Category Archives: Buckinghamshire

CWG: Gunner William Withers

Gunner William Withers

William John Withers was born in the spring of 1883, in the Somerset town of Midsomer Norton. He was one of six children to William and Rose Withers. William Sr was a coal miner who went on to become a night bailiff, or caretaker, for the colliery. His son, however, sought different things, and, when he left school, he found work as a grocer’s assistant.

In the summer of 1909, William Jr married Florence Robbins, a miner’s daughter from Radstock. The couple went on to have son, Allan, in June 1913 but tragically it appears than Florence either died in childbirth, or shortly afterwards.

In the summer of 1914, war came to Europe; by the end of the following year, William enlisted, joining the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner. His service records show that he stood 5ft 8.5ins (1.74m) tall, and weighted 147lbs (66.7kg). By this time he was working as a shop manager and, as a widower with a young son, it seems that, while he volunteered for service, he wasn’t formally mobilised for another year.

Gunner Withers was initially posted at the Citadel Fortress in Plymouth, but soon moved to Halton Park in Buckinghamshire. He spent time there training to be a Signaller, and in April 1918, he succeeded. That summer, he was posted overseas, serving as part of the 461st Siege Battery in France.

In March 1919, Signaller Withers returned to England. Details are a bit sketchy, but it seems that he was posted to Lincolnshire, and while there he fell ill. He was admitted to the Northern General Hospital in Lincoln with peritoneal adhesions; sadly these proved too much for his body to take; he passed away on 9th April 1919, at the age of 36 years old.

William John Withers’ body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He lies at rest in the graveyard of St Nicholas’ Church in Radstock.

The exact spot of William’s burial is unknown. The grave in the image is of his father, who passed away in 1921. It is likely that William Sr was buried with his son.

CWG: Stoker 1st Class Henry Hill

Stoker 1st Class Henry Hill

Henry Charles Hill was born in Eton Wick, Berkshire, on 16th December 1894. He was the son of Alfred and Sarah Hill and was one of seven children – tragically only he and his younger sister survived childhood. Arthur was a wheelwright and, while Henry worked as a jobbing gardener when he left school, by the time he was eighteen, he had found employment as a cycle fitter.

Storm clouds were brewing over Europe and, on 14th April 1913, Henry enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His service records show that he was 5ft 4ins (1.63m) tall, had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion; it was also noted that he had a scar under his left eye.

Henry was sent to HMS Pembroke – the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – for his training, but was given his first posting on HMS St George on 22nd November 1913. After five months on board, he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class and transferred to the battleship HMS King George V.

Stoker Hill spent more than three years at sea, before returning to HMS Pembroke in July 1917. The Dockyard was particularly busy that summer, and the large number of extra servicemen meant that Henry was billeted in temporary accommodation in Chatham Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force bombarded the town, and scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Stoker Hill was among those killed instantly. He was just 22 years of age.

Henry Charles Hill was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.

CWG: Private John Clarke

Private John Clarke

John Clarke was born in Devon on 28th June 1881, the son of Edward and Mary Ann Clarke. Sadly, little documented information remains on his life, but from what does exist, a semblance of his life can be pieced together.

Edward and Mary Ann lived in the village of Ashcombe in their later years, although it seems that John had been born closer to Exeter. At some point before October 1915, he married local woman Rhoda; they did not go on to have any children.

When the First World War broke out, John was working as a farm labourer. He signed up, joining the 7th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. His enlistment papers confirm that he had already been volunteering for the 8th Battalion of the same regiment. They also note that he stood 5ft 6ins (1.68cm) tall, weighed 140lbs (63.5kg) and, intriguingly, that he was of poor physical development.

Private Clarke’s time in the army was not destined to be a lengthy one. In January 1916, he was admitted to the Canadian Red Cross Hospital in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, suffering with neuralgia. A couple of months later, he was admitted again, this time with influenza.

Shortly afterwards John’s military service came to an end. He was dismissed as medically unfit due to a gastric ulcer; his final day in the army was 30th March 1916, and he had served for 175 days.

At this point, Private Clarke’s trail once again goes cold. He passed away on 3rd December 1918 – more than eighteen months after leaving the Devonshire Regiment – although there is no documentation to confirm the cause of his passing. He was 37 years of age.

John Clarke was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Nectan’s church in Ashcombe, Devon.