Ghosts Have Warm Hands - By Will R. Bird


Ghosts Have Warm Hands - The Story of Will R. Bird

Community News

By Capt Ryan Gillespie

Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2017


Will R. Bird joined the Canadian Army in 1916 and served with the 42nd (Black Watch of Canada) Battalion in France and Belgium. Hailing from Amherst, Nova Scotia, Will had joined up after his younger brother Stephen had been declared missing in action in October of 1915.

Will and Stephen had been very close, and Stephen had used his influence when he joined the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment) in 1915 to keep Will out of the War to keep him safe. Stephen had told Will, prior to him leaving Canada, “If I don’t come back maybe I’ll find a way to come and whisper in your ear.” Sadly Stephen never did make it home. He died on the Battlefield on the 8th of October, 1915.

In the days after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, Will was in the trenches near Vimy, he had just entered a dugout with two other men to get some sleep. He woke when he felt a warm hand grabbing his. Opening his eyes, he was shocked to see his brother Stephen leaning over him. “Get your gear,” Stephen told Will. Will grabbed his kit and left the dugout, desperately asking Stephen questions about where he’d been. Stephen continued down the trenches and turned into a defensive position.

When Will caught up to him Stephen had disappeared. Searching high and low for his brother, an exhausted Will, sat down and fell asleep. Will was woken up at sunrise by a friend, demanding to know how he had known. Asking what he meant, Will learned that the dugout he’d been witnessed entering the night before had been hit by a shell, and both occupants were blown to pieces.

Few believed Will’s story and most people thought he had been drinking and imagined the whole thing. But Will was a teetotaler who was always convinced his brother looked over him as his Guardian Angel.

Will continued his service in the Canadian Corps for the remainder of the war, and won the Military Medal for his actions on 10-11 November 1918. He returned to Canada, married and raised a family. Will made a living as a writer and working for the Nova Scotia government. His only son, Captain Stephen Stanley Bird was killed in the Second World War serving with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, and for the remainder of his life Will blamed himself for his son’s death, which he attributed to his writing and glorification of war.

Will Bird’s story is one of countless amazing stories of Canada’s conflicts, and a reminder to never forget those we have lost. If you want to learn more about Will Bird’s experiences, his books, including his memoir “Ghosts Have Warm Hands” from which this story comes, are available in many libraries.