William Henry May was born on 10th August 1854, the oldest of three children to James and Selina May. James was a carpenter’s mate from Plymouth, and the family lived in the Stonehouse area of the city, right next to the dockyard.
Maritime adventure was obviously going to be in William’s blood; by the time of the 1881 census, at the age of 25, he is working as a gunner’s mate and instructor for the Royal Navy. He married a Mary Jane Channing, the daughter of a labourer and fishmonger, in 1879; the coupe were living in their home town of Plymouth.
There are definite gaps in the William’s trail; this may be because he was abroad, or because the documentation relating to him has been lost or destroyed. He next appears on the 1901 census.
By this point, William was a Warrant Officer in the Royal Navy. He is married to Kate Doling, from Gosport in Hampshire, and the couple were living in Sheerness, Kent.
William continued to live close to port; ten years on, and aged 56, he and Kate had moved along the Kent coast to Gillingham, not far from the dockyards at Chatham. The couple had been married 23 years by this point, but had had no children.
By this point, William’s naval service had come to an end. He had served for twenty years, and had reached the rank of Lieutenant, but the census lists him as retired.
War arrived, however, and William’s services were called upon once more. He was assigned to HMS Pembroke, the shore-based naval barracks in Chatham, and served with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
From this point, however, William’s trail goes cold. His gravestone confirms that he passed away on 23rd March 1919, at the age of 64, but I have been unable to find a cause of death. His entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site confirms he was the husband of the late Kate Emily May, so she too must have passed away at some point after 1911.
William Henry May lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in his adopted home of Gillingham, Kent.