Letters from William Arnott Stevens to his Grandsons

William Arnott STEVENS 1888 - 1961
William Arnott STEVENS 1888 – 1961

In 1960, William Arnott Stevens (1888 – 1961) typed these letters for his Grandsons Colin and David Stevens. These are stories he wanted to pass on.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York on 1888-06-14.  As you will read below, he attended Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a boy in Brooklyn. Family lore, passed down through my father, is that William was taught to shoot by one of Annie Oakley’s colleagues, a “Cowboy Bob”. William was such a good shot that he was assigned as Musketry Officer for the Second Canadian Division (circa 1915) and later was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps (Canada) as a machine-gun instructor. We served in Camp Borden Ontario, Beamsville Ontario, Texas and Hamilton, Ontario.

He knew how to spell, but with a typewriter, making corrections was a lot of trouble. As well, I believe that he was suffering from his fatal lung cancer at the time. He died on 1961-08-22.

1960-05-07 p1 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-05-07 p1 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS

1960-05-07 p2 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-05-07 p2 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-05-28 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-05-28 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS

1960-06-04 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-06-04 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS

1960-06-18 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-06-18 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-06-25 p1 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-06-25 p1 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS

1960-06-25 p2 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS
1960-06-25 p2 of 2 Letters from Wm Arnott STEVENS

Two strong memories I have of his verbal advice.

  1. THE WASP – A wasp landed on my face while he and I were sitting on the balcony of his home at 33-1/2 Church Street in St. Catharines, Ontario. I was probably about 8 or 9 years of age. He told me not to move and it would eventually fly away without harming me. He was right … but that wait seemed like an eternity!
Photo of horse pulling a wagon with two soldiers in it.
William Arnott Stevens’ photo circa 1915. Potts (a 19th Regiment officer apparently) in passenger seat. (WAS Large Album p78-3)
  1. “Horses first, men second and officers last.”

    This lesson in military leadership was actually passed down to me by my father, who had learned it from his father.  Being an army officer was not about privileges, it was about responsibility. What this means is that leaders make sure that their horses (or tanks, trucks etc.) are taken care of as soon as they get back to base or stop for the night. If the enemy attacks or you have to move, this transportation is essential. Think of the Fort McMurray evacuees in 2016 who ran out of gas while evacuating and had to abandon their vehicles. Then a good leader ensured that their men were taken care of. That they had water, food and a place to sleep. I taught my 583 Air Cadet Squadron Non-Commissioned Officers this lesson. They naturally thought that as that as they had rank, that they should go through the food line first. I told them that they were actually to go through near the end of the line and that we officers would be behind them. I explained that if there was not enough food, then it was the senior people who would go hungry. The junior people would see this and would have more respect for their leaders. On the other hand, if the senior people went first and the food ran out, those left hungry would not want to follow such senior people. Only then did the officers take care of themselves.