Saturday, May 27, 2006

Remembering William Stevens

William Stevens was killed in action eighty eight years ago today.

He was born at Chailey and living at nearby Scaynes Hill when he enlisted at Hayward’s Heath. He was given the number 11275 and posted to the Royal Fusiliers.

Chailey Parish Magazine first notes him in November 1916 as Pte W Stevens, serving with the 104th Training Reserve Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in Scotland. This battalion had its origins in the 28th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

The following information regarding training reserve battalions is taken from Chris Baker's website, The Long, Long Trail:

On 1 September 1916, a considerable reorganisation of the reserve infantry battalions took place. Before this date, most of the infantry regiments contained one or more reserve battalions. Recruits would be posted to these battalions for basic training, before they were posted to an active service unit.

With the introduction of conscription, the regimental system simply could not cope with numbers, hence this development. Thus, in combination with conscription, the local nature of recruitment for infantry regiments was abandoned.

After 1 September 1916, these regimental distinctions disappeared, and the reserve battalions were re-designated as battalions of the Training Reserve. They were organised into new Brigades of the Training Reserve. No Guards, Irish or TF Battalions converted to TR, and this change did not affect the Special Reserve or Extra Reserve battalions of the regular army (normally the 3rd and 4th Battalions of a regiment).

The official complement of the Training Reserve was a little over 208,500 soldiers.
Men who attended the TR battalions were not allocated to any particular regiment when the time came for them to be posted. Thus, in combination with conscription, the local nature of recruitment for infantry regiments was abandoned.

Later, from May 1917, this arrangement was itself altered when the units of the TR became Graduated and Young Soldier battalions.

It seems likely that William Stevens was conscripted into the army and by April 1917, according to the parish magazine, he had been transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. In December 1917, the magazine notes that he is serving with the 27th MGC.

64128 Private William Stevens of the 8th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, was killed in action on Monday 27th May 1918 aged 25. Chailey Parish Magazine noted him as missing between August 1918 and July 1919. In fact William's body was never found and he is commemorated on the Soissons memorial in France.

The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission Debt of Honour Register notes that Stevens was the son of John Stevens of Tunis House, The Green, Newick.

William Stevens is commemorated in two Sussex locations. His name is on the war memorial on the village green at Chailey and also on a stone tablet and wooden shrine inside St Augustine's Church, Scaynes Hill. The information contained at Scaynes Hill notes that he was a corporal (which is incorrect) and that he was killed on the Chemin des Dames.

His inclusion on the Chailey war memorial appears to have been an afterthought. His name appears at the bottom of the list of names as W Stevens and is out of alphabetical sequence. It seems probable that, like Frederick Albert Jon Wood, his name was added at a later date.

It is possible – although the ages do not quite tally - that William Stevens is the same William Stevens who appears on the 1901 census of England as the six year old son of John and Sarah Stevens of Wapsbourne Farm Cottage, Sheffield Park, Chailey. If this is the case, his brothers Albert and George and his cousins William H, Frank and James Stevens also served during the First World War.

No comments: