William Alfred Osborne was born in Islington, London, on 22nd August 1892. Sadly, this is where any concrete information on his early life – including his family – ends.
The only firm document available is William’s naval service records. This gives the date and location of his birth and also some physical details. He was 5ft 3ins (1.59m) tall, had brown hair, grey eyes (with a scar above his left one) and a fair complexion.
William enlisted in the Royal Navy on 11th May 1911, and was given the rank of Stoker 2nd Class. He was initially stationed at HMS Pembroke – the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – where he spent a total of five months.
Weeks into his service in Chatham, he was put in the cells for seven days; it is not clear what misdemeanour he had committed, but the punishment this early on into his career seemed to have done the job, as the remainder of his service appears unblemished.
In October 1911, Stoker Osborne was given his first ocean-based posting. He was assigned to the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible on board which he served for nearly six years. During this time, he was given two promotions, to Stoker 1st Class in May 1912, and Leading Stoker four years later.
The Inflexible initially served in the Mediterranean, although during William’s time on board, she was involved in the Battle of the Falklands in the South Atlantic, the Dardanelles Campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea.
By the summer of 1917, Leading Stoker Osborne was back on home soil, stationed at HMS Pembroke. The Dockyard was a busy place at that point in the war, and additional accommodation was desperately needed. William found himself billeted at Chatham Drill Hall, away from the main barracks.
At this point in the war, the German Air Force had been suffering huge losses during the daylight bombing raids it had been undertaking. It was imperative for them to minimise these losses, and so a new tactic – night time raids – was employed.
The first trial of this approach was on the night of 3rd September 1917, and Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line, startling unready and fundamentally unprotected. One of the German bombs landed a direct hit on the Drill Hall, and Leading Stoker Osborne was killed. He was just 25 years old.
Ninety-eight servicemen perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night. They were buried in a mass funeral at the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This, too, is where William Alfred Osborne was laid to rest.