The Shirley girls and their families remember Regimental Sergeant Major William C. Shirley as a humble, hardworking man, a veteran of World War II who earned the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers. A lifelong resident of Lethbridge, Sergeant Major Shirley passed away in 1974, but his memory lives on through his family, and through others who knew and loved him. His memory also lives on through the memorial fund at the Community Foundation that bears his name.
Shirley signed up for Canada’s Non-Permanent Active Militia in 1925, becoming a member of the 20th Field Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) stationed in Lethbridge. By the late 1930s, he had attained the rank of Sergeant Major, and in September of 1939, days before Canada declared war on Germany, he volunteered for active service. As a member—and later Regimental Sergeant—of the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, RCA, Shirley was deployed to England, France, and Germany. In recognition of his service, he was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. After returning to Lethbridge following the war, Shirley worked briefly as a corrections officer at the jail before taking a position managing the bottle depot at Sick’s Breweries. He and his wife Vera raised three daughters: Jane, Linda, and Diane.
Linda recalls that her father gained the friendship and respect of many among Lethbridge’s enlisted and commissioned. “The stories I’ve heard about my dad from anyone who served with him—they could not speak more highly,” she says. Growing up, her home was often a hub for gatherings of her father’s military buddies. “A lot of the guys would meet at our house for parties on Remembrance Day and other times during the year. There was always laughing and singing,” says Linda. “They were all such good friends.”
Upon his death, many of Shirley’s friends and fellow veterans took up a collection in his honour, using the funds to support causes related to the military. An early beneficiary of the group’s generosity came through the establishment of a scholarship bearing Shirley’s name, for members of Lethbridge’s contingent of youth cadets. The sum grew through additional gifts in the decades that followed, making possible a great deal of charitable activity that was managed by members of the group themselves. In 1997, at the behest of the remaining veterans associated with the memorial, Linda became involved and transferred the balance of the donations to the Community Foundation, establishing the W.C. Shirley Memorial Endowment Fund.
The memorial fund enables the family to remember their father in a way that maintains the spirit of his life and serves the community. Service, especially in the military, is a family value: Shirley served alongside two brothers-in-law during World War II; his wife, Vera, was a sergeant in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps; and Linda devoted a significant part of her career to a position at the savings union at the Legion in Lethbridge. As a testament to their parents’ service, both mother and father are immortalized within the Military Museum’s Mural of Remembrance, a public symbol of the family’s commitment to service.
Even now, decades later, Linda is humbled by the gesture her father’s fellow soldiers made in acknowledgement of that commitment. “We just thought it was amazing, the love and support that we received from so many people back then. They decided to set up this fund so that my dad’s legacy would live on,” she recalls. Her father wasn’t around to see the good his legacy would do—although, more importantly, he lived it. “We were all taught to be there for each other and volunteer,” says Linda. “If you give with an open heart, then you’ve earned your own reward.”
More than 40 years after Shirley’s death, the memorial fund continues to serve as a thoughtful reminder of the causes he fought for and the sacrifices he made. “Anybody who would remember my dad now is gone. He lives in the hearts of our family,” says Linda. As a Donor-Designated Endowment, the fund generates investment income that provides an annual grant to the Lethbridge Military Museum, supporting the organization’s mission to preserve and share Lethbridge’s military history. The W.C. Shirley Memorial Endowment Fund gratefully accept donations from anyone who wishes to contribute.
The Shirley girls and their families honour and remember their father in their own ways. A veteran of World War II, Regimental Sergeant Major Shirley is deserving of our gratitude for his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is important that we remember him, Sergeant Vera Shirley, and all members of our armed services, past and present, and to understand that their legacy is a nation that is strong and free. The Community Foundation is honoured to help support that legacy through the W.C. Shirley Memorial Endowment Fund.