William Leonard Shirley was born in the spring of 1896, the second of six children to Edward and Helen Shirley. Edward was a brewer’s drayman who raised his family in South Croydon, Surrey.
When William left school, he found work as a baker’s delivery boy. War was on the horizon, however, and he was destined for the Royal Navy. His full service details are not available, although it is clear that he had enlisted as a Stoker by 1917.
William seems to have been based at HMS Pembroke – the shore-based establishment at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. Again, details are sketchy, but he was definitely there in September 1917.
This was a busy time for HMS Pembroke, and the barracks were using the dockyard’s Drill Hall as temporary additional accommodation for the overflow of servicemen there at the time. Stoker 1st Class Shirley was based there on the night of the 3rd September, when the German Air Force performed their first night raid on England. The Drill Hall received a direct hit, and William, along with nearly 100 others, was killed. He was just 21 years of age.
William Leonard Shirley was laid to rest with the dozens of other victims of the Chatham Air Raid in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham.