William John Field was born on 8th October 1885 in Boston, Lincolnshire. The eldest of four children, his parents were Charles and Ellen. Charles was a boatman for the coastguard; his job, by the time of the 1891 census, had taken the family to the village of Dawdon on the County Durham coastline.
Given his father’s job, it is not unsurprising that William was destined for a life at sea. As soon as he left school in the spring of 1901, he joined the Royal Navy and was sent to HMS Ganges, the shore-based training establishment in Suffolk. Being underage, he was initially assigned the role of Boy, moving, after a year, to HMS Pembroke, also known as the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.
By November 1902 Boy Field was moved to HMS Venerable, a ship that was to be his home for the next three years. During this time, William came of age, and was formally enrolled in the Royal Navy as a Signalman. He evidently worked hard on the Venerable, rising through the ranks to Qualified Signalman and Leading Signalman.
In June 1905, William was moved to HMS Leviathan, where he was again promoted, to Second Yeoman of Signals, before again being assigned to Chatham Naval Dockyard six months later.
While based in Kent, William met Nelly Watt, the daughter of a labourer at the dockyard. The couple married in 1906, and went on to have four children.
Over the next few years, the now Petty Officer Telegraphist Field spent an almost equal amount of time at sea and on shore. War was coming and when his initial term of service came to an end in October 1915, he immediately renewed his contract through to the end of the hostilities.
All of William’s time was now spent on land, primarily at HMS Pembroke, but also at HMS Actaeon in Portsmouth, HMS Victory VI at Crystal Palace, London and HMS Bacchante in Aberdeen.
While Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist Field’s naval service records are quite detailed, his passing is anything but. The war over, he moved back to Chatham Dockyard in January 1919. At some point he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital in the town, and died from ‘disease’ on 13th March that year. He was just 33 years of age.
William John Field was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham.
A sad aside to the story is that, at the time of he husband’s death, Nellie was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. John William Field was born on 16th October 1919, destined never to know his father.