

A public elementary school in Sault Ste. Marie was named after Merrifield; William Merrifield V.C. Public School in the Algoma District School Board was open from 1946 until June 2015. And Merrifield Outdoor Rink is located at the corner of Henrietta Avenue and Patrick Street in Sault Ste. Marie.

As well, the 56th Field Artillery Regiment in Brantford, Ontario, dedicated its armoury (Sergeant William Merrifield VC Armoury) to his memory.

Merrifield’s Victoria Cross was donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant William Merrifield.

Want to experience life during a time of war?

The War Diaries of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!

Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

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