Constable William Archibald Willison

Photograph of William Archibald Willison - RCMP Veteran

 

 

 

William ‘Bill’ Archibald Willison was a patriotic individual who volunteered for service in the Canadian Militia, RCMP and later in the British Army.

 

 

 

 

He is one of the very few RCMP Veterans whose death was recognized as a War Crime.

EARLY LIFE

William ‘Bill’ Archibald Willison was born on March 20, 1917 in Toronto Ontario.  Parents were Mr. and Mrs. Walter Willison.  Bill was educated at the Upper Canada College and Bishop’s University.

After graduating, he worked as a salesman and joined the 48th Gordon Highlanders of Canada Reserve regiment based in the Moss Park Armoury in Toronto.

Photograph of the

Photograph of the 48th Gordon Highlanders of Canada cap badge.

JOINS THE FORCE

1937 - Photograph of RCMP recruits marching in formation past "C" Block at "Depot" Division in Regina (Source of photo - RCMP Quarter 1937)

1937 – Photograph of RCMP recruits marching in formation past “C” Block at “Depot” Division in Regina (Source of photo – RCMP Quarter 1937)

On August 7, 1935, Bill joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was assigned the regimental number 12795.  After completing his basic training at “Depot” Division, he was transferred to “G” Division and then finally to “HQ” Ottawa where he was assigned to a clerical position.

According to his obituary in the RCMP Quarterly January 1942, “Among those with whom he worked at headquarters and at Rockcliffe barracks, Willison was a popular and very likeable young man.  He had qualities which impelled people to respect him.  His poise, character and personality were such that if he had been spared and had stayed on in the Force, there is no doubt he would have gone far.”

On June 19, 1937, Bill purchased his discharge from the Force and joined the Governor General’s Foot Guards in Ottawa.

1935 - Photograph of Governor General and Early of Bessborough inspecting the Governor General's Foot Guard In Ottawa.

1935 – Photograph of Governor General and Early of Bessborough inspecting the Governor General’s Foot Guard In Ottawa.

On February 18, 1939, Bill married Miss Marion Wilks of Galt Ontario at Langdon Hall, Blair, the home of his bride’s parents.  The young couple left for England on their wedding trip and settled in London where Bill was to study journalism.

WORLD WAR II: VOLUNTEERS

With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Photograph of the Norfolk Regiment cap badge.

Photograph of the Royal Norfolk Regiment cap badge.

The regiment was a component of the British Expeditionary Force deployed to the northern part of France.

June 26, 1940 - Members of the Royal Norfolk receiving their rum ration prior to going out on patrol.

June 26, 1940 – Members of the Royal Norfolk receiving their rum ration prior to going out on patrol.

On May 10, 1940, the Germany invaded France by advancing through neutral Netherlands and Belgium with well coordinated armoured units supported by their air force. Their objective was to push through the Ardennes and then to the Somme valley to cut off and surround the British and French armies.

By May 18, 1940, the Germans had reached the English Channel and the British government decided to evacuate their expeditionary force in view of the overwhelming German forces.

To provide a time for the evacuation of British troops, the Norfolk Regiment and other British regiments were ordered to hold back the advancing Germans as long as they could so as to permit as many British soldiers to be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Map of the

May 22 to June 4, 1940 situation facing the British Expeditionary Force (in orange) and being encircled by the advancing German Army.  The red circle indicates the position held by the Royal Norfolk Regiment.

At the villages of Riez du Vinage, Le Cornete Malo and Le Paradis, companies of the Norfolk Regiment and the Royal Scots were holding the line against the German Divisions advancing towards Dunkirk.

May 1940 - Photograph

May 1940 – Photograph of members of the 3rd SS Panzer Division.

Members of the Norfolk regiment were confronted by the rapidly advancing  3rd SS Panzer Division (Totenkopf) – a ruthless and fanatical Nazi military unit.

