Secondary Regiment: (Attd: Queens [Royal West Surrey] Regt)
Unit: “D” Company, 2/1st Battn (Attd.: 10th [Battersea] Battn)
Service Number: Formerly: Private 1521, 2/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry
Date of Death: 24 March 1918 – Died (Missing) [Probably k.i.a.]
Age: 28 years
Cemetery / Memorial: Pozières Memorial
Grave / Panel Ref.: Panel 7.
William was born in c. September 1890 at Byards Leap Farm, Leadenham, Lincolnshire, the only son of Robert Newcomb (Farmer) and Bertha (née Tomlinson) Morley. (1891 Census RG 122580)
He had three older sisters, Millicent Evelyn [born 1885, died 1912], Florence Catherine (b. 9 December 1886) and Mary Newcomb (b. 10 September 1888) [see Footnote below], and a younger sister Grace (b. 1893). The photo, below left, from family sources, shows William’s parents with his three older sisters – so about 1890.
By 1901 (Census RG 13/3051) the family had moved to Old Hall, Leadenham, and were still at that address 10 years later (1911 Census RG 14/19627) when William was employed as “Assisting Farm”.
Educated at Lincoln and Sleaford Grammar Schools, William finished with a practical training at Dauntsey Agricultural College, Wiltshire. Family sources also state that the photo of William, right, was taken at the back of his uncle and aunt’s house on Tentercroft Street, Lincoln.
The same sources also suggest he was ‘.. a bit of a lad .. ‘ as tales of “Willie” Morley followed him down the generations. The photo, left, shows William and his younger sister, Grace [see Footnote below] in the entrance to Leadenham Hall.
Probate Records published in August 1918 show that William left £255 5s. 1d. [£255.26 – a relative value is £18,500 today (2023)] to his sisters, Florence Catherine and Mary Newcomb.
William’s Medal Index Card confirms that after the War his father was living in Ruskington, where his father, Robert Newcombe, died on 2 March 1937 at The Elms. [His estate was left to his daughter, Mary.] The Elms is a large house on Sleaford Road, where his daughter, Mary, was living at the time of her death in August 1976 [see Footnote below].
His widow, Bertha, also died in Ruskington, possibly at the same address, on 13 September 1950. Her estate valued at £2,074 18s 6d was also left to Mary. [£2074.92 has an equivalent value of about £91,000 today – 2023.]
Unfortunately, William’s Service Record is unavailable, but he had been serving as Private 1521, 2/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry. However, when reporting his death “The Sleaford Gazette“, of 20 April 1914, gave the approximate enlistment date as: “Prior to the outbreak of the war the gallant officer had spent four years in the Lincs. Yeomanry, which was mobilised on 4 August 1914.”
The Yeomanry was formed on the creation of the Territorial Force in April 1908 and placed under orders of the North Midland Mounted Brigade. It was headquartered in the Old Barracks in Lincoln with the squadrons being headquartered in four locations. Bearing in mind where he lived, William would have been in ‘C’ Squadron: Lincoln (Sleaford, Gainsborough, Market Rasen, Wragby).
William underwent annual training at Louth (30 May – 13 June 1912), Grimsthorpe (29 May – 12 June 1913) and Riseholme (27 May – 10 June 1914).
When War was declared the 2/1st Lincs Yeomanry formed in September 1914 as a “second line” (training, draft-supplying reserve) for the 1/1st Bn and came under orders of the 2/1st North Midland Mounted Brigade.
In October 1915 William’s Battalion moved with the Brigade to Norfolk and was placed under orders of 1st Mounted Division, replacing 1/1st North Midland Mounted Brigade when it left for Salonika.
William should have sailed in the ill-fated “Mercian,” but at the last he was detained pending an offer of a commission in the Infantry, which, however, he declined. For some months he was with the second draft of the Lincs. Yeomanry, subsequently accepting a commission in the Surrey Yeomanry.
