Gunner William Jones
Died 26th June 1917
William was probably born in the spring of 1893 and is recorded on the 1901 census as being eight years old. William’s father, James, was born in Wentnor in 1857 and his mother, Jane, was born in Hope Bowdler in 1856. They probably married in 1879 or 1880 as on the 1881 census they are recorded as having one child, James, age 0 and he had been born in Little Stretton. The family may well have chosen to live in Little Stretton because James worked as a platelayer on the railway which runs alongside the village.
On the 1901 census the family has grown to include Ernest, 11, and William 8 but James jnr is not recorded. As he would have been 20 he may well have flown the nest or he may have succumbed to one of the many illnesses which were common at that time. Ten years later the 1911 census records that James and Jane had five children still alive but only Gertrude age 29 and William, 18, were living with the family at Fern Hill in Little Stretton.
This house is now named Mynd House Hotel but in the 1917 Kelly’s Directory for Church Stretton it is listed as an apartment house with 12 rooms belonging to John Chester. The other 9 people living at Fern Hill were arranged into a couple with a baby, two women with the same surname and five individuals. If the individuals had one room each there would have been 7 rooms remaining to accommodate the 3 family groups so space would have been restricted.
William worked as a draper’s assistant and in Kelly’s Directory three Church Stretton drapers are listed namely: Thomas Edwin Bytheway, 46, Sandford Avenue, Harman and Carey on The Square and Thos Proffit, linen draper, 25, High Street. We do not know which of these employed William but the existence of 3 drapers in such a small town as Church Stretton in 1917 may be an indicator of how the needs of the outlying villages were being met locally when mobility was limited.
At the start of 1916 when conscription for single men was introduced William was about 23 and he may have joined the army at this point. Conversely he may have joined at the outbreak of the war when 750,000 men rushed to recruiting stations in the first hysterical response to calls of nationalism. What we do know is that on the Little Stretton memorial he is recorded as having been a member of 76th Army Brigade B Battery Royal Field Artillery and by tracing the movements of this group we can possibly trace William’s history.
The Royal Field Artillery was the most numerous arm of the artillery and the horse-drawn RFA was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line. The RFA was reasonably mobile and was organised into brigades. The 76th Brigade was re-organised on 23 January 1915 from three six-gun batteries into four four-gun batteries titled A, B, C and D.
In July 1915 the brigade left the 16th (Irish) Division and moved via a period on Salisbury Plain to land at Le Havre on 3 September 1915. Next day it came under orders of the new Guards Division. The brigade then remained with this division until 19 January 1917 when the it left the Guards Division and became an Army Brigade.
The 76th Brigade was involved in the actions resulting from the March 1917 German retreat to the carefully prepared Hindenburg Line which was the precursor to the Third Battle of Ypres that started with the Battle of Pilckem Ridge on 31 July. However William had already been killed on 26 June 1917 and he was buried at Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, Belgium in plot 3 row F grave 4. The graves in plot three shown below are in the order of death and include graves of members of the Guards Division and units of the Royal Artillery.
The cemetery contains 408 commonwealth burials of the First World War six of which are unidentified and 3 are German war graves. William’s grave is to the right of the tall cross below probably in line with the smaller of the two doors in the building on the right.
Photo Courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.