Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

William George Corbett - Private 55457

This page is dedicated to the memory of William George Corbett and the other 12 men who died with him on 15th March 1918 near Armentieres, France.

William George Corbett was one of my great great uncles. He was born on 10th October 1888 in Withington, Herefordshire, the second son of James Corbett and Fanny Green. He died on 15th March 1918 in France, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about what happened to him and his fellow soldiers in the war. I am much indebted in this to my cousin Jim Baldwin who so kindly took me to the National Archives in London to do some research, without which this page would be a bit sparse to say the least!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he was a private in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, that his service number was 55457 and that he was buried in the Erquinghem-Lys churchyard in France. You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it:

NameCorpsRankRegtl No.
William G.--55457
Theatre of War first served in  
Date of entry therein  

Sadly not all of the information has been filled in, so I don't know when he enlisted or where he first served. But it does indicate that he would have been entitled to two medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame. Ideally I would have then looked up his service records, but much of the British Army World War One Service Records were destroyed when the War Office was bombed in London in 1940. William's service records seem to have been amongst these "Burnt Documents" as they are known.

In the absence of any detailed information of William's service history, I looked at the War Diaries for the Royal Welsh (or Welch) Fusiliers at the National Archives. War Diaries were kept as a daily record of operations, intelligence reports and anything else that was going on for a given battalion. I've transcribed the relevant war diary for the day of William's death below. I've also transcribed the days before - mainly because these give much more information about where exactly they were.




MARCH - 1918

PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and Information
 Mar 1/2 

Disposition as under -
Battn. Hdqrs & 'D' Coy - B.30.c, 'B' Coy SUBSIDIARY LINE
                                                   'C' Coy ASYLUM
Supplied Working Parties as per Working Party Table

 3rd Relieved in the SUPPORT AREA by the 13th Bn Recd from FRONT LINE.
 4/14th 'A' and 'D' Coy's together with Special Platoon of 'B' and 'C' Coys training for Special Enterprise. Digging REPLICA, rehearsals on REPLICA, both day and night, as per Training Programmes. Working Parties supplied by 'B' and 'C' Coys.
Patrols sent out nightly to reconnoitre ground over which operation is to be carried out.
REINFORCEMENTS - O.Rs - 6. 8/3/18 CASUALTIES - O.R - 1 WOUNDED - GAS. 13/3/18
PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and Information
 Mar 15th 

During the evening of the 15th, the two Companies, 'A' & 'D' and special platoons of B & C moved up to the assembly positions, Headquarters being established at front line Batt HQ and Advanced Hdqrs at Porte Egal.
At 10.7pm, under cover of Artillery JM and MG barrage the raiding party together with Section R.E.s entered enemy front and support lines, INCANDESCENT and SUPPORT TRENCHES (I.11.a) 15 Prisoners and 2 Light M.Gs were captured and at least 50 of the enemy reported to have been killed in the trenches and dugouts.
2 concrete dugouts in SUPPORT LINE were blown up.
In conjunction with this operation, a successful feint attack was made at the same time on CENTRAL and INANE TRENCHES. Under cover of Artillery and M.G fire, dummy figures were manipulated in NO MAN'S LAND in front of our line C29.1 and C29.2 and many coloured lights fired.
This feint undoubtedly drew the majority of the retaliation on this area, and later, enemy bombed his own wire in this vicinity.
Our casualties were:-
Officers - 2/LT J. Richards - Killed. 2/LT J.M. Jones - Wounded
O.R.s - 10 Killed: 2 died of wounds: 4 missing: 33 wounded

When I first read the War Diary I thought it was so sad that although the dead officers were named, the other ranks were just recorded by numbers - so William Corbett wasn't mentioned by name. But this seems to have been standard procedure and perhaps the officer recording the events either didn't have the time or the information to record any more detail. But it means I'll never know whether William died as part of the main raiding party or as part of the feint attack that drew away the enemy fire. Either way they must all have been so brave to go out and do what they did.

