CWG: Private William Henderson

Private William Henderson

William Henry Henderson was born in Weston-super-Mare in December 1898. The oldest of four children, his parent were tailor Herbert Henderson and his wife Fanny.

As with a lot of servicemen born around 1900, there is little documentation around William’s early life. When war broke out, he was 15 years old, and seems to have been eager to do his bit. Few military records for him survive, but he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was given the role of Private in the 5th (Reserve) Battalion.

Part of William’s training seems to have taken place in Northumberland, and he was based near the coastal town of Blyth. On 24th August 1917, he was one of 600 men taken on a route march from the camp to the coast. The Somerset Standard took up the story of that day’s events:

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Martin Chatterley, the officer in command, said that he… allowed the men 20 minutes to cool, and after taking all necessary precautions gave orders for them to enter the sea.

The witness inquired from a boy the state of the tide, and was told that it was low ebb; he expected it to rise shortly. The witness undressed, bathed and came out of the water, and was dressing when he was told that some of the men were in difficulties.

Somerset Standard: Friday 31st August 1917

The Morpeth Herald added to this: “The soldiers had not been in the water long when some of them got into difficulties and were washed out seawards, in spite of their struggles. A number of comrades rushed to their assistance until at the fatal spot 13 men were seen struggling and evidently drowning.  Soldiers formed a human chain by joining hands and wading as far they could into the fast-ebbing tide. They succeeded in saving 5 of their comrades, three of whom were very exhausted, when they got ashore that they were immediately rushed off by car.”

Nine soldiers, including Private Henderson, drowned that day, despite the commended attempts by Reverend Verschoyle, the Army Chaplain, to save their lives.

Some of the survivors told the inquest that they were from the Midlands; they could not swim, and one had never seen the sea before. The inquest was told that there were terrific currents and shifting sands in that particular spot that day, and the conditions seemed to have changed after the soldiers had entered the water. Chatterley said that he had had men bathing at that spot before, and had also seen civilians bathing there before.

The other eight servicemen who perished that day were Privates Thomas Forley, Henry Southern, Fred Shale, George Beavan, Gordon Noy, William Blann, Lieutenant Kenneth Brown and Sergeant Riley. Private Henderson was just 18 years old.

William’s body was brought back to Weston-super-Mare for burial. He lies at rest in the Milton Cemetery in the town.

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