Willy was only 16/12 years old when he and a few friends ventured off from their small hometown near the Canada US border town in Maine and went to fish along the Miramachi River in New Brunswick. He was sent into a local town after a few days to pick up some supplies, and that's were heard it. Canada had gone to war just a few days previous. And Willy wanted to trade in his fishing pole for a rifle. Walking into a recruitment centre in Fredericton Willy lied about his age and said that he was 21 when he was only 16 1/2. He claimed to be a banker when they signed him up as a private with the 71st York Regiment.
Soon Willy, now private William Henry Metcalfe, was trying to figure out which foot was the left and which was the right and by the time he got the marching right, a month would have passed and he was off to ValCartier as a member of the 12th Battalion. After some basic training he and the 12th would be transported to Halifax and on 03 October 1914 he set sail for England.
He had written his mother before the sailing to tell her what he had done and was stunned upon arrival about 2 weeks later that the American Ambassador to England was there too greet him. Apparently his mother had written several rather nasty letters to the Canadian and American authorities questioning why they would enlist such a under aged child and that they'd best find him and ship him home ASAP. But on disembarking he was questioned and insisted they had gotten the wrong guy. He claimed he came from a small town in NB near St Stephen and his commanding officer verified this and so the Ambassador could do little.
By Mid May of 1915 he was transferred to the 16th Battalion and already fighting in France. The 16th were also known as the Canadian Scottish from Victoria BC and like some other highlanders would be called the "Ladies from Hell" by the Germans seeing the fighting men in their kilts. The Germans would meet the Ladies in several battles and in early July of 1915 William was wounded for the first of 6 times. It was not enough to keep him out of battle and his unit thought so highly of him that by September he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
This would take place two years later at Amiens France. The record shows that... "on August 8th, 1918 this NCO behaved in a most splendid manner in charge of a signal station. With extraordinary perseverance and judgement he carried a telephone line forward with the first wave and upon arriving at the final objective, established a signal station from which he maintained all day under heavy fire. He several times traversed the zone of immediate danger to keep his line in repair. His fine conduct was responsible for keeping headquarters in touch with the situation and thus contributed valuable assistance to the success of the action."
The Commanding officer of the 16th was Colonel Cy Peck, and it would be this very officer who was commanded to take the charge at the Drocourt Quent Line in France. His unit like most were in such a disarray as they had all lost a lot of men, and the officers that commanding them. In reorganizing his unit he was left with 800 men. He would take 400 and he turned to L Cpl Metcalfe to take the other 400 and move forward. But the shelling and rifle / Machine Gun fire was so heavy that Metcalfe ordered his men to take cover. Once done he heard one of the Allied tanks coming forth so he jumped out in front of it, still under very heavy fire and a captain popped open the hatch. He said that the unit was being pinned down by 4 MG nests and he took a signal flag and guided the officer to traveling along the trench to a firing position. The tank complied and when all was said and done the four MG nests were taken out and Metcalfe had captured 10 Germans, and noted at least 17 MG's that would later be described as having been "Well used." Of the 400 who went into that battle with Metcalfe, only 60 would be alive that night.
Metcalf was so badly shot up that it would be his very prisoners who would be forced to bandage him up and carry him to the rear. His bullet ridden kilt was later put on display in London where he would spend 9 months in hospital recovering.
This battle was part of the overall battle for Passchendaele. There would be 7 Canadian Victoria Crosses awarded for the battle. Metcalfe being a Yank,, was one of these, as was Doctor Hutcheson, another Lady from Hell, who was attached to the 75th Overseas Bn, the Toronto Scottish, a regiment I served for several years in the 1960's ands 70's. Another one of the VC's for this battle was none other than the Colonel of the 16th... Cy Peck.
Here is Metcalfe's London Gazette notice of the awarding of the Victoria Cross...
He moved back to the US got further education and worked in the automotive industry in his home town but spent his later years in Portland Maine where he finally took ill for several months and passed away in August 1968 and now rests at a cemetery in Portland. His widow insisted that the bagpipes be played at his service and the 40 members of the Royal Canadian Legion attended had no problems with that. She also requested that not the American nor Canadian flag be used to drape his coffin, but that of the Union Jack under which he served. And all complied with her wished.
A few years back, on the 8oth anniversary of the Armistice, the Canadian Scottish contacting the family and asked if they could have a short term loan of the medals for a display. They were stunned when told that the family would be honoured to donate them to the unit were they are today most prized and on display in a most impressive museum at Victoria. They also hold several other complete medal groups that include highly coveted Victoria Cross.
His late son was once quoted saying that Willy never liked to talk much about the war, like so many others have said over the ages. He left his medals in a drawer and only pulled them out once in while when he was going on a formal parade. When his own son asked how earned the Victoria Cross he only responded that he got it..."for stealing the Colonel's rum."
Another cute story that needs to re retold... In the file is a cute story about a fellow in the legal business who wrote to Metcalfe many a year ago. He was telling how a fellow in Quebec was caught attempting to steal their money. He was impersonating Metcalfe, the VC recipient and trying to scrounge dollars from passers bye. One fellow donated $1. He was then caught, tried and thrown in jail... FOR SIX MONTHS.
And they say crime doesn't pay. I guess they are right.