Spr William Henry Francis Standish, 3rd Field Company 23 May 1944

Spr William Henry Francis Standish, 3rd Field Company on his wedding day
Spr William Henry Francis Standish's Headstone in the Cassino Commonwealth Cemetery

William Henry Francis Standish was born in Calgary, Alberta to Francis and Minerva Standish. He was married with two children and living in Lethbridge, Alberta when he enlisted on 13 July 1940. He had prior reserve service in the 91st Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery from June 1933 until February 1935, and stated his occupation was farmer. He was immediately sent to the 3rd Field Company at Camp Petawawa, Ontario for training at A5 Canadian Engineer Training Centre. He qualified as a Group ‘C’ Mason in October and was shipped to the UK with the company in February 1941.

On 17 August 1940, Hank boarded a ship bound for Spitsbergen on Operation GAUNTLET landing there on 25 August. The goal of the operation, which had the approval of the Norwegian and Soviet governments, was to evacuate the civilian population and deny Germany the coal, mining and shipping infrastructure, equipment and stores on Spitsbergen and suppress the wireless stations on the archipelago, to prevent the Germans receiving weather reports.

Initially, Canada was to contribute Force 111 comprising infantry battalions, an anti-aircraft battery, the 3rd Field Squadron, signals and medical support. After they trained in Scotland, the scope of the operation was considerably reduced to a smaller battalion, a machine-gun company, 3rd Field Company, brigade HQ and a small party of Royal Engineers. The operation a was success and their was no German contact. The Canadian engineers set fire to about 450,000 long tons of coal dumped at the mines, burned much of the fuel oil and poured into the sea, removed or sabotaged mining equipment and burned down the main town.

Hank returned to the UK and continued training. In July 1943, the 3rd Field Company deployed to Sicily in July 1943 on Operation HUSKY. In support of the 1st Division, Hank fought through the Sicilian Campaign, the boot of Italy, the Moro River and Ortona.

Starting in March 1944, the Eighth Army including the 1st Division and its engineers was secretly moved across Italy to the area of the Foggia Plain south of Naples. Hank and his company focused on preparing for the planned attack on the Gustav Line under the peak of Monte Cassino, scheduled for the latter half of May 1944.

The 1st Canadian Division crossed the Gari River on the night of 15 May 1944 led by the 1st Brigade. Their task was to continue through the Gustav Line and advance to the Hitler Line. They suffered badly on the first day against determined German rearguard actions. On 17 May, the 3rd Brigade fared somewhat better and made good advances with the Van Doos in the lead. The 1st Brigade continued pushing on and by the time the Canadians were within three miles of the Hitler Line, the situation had stabilized. Up to this point in the war, the fighting on the Gustav Line was the most intense the Canadian Army had experienced. They acquitted themselves very well and by 18 May, the Gustav Line was broken in the west, the Polish 2nd Division stood atop Monte Cassino and the Germans had been forced back to the Hitler Line. 

On 23 May 1944, at 0600 hours, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry right and the Seaforth Highlanders left, assaulted the Hitler Line. It was a day of violence and hard fighting to establish a bridgehead. With the 3rd Field Company in support clearing mines, the 2nd Brigade suffered the worst carnage of the Italian Campaign. The company’s war diary describes a ‘trying day’. Sapper William Henry Francis Standish, along with four others, was killed. Thirteen men were wounded or declared missing. Sapper Standish is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth Cemetery. He was 27 years old.

The unit's War Diary does not make mention of awards for gallantry. The 3rd Field Company were awarded a Military Cross and two Military Medals that day. Spr Standish received a Mention in Dispatches. While we do not know the circumstances for the award, we might assume it was given in lieu of a Military Medal as these were not granted posthumously.

Note: Younger brother Sgt Murray Standish was serving at the Military Hospital, No 132 Internment Camp in Medicine Hat, AB when Spr Standish was killed.

Return to the Liri Valley Tributes page