The Pictou County Military Museum’s David Avery shows a photo of William Beck’s gravestone in Egypt and a broach he had made while serving during the First World War. (Goodwin photo)
WESTVILLE — William Beck’s death a century ago underscores how some people who enter military service are not necessarily casualties of war.
Pictou County Military Museum curator David Avery recently received information about Beck that includes an account of his last days with the Royal Flying Corps and a unique broach that accompanied it.
William T. (Billie) Beck was born in New Glasgow and was 17 years old when he felt called to military service. He was one of two people who died at the age of 21 in a plane crash in Egypt on November 15, four days after Armistice was declared.
Cause of the crash was not war-related but rather likely engine failure. A grave describes him as W.T. Beck, flight cadet with the Canadian Army Medical Corp and the Royal Air Force.
During the First World War, Canada was considered a dominion and not sovereign in the eyes of Great Britain. It meant Canada was automatically in the war when Great Britain joined its allies in declaring war on the Triple Alliance members: Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary.
“He got himself attached to the medical unit,” Avery said, while noting Beck was 17 and not of age for combat duty. “He was too young but wanted to do something for the war effort.”
Beck was saluted for the medical care he provided in the trenches when he turned 18 and soon joined the flying corps in England after passing the flight exam and soon was transferred to Egypt.
“He was with the medical unit when he came of age and would have had an interest in flying,” Avery said.
The museum curator recently received a letter from a woman residing in Ontario that contained the information and the broach that she incorrectly mistook for pilot wings.
“She said: ‘I can’t find anyone to give them to; they should be kept at the museum’,” Avery said.
He said it was actually a broach Beck had made in Scotland of gold with a diamond in the centre and porcelain enamel wings.
According to the notes, Beck became engaged to Kathleen Waldron, who was 16 at the time, before he left New Glasgow to go off to war.
“Love trumps war,” Avery said. “Here’s a case where he survived the war and was killed four days later. Maybe he was keeping (the broach) to give to her.”