Unit: 7th Battalion
Date of Death: 18 December 1915 – Killed in Action
Age: 20 years
Cemetery / Memorial: Menin Rd South Military Cemetery
Grave / Panel Ref.: III. C. 2.
William was born in Ruskington, Lincolnshire, in the June quarter 1895, the son of John (Hawker/Coal Merchant) and Betsy Ann (née Snaith) Thorpe. William had five older brothers and sisters, Frederick, Jesse, Arthur, Lucy and Elizabeth, and a younger sister, Nellie.
In 1901 (Census RG 13/3048) the family were living in Jubilee Street, Ruskington. However, William’s father, John, died on 27 April 1905 and his widowed mother moved the family to Silver Street, Ruskington before 1911. (Census RG 14/19618).
Betsy stayed in the village until her death on 24 June 1939, when she was buried in Grave B. 123, Ruskington Cemetery alongside her husband in Grave B. 122. (see below).
N.B. William’s older brother, Private 241176 Arthur Thorpe, 6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), died of wounds 24th April 1917. In the space of just 3 months their widowed mother, Betsy, had lost two of her sons.
‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ [27 November 1915] reported that William originally enlisted in the 9th (Reserve) Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, in November 1914 (confirmed by comparing William’s Service Number with others in the Regiment, whose enlistment dates are known). The same source says that: ” He finished his training at Lincoln, and was drafted to the 7th Battalion in France a few months ago. ”
Unfortunately, William’s Service Papers have not survived, but his Medal Index Card (MIC) shows that he was posted to his Battalion in France on 28 July 1915, just two weeks after the Battalion landed.
The 9th (Reserve) Battalion was formed in Lincoln in November 1914 as a Service Battalion, part of K4 (Kitchener’s 4th New Army) and it looks like William enlisted at the outset. In November 1914 the Battalion came under the command of 91st Brigade, originally 30th Division. On 10 April 1915 the 9th became a Reserve battalion.
The 7th (Service) Battalion was likely raised at Lincoln on 11th September 1914, part of K2 (Kitchener’s 2nd New Army) and came under command of 51st Brigade in the 17th (Northern) Division. After initial training close to home, the Division moved to Dorset to continue training and then in late May 1915 moved to the Winchester area.
The division had been selected for Home Defence duties, but this was reversed and they proceeded to France and on 14 July 1915 the Battalion landed at Boulogne, before concentrating near St Omer. They later moved into the Southern Ypres salient for trench familiarisation and then took over the front lines in that area.
It seems from the ‘Lincolnshire Chronicle’ quote above that about this time William was posted from the 9th to the 7th Battalion and joined his new Battalion ‘in the field’ on 28 July 1915. 144 days later he was killed in action.
The day William joined his Battalion it suffered its first casualties with three men killed and four wounded. The War Diary records that the 7th Battalion casualties from the 18th June to the 25th September were 1 Officer and 21 other ranks killed; 2 Officers and 108 other ranks wounded.
Twelve members of the 7th Battalion, including William, were killed in action between 18 and 20 December 1915, most, 8, on the 20th. All are buried with him in the Menin Road South Military Cemetery.
It is probably that they were originally buried in Menin Road NORTH Cemetery, as the ‘South‘ Cemetery did not open until January 1916. The ‘North‘ Cemetery was at virtually the same spot and was used by the units and Field Ambulances from May, 1915.
In reporting William’s death on 1 January 1916 “The Lincolnshire Chronicle” said:
” KILLED IN ACTION – News has reached Mrs. John Thorpe, Silver Street, from a soldier at the front, that her son, Pte. William Thorpe, of the 7th Lincs. Regt., was killed in France about the middle of December. No official intimation of this sad event, however, has a present been received. “
In April and May 1916 William’s mother, Ann, received the return of his effects from the MOD, totalling £6 14s. 10d [£6.74 = a relative value of about £480 today (2015)]. On 1 September 1919 she received a further £3 10s. 0d [£3.50] War Gratuity (£250 today).
William and his brother, Arthur, are both commemorated on their parents’ Grave (Plot B, Graves 122 and 123) in Ruskington Cemetery. – as shown above.
- ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle” – 27 November 1915 and 1 January 1916, page 3