Throughout the horrific confrontations on all fronts of the First World War the Canadian Armed Forces deployed many of its regiments to the battlefields of Europe.
Thanks to the kindly contributions of family members, the Ponoka Secondary Campus, and the Fort Ostell Museum the Ponoka News weekly Reflections feature is proud to present some of the vivid stories of those men and women from our town and districts who have and will always continue to serve in countless ongoing wars and peacekeeping efforts at home and throughout the world for countless decades.
William Torrance Turner
William Evan Turner and Avarela Torrance Winnings arrived in Ponoka from Benkelman, Nebraska in 1900, and shortly thereafter purchased the Canadian Pacific Railway land for $3 an acre and began to establish their new homestead on a half section three and a half miles east of town. Over the years they would happily welcome six children, including William, John, Cora, Ava, Fred, and Wallace.
A very ambitious gentleman Mr. Turner bought the local Massey Harris Implement business from West O’Brien in 1900, continued to clear and work the family farm with his boys, but also drove his horse and buggy into Ponoka every day to serve as the local Justice of the Peace for many years. In 1922 the Turners sold the dealership back to the original owner and after staying on the home-place for a few more years would move into town. Most of their children married and raised their families in the Ponoka area and while others moved away, the ongoing generations still live in this area or enjoy returning to visit their relatives.
William, the oldest boy in the Turner family would travel to Edmonton on Feb. 19, 1916 to enlist in the Canadian Military at the age of 29, and was originally placed in the 138th Battalion. Prior to enlisting the stately 6’1” gentleman had become a licensed engineer and strong Methodist, would later marry Maggie Rees, and together they would happily raise their two boys, Clifford and Willie on the family farm. Before leaving for overseas from Halifax on the S.S. Olympic on Aug. 21st he dedicated his life to his wife and family, and would arrive with his Battalion in Liverpool, England eight days later. On Oct. 26th of the same year, William Turner was transferred to the 175th Battalion, with which he served for 35 days, and then after arriving in France was with the 49th Battalion and the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade before receiving a 14-day leave to the United Kingdom.
Aug. 8, 1916 was known to be the happiest day that the 49th Battalion would have on the battlefields of France, starting at 4 a.m. in warm and clear weather conditions. The Battalion advanced from their camp in Gentelles Wood to Sunken Road where they attacked the German front, taking them completely by surprise, with very little retaliation. The 49th continued to cross the River Luce, and by 7:15 a.m. their headquarters were set up at the Mill in Demuin, with heavy gunfire coming from right in the trench front. At that point all companies got set up and moved forward into enemy territory, with the 4th Canadian division behind them and tanks ahead of them. Without much interruption they reached their final objective of Cerfs Wood at 10:55 a.m., with causalities reaching 60. Despite one of the Battalion’s planes crashing nearby, the artillery and cavalry continued to move forward. By the end of the day 200 German prisoners had been captured along with 20 machine guns, but unfortunately the 49th Battalion had lost over 70 brave soldiers and 10 other ranks of men in the confrontation, and William Torrance Turner was one of those casualties. Some years later his wife Maggie would marry Milt Stevens and together would welcome two more children Evelyn and Ernest into the family.
For his dedicated service and supreme sacrifice William Torrance Turner was awarded with the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, which were returned to his family, along with the Memorial Cross, which is a Canadian medal awarded to the mother, widow, or next of kin of any member of the Canadian Forces who lost their life in active service. William will be forever recognized on the Vimy Ridge Memorial, of which several generations of his family have been able to visit in his honour and memory. Lest we forget, let us all pay tribute to our soldiers and veterans of then and now at the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11th at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66 Ponoka.