van der Smissen, William Henry Victor

Captain William Van der Smissen
Captain William Van der Smissen

William Henry Victor van der Smissen was born on May 6th, 1893, in the City of Toronto. He was the youngest child from William Henry van der Smissen, who had a Phd from University College. In his nursery school years, he stayed at home and was taught by his mother. He went on to study in England, France, and Germany.

In October 1903, he entered Ridley College into the fifth grade under Headmaster H. G. Williams. In 1906, Colonel Thairs introduced his drill squad to the latest infantry training manual. While Victor was at Ridley, the headmaster and Colonel Thaires were very excited to produce the Cadet Corps, for the year of 1907. In the same year, uniforms were sent from the Department of Militia to Ridley.

His dorm in Upper School was in School House on third flat. He stayed at Ridley for five years until the year of 1908. For grades 10 and 11, he went to Europe and spent two years at Haileybury College in Hertford, England. While he was there, he joined the Cadet Corps. Also, he expanded his linguistic knowledge of French and German. During the summer of 1910, he won many awards for swimming. He returned to Ridley, in January 1911, to prepare for his entrance exam into the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. He passed with flying colours and was easily accepted into the school.

When war was declared between England and Germany, he was on a canoe trip with a friend. When he returned, he received two telegrams, one of which wanted him to join the imperial army and the other one asked him if he would go to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto (His father’s regiment), which he was entered for commission. As he was leaving his cottage in Georgian Bay, he looked back with great despair knowing that he would miss his family and his life at home. On August 22, 1914, he went to Valcartier, as a lieutenant in the third Battalion. While he was doing this, it was clear that he was not one who was to be left behind. His father said to him “You have taken the only way; follow it, and remember that you are an instrument in the hand of God to do his will.” On September 25th, he embarked with his battalion on the Tunisian, reaching Plymouth on the 1st of October.

On February 16, 1915, he went to the trenches in Armentiéres, France and he was excited because his ancestors had come from France. He fought in the battle of St. Julien where he was appointed Machine Gun Officer in 1915, and also the Captain of Company.

On June 13th, 1916, the troops went for battle. Captain Marani was severely injured and he gave control to Victor. After a long day of work, while they were resting, a shell entered the doorway of the dugout, and exploded, instantly killing him. Others were also mortally wounded or severely injured. The family believes that if he had lived a little longer, he would have received a distinguished service order and would have been raised to the rank of major.


Captain William Vander Smissen graduated from Royal Military College in 1914 and accepted a commission as a Lieutenant in The Queen’s Own Rifles. At Valcartier he was placed in No. 2 Company. He functioned as a platoon commander in A Company of the 3rd Battalion (Toronto Regiment)and fought at St. Julien (Second Ypres). Shortly thereafter, he was put in charge of the 3rd Battalion’s Machine Gun platoon and then promoted to Captain. He was given command of D company and led them at Givenchy and Festubert. From January to March 1916, he held a staff position with the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade. He rejoined the 3rd and was given command of C company. Victor Van Der Smissen led his men in the capture of Mt Sorrel on 13 June 1916. He was killed by artillery fire at the end of the battle in a captured German dugout.

After the war, his father published a memorial book entitled “At Duty’s Call: Captain William Henry Victor Van der Smissen, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and 3rd Battalion (Toronto Regiment) Canadian Expeditionary Force“.

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