William Banfield was born on 7th November 1890, in Henfield, near Horsham, West Sussex. He was the second youngest of seven children to George and Ellen Benfield. George was a carpenter, and this was a trade his two sons – William and his older brother, George – were initially both to follow as well.
William had a longing for the sea, however, and, on 11th June 1909, he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His service records show that he was 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, had brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.
Stoker Banfield was based out of HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire, but, over the eventual decade of his service, he spent no more than seven months ashore. Instead, he served on a total of nine ships. This included the battleship HMS Exmouth where, during the eighteen months he spent on board, he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class, and also spent 14 days in the brig, for reasons undisclosed.
On 27th September 1915, William was assigned to HMS Princess Royal. He served aboard for nearly three and a half years, patrolling the North Sea, coming under fire during the Battle of Jutland, and providing support during the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight.
Towards the end of January, Stoker 1st Class Benfield fell ill, and was admitted to the Edinburgh City Hospital. Suffering from encephalitis, sadly the condition proved too much for his system to bear and he passed away at the hospital on 31st January 1919. He was 28 years of age.
William Banfield was brought back to Sussex for burial. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Henfield.
William’s older brother, George, was also to fall victim to the First World War. He had enlisted in the Royal Navy three years before his younger sibling, and also served as a Stoker 2nd Class (subsequently being promoted to Stoker 1st Class in 1907).
George was also based out of HMS Victory, and, in April 1911, was stood down to the Royal Naval Reserve, having completed an initial five years’ service.
When war broke out, George was called back into service, and was assigned to HMS Good Hope, travelling from English shores to Nova Scotia, before heading to South America and into the Pacific.
Caught up in the Battle of Coronel on 1st November 1914, the Good Hope was sunk by the German cruiser SMS Scharnhost. All souls on board – all 926 of them – were lost; this included Stoker 1st Class George Banfield. He was only 27 years of age.