His MIC reads: ” Also served in Italy; and in England with Lincs Yeomanry. ” The 2/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry was based in the UK for the duration of the war and William did not serve overseas until his transfer to another regiment.
William’s Medal Index Card shows that he transferred to Surrey Yeomanry on 25 December 1915 (London Gazette 1 January 1916) and joined his Unit in France on 24 September 1917. The nominal roll of Officers who served with 10th Queen’s, held at Surrey History Centre (reference: 8227/1/10), also shows that Lt. W. Morley was posted to the Battalion from the Surrey Yeomanry on 24 September 1917. He was one of 129 from the Yeomanry sent to reinforce the 10th Queens.
The 10th Battalion, Queens (Royal West Surrey Regiment), to which William was attached, had been formed at Battersea on 3 June 1915, by the Mayor and Borough of Battersea and came under the command of 124th Brigade, 41st Division.
On 7 November 1917 the Division was notified that it was to be transferred to Italy. The move (by train) began five days later and by 18 November all units had concentrated north west of Mantua. The Division took over a sector of front line behind the River Piave, north west of Treviso, between 30 November and early on 2 December.
The History (see ‘Sources‘ below) suggests that the move to Italy was unexpected. Although less than 200 men of the original Battalion survived, having been reinforced from a variety of other Regiments up to full strength (931 Officers and men), it was fully expected it would return to The Somme.
On 28 February 1918 the Division concentrated in Campo San Piero, preparatory to returning to France. By 9 March it had completed its move and was concentration near Doullens and Mondicourt. Three men of the 10th Battalion died in Italy during this period.
William only had one leave, and had written to his parents of a fourteen days’ leave to commence on 21 March 1918, which was cancelled.
The War Diary of the 10th Battalion, Royal West Surrey Regiment for the 21st March 1918 reads:
“ Warning order was received that Bn. would entrain for ACHEUX area & probably billet at SENLIS & continue training. … The Bn. entrained at SAULTY. News was heard that a large German offensive had begun & that many places many miles back had been shelled, it was soon found that the destination had been changed from ALBERT to ACHIET-LE-GRAND. The Bn. detrained at about 1.30 a.m. & marched to camp at FAVREUIL. “ However, the report relating to the late March 1918 period is missing.
The reference to the large German offence was undoubtedly ‘Kaiserschlacht’ – the first day of the German Spring Offensive on 21st March. The Battalion History (see ‘Sources‘ below) does however give an account of the ensuing Battle, which can be paraphrased as follows:
“ The 10th Queen’s arrived at Achiet-le-Grand at 1.30 a.m. on 22 March and dug in Nort-east of the village of Beaunâtre, holding the Vaulx-Vraucourt road. The Battalion held this position all day under moderate shelling which “… caused half a dozen casualties. “
About midnight the Battalion was ordered to relieve the 20/Durham Light Infantry (DLI) to the right. However, the 1/7th Cheshires were on the right and the DLI on the left – with no other British units ahead of them.
After a quiet night, about 8.00 a.m. on the 23rd the enemy attacked in two waves from the direction of Vaulx-Vraucourt, but were stopped by artillery and rifle fire. A further attack at 11.00 a.m. was also stopped and after a lull attacked again, this time pushing two machine guns into position in front of ‘D’ Company’s position. (N.B. ‘D’ was William’s Company.)
A Vickers gun dealt with the attack on ‘D’ Company which petered out about 6.00 p.m., but not before the C.O., Lt.-Col. Clark, had been wounded. Another relatively quiet night followed until about 1.30 a.m. when a heavy enemy bombardment fell on the front line and support trenches.
After about 2 hours this stopped and a strong infantry attack was launched on the Battalion’s front and right. The 1/7 Cheshire began to withdraw, as did some of ‘B’ Company, Queen’s, to prevent being outflanked. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies held on for a while longer but were eventually also forced to withdraw. The Germans had took over a number of British positions and were able to inflict “.. severe casualties …” on the retiring Battalion.
