Vesey-Fitzgerald, William Herbert Leslie. Died 14th Aug 1916

William Herbert Leslie Vesey-Fitzgerald, or more fully, William Herbert Leslie Foster-Vesey-Fitzgerald was born on 23 October 1889, in Emerson, Manitoba, Canada, the second son of Gerald William Vesey Foster-Vesey-Fitzgerald, b.c.1850, and his Australian born wife, Emma Amelia Vickers, the daughter of Robert Leslie Vickers J.P. of Manitoba.

The family were of Irish descent. William’s grandfather, William Foster Vesey-Fitzgerald, was born in Dublin on 12 July 1815, and died in Rugby on 7 April 1895. The family moved to Rugby before 1881, when William’s grandfather was a ‘landowner and magistrate’, living at 5 Arnold Villas. William’s father, William Herbert Vesey-Fitzgerald attended Rugby School and then moved before 1881 to Manitoba, Canada, as a farmer, and married there in 1885. In 1886 they were in Franklin, Manitoba, and then moved to Emerson, Manitoba where William was born in 1889, and the family were in Provencher, Manitoba for the census in 1891.

Before 1899, the family had returned to Rugby and in 1901, when William was 11, they were living at 24 Murray Road. His elder brother, Gerald Arthur Verey Fitzgerald, was 14, and his Rugby born younger sister, Norah Gladys Joyce Verey Fitzgerald, was two.

Like his father he went to Rugby School from 1902 to 1907 and was a member of the ‘Town’ [House] until his last year, when, presumably having become a border, he was in ‘Stallard’ House. He was in the XI in 1907.

In 1911 he was living with his widowed father (his mother had died aged only 44 at Bideford in late 1909) at 1 St. Dunstan’s Grove Road, Sutton, Surrey, still single and described as a ‘Clerk in an Insurance Office’. This may have been part of his ‘… training in an office in London’, and in 1912 he went to the Malay States to grow rubber.[1]

On the outbreak of War he returned to England and joined the Inns of Court O.T.C where he obtained his Commission in June 1915, as a 2nd Lieutenant, initially in the 3rd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment.

The undermentioned members of the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps to be Second Lieutenants (on probation). Dated 2nd June, 1915, unless otherwise stated:- William Herbert Leslie Vesey-Fitzgerald, 3rd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment.[2]

Vesey Fitzgerald in Rugb Mem vol III crop

The 3rd Battalion had moved to Devonport in May 1915 and was a training unit which was also used as the garrison for the defences of Plymouth; it remained in UK throughout the war. It is assumed that he was under training with the 3rd Battalion for an initial period whilst a Second Lieutenant ‘on probation’. Indeed, it seems that he may have been stationed in the north of the county, as he is also remembered on the memorial in the churchyard at Abbotsham, so must have become a member of that parish. He probably transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment when he was confirmed in his rank on 10 June 1916,[3] and would have soon after this – as noted in the Rugby Memorial Album, ‘in July 1916’ – that he left for the Front in France, doubtless as part of the Battalion’s reinforcement after its losses on the Somme.

The Somme Offensive had started on 1 July 1916, and would last until November that year. On the first day, officially the Battle of Albert, the 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment was involved in the advance on Pozieres and was destroyed by machine gun fire and barrage. There were 16 officer and 400 other rank casualties.[4] The Battalion was pulled out of the line later that day and on 5 July they left the Somme and were attached to the First Army.

His Medal Card does not provide any additional information.   However, he is mentioned in the Diary of the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment,[5] and his very short active service period in France can be identified. By mid-July the 2nd Battalion had been moved, travelling in a loop via Mericourt, Ailly, Soues, Dieval and Barlin to Cuinchy, just north of Lens, where they relieved the 14th Hampshire regiment on 14 July. During this period on 18 July, the Germans exploded a mine, which misfired destroying their own trench and the Battalion took advantage of this to attack; several awards for Gallantry resulted from this action. On 21 July, a British mine was exploded. The Battalion was relieved by the 2nd W. Yorkshires on 22 July 1916 and went into ‘support’.