Germans attacked the British positions with coordinated infantry, artillery, mortar and tank fire.  These British troops fought bravely and inflicted many German casualties: 4 dead officers; 150 dead soldiers; 18 injured officers and 480 injured soldiers.

At 11:30 AM on May 27, 1940, the Norfolk headquarters received a radio transmission that the remaining members of Norfolk companies were: dug in; isolated; had no ammunition left and faced the advancing German SS soldiers.

Shortly thereafter, 99 injured survivors of the Norfolk Regiment (including Bill Willison) surrendered to the No.4 Company of the 1st Battalion of the 3nd S.S. Totenkopf Regiment.

The British prisoners-of-war were marched down the road off the Rue de Paradis to a farm paddock where they were lined up against a wall and were executed by two large caliber machine guns and then bayoneted.  After the execution, the SS Troops rejoined their advancing Division.

Ariel photograph of the Le Paradis Massacre scene with notations.

Elevated photograph of the Le Paradis Massacre scene with notations.

The following day, the local French citizens buried the British soldiers in a mass grave.  Amongst the bodies, there were two British soldiers who survived: Privates William O’Callaghan and Albert Pooley but would later be captured by the German 251st Infantry Division.

After the war, the bodies of killed Norfolk soldiers were dug-up and placed in appropriate graves with regimental markers.  The body of Bill Willison was never located and its location remain a mystery to this day.

After the war, Privates Pooley and O’Callaghan recounted the activities leading up to and during the execution of their colleagues at the Le Paradis farm.  In so doing, they identified the SS Offficer giving the order for execution as Fritz Knöchlein.

Photograph of the SS Officer Fritz

Photograph of the SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Fritz Knochlein – No.3 Company SS 2nd Infantry Regiment. of the 3rd SS Panzer Division and who was convicted of giving the order to execute the 99 British soldiers.  For his actions in the Battle of France, he was awarded the Iron Cross

After the Battle of France, Fritz Knöchlein was awarded the Iron Cross – 2nd class.  The 3rd SS Panzer Division would later service on the Eastern Front.  In lieu of his actions, he was also awarded: Iron Cross 1st class in gold (November 1942) and the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross in November 1944. By the end of the war, he had rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

The 3rd SS Panzer Division received two allegations of War Crimes against members of this Division:

– Poland: Wloclawek Massacre of 800 Polish citizens – September 29, 1939; and

– France: Le Paradis Massacre of 97 British Soldiers on June 27, 1942.

Fritz Knöchlein survived the war and was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Le Paradis Massacre.

The War Crime charge against him was as follows:

The accused Fritz Knöchlein, a German national, in the charge of the Hamburg Garrison Unit, pursuant to Regulation 4 of the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals, is charged with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Paradis, Pas-de-Calais, France, on or about 27 May 1940, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of about ninety prisoners-of-war, members of The Royal Norfolk Regiment and other British Units.

On October 25, 1948, the President of the court found Fritz Knöchlein guilty as charged and ordered his execution.  Fritz was hanged at the Hamelin Prison in Hamburg Germany on January 28, 1949.

The bodies of the executed Norfolk soldiers are now buried in the Le Paradis War Cemetery at Lestrem France.

Photograph of

Photograph of the Dunkirk Memorial at Nord France and bears the name of Lt. W.A. Willison.

Despite Bill Willison’s body was not located, his name appears on the Dunkirk Memorial at Nord France.

In addition, his name also appears on page 19 of the Canadian Second World War Book of Remembrance which illustrated below. His name is circled in red.

Photograph of the Canadian Second World War Book Of Remembrance with the name of William Archibald Willison circled in red.

Photograph of the Canadian Second World War Book Of Remembrance with the name of William Archibald Willison circled in red.

The forgotten account of ex-Constable Bill Willison was discovered in an old RCMP Quarterly magazine.  A story which should not be forgotten.

We salute the actions of this RCMP Veteran.

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage

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