EASTPORT, Maine — William “Bill” Metcalf received a Victoria Cross medal — Great Britain’s highest military honor — for valor during World War I.
What makes that remarkable is that Metcalf was an American, born in the Washington County community of Eastport. He was so eager to get into the fight “over there” against Germany in 1914 — three years before American involvement in World War I — that he tried twice to join the Canadian Army by lying about his age, keeping his mother in the dark about his plans until after he successfully enlisted.
After Bill Metcalf’s death in 1968 at age 74, a replica of a Victorian Cross was displayed near his headstone in Eastport’s Bayside Cemetery. On Sunday, Oct.14, at 2 p.m. local members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Canadian veterans, the St. Stephen, N.B., chapter of the Canadian Legion and possibly members of the Canadian Parliament will be holding an international service to dedicate a new headstone for William “Bill” Metcalf at the cemetery. A surviving son, Stan Metcalf, 74, will be among those attending the ceremony.
“He was an interesting man,” said Bob Dallison, a retired Canadian Army lieutenant colonel who now lives in Fredericton, N.B. “He stayed in the whole war and survived, even after being wounded several times. It was amazing. Metcalf’s Victorian Cross is the only one in Maine and New England, and possibly in the United States.”
Dallison said that, in addition to the Victoria Cross, Metcalf’s battlefield heroics earned him three other awards for bravery.
Metcalf received the Victoria Cross for his actions on Sept. 2, 1918, when he and those under his command were up against four German concrete-housed gun nests, according to Dallison. After telling his men to take cover and to watch him for orders, he rushed alone straight for the Hindenburg Line, one of the last lines of German defenses. As an allied tank was passing by, Metcalf served as spotter, helping the tank destroy three of the four gun nests. Once he moved toward the fourth, he was shot in the leg, twice. Though wounded, Metcalf continued forward and threw hand grenades at the final nest, Dallison said. Once the way was clear, Metcalf signaled for his men to follow.
After World War I, Metcalf worked in a garage in Eastport. “He worked on the Quoddy Tidal Project,” said Stan Metcalf, who now lives in Union. That project, a plan to harness tidal power with the Bay of Fundy’s massive tides, was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1920s, but never happened. “That was his pet project,” Metcalf said.
When World War II broke out, Bill Metcalf wanted to enlist again. “The Canadian Army wouldn’t let a Victoria Cross recipient back overseas, so he trained troops stateside,” his son said.
Bill Metcalf later moved to South Portland to work for West Yard, a shipbuilding company. This was where Metcalf spent the rest of his life. He died on Aug 8, 1968, in a nursing home in Lewiston.