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William Charnley Stevens was the son of Charles and Elizabeth Annie Stevens (nee Ellison) and he was born in Penwortham near Preston on the 26th January 1895. William`s father was originally from Watford and his mother was born in Preston, they married in London at the parish church of St. Matthew in Bayswater on the 10th September 1883. Their marriage record notes their address at the time of marriage as 9 Newton Mews in London and that Elizabeth`s father was a stationery engine driver.

Charles and Elizabeth had seven children including William and the first four were all born in Paddington in London where Charles was employed as a coachman; Sarah (1884), Charles (1886), Letty (1889) and Elsie (1892). At some point after Elsie was born the family left London and moved to the Howick area of Penwortham near Preston. After William was born in 1895 a sister Edith Marion arrived (1897) and she was followed by another brother Albert (1901).

When the 1911 Census was recorded William and his family had relocated again, this time to Fern Cottage off Bank Parade in the Frenchwood area of Preston. William`s father was still employed as a coachman and William had found a job as a railway clerk. Apart from Albert all the rest of his siblings had also found work, Sarah was a music hall artiste, Charles a bookbinder, Letty a cigarette maker, Elsie was a tracer at an electric construction company and Edith was working in a Christmas card works as a folder.

William attested on the 7th September 1914 at the Town Hall in Preston and joined “D” Company of the 7th Battalion known as the “Preston Pals”. He had no previous military experience and was unmarried. His medical inspection revealed that he was 5`6” tall and weighed 119lbs. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. Prior to his enlistment William had left his clerk`s job on the railway and had gone to work as a clerk at Dick Kerr`s on Strand Road in Preston.

Prior to the `Pals` departure for their initial training at Tidworth they were addressed by Mayor Cartmell at the Town Hall in Preston and then treated to a meal at the Public Hall. The Preston Herald printed a complete list of all the men who had joined the company of `Pal`s, the excerpt below shows the name of William Charnley Stevens in the list;Stevens 1

After arriving in Tidworth it wasn`t long before the men started writing home about their life in the Army. Letters started to appear in the local papers, one letter was penned by a recruit and addressed to his `local`, the Theatre Hotel in Preston making it quite clear he wasn`t at all happy with the beer situation in Tidworth!

“Just a week ago today since I left Preston, but by gad, it seems a month. Only had one pint of beer since I left till last night, and then I walked five miles to a little village called Ludgershall and had to scrap to get some beer.

We have got a lot of decent fellows in our tent, twelve of us, five from Dick Kerr`s, two off the railway and one from the County Offices and the rest various.

We are having a grand time, but oh! what a change from home. We have lovely beds…..on a blanket and your coat for a pillow up to yesterday, and then they gave us a pillow slip and a kind of long sack, and then we had to fill them up with straw, but I slept like a top.

Up in the morning is the game here, 5am, Sunday included, but no Matthew Brown`s at night. It would be worth a drinks round if I could only have my stool for about an hour or two.

But we have done it, and I suppose we shall have to stick it. One of the Pals sloped last Tuesday. I suppose the supper upset him, as he hasn`t been seen since, left his bag, coat and even his hat and his whereabouts are unknown.

Cyril (Mr Cyril Cartmell) arrived here on Saturday last, and he is living in clover like the rest of us. Dry bread and jam for breakfast and same for tea, varied with a bit if cheese, supplemented sometimes with a few delicacies which we buy ourselves.

We had a payday on Friday last, and drew the magnificent sum of 4s, just enough for a night`s booze, but there are no boozers in our tent. We can`t get it only at the canteen, and it`s awful, a pint is enough, two would just about kill you.

We haven`t got our uniforms yet, but when we do first stop a photographers, if we can find one. Tidworth itself is a one-eyed place. I have only seen two shops and there is one pub….they close at 8pm because there is no more beer. We are drilling practically all day from 6am to 5pm, and one is ready for bed after that”.

“Pals Company on the march” – this photograph appeared in the Preston Guardian on the 21st November 1914.7thbndcoy

On the 17th July 1915 the 7th Battalion boarded two trains at Tidworth bound for Folkestone and from there sailed to Boulogne. The 7th Battalion came under the command of the 56th Brigade of the 19th (Western) Division.

William was obviously well thought of by his superiors because by the 5th December 1915 he had advanced to the rank of Sergeant. He was also made Acting Company Quartermaster Sergeant but by the 7th August 1916 he had reverted back to Sergeant at his own request.

Extract from the Battalion War History

At the beginning of October 1916 it was intimated that the 19th Division was very shortly to move back again to the Somme area, and on the 5th the Battalion marched to and entrained at Bailleul for Doullens, from where it marched via Serton, Authie and St. Leger to Coigneux. Some few days were spent here, during which training was continued, special attention being paid to the practice of the attack, to bayonet fighting and bombing. Later in the month the Division marched to the neighbourhood of its old fighting ground of the previous July – about Albert and La Boisselle, and in these regions it had been intended to employ the newly arrived troops in an attack up the valley of the Ancre, but there was incessant rain, the ground was no better than a morass and the proposed attack had to be postponed.

At the beginning of November the 56th Brigade was holding the front line of the sector about Aveluy, the weather had improved, and the 19th Division was now to take part in the Battle of the Ancre, the closing effort of the year.

On the 6th November 1916 after William had been attending to a Corporal who had been shot and wounded, probably by a sniper, sadly William himself received a fatal gun-shot wound just moments later.

The following announcement appeared later in the Preston Guardian;Stevens 2

N.B. The article incorrectly states that William died on the 16th. It also mentions that he had previously been wounded twice, unfortunately his service papers do not give any details about any previous wounds.

Only his wallet, some letters and photos were returned to his family after his death. William has no known grave and so his name was recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.

After the war his next of kin would receive the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his service for his country. His name also appears on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum in Preston.

Rank: Serjeant
Service No: 13041
Date of Death: 06/11/1916
Age: 21
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 7th Bn (D Coy).
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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