By Susan Farrelly and Anne Culham (daughter of William Bleach)
Veteran William (Bill) Bleach was an amazing family man and a wonderful friend. When he made friends, he kept them for life. Bill loved his family deeply and had a great sense of humour and an open friendliness that made him beloved by everyone. Bill’s homemade pumpkin pies and Christmas fruit cakes were big family favourites. He was immensely proud of his service to Canada during WWII and it shaped the man he became – a man of integrity and faith.
Early Life and Family
William (Bill) James Bleach was born on December 19, 1924, in Carleton Place, Ontario near Ottawa. Bill’s father Horatio (Harry) Bleach and mother Ellen (nee Hogan), had originally come to Canada from England looking for a better life. Together, they had five children named Eileen, Harry, Norah, William, and Thomas. Before Bill’s 4th birthday, his family moved to Guelph, Ontario where Harry worked as a machinist at the Guelph Stove Company and Ellen worked as a seamstress and homemaker.
Bill attended church at St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph with his family and he went to Victory Public School. Bill was full of mischief as a little boy. In one case, it led to a serious accident. He and some friends came across a manually operated crane. Bill climbed onto the hook and the other boys turned the crank, lifting him high in the air. Unfortunately, the boys could not hold on and Bill dropped to the ground. He fractured his skull, pelvis, and arm and spent many weeks in hospital, and then at home, recovering from serious injuries. This became one of Bill’s many cautionary tales, and he later recounted it to his dazzled audience as if it was the funniest thing that ever happened to him. This event was a testament to Bill’s strength, his resilience, and his humour that served him well throughout his life.
Bill attended Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI), but left school during Grade 10 to get a job to help support his family. Bill was friends with Rae and Gordon Guthrie who he met when he was in elementary school. His association with the Guthrie boys brought him into contact with their sister, Olive. Bill and Olive’s courtship began when they were in their early teens.
World War II Service
World War II was declared on September 1, 1939, and two years later, at the tender age of 17, Bill enlisted. Recruits were supposed to be 18 years old, but the recruitment office wasn’t too attentive to the details. Bill was following in his father Harry’s footsteps, as he was also a veteran, serving in WWI with the British Army, and then again in WWII with the Canadian Armed Forces. Bill was sent to Camp Borden, northwest of Toronto, for his basic training and then was moved to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to finish his training. He was sent overseas on his 18th birthday.
Training continued in Horsham, England before his troop was shipped to France. Bill served in the 10th Anti-Tank Battery R.C.A. as a Lance Bombardier. As part of his basic training, Bill was trained as an electrician and he became a signaller in the battery, a dangerous but important role. He was responsible for laying down the communication lines as the army advanced into enemy territory.
During the war, Bill served in France, Belgium, Germany, and Holland. He was part of D-Day Plus 6, which is military shorthand for the date his division landed in Normandy, on the beaches of northern France. The first wave of troops stormed the shore on June 6, 1944, but many, many more followed. Bill landed in Normandy six days later on June 12. Bill’s troop knew, before they came ashore, of the sacrifices their fellow soldiers had already made, but their sense of mission and bravery was unwavering.
Bill served overseas for over three years, and one story of Bill’s stood out to his family. It was while in Germany that Bill experienced friendly fire. The Germans were on one side of a bush, the Canadians on the other. In an unfortunate mistake, the Canadian Air Force bombed their own men. Bill said many soldiers threw their guns down and said they were going home. This feeling was fleeting as the troop kept fighting and never gave up. As the battle continued, the Canadians forced the Germans to retreat.
Bill wrote Olive frequently from the front lines and their courtship continued from afar. In those letters, he asked Olive to wait for him to return from war. She was the girl he wanted to marry.
Although the war officially ended on September 2, 1945, it took many months to bring the troops home.
William Bleach’s WWII Medals
- 1939-1945 Star
- France and Germany Star
- Defence Medal
- War Medal 1939-1945
- Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
- Below the medals is Bill’s WW2 hat pin
Post-War Return Home
Bill arrived back in Guelph in February 1946 and into Olive’s loving arms. Bill was hired by his future father-in-law, Frank Guthrie, who owned and operated Guthrie’s Bakeries. Seven months later, Bill and Olive were married on Wednesday, September 3, 1946, at Eramosa Gospel Hall, which was his bakery day off. The reception was held at the Royal Banquet Hall and the wedding cake was made by Guthrie’s Bakeries and designed and decorated by Bill’s brother-in-law, Gordon Guthrie.
During his years at Guthrie’s Bakeries, Bill became a partner and helped the Guelph-based business grow to a regional business with stores in Hespeler, Fergus, Galt, and Preston. When the business was sold, Bill joined Hammond Manufacturing Limited (now Hammond Power Solutions). During his years at Hammond’s, Bill was frequently awarded company shares in recognition of his outstanding performance. He worked as a Lead Hand in the large transformer division and he was given a gold watch for 25 years of service with the company before his retirement.
Bill and Olive had three children, a boy and two girls. William James Jr. was born in September 1950. Elizabeth Anne was born in December 1953 and Jane Ellen was born in October 1955. Bill’s children were raised in Guelph and the family grew with the addition of six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Bill’s family simply adored him and the feeling was mutual as Bill deeply loved his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He was happiest when he was with them.
Bill was a jack-of-all-trades and was always willing to lend a hand. He was a baker and electrician by training, but he was a self-taught plumber, woodworker, and builder. Bill always had a project going in his workshop as he loved building things out of wood. Even into his 90s, he made scores of wooden plant boxes for a local charity that were sold at a fundraising event. He also never lost his baker’s touch, to his family’s delight.
Bill and Olive suffered two tragic losses during their lifetime. Their 26-year-old grandson, William (Bill) James John Bleach, was a pilot with North-Wright Airways, based in Norman Wells, N.W.T., just 145 km south of the Artic Circle. In 2010, grandson Bill who was an avid amateur photographer, had been filming a single-engine Cessna 207 aircraft while standing on the tarmac at Fort Good Hope. As he stood there, he was hit by the wing of a low-flying plane and died from head injuries as a result. Then in 2014, their 63-year-old son Bill Jr. died suddenly in his sleep due to serious complications with late-onset diabetes.
Legacy and Passing
Bill’s faith sustained him throughout the entirety of his life and especially during these losses. In his post-war years, Bill attended Eramosa Gospel Hall, Guelph Bible Chapel, and Lakeside Bible Church. His church service included leading a boys’ hobby class where he taught a large group of eager boys the fundamentals of woodworking. He also served as a church Deacon and later as an Elder.
Left: A photo of William Bleach taken on his 96th Birthday. Right: William and Olive Bleach Monument
On October 9, 2021, after a short battle with cancer, Bill passed away peacefully at his home. Olive passed away less than a year later, on August 21, 2022, both passing away in their respective 97th year.
Bill is resting with his wife Olive and his son Bill in Block Q, Section 3, Lot 47 in a single grave at Woodlawn Memorial Park.
We thank veteran Bill Bleach for his loyal and courageous service to Canada during World War II.