Shortly afterwards the 10th Battalion regrouped and, supported by 26/Royal Fusiliers, counter attacked to occupy the original front line, but orders were then received to withdraw again. During the following day, the 25th, a further withdrawal took place to a line between Bihucourt and Achiet-le-Grand. ”
The 124th Brigade War Diary mentions a list of casualties and that the 10th Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment suffered many casualties: ” 20 Officers lost, 33 men killed, 184 wounded, 148 missing. ” In the Battalion War Diary Summary for the month of March 1918, Major Eric Thesiger compares the relative strength of the Battalion at the beginning – 44 Officers and 858 Other Ranks – with the end – 28 Officers and 516 men.
“The Sleaford Gazette” of 13 April 1918 reported that: “Since the last great offensive commenced on the Western front several Ruskington men have been wounded or gassed.” This no doubt referred to The German spring offensive, which began on 21 March 1918.
Those named specifically were: “Lieut. Wm. Morley, of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regt., and son of Mr. R. N. Morley, of the Elms, has been wounded. Pte. J. W. Dickinson, of the North Staffs., writing to his mother says he has been slightly wounded in the head and wrist and is et present in a convalescent camp in France. Corpl. J. W. Wilcox, of the Lincs. Yeomanry, has been gassed and is at present in England. Pte. E. Scuffham, of the Lincs. Regt., has also been wounded, but very few particulars are yet available of any of the cases.”
As we have seen this was old news in the case of William Morley, who was killed in action three days after the Battle began. “The Sleaford Gazette“, 20 April 1914, began his Obituary with: “With the deepest regret we record the death of Lieut. Wm. Morley, attached to the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regt., who was killed in action while defending a trench against overwhelming odds, covering the retirement of other units, on Palm Sunday, 24 March, a few days following the great German offensive. ”
“Touching tributes of respectful condolence have been received by his father from the Adjutant and a brother officer, testifying that he was one of the bravest of officers and beloved by his men. The deepest sympathy will be extended to Mr. and Mrs Morley and family from a wide circle of friends in the Ruskington and Leadenham districts. May this, together with the knowledge that their son died in a noble cause, bring some consolation to the sorrowing family.
Mr. Morley is well known throughout the district, and associated with a large number of public bodies in which he holds distinguished positions. At the Ruskington Parish Church on Sunday a muffled peal was rung as a tribute to the late officer’s memory, and indirectly it may be said it was a mark of respect to Mr. Morley, who is a valued ringer. Another feature of the peal was the presence of an old friend of the deceased (Mr. Felix Pickworth) from North Rauceby who took part in the ringing.”
CWGC Records show 61 men of the Battalion who died in the same period, 59 between 21 – 27 March. William was initially reported missing near Beaunâtre and was deemed to have died (killed in action) on 24th March 1918. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozières Memorial, which is a little strange as 55 of the 10th Battalion’s casualties in March 1918 are listed on the Arras Memorial.
He was one of 38 Great War casualties of Dauntsey’s School, West Lavington, and his name also appears on the School’s Roll of Honour and its War Memorial.
Probate Records show that she: “… last known to be alive 18 August 1976, dead body found 19 August 1976“. Her estate was valued at £31,152, equivalent to about £290,000 today – 2023.
William’s younger sister, Grace Morley, also served as a Nurse in World War 1.
Grace and William divorced and in 1952 she remarried Francis Edward Cannon. Grace died in Ipswich, Suffolk, in the September quarter 1976. aged 82. The photo, right, shows Grace in her Nurse’s uniform, with her brother, William.
- I am grateful to Colin Taylor, ‘bootneck’ and ‘johnboy’, via the Great War Forum, for helping me with William’s Service details.
- I am also grateful to John Webb, a family member, for the photos of William as a Schoolboy, and other members of his family.
- ….. and to Michelle Young for the photo of the Dauntsey School Memorial.
- ‘Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War’ – by Paul McCue [ISBN-10: 1848841949] p. 217; 226-7
- “The Sleaford Gazette” – 13 April 1918 and 20 April 1918