Williams, Harry Cecil. Died 26th Oct 1917

Whilst an ‘H C Williams’ is on the Rugby Memorial Gates and it must be presumed that the H C Williams on the BTH Memorial is the same man – there was initially insufficient ‘checkable’ information as to exactly whom he might be.

However, among the many soldiers named H or H C Williams on the Commonwealth War Graves data-base is a Harry Cecil Williams who was born in about 1897 and was the son of Harry and Florence Williams of 1, Market Street, Rugby.  This provided a man with a connection to the town.

Census data seemed to have no obvious records of either of these two Harry Williams in Rugby, and there was no place of birth to make searching easier.  However, searching the various pre- and post-war Rugby Directories suggested that a Henry Williams, an ‘Engraver’ came to Rugby in about 1908, and in the 1909 Directory was living at 9 Lawford Road, Rugby.  Before 1911 he had moved to 66 Pennington Street, Rugby, and by 1913 onwards he was listed at 1 Market Street, Rugby, the address that was given on the CWGC site.

However, with no obvious birthplace to search, neither he nor his son appeared to be listed by the 1911 census!  Fortunately searching for Harry’s mother, Florence, produced better results!

In 1901, the family had been at 8 Houston Road, Whiston, Lancashire.  Harry senior was a ‘watch engraver’ which also provided a ‘match’ to his occupation in Rugby.  The children, Florence E and Harry C were five and four respectively and were both born in Prescott, Lancashire.  Harry senior was born in Coventry [b.c.1871] so there was a connection with the area and his wife was from Norwich [b.c.1877].  Harry junior was born on 29 April 1897 and his birth was registered in Q2 1897.  He was baptised as Harry Cecil on 7 July 1897 in Prescot, Lancashire, and his father was then also a ‘Watch Engraver’.

A 1911 census entry could now be found.  The family had indeed moved to Rugby and were now in a four room house at 66 Pennington Street, Rugby, which fits with one of the earlier Directory entries.  Harry senior was now working as an ‘Electric Meter Repairer, Engineer Works’, although the Directories still listed him as an engraver throughout the war – there may not have been staff to check – but he was still living in Market Street until at least 1920.  In 1911, Harry Cecil was 13 and still at school, and his elder sister, Florence Eva was 15 and worked in the ‘Electric Insulating Dept., Engineer Works’.

It seems that Harry Junior would go on to serve an apprenticeship and then work at BTH – and that was probably the ‘engineer works’ where his father and sister were working in 1911.

There are no extant military Service Records for Harry Cecil Williams, except for Medal Cards – but once again there is some confusion.

The Harry Williams with parents in Rugby is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves data-base as being in the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) with a Number G/23882.

However, from the Medal Cards, the Harry Cecil Williams who was born in about 1897 with the number G/23882 would appear to be in the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, however there is no indication of his Battalion which makes tracing his movements during the war virtually impossible.

There is also a Harry Williams who was indeed in the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) in the CWGC database.  However, he had the number S/173, went to France on 27 December 1914 and died on 12 March 1915 and is buried in Enclosure No.2. IV. A. 46., in the Bedford House Cemetery having been concentrated [moved] from the Asylum Cemetery – both in the Ypres area.

Regimental numbers were not unique, indeed the CWGC database includes five soldiers who had the number 23882, from five different Regiments, as well as a Harry Williams.  Soldiers could be renumbered when they were posted to a different Regiment as happened when losses in action had reduced a Battalion to insufficient fighting strength.

In tracing ‘our’ Rugby ‘Harry Williams’, one has to make a decision as to likelihoods.  The Army was in contact with his parents, so his date of death was likely to have been correct, and probably also his Regiment.  He may have had more than one number – and perhaps that is the least important fact, and is less crucial to finding his story, in the absence of any Service Records.  So what is the story of the 1st Bn, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kents)?