The War Diary indicates that one officer and 10 other ranks died immediately and 2 died of their wounds - so 13 in total died as a result of that day's action. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 13 members of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who died either on 15th or 16th March and are buried in Erquinghem-Lys churchyard. I've listed them all below.
NameAgeRankRegimentUnitService NumberDate of deathCemeteryGrave ReferenceAdditional Information
John Barnes20Lance CorporalRoyal Welsh Fusiliers"A" Coy. 16th Bn.1941715/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.18.Son of George H. & Mary J. Barnes, of 43, Bury Lane, Brinscall, Chorley. Native of Withnell, Lancashire
Samuel Black19PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.7352515/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.23.Son of John & Ann Black, of 30, Lingard St, Leigh, Lancashire
T Boardman PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.7352015/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.17. 
Ernest Buchan19PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers"A" Coy. 16th Bn.7352415/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.21.Son of Alfred & Louisa Buchan, of 33, Wansford St, Moss Side, Manchester
William George Corbett29PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.5545715/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.16.Son of James & Fanny Corbett, of Stallenge, Withington, Hereford
George Eric Cousins30PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.23520015/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.13.Son of Charles & Frances Cousins
John Davies30PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.1523915/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.24.Son of David & Laura Davies, of Bryn Coch, Abergele, Denbighshire
Albert Edward Gallimore33PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers"A" Coy. 16th Bn.6394615/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.14.Son of William Henry & Alice Gallimore; Husband of Rose Gallimore, of 21, Shepley St, Hyde, Cheshire
Thomas Hearne27PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers"A" Coy. 16th Bn.5505115/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.15.Son of James & Ann Hearne, of The Buildings, Clydach, Swansea. Born at Llwyn-Cae-Dwgan, Ynistawe, Clydach, Swansea.
W H Perry19PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.4420615/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.32.Son of Thomas & Annie Perry, of 57, Little King Street, Hockley, Birmingham
Robert Walter Pierce26PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.1063915/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.22.Son of Mrs R. Britton, of Barry Docks; Husband of S.G. Thomas (formerly Pierce), of 137, Merthyr St, Barry, Glamorganshire
J Richards23Second LieutenantRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn. 15/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.11.Son of Mr. & Mrs. T Richard, of Caerhedyn, Llandinam, Monmouthshire
T Hankey PrivateRoyal Welsh Fusiliers16th Bn.23547616/3/1918Erquinghem-Lys ChurchyardII.H.12. 

Although I tend to look at the events described above as a sad loss of life on both sides, to the British Army and the public at the time it was viewed as a success. I have found at least one newspaper report from the 16th March 1918, which describes the events briefly. Needless to say the report only mentions the positives to the British - i.e. the capture of prisoners and machine guns. It does not mention the loss of life on either side, but I suppose such omissions were necessary for morale.

A more personal report of William's death was given in his local paper - the Hereford Times a few weeks after his death and it is nice to read that he was popular and well liked and that he helped others as a stretcher bearer. If only someone in the family still had the letters mentioned in the article.

For a long time, the only photograph I had of William Corbett, was the one below with him in fancy dress, with his sister Harriet Brookes (Corbett) and niece Lil Brookes. I think it must have been taken sometime before the war.

Thanks to the generosity of cousin Michele, I now have a copy of a splendid photo showing William in uniform with three of his fellow stretcher bearers, all from D company of the 16th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. William is shown bottom left, the other three being: (top left) Pte D. Evans, (top right) Pte H Winter, (bottom right) Pte Glyn Roberts. It seems fitting now to have the two images of William - one having fun with his family in fancy dress, the other as he became - a stretcher bearer who no doubt helped save many lives.

I am hoping there might be photos out there somewhere of the other men who lost their lives that day - it would be nice to add them to the website if I can find any relatives willing to share them. So far I have photos of 2 of the men that died that day. The photo below is of George Eric Cousins and his great nephew has kindly allowed me to use it here.

I have also recently been given some information on Second Lieutenant John (Jack) Richards by one of his great nephews. It includes this poignant report from the Montgomeryshire Times. Jack Richards was only 23 and had joined up in 1914 as a private and been promoted through the ranks. His great nephew also gave me a copy of the wonderful photo below of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers regimental football team. Jack Richards is apparently second in from the right on the first row of seats.

If anyone has any information or photos for the other men who died with William Corbett, I would love to hear from them.

William Corbett and the other men's deaths are not totally unmarked. For William at least his death is recorded in Withington, Herefordshire on both the War Memorial and inside the church and on a simple gravestone in Erquinghem-Lys in France. I hope the other soldiers have similar commemorations somewhere.

In researching William's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:

The British Newspaper Archive holds digitised images of newspapers from all over Britain. New pages are added weekly and it can be a great way of adding to your research:

If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at:

Nicky Rowberry 2012

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry