William Slater (#493) was working as a tile setter when he enlisted as a private in 1914. Slater was promoted to corporal, then sergeant and in August 1915, was awarded a battlefield commission. In 1916, he returned to Canada to assist with the development of new overseas units and, in 1917, was seconded to the British Military Mission in the United States.
The Story of Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall winning the Victoria Cross by Lieutenant W. Slater
It was expected that the Ypres salient would be the scene of great activity in the early spring (1915), and immediately we had taken over our trenches, we began to strengthen the front line which on our front was disconnected in many places…
It was quite clear to everyone that something was brewing, and on the morning of the 24th we had just got back to Winnipeg Farm and were preparing to get under cover for the day when the air was filled with the cry of “Stand To”. We Stood To in some old trenches and were immediately enveloped in a cloud of gas which rolled towards us, while the bullets were hitting all around thick and fast. Being unprepared for gas warfare, this attack took a terrible toll, and right away we were all spitting and retching and vomiting and clawing at our mouths and throats in the throes of suffocation. It was at this moment that Col. Lipsett, the Battalion Commander, came out of Headquarters to our trench, waving his walking stick and shouting “Charge…” I was with Captain Bertram [and he] was one of the first to fall with a bullet in his foot…he immediately called, “Push on Sergeant, push on.” …
Making my way over to Sergeant-Major Hall, I told him what the Captain had said, and we laid our plans accordingly, but the fire from the machine guns and snipers and the coal boxes and shrapnel over head was so accurate that by the time we were half way down to the trees only 19 of us were left…
We discovered that our Battalion had held to its trenches in the face of the gas, and immediately continued on to their support. However, to do this we had to cross the open behind the front-line trench and in doing so met a very heavy enfilade fire from the left.
… Immediately on getting to the trenches we began to take charge of the situation, for the men in the trenches had suffered terribly, and it was up to us to “carry on.” Many were killed and wounded in this last dash to the trench and one of the wounded men called for assistance, so Private Rogerson went out to him, but was immediately wounded. On seeing this Lance Corporal Payne went to his assistance, but he was badly wounded, and then Sergeant- Major Fred Hall went out also, and was lifting the wounded man to bring him in when he fell shot through the temples.
It was for this act that I later recommended him for the Victoria Cross, which was granted.
*William Slater returned to Winnipeg on May 4, 1916, and a long article was published in the Winnipeg Tribune on May 14, 1916, describing on how Sergeant-Major Hall won his Victoria Cross.
This is an excerpt from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.