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Heroes of World War I – Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, MM

April 2022

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to members of British and Commonwealth militaries in times of war. Since its inception in January 1856, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients.  There is a very high bar to even be considered for a VC, let alone actually be awarded it, and many recipients have been awarded it posthumously.

To be awarded a VC along with another gallantry award is not very common either.

British-born Canadian soldier William Merrifield is one of those rare soldiers awarded two gallantry awards for service in World War I, the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal.

Born in Brentwood, Essex, England on 9 October 1890, Merrifield emigrated to Canada prior to the outbreak of the war, first settling in Ottawa, then moving to Sudbury, Ontario, where he worked as a fireman for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He also enlisted in the 97th Regiment, also known as the Algonquin Rifles, a militia regiment in Sudbury.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Merrifield volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 23 September 1914, and was posted to the 2nd Battalion.

Merrifield fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 and in 1917, transferred to the 4th Battalion, a part of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. It was with the 4th Battalion that Merrifield fought in the Battle of Passchendaele. For his actions in the battle, Merrifield was awarded the Military Medal, one of the lower ranking gallantry medals and one awarded to non-commissioned members for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.”

A year later, on 1 October 1918, while leading his platoon in the Battle of Canal du Nord, north of Cambrai, France, and exposed to machine-gun fire, Sergeant Merrifield made a solo attack against two of the machine-gun posts, successfully knocking them out. Despite being wounded, he resumed the advance with his platoon, not stopping to get treatment for his wounds until wounded a second time.

For his actions, Sergeant William Merrifield was awarded the VC. His citation read:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the attack near Abancourt on the 1st October, 1918. When his men were held up by an intense fire from two machine-gun emplacements, he attacked them both single-handed. Dashing from shell-hole to shell-hole he killed the occupants of the first post, and, although wounded, continued to attack the second post, and with a bomb killed the occupants. He refused to be evacuated, and led his platoon until again severely wounded. Sjt. Merrifield has served with exceptional distinction on many former occasions, and throughout the action of the 1st October showed the highest qualities of valour and leadership.” — The London Gazette, 4 January 1919.

Sergeant Merrifield was officially presented his VC by King George V on 26 January 1919, in a ceremony at York Cottage.

After returning to Canada a few months later, Sergeant Merrifield was demobilized, but remained in the militia, now in the rank of Lieutenant.

Merrifield accompanied Prince Edward, who would become King Edward VIII in 1936, on part of his royal tour of Canada in late 1919.

In 1921, Merrifield married Maude Bovington and the couple took up residence in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.

William Merrifield died on 8 August 1943, four years after suffering a stroke from which he never fully recovered. He was buried in West Korah Cemetery in Sault Ste Marie.

Honours bestowed upon William Merrifield

The Brantford Armoury was re-named the Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, MM, Armoury in Brantford, Ontario, home of the 56th Field Artillery Regiment, whom along with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment), perpetuate the 4th Battalion’s Battle Honours.

William Merrifield VC Public School in Sault Ste Marie was named after Merrifield after it opened in 1946, but it closed in 2015.

William Merrifield’s medals, which also include the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the King George VI Coronation Medal, are now housed in the Canadian War Museum.

To view William Merrifield’s service records, go to:


Sources: William Merrifield – Wikipedia, William Merrifield – Canada.ca, Victoria Cross – Wikipedia, Sergeant William Merrifield, VC | Library and Archives Canada Blog (thediscoverblog.com), Military Medal – Wikipedia, 4th Battalion (Central Ontario), CEF – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/heroes-of-world-war-i-sergeant-william-merrifield-vc-mm/

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