According to his attestation papers dated January 24, 1916 at Toronto, George William Shirley was born on February 4, 1882 in Oxfordshire, England. He listed his wife Catherine Shirley, Mimico, as his next of kin. He was a machinist by trade and indicated that he had had previous military experience with the 12th Regiment, York Rangers. He was 33 years and 11 months of age and stood 5 feet 5 inches tall. He had brown eyes, dark hair and complexion. He was a Methodist.
According to the 1914 Toronto City directory he was a carpenter living on the north side of Dean Street, Mimico. According to the 1921 Toronto City directory he was an engineer living on the same street.