The 1st Battalion was in Dublin in August 1914 as part of the 13th Brigade in the 5th Division and on

15 August 1914 they landed at Le Havre.  During 1914 they took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat; the Battle of Le Cateau; the Battle of the Marne; the Battle of the Aisne; the Battles of La Bassee and Messines 1914 and the First Battle of Ypres.  During 1915 they were engaged in the Second Battle of Ypres; and the Capture of Hill 60.

When Harry joined up is unknown, it was probably not until he was 18 in 1915.  When he went to France and joined his battalion is also unknown, but there is no record of him receiving the 1915 Star, so it was probably not until sometime in 1916, by which time he would have received some training in UK, and he would have reached the age of 18 or 19.  In 1916 the Battalion participated in the Attacks on High Wood; the Battle of Guillemont; the Battle of Flers-Courcelette; the Battle of Morval and the Battle of Le Transloy.

During 1917 the Battalion was in the Battle of Vimy; the Attack on La Coulotte; and the Third Battle of the Scarpe, which was part of the Battle of Arras.  They were then involved in several actions of the 3rd Battle of Ypres: the Battle of Polygon Wood; the Battle of Broodseinde; the Battle of Poelcapelle and the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

The 1st Bn. Royal West Kents were involved in an assault on 26 October 1917, on the first day of the Second Battle of Passchendale in the Gheluvelt area.  In this southern area, X Corps supported the operation by attacking Gheluvelt which was almost due east of southern Ypres, to secure Tower Hamlets ridge, east of the Bassevillebeek as a diversion.

The Battalion War Diary[1] describes the attack on that first day: After withdrawing slightly to allow battery fire on the enemy positions, the enemy retaliated and shelled the areas behind the previous British positions causing heavy casualties.  That day the War Diary noted that 2 officers were killed, 10 wounded and one was missing; and that 14 men were killed; 111 wounded and that 211 were missing.  The writer of the reports stated: ‘The large number shown as “missing” are accounted for by the following facts: 1. Heavy shelling which must have buried many men.  2. Condition of ground which made it impossible to search ground properly for dead and wounded.  3. Complete lack of information from two assaulting Coys after zero hour.’  The report was on notebook pages, and written by the Lt. Col., whose papers and diaries had been sent back with a lance-corporal who was now missing presumed killed.

The CWGC records some 117 men of the Royal West Kents who died on that day, 26 October 1917.  Some were buried in small burial grounds and later moved [concentrated] to the Hooge Crater Cemetery, but the majority have no known grave and are commemorated at Tyne Cot.

It is assumed that sometime during that costly assault on 26 October 1917, Harry C Williams was first reported ‘missing’ and later was deemed to have been ‘Killed in Action’.

He was probably one of the many reported ‘missing’ and his body was either never found or not identified.  He is remembered on one of the Panels 106 to 108 of the Tyne Cot Memorial.  The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient.  Whereas those who died before 16 August 1917 are remembered on the Menin Gate, the United Kingdom servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot.

It was not until nearly a year later that his parents received a communication from the War Office,
An intimation has been received by Mr & Mrs Williams, of 1 Market Street, Rugby, from the War Office, stating that their son, Harry Cecil Williams, of the 1st Royal West Kent Regiment, who was reported missing on October 26th last, is now believed to have been killed in action on that date.[2]

Later the Rugby Advertiser noted:
Pte H C Williams, 1st Royal West Kent Regiment – formerly an apprentice in the B.T.H Drawing Office—who was reported missing on October 26th last, is now presumed to have been killed on that date.[3]

Harry Cecil Williams is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby; on the BTH List of ‘Employees Who Served’; and on the BTH War Memorial.[4]

Harry was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

His father’s death at 71 was registered in Rugby in Q1 1943.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Harry Cecil WILLIAMS was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, July 2017.

 

[1]      The National Archives, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, 5th Division, Piece 1555/1-2: 1 Battalion, Queen´s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment, July 1917 – April 1919.

[2]      Rugby Advertiser, 14 September 1918, also https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/14th-sep-1918-rugby-volunteers-complimented/.

[3]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 October 1918, also https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/12th-oct-1918-lord-denbigh-suspects-cunning-scheme/.

[4]      The List is that published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921.