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Henry "Shorty" Roiles (1880-1965)

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Whitehorse Pioneer Cemetery

The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, November 12, 1964


    Mons... Vimy Ridge... Arras... these were the names Shorty poured out in a monologue of memories on the night of November 11, 1964, He hadn't been marching in the Remembrance Day parade, but he could have been. He doesn't want his name printed in the paper, didn't do anything special, he says.

    He welcomed us into his one-room shack in Whiskey Flats where he and two old friends were listening to the radio. The old songs from World War One were being played on CBC and Shorty was enjoying them. We said we had come to shake his hand and ask him about the first Great War. Nobody wants to hear about that stuff, Shorty said, but he told us.

    There were twelve young men who left Whitehorse tagether together to enlist at Vancouver when war broke out in 1914. They signed up with the 67th Battalion, CEF, in the Western Scots, all of them raw privates, In the picture he found buried away in a cupboard they looked proud and young and raring to go. He named them... Ryder, Newton, Martin, Smith... Their puttees were a bit straggly, but their Scottish caps were tilted at a smart angle, and Shorty lounging in the front row, held his swagger stick like a general,

    Trained in Victoria for six months, over they went across the cold Atlantic to England for a few weeks, then into the front line trenches. "Keep your head down" the sergeant said, and the boys from the Yukon learned fast, Say "snipers" to Shorty and it's like pushing a button... out comes the tale of the snipers who had his company under crossfire in their dugouts at Arras... they couldn't climb out of the trench to get water from a nearby creek, they couldn't move without attracting fire. For two days they were pinned down... then one of the boys got mad having a shell land in the water pail and watched for the tell-tale flare of the sniper's gun... he got him. "Oh, we were tough, we killed three for every one of ours we lost, not nice to do but then we had to, you understand" says Shorty apologetically, fifty years later.

    He was Number two man on the machine gun in his unit, and can still whip through the action of reloading there in his bachelor shack, with his bed and stove and his cupboard and his radio. Was he wounded? Oh, just a scratch here over his left eye, never felt it till the blood came steaming down, and once he picked a bullet out of his boot. Lucky. Three years overseas then back to San Francisco and Seattle and home to the Yukon in 1922. Never got out again. No money.

    He was 26 when he enlisted in 1914, still a private when he got out of the army. Was he never promoted? "Just plain soldier, that was me," says Shorty. "You're too short, the sergeant said... who'd take orders from a little guy like you? But then, you know, when we moved up to a new line and out came those short-handled picks and shovels and they were all digging like mad to get down out of range, they'd look around for me and there I'd be, dug in all comfy... didn't have to dig as much as them, did I?" and he laughs. He must have been a good trench-mate, that Shorty. A cheerful cuss.

    He lives on his old age pension, no veteran allowances, he asks nothing from anyone. "It was a pleasure to have a visitor," he said, "Come again, But don't put my name in the paper... nobody's interested in me."

    We left him listening to the radio... "It’s a Long Way to Tipperary" and Shorty hummed it with the band, nodding his head in time - remembering.

The Whitehorse Star - Monday, May 10, 1965

'Last Post' for Shorty Roiles, 1965

    "Shorty" Roiles died this morning. He had been in Whitehorse General Hospital for a week after being brutally beaten in his own shack in Whiskey Flats.

    RCMP said: last week they were "investigating" the assault. Today they are looking for the man who beat upon a little guy half his size. They'll get him.

    Henry Roiles was 85 and well-named "Shorty". He didn't have quanity but he had quality. Sturdily independent to the last, he minded his own business and lived carefully on his bit of pension in a one-room shack. A veteran of the First Great War, he had enlisted from the Yukon, been trained in Victoria, and went overseas as a private. He came home again three years later, still a private and had never been "outside" since.

    With the Western Scots, in the 67th Battalian of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he fought as number two man on a machine gun at Mons, Vimy Ridge, Arras. "Keep your head down, the sergeant said", Shorty used to tell the tale , "and that was one good time to be a little runt!" He got creased by a bullet over the left eye once, and another in the boot but laughed it off.

    He was a machine operator around Whitehorse for years, on the docks, and later worked for Taylor & Drury as a night watchman, His eyes were failing him recently, but he knew where everything was in that one-room home in the Flats. Honest and polite, that was Shorty. He had never been known to pinch even one armload from the T & D woodpile near his shack... and it must have been tempting, at times.

    He came around to The Star office a few days before he was given the beating which caused his death. Very apologetically asked for a copy of the paper with the piece in it about him. A fellow had told him there was a write-up. There was.... on Remembrance Day last November [see that article above]. We found it for him and took it to him in hospital last week. From a face purple with bruises, eyes closed in exhaustion, Shorty thanked us politely.

The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, May 13, 1965

    On June 28, 1965, August Gaudry was acquitted due to a lack of conclusive evidence. Dr. W. R. Buchan testified at the hearing June 10 that in his opinion the primary casue of Roiles' death was brain damage, with his age and heart condition probable secondary factors.

    The person responsible for Shorty's death was never found.