Lieutenant William Hartley Willard was born on 6 October 1894 in Toronto, Ontario to James Charles and Selena (Peardon) Willard. He had an older brother James Harold. Their mother died in 1897 when James Harold and William were children and their father re-married Hettie Florence Brewick in 1898. They had a step-sister Edith and two step-brothers Arnold Valance and Lyle Beswick. Their father was a tailor.
Willard received his early education at Annette Street Public School and Humberside Collegiate Institute in Toronto. After graduating from Humberside, he attended the University College at the University of Toronto, from which he obtained a BA in 1915. He was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada as a student in the Spring of 1915 and was articling with J.J. Gray of the firm Gray & Gray in Toronto with Second Lieutenant Ronald Gwynnyd McCrae.
Prior to enlisting with the CEF, Willard served in the Militia. Willard enlisted as a Lieutenant with the 83rd (Queen’s Own Rifles) Battalion in September of 1915. The 83rd Battalion was authorized on 10 July 1915 and embarked for Britain on 28 April 1916. The 83rd recruited soldiers, but did not fight as a Battalion, instead supplying reinforcements to other Battalions from England. Willard was taken on strength with the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion in 1916. The 18th Battalion fought as part of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division in France and Flanders.
Willard was wounded in July of 1916 and killed a few months later on 15 September 1916, the first day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which was the first battle of the third phase of the Battle of the Somme. The 18th Battalion had taken its objective and Willard had come up to the forward position when he was killed by an enemy shell. He was 21. He died on the same day as fellow law students Lieutenants William Douglas Bell and Maurice Fisken Wilkes.
Willard is memorialized at the Vimy Memorial. The Vimy Memorial overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge, about eight kilometres northeast of Arras. The ramparts of the Vimy Memorial are inscribed with the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who are missing and presumed dead in France. He is also memorialized on his parents’ headstone at the Mountain View Cemetery in Cambridge, Ontario.
Willard’s brother James Willard enlisted and served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He survived the War. His step-brother Arnold also enlisted and survived the War. Willard’s uncle, William Richard Willard, also enlisted and survived the War.
Shea, E. Patrick; Gowling, Lafleur, Henderson (Firm); and Highlanders Foundation, “The Great War Law Student Memorial Project” (2014). Digital Texts. 2.