Veteran Stories:
William John Hagan

Army

  • William Hagan served with the 51st Battalion, 13th Bridgade from February 1916 to the end of the war. A group of them gathered for a photo at Canadian Forces base Petawawa during training. Courtesy of Don Hagan, William Hagan's son.

    William Hagan served with the 51st Battalion, 13th Bridgade from February 1916 to the end of the war. A group of them gathered for a photo at Canadian Forces base Petawawa during training. Courtesy of Don Hagan, William Hagan's son.
  • William Hagan's leave pass dated January 7, 1919. Mr. Hagan was granted leave from reveille to 9 pm to proceed to Bohn and Colonge by rail.

    William Hagan's leave pass dated January 7, 1919. Mr. Hagan was granted leave from reveille to 9 pm to proceed to Bohn and Colonge by rail.
  • The leave pass and railway ticket entitled William Hagan to journey from France to London, England. March 3, 1919.

    The leave pass and railway ticket entitled William Hagan to journey from France to London, England. March 3, 1919.
  • Pamphlet districuted to soldiers that covered what to do if one was taken prisoner. The most important advice: "Keep your mouth shut."

    Pamphlet districuted to soldiers that covered what to do if one was taken prisoner. The most important advice: "Keep your mouth shut."
  • William Hagan kept a diary during the war. Most entries describe the difficult everyday army life like this entry from March 30, 1918. That day they moved positions in the rain, were covered head to toe in mud, and took shelter under a bridge.

    William Hagan kept a diary during the war. Most entries describe the difficult everyday army life like this entry from March 30, 1918. That day they moved positions in the rain, were covered head to toe in mud, and took shelter under a bridge.
  • The message that came across the radio to 13th Brigade that the war was over.

    The message that came across the radio to 13th Brigade that the war was over.
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Transcript

My name is Don Hagan, and this is about Bill Hagan in World War I. My father, William John Hagan, died in 1939 when he was forty-two years old and I was just five years old, so I have just a few vague memories of him. In regards to his military career in the First World War, I'm fortunate to have his personal diary with notes for each day in 1918. I'm now seventy-one years old, and periodically through the years I've spent some time re-reading this pocket-sized, red leather diary, and each time I get to know dad a little bit better. I also gain a better understanding of how brutal this experience was, and perhaps why many of these veterans have been unwilling to talk about it. They must keep the painful scenes they witnessed locked away in their minds.

On February 12th, 1916, at age nineteen, my father enlisted at the 8th Artillery recruiting depot in Ottawa, along with three or four of his buddies from the Glebe. The story is that one of them was too young, and the recruiting officer said he couldn't accept him. The boys said, "You can take all of us, or none of us!" and he replied, "I think he looks old enough."

Bill Hagan was assigned to the Canadian Field Artillery, 13th Brigade, 51st Battery. Like all new recruits, his rank was Gunner. Basic training was at Camp Petawawa, near Pembroke, Ontario. On September 16, 1916 he embarked for England, where they underwent almost a full year of training at Witley before leaving for France. On landing in France, they moved to a rest camp at Amettes, then inland by train to Lillers, and a few days later they marched to the Bully-Grenay

area, where they got their first taste of action. Over a couple of weeks, they pushed a mile or so into the Lieven and Lens. They moved around in this area, pounding away at the German lines just east of them, and backing up regular infantry attacks.

This work seemed to go on endlessly over many weeks, without any loss of ground and very little gain. It appeared to be a fairly minimal effort, though not without the loss of lives. They went through all the seasons: The heat, the cold, the sun, the rain. They slept in shell pits, gun holes, trenches, barns, shelled buildings, and on a few occasions, billets with families on soft beds. Dad saw old friends and new, killed, wounded, and horribly disabled. He was sniped at more than once as he went up and down the wagon lines. I can't imagine how it feels to know you are in the sights of a sharpshooter.

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