William Frederick Ridley was born on 7th April 1887 in the New Brompton area of Chatham/Gillingham, Kent, one of eight children to John and Elizabeth Ridley. John was an engine fitter in the nearby naval dockyard and, as the key employer in the area, William followed in his father’s footsteps.
Sadly, John died in 1904, and this seems to have been what spurred his son on to a better life. In 1907 William emigrated to Canada, settling in the town of Wentworth, on the banks of Lake Ontario.
It was in Ontario that William met his future wife. Edith Wass was the daughter of a local labourer; the young couple married on 5th June 1909, and went on to have two children, John, born in 1910, and Wilfred, who was born five years later.
During this time, William was putting his engineering skills to the test; his marriage banns confirm he was a machinist. While there is nothing to confirm any specific trade, given his proximity to the coast, dockyard employment seems probable.
On the other side of the Atlantic, war was breaking out; keen to do his part for King and Country, William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 28th July 1915. Initially enlisting in the 76th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, he was shipped to England a year later and transferred across to the 4th Battalion.
Once on the Western Front, Private Ridley was thrown right into the thick of things. His battalion fought at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette – part of the Battle of the Somme – and it was here, on 18th September 1916, that he was wounded.
William received shrapnel wounds to his head, hand and right leg. Initially treated on site, he was quickly evacuated back to England, and admitted to the 2nd London General Hospital in Chelsea. Sadly, however, his wounds appeared to have been too severe; Private Ridley passed away from them on 30th November 1916, aged just 29 years old.
With his widow and children still in Canada, William’s body was taken back to Kent. He lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, close to where his mother was still living.