Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

William Rubery - Serjeant 201436

This page is dedicated to the memory of William Rubery who died on 17th August 1917 in Belgium.

William Rubery was born in 1887 in Pensnett, the 6th child of Thomas and Mary Rubery. He died on 17th August 1917 near the Belgium-France border, 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 his life and what happened to him in the war.

William was born on 30th June 1887 in Pensnett, to Thomas Rubery and Mary Hannah Crow, who had married in Netherton near Dudley in 1874. By the 1891 census, the family were living in Kingswinford, where Thomas was working as a Loader. William was recorded as Willie Rubery aged 3, with 4 older siblings also present, plus a new baby. In 1901 the majority of the family (with 2 further additions) were still living in Kingswinford and Thomas was employed loading boats. William was not at home with the rest of the family though; he was a pupil at Old Swinford Hospital School. He was probably really lucky to get such an education - the school was set up to educate boys from "poor but honest" families in Worcestershire and Staffordshire.

William's academic career was shortlived by today's standards though. By October 1901 his father had him apprenticed to Alfred Hancox, a wheelwright. The apprenticeship was to last until William was 21 years old on 30th June 1908. The image below shows an extract from the apprenticeship documents.

Sadly William's father Thomas Rubery died the following year, aged just 52, leaving his wife with several young children to support. Despite this William was able to complete his apprenticeship (his army records prove this) and become a wheelwright. Not long after completing his apprenticeship he married Gertrude Lloyd at Holly Hall church, Dudley.

In 1911 William & Gertrude were living in Holly Hall, where William was working as a coach builder, presumably putting his wheelwright skills to good use. They had already had 2 children, although sadly the first of these had died as an infant.

William enlisted within the first few months of the war starting in 1914. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he eventually became a Serjeant in the 1/8 Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, that his service number was 201436 and that he was buried in the New Irish Farm Cemetery in Belgium. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here

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. William Rubery's card is only very sparsely filled in, giving little more than his name, rank and number.

NameCorpsRankReg No.
VICTORYL/102 B255451 
15 STAR   
Theatre of War first served in 
Date of entry therein 

The index card indicates 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.

Fortunately William's army service record is one of relatively few that have survived (many were lost during a bombing raid in WW2). The service record provides a wealth of information, but for William it only seems to provide half the story. The surviving record shows that he signed up on 29th August 1914 as a Special Reservist with the South Staffordshire Regiment. He was sent to Jersey, but was then discharged for "not being likely to become an efficient special reservist". It then goes on to explain that the reason for this was "loss and decay of many teeth"! It also gives a physical description of him - he was apparently 5 foot 9, weighed 134lbs, with grey eyes, brown hair and a few scars on his back from an operation. The service record also gives details of his immediate family. It lists his wife Gertrude and their 2 surviving children.

So he was discharged from the reservists in 1914, but he must have enlisted again and been accepted as we know he was a Serjeant in the Worcester Regiment and that he died in 1917. Unfortunately the records for this service don't seem to have survived, so we don't know when he re-enlisted. Perhaps he chose the Worcester Regiment the second time, thinking that they wouldn't check previous records - and also of course they became more desperate for men as the war continued.

It may not be possible to find any details of his service with the Worcester Regiment, but you can now download most regimental war diaries from WW1, which give an insight into the lives of the soldiers. So I've looked at the War Diaries for the 1/8th Battalion of the Worcester Regiment. By the beginning of August 1917, the 1/8th Battalion were stationed at camps near Elverdinghe in Belgium, part of the bigger Ypres offensive. The war diaries showed heavy rain at the start of the month, which can only have added to the misery of the soldiers, although it did mean that no training was possible for some of the days. The rain didn't stop them being shelled during the night though. On 16th August the company moved to support the 145 Infantry Brigade on the Langemarck-Gheluvelt line. On 17th August it says that the enemy artillery was active and that 2nd Lt Guilding was killed. There is no mention in the diaries of William Rubery's death. It does say for the 20th August that casualties had included 19 other ranks killed - presumably William was one of these. Non-officer deaths were rarely noted in any detail.

Gertrude received the letter all must have dreaded on 29th August 1917, with the news that her husband William Rubery was dead. (Many thanks to Jean Morgan via Polly Rubery for this copy of the original document). Gertrude must have been expecting when she received the news of William's death as their fifth child was born just 2 months later.

William Rubery's death was subsequently reported in the Birmingham Daily Post over a month after he died.

William is remembered on the New Irish Farm Cemetery in Belgium. As was often the case he was initially buried elsewhere, but his body was subsequently moved to the more formal cemetery. His widow received this letter informing her of such. Thanks again to Jean Morgan via Polly Rubery for the image.

The two photos below show William's initial grave marker - a simple cross and the more permanent stone it was eventually replaced with. Both photos are dark and it's hard to make out the detail, but they must have been very precious to the family (again thanks to Jean Morgan via Polly Rubery for the images).

The last piece of evidence for William is the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. His widow Gertrude Rubery is listed as the sole beneficiary of what little money he had (just 13.10.00), including the War Gratuity.

Although I've managed to find more documentation for William's life than I have for many of the soldiers I've researched, there is still one key piece of information missing. It would be lovely to have a photo of William Rubery. So if there are any relatives out there, please do get in touch, it would be lovely to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me at:

William Rubery is commemorated on St Augustine's Church memorial in Holly Hall and possibly at his old school at Stourbridge Old Swinford Hospital (although I've yet to verify that one). Many thanks to John Hale for sending me this picture of the memorial at St Augustine of Hippo, Holly Hall.

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 2017

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry