His parents were William James & Louisa Mary (nee Foden). William James was born in Kent in England, was originally married in England and moved to New Zealand. Louisa was also born in England (Staffordshire) and also moved to NZ. They were married in NZ in 1885. He was an accountant.
William was the 3rd of 4 children. He had 2 sisters & 1 brother.
In 1915 William married Charlotte (Lottie) Smith in Ryde. He adopted a girl, Dorothy Irene.
William enlisted on 5 Aug 1915.
He stated occupation as labourer and address as Wallace Street, Concord.
He was a big man being 5ft 8in (173cm) tall; weighed 172lb (78kg); chest 38.5in (98cm). He had no distinguishing marks; a fair complexion, blue eyes, fair hair; and was Church of England.
He named his wife Lottie as his next of kin.
He was originally assigned Service Number 3164 and attached to 7th Reinforcements for the 18th Battalion but this was altered and he was then assigned Service Number 6088 and attached to 19th Reinforcements for the 13th Battalion which was part of the 4th Brigade of the 4th Division.
War Service: Western Front:
William spent an unusually long 12 months in Australia before he and 19th Reinforcements departed Sydney on HMAT Wiltshire on 22 Aug 1916, disembarking at Plymouth on 13 Oct.
After 2 months in a Training Battalion he proceeded to France on 4 Dec and after 2 weeks in a Base Depot joined 13th Battalion on 22 Dec at Coisy, 5km north of Amiens where they were resting.
On 2 Jan 1917 they marched eastwards spending the next 2 weeks training and then moving into the support trenches on 24 Jan. This being the ferocious Somme winter of 1916/17.
On 2 Feb they moved into the front line & on 4 Feb they attacked Stormy Trench. It was a hard-fought but successful engagement in which the Battalion lost 43 killed, 18 missing, and 172 wounded. In this action Capt Murray of 13th Battalion was awarded the V.C.
They moved back from the trenches on 9 Feb, and on 15th William was evacuated sick with scabies. He spent a month in hospital rejoining his unit on 14 Mar at Ribemont near Albert where they were resting and training.
On 26 Mar William was admitted to field hospital with an axillary (ie armpit) abcess. After a week he was admitted to 10th General Hospital in Rouen also with eczema. He was discharged to the Base Depot on 12 Apr.
However on 14 Apr he was charged with being in Rouen without a pass, and for being drunk in the town. He was awarded 14 days Field Punishment No 1. This was the harshest field punishment that included being shackled to a fixed object for up to 2 hours per day.
He was in the Depot for another month and rejoined his unit on 23 May. William was lucky: he missed the bloodbath of the 1st Battle of Bullecourt on Apr 10 & 11 when 13th Battalion had 567 casualties – a casualty rate of about 75%.
When William rejoined they had just moved from the Somme and were in northern France at Doulieu 10km west of Armentieres where they were training.
For the Battle of Messines (7/8 Jun) they were held in reserve and spent Jun moving between front and support lines. On 13 Jul they moved further back for rest & training. It was not until 20 Aug before they were back in the front line. After 10 days of active patrolling they were relieved on 30 Aug.
In early Sep William was fortunate to receive leave in England. However on 10 Sep he was admitted sick to a hospital in London for 9 days. Upon discharge on 19 Sep he was granted a day’s leave but the temptation was too great and he went AWL for 2 days. He was charged & forfeited 12 day’s pay and then proceeded to France rejoining 13th Battalion on 27 Sep. Once again his timing was good as the unit had just participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood suffering 23 killed and 82 wounded.
William was only with the Battalion a few days before being evacuated to the field hospital with scabies, returning to his unit on 7 Oct at Steenvoorde 25km west of Ypres.
During Oct they had one spell in the front & support trenches before once more moving to rear areas 90km south west of Ypres. Nov saw them marching another 90km south west over a 7 day period arriving at Woincourt 25km west of Abbeville on 25 Nov.
On 28 Nov William was appointed Lance Corporal.
On 6 Dec they moved east by train to Moislains in the Somme area 5km north of Peronne. They stayed in this general area training until they moved to Bailleul in northern France on 10 Jan 1918. For the next 2 months they alternated with spells in front & support trenches and in rear areas.
On 21 Mar the Germans unleased Operation Michael being a massive attack in the Somme area. 4th Division & other AIF units prepared to move south.
On 24 Mar the Battalion commenced the move south arriving at La Herliere 10km south west of Arras on 25 Mar. They were immediately pushed into the front line at Hebuterne about 15km west of Bapaume which the Germans had captured. They halted the German attack and were relieved on 13 Apr having suffered 16 killed, 79 wounded, and 5 missing.
After another spell in the front line they moved 30km south to the Somme front line east of Villers-Bretonneux on 29 Apr. May & Jun were spent rotating through the front line with active defensive patrolling. The Battalion had 95 casualties in this period.
4 Jul saw the famously successful Battle of Hamel where the General Monash-led Australia Corps captured all objectives on timetable. 13th Battalion was engaged in the Vaire Wood section and sustained 26 killed, 99 wounded, & 1 missing. This was a casualty rate of 25% for the already-depleted Battalion.
After a short spell in close support areas they pulled back and spent the rest of July training & resting before moving back to the forward areas on 31 Jul.
On 8 Aug 1918 13th Battalion participated in the Battle of Amiens east of Villers-Bretonneux. This fast-moving battle in the new “open warfare” stage was a great success. By the end of the day they had punched a hole 20km wide & 11km deep in the German lines towards Perrone and Mont St Quentin. The Germans described it as a “Black Day”.
13th Battalion had 13 killed & 61 wounded. William was one of the wounded with shell wounds to the chest.
He was evacuated to the field hospital where he died early on 10 Aug 1918 and is buried in Vignacourt British Cemetery, 15km north of Amiens, France.
No newspaper notices were published.
William’s family situation became very complicated.
The authorities could not inform his wife Lottie of his death as she had deserted their adopted daughter and had taken up with another man (Francis Gebuhr reportedly a big burly German). He had an outstanding arrest warrant from the police at Leichhardt. They had apparently moved to Queensland and were never heard of again.
In Oct 1918 his father was arrested in Tasmania for wife desertion and NSW Police sent a representative to escort him back to Mudgee. He subsequently died at Wentworth in far western NSW in 1932.
William named his wife Lottie as the sole beneficiary in his will, however she was never able to be found.
In 1921 his mother finally received William’s personal effects including 2 identity discs, metal watch, pipe, nail clipper, mirror, prayer book, 3 wallets, 1 notebook, razor strop, photos, & letters.
His mother Louisa died in 1934 in Mudgee.
His adopted daughter Dorothy married Hebert Ashford in Bulli in 1937. She then wrote to the Army suggesting she was William’s only relative and was seeking access to his personal effects and any outstanding pay. They replied that his mother had been the recipient. She died in 1978.
William is also commemorated on three other memorials. Two in Leichhardt: the first in Pioneer Park, Norton St; and the other in All Souls Church, corner Norton & Marion Streets. The third in Queen Elizabeth Park, Concord.