William Edward Wakeford was born on 18th April 1885, the oldest of seven children to William and Theresa. William Sr had been born in East London and was a labourer for the engineering company Vickers. Theresa came from south of the Thames, in Greenwich, and it was in South East London that the Wakefords raised their family.
When he left school, William Jr found work as an assistant to a corn dealer. He was set on a better life and career, however, and, on 1st June 1906, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the Royal Navy with the rank of Stoker 2nd Class.
William learnt on the job; he was initially assigned to HMS Acheron and, during his initial five-year term of service, he served on five further vessels, rising to the rank of Stoker 1st Class as a result of his hard work. In between his voyages, however, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent.
When his contract came to an end in May 1911, Stoker Wakeford was assigned to the Royal Naval Reserve. With war looming, however, this did not turn out to be for long and, when hostilities begun in 1914, he was called back into action. He was assigned to the battleship HMS Cornwallis, and spent more than two years on board. During this time, the ship saw action in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily the Dardanelles Campaign, and the fighting around Gallipoli.
By the start of 1917, Stoker Wakeford was back on dry land, and based at HMS Pembroke. For a variety of reasons, that was a particularly busy year at the dockyard, and temporary additional accommodation was set up at the Chatham Drill Hall nearby; this is where William found himself billeted.
On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Stoker 1st Class Wakeford was among those killed instantly. He was 32 years of age.
William Edward Wakeford was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.
William’s younger brother Cecil also fought in the Great War. Serving as a Private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, he saw fighting on the Western Front. Caught up in the Battle of St Quentin in March 1918, he was killed as the regiment were cut off by German advances. He was just 22 years old. He was laid to rest in France, and is commemorated at the Pozières Memorial.