06 September 2018

Canadian RAF Pilot Remembered

As part of Road to Peace project, learn the remarkable account of Second Lieutenant William Percival Smith, a Canadian First World War medic who went on to pursue his dream of learning to fly.

To mark the end of the First World War Centenary, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has launched its “Road to Peace” project. The project tells 120 personal stories of casualties who died during the final 100 days of the First World War, from 8 August to 11 November.

  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is marking the end of the First World War Centenary with 120 personal stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the last months of the war
  • One remarkable story is that of Second Lieutenant William Percival Smith, who died on 7 September 1918
  • The CWGC commemorates a staggering 120,000 men and women who died between 8 August and 11 November 1918

The stories have been compiled by the CWCG’s team of historians and includes the remarkable account of Second Lieutenant William Percival Smith, a Canadian First World War medic who went on to pursue his dream of learning to fly.

William was born in 1896, in Montreal, Canada to British parents. Aged 19, he left his job as a mechanical draughtsman and volunteered for overseas service in the Canadian Army. Despite his technical background, William chose to serve with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, joining No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance as a Private.
Second Lieutenant William Percival Smith

William’s job was one of the most dangerous on the Western Front. He and his comrades were responsible for caring for wounded soldiers at the front-line, often under fire, and then taking the wounded back to safety.

Following his arrival on the Western Front in 1916, William was struck down with rheumatic fever and he was sent back to the UK – one of many Canadian servicemen to be treated at Lady Astor’s grand country estate at Cliveden in Berkshire, which was given over to be used as a hospital during the war.

After two months, William was well enough to leave hospital and he went back to caring for the wounded. But something within William pushed him on to seek front-line action and so in November 1917 he volunteered for service with The Royal Flying Corps, training at Tangmere in Sussex.

Flying was still in its infancy and was a highly dangerous occupation, but by April 1918 William had completed his training and gained his wings. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the newly formed Royal Air Force and was posted to Egypt for combat training with the 38 Training Wing.

On 7 September 1918, William took off in a Nieuport 23, a single seater fighter biplane. The plane climbed steeply after take-off but the engine stalled, throwing the aircraft into a spinning nose-dive, crashing into the ground not far from the runway. William was killed in the crash, he was just 22 years old. He is buried in CWGC Cairo War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.
CWGC Historian, Max Dutton, explained: “Behind every one of our headstones or names a memorial to the missing, is a human story just waiting to be told. Our 100 days “Road to Peace” campaign will remind people of the human cost of the Great War, the sheer diversity of those who took part and the global nature of that sacrifice and remembrance today.

William’s story is that of a remarkable young man who constantly put himself before others. His service shows how diverse the roles were during the war and that the war was not just in Europe but affected every corner of the globe. I hope William’s story will inspire people to find out more about him, his comrades and their own relatives commemorated by the CWGC and visit their graves and memorials”

From famous casualties like war poet Wilfred Owen, through to relatively unknown individuals; from those dying in battle to those who died of Spanish Flu; each story has been carefully chosen to shine a light on the human stories on the costly Road to Peace.

From 8 August – the 100th anniversary of the Allied victory at the Battle of Amiens – the “Road to Peace” campaign will conclude on 11 November with the stories of 11 people who died on the very last day of the First World War, even as the guns fell silent. The “100 Days” is a term applied to the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives on the Western Front that ultimately led to peace. Not actually 100 calendar days, the term is a reference to the final period of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Road to Peace stories will be shared across the CWGC’s digital channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A story will appear every day – with a more in-depth feature appearing weekly.

For more information, images, spokespeople or more personal stories please contact:

Emily McGhie, Media Officer: 07742667504 or 01628 507163, emily.mcghie@cwgc.org