William was born on 3rd May 1896 in Slough, Buckinghamshire to parents Charles Edward and Elizabeth Ann, the couple’s third child of seven.
William’s father Charles worked as a mechanical engineer when recorded on the 1901 census; he and his family had moved to 13 Mawson Lane, Chiswick. William was then aged four, the middle of five children.
By the time of the 1911 census the family had moved again to 7 Grosvenor Villas, Montague Road, Slough. William was then fifteen and along with his older two siblings were not listed as attending school but did not have an occupation listed either.
William worked as a gardener before joining the Navy on 8th September 1913 as a Boy Servant, training at HMS PEMBROKE I. He measured 5'7" tall with brown hair, grey eyes, with a scar on the bridge of his nose on his service record. He rose in rating to Officer’s Steward 3rd Class on 31st May 1914 and left the shore base on 28th August 1914, the same month as war was declared.
His first ship was the experimental seaplane tender HMS HERMES, from 29th August 1914, returning to HMS PEMBROKE I for further training as a Steward 3rd Class on 1st November 1914 and a brief spell attached to HMS PEMBROKE III from 10th February 1915 to 31st march 1915.
He was stationed at the shore establishment HMS PRESIDENT II, on the banks of the River Thames on 1st April 1915 staying on land until his ship posting to HMS VANGUARD on 1st October 1915.
On the 27th of December 1915 he was placed in the cells for 7 days after returning to the ship late following a night out drinking with ship mates. He resumed his service on 4th January 1916, during the Jutland Battle, until 9th July 1917 when he was accidentally and tragically killed aged just twenty one.
Following his death one of his friends, Kathleen, composed a poem in his memory later that month, 1917.
Days come and go, but memories still live on
Memories of happy days not long ago
Days that will never come again
For Death's laid Billie low.
He was on the Dreadnought Vanguard
The ill-fated Man Of War
With hundreds more brave sailors
Who anchored near the shore.
No-one knows how it happened
We only know he's gone
And life seems sad and lonely
Now that he's dead and gone.
Since then the days drag slowly by
And still it seems untrue
That he's gone to sleep forever
Under the water's blue.
And wave sweeps over laughing wave
Heedless of pitiful cries
With thousands, he shares a watery grave
Who nobly and bravely died.
Roll on dark days and bear away
All sorrow from our hearts
For we who are left alone to mourn
Must bear the harder part.
And days and weeks drag slowly
But memories will not die
It's hard to think poor Billie went
Unable to say Goodbye.
Following his death his Star, Victory and British war medals were claimed by his father - both parents received his pension and outstanding effects after a certificate of Seaman’s Wills was issued; including the residue of his wages, compensation for loss of effects and Naval prize fund paid.
His body never recovered, he is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial and locally on the war memorial in Slough, at St Mary’s Church.
(#190 - 395/841)
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 Free BMD
1901 & 1911 England Census
Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services, 1848-1939 National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services; Class: ADM 188; Piece: 997
British Army and Navy Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1730-1960 National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Admiralty: Naval Casualties, Indexes, War Grave Rolls and Statistics Book, First World War.; Class: ADM 242; Piece: 008 (1914 - 1919)
Naval Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972 Class: ADM 171; Piece: 105
World War I Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923 Western Front Association; London, England; WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers; Reference: 098/0449/HIT-HOB
Poem and crew photo with thanks to Alan Swinnerton
Memorial images - W Sadler