William John Nolan was born in County Kildare, Ireland, on the 8th October 1892, one of ten children to agricultural labourer Thomas Nolan and his wife, Anna.
There is little documentation connected to his early life, but when he left school, William found work as a porter, and is was this that he was doing up until war broke out in 1914.
William was conscripted on 1st March 1915, joining the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman. His service records show that he stood 5ft 5.5ins (1.66m) tall, had brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having tattoos on his forearms, and a scar on his right one.
Ordinary Seaman Nolan was sent to HMS Pembroke, the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for training. Within a month, he was given his first posting, on board the armoured cruiser HMS Lancaster. He spent fifteen weeks aboard and, over the next two years, he served on four more ships, returning to his base in Chatham after each voyage.
William came back to HMS Pembroke in July 1917: the base was particularly busy and cramped that summer, so much so that additional temporary accommodation was set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall. This is where Ordinary Seaman Nolan was billeted.
On the night of the 3rd September 1917, Chatham was bombarded by a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Tragically, Ordinary Seamen Nolan was amongst those killed. He was just 24 years old.
William John Nolan’s body was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.