Died on October 13th 1915
Born circa 1890, William Henry Kennerley was the son of Anne Jervis. We don’t know his father’s name as by 1901, his father had died and his widowed mother, Anne, had remarried a William Jervis. In this year the census places William with his mother and step-father at Ridgway. By 1911 William had married Ann Bailey and was residing with his in-laws at 16, Lower John Street. It must have been something of a ‘squash and a squeeze’ as a total of five adults and seven children shared the five roomed house. William and Mary had already been married for two years and of their two children, a son had died in 1909. When William enlisted on September 15th 1914 at Biddulph the couple had three children; William Stanley, Althea and Gertrude – all under five years of age, and Mary was expecting again. They resided at 87, Congleton Road. William was a coal miner working at Chatterley Whitfield.
Was it the posters that helped to attract another Biddulph man into the ranks when William Henry enlisted at Biddulph in the early days of the war in September 1914? The 1/5th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment became his unit. From their house in Congleton Road, he said goodbye to his wife Mary. William was to join his pals at Butterton Hall camp for their basic training, before intensive training was carried out at Luton, Harpenden and Bishops Stortford.
The family experienced again the tragedy of a child’s death as in May 1915 their nine week old daughter died. At the inquest this was attributed to accidental suffocation by her mother whilst sharing a bed.
By June 1915, with training almost complete the battalion attached to 46th North Midland Division, having made ready for war and with inoculations behind them, the men commenced embarkation at Southampton. It would have taken five or six hours to sail the English Channel, a dangerous crossing. Landing at Le Havre the division proceeded to their concentration area.
We know from the local war memorial that 73 men did not return from the Great War, each with their own story to tell. On October 13th 1915, eight soldiers from Biddulph had similar stories; they lived, worked, trained, went to war and died together, all from the same unit, the 1/5th Staffords.
This is the story of one of those eight.
The division served in the Ypres area until October when they were ordered to the Loos region of the Western Front. The Battle of Loos was being fought north of the mining town of Lens. On the afternoon of October 13th battalions of 137th Brigade 46 Division were to retake, at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the trenches of Big Willie and Fosse Alley.
This was a disaster as within the first fifteen minutes they were shot down by relentless machine gun fire and shelling. That attack across no man’s land sadly cost the North Stafford men dear, losing 219 brave soldiers with many more wounded. William Henry fell in battle that afternoon along with seven others from Biddulph. However, it was not until the end of March 1916 that Mary received the official news of his death as the Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of April 8th 1916 reported: “Official information was received on Thursday March 29th by Mrs Kennerley of 87, Congleton Road, Biddulph that her husband, who had been missing since October 13th 1915 has been killed in action on that date.”
Rex and Carole Downing have letters sent by William from the front. In one dated October 9th 1914, William writes, “I guess you will be surprised to see I was Pte as I have given my stripe up – I have enough to do to look after myself here” and “I must say I am not in the Company I should like to be in. I want to get in D Company if possible, this is the Company that Spencer was in” and he finishes with “PS Tell mother not to get downhearted xxx and if she can send me a parcel I should be very pleased as I am with a lot of strange lads in this Company and we are not overfed.”
His closing words in a last letter home end “God be with you till we meet again xxxxxx.” The margins of this letter were filled with drawings of Forget-me-Not flowers.
Records show that by May 1919 his widow had re-married and had become Mrs Mary Challinor of High Street, Brindley Ford. Private William Henry Kennerley, like many more, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial close to where he fell. He is also commemorated on all of the Biddulph memorials.
Mike Turnock and Elaine Heathcote
With thanks to Rex and Carole Downing.