On 24 July, whilst still in support, the Battalion …

‘… Received draft of 26 Other Ranks. 2/Lieut. C Law, 2/Lieut. W. H. L. Vesey-Fitzgerald and 2/Lieut. A. W. Harrison joined the Battn.’

On 26 July they relieved the 2nd Scottish Rifles in the trenches and were there, subjected to shelling and involved in various small scale raids and counter-raids, until the afternoon of 30 July when they were relieved by the 1st Northampton Regiment and moved to billets in Annequin (see map below[6]), a short distance behind the front line.   They remained there until 4 August, providing R.E. working parties, being inspected and those who had shown gallantry at Cuinchy on 18 July, just before William’s arrival were presented with their medal ribbons.

Map of Cuinchy

Map of Cuinchy

They received a draft of 158 other ranks, and more officers and then moved to billets at Fouquieres on 5 August and on 7 August relieved the 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Right Sub-Section and organised a raiding party. On 8 August they were relieved and moved to Brigade Reserve and furnished working parties until 11 August when they ‘… relieved the 2/Sco. Rifs. in the trenches from Boyau 109 (exclusive) to Mud Alley (inclusive) …’. There was considerable activity with patrols, trench mortar activity, bombardments and heavy rifle fire.

On 14 August, after the previous quieter day …

Both sides were active with artillery and Trench Mortars, the latter especially. Our snipers were active and met with considerable success, accounting for several of the enemy. …   Casualties. 2/Lieut. W.H.L. Vesey Fitzgerald killed (rifle fire) …

He was killed in action on 14 August 1916, by a sniper only three weeks after joining the Battalion on 24 July. He was 26. His Colonel wrote of him as a most capable Officer, with great influence among his men, and most popular with all ranks.[7] His death was also announced in a Devon paper.[8]

The next day (15 August) the Battalion was again relieved by the 2nd Scottish Rifles and moved into reserve providing working parties – with 2 officers and 125 Other Ranks proceeding to Sailly Labourse to be attached to 180th Tunneling Coy R.E. for Spoils Party.

William was buried in Plot III. N. 9. in the Vermelles British Cemetery, Vermelles, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France (for location, see map above).

Vermelles is a village 10 kilometres north-west of Lens.   The cemetery was begun in August 1915 and during the Battle of Loos, when the Chateau was used as a dressing station and Plot I was completed. The remaining Plots were made by the Divisions holding the line 1.6 kilometres east of the cemetery until April 1917.

His parents, Gerald and Emma Vesey Fitzgerald, were now living at 15 Nevern Place, London, S. W. 5

William Herbert Leslie Vesey-Fitzgerald is remembered on several memorials:

– Rugby Memorial Gates, Hillmorton Road, Rugby.

– Rugby School Memorial Book and the Rugby School Memorial Chapel.

– Abbotsham Churchyard 1914-1918 Memorial (above) – ‘Lieut William Herbert Leslie Vesey Fitzgerald of the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment. Son of Gerald and Amelia Emma Fitzgerald. Born in 1890. Died 14 August 1916 aged 26.’

– The London WWI memorial, as he had also lived in Earl’s Court, London.



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This article on William Herbert Leslie Vesey-Fitzgerald was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, August 2014.

[1]       Edited from: Memorials of Rugbeians who fell in the Great War, Volume III, p.256.

[2]       The London Gazette, 1 June, 1915, p.5217.

[3]       Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Tuesday, 11 April 1916.


[5]       War Diary, 23rd Infantry Brigade: 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, 1 November 1914 – 31 December 1916, The National Archives, Kew, Ref: WO 95/1712/1.


[7]       Edited from: Memorials of Rugbeians who fell in the Great War, Volume III, p.256.

[8]       Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Thursday, 24 August 1916.

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