Lieutenant Percy Alfred Willmore, 1/9th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, attached 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment, later Indian Army Bhopal Infantry
Born on 4th June 1893 in Aldbury
Died on 25th September 1959 in Luton
Percy Alfred Willmore was born in Aldbury, the eldest of the 3 children of James Henry Willmore and Alice née Rickard. In childhood, his surname was sometimes recorded as “Wilmore”. Percy Willmore was baptised at St John the Baptist’s Church, Aldbury on 30th July 1893.
His sister Grace Emma was born on 25th February 1896 and his brother Robert on 25th September 1899.
The 1901 Census, taken on 31st March, shows the family living at 19 Slated Row, Aldbury, formerly his mother’s family home. Percy’s father was a Wheelwright. Percy was aged 7, Grace 5 and Robert 1.
Percy’s great friend from childhood was Hubert (Bert) Halsey, whose family then lived at 39 Ringshall, Ashridge Park, which is now part of Cherry Tree Cottage in Alderton Drive. According to Bert Halsey‘s daughter Alice, Bert and Percy “grew up together, often going exploring in Ashridge Park or trailing after the people riding to hounds”.
The Little Gaddesden School Log Book has entries in Autumn 1901, which would fit Percy Willmore. On 31st October an entry noted that “Gertrude Horn of Ringshall has measles”. Then, the following day, 1st November, it stated:
I hear that another boy of the name of Wilmore of Ringshall has measles. He does not come to School.
Many children around Aldbury have measles & I hear that Gertrude Horn & young Wilmore went there about a fortnight ago to see a parade & mixed with the crowd.
That suggests that the Wilmore family moved to Ringshall during 1901, though there is no evidence that Percy attended Little Gaddesden School. Depending where in Ringshall they lived, he and his siblings may well have attended Aldbury School. His younger siblings later attended Little Gaddesden School, but not until June 1906 when Grace started in Standard 4 on 15th June and Robert in Standard 1 on 18th June. That may be when the family moved to 21 Little Gaddesden, where they are shown in the 1911 Census.
In the 1911 Census, 17 year old Percy was a Wheelwright on the Ashridge Estate, living at home, 21 Little Gaddesden, with his parents and younger siblings. His father was also a Wheelwright on the Estate. 15 year old Grace was at home and 11 year old Robert at school.
While working on the Estate, Percy spent a year in the Territorials. The entry reads “1 year 2nd Herts”, i.e. the Hertfordshire Regiment, which, in an earlier incarnation, had been the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.
Percy Willmore and his childhood friend Bert Halsey volunteered early in the War, attesting for the 1/9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (The Duke of Cambridge’s Own) at Pound Lane, Willesden Green on 7th September 1914. Bert Halsey’s Service Number was 2033 and Percy’s 2044. By that time, Percy lived away from home at 33 Newton Road, Cricklewood, Middlesex. His age is given as 22, though he was actually 21 years old; he was 5 feet 9 inches tall with a 37½ inch chest and very good physical development.
Percy’s Service Record shows that, on 29th October 1914, as part of the Home Counties Division, the battalion was shipped out to India, to relieve the regular troops there. They sailed from Southampton aboard the troop transports Dilwara and Dongola, arriving in Bombay on 2nd December 1914. The 1/9th Battalion Middlesex Regiment then moved to the Dinajpur District, West Bengal (now in Bangladesh), where Percy and Bert Halsey remained until mid-May 1915.
Both Percy Willmore and Bert Halsey were in the first draft of men from the 1/9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment to be attached to the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment and sent to Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Percy’s Medal Roll Index Card shows that he served in Theatre of War 5A (Mesopotamia) from 15th May 1915. After Turkey entered the War on Germany’s side, Britain sent troops to protect its oil supplies in the then Ottoman province of Mesopotamia.
Toward Baghdad 11
The 9th Middlesex/ 2nd Norfolk Regiment men became part of the 6th (Poona) Indian Division, commanded by Major-General Charles Townshend. From their base at Basra, they advanced 160km along the River Tigris to Amara, which they captured on 4th June 1915. From Amara, they continued north-west, first to Kut, then on toward Baghdad, some 400km away. The division entered Kut on 28 September 1915, having inflicted heavy losses on the Turks. Then, by mid-November, it was only 40km from Baghdad. However, sickness and a lack of artillery, ammunition and supplies seriously weakened Townshend’s force.
Retreat to Kut-el-Amara 11
Between 21st and 23rd November 1915, the Division was blocked by the Turks at Ctesiphon and, after suffering heavy losses, they retreated back to Kut-el-Amara. On 7th December 1915, the Turks surrounded Townshend’s forces and, for the next few weeks, they launched attacks against the Kut defences. The siege of Kut-el-Amara continued in increasingly appalling conditions until 29th April 1916, when 13,000 men surrendered into captivity.
In an account of her father’s service, Bert Halsey‘s daughter Alice recorded:
By this time Bert and Percy were in the hospital, Bert’s left arm was paralysed carrying a pack too long whilst Percy was delirious with fever. The order came for walking wounded to get down to the river to be evacuated. Dad would not leave Percy so somehow he managed to get him on his back and carried him down to the boat. They were taken to Bombay in India for hospital treatment; probably issued with clothes, and received some back pay.
Percy Willmore and Bert Halsey cannot have been in Kut for very long. A Soldier’s Medical Record entry for Bert Halsey shows that, by 16th December 1915, he was in the 19th General Hospital, believed to be in Alexandria, suffering from neuritis (inflammation of the nerves) of the left arm. Percy’s Service Record indicates that he served in the “Persian Gulf” until 7th March 1916 and was re-posted to the 1/9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment in India on 8th March 1916. Unlike some other Service Records, it contains no page detailing hospital treatment.
Percy spent the remainder of the War in India, mainly in the North West Frontier region, which is now part of Pakistan. He was awarded a Good Conduct Badge on 7th September 1916 and then appointed Acting Lance Corporal (unpaid) in the 1/9th Battalion on 15th September 1916. Almost a year later, on 28th August 1917, he was appointed Lance Corporal (paid). During 1917, his regimental number changed from 2044 to 265740.
In November 1917, the Battalion returned to Mesopotamia, but Percy’s Service Record indicates that he stayed in India. Then, on 22nd February 1918, he transferred to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion. However, on 7th June 1918, Percy was discharged from the British Army in India to take up a temporary commission in the Indian Army. He then served as a Lieutenant with the 4th/9th Bhopal Infantry, attached to the 1st Brahmans. For his War Service, Percy was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Percy Wilmore is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. He is listed in the 9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. On the Centenary Revision of the Roll, his surname has been amended to Willmore and his regiment is recorded more precisely as 1/9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. His great friend Hubert Halsey is also named on both Rolls and the name of his cousin, Philip Collier, Suffolk Regiment has been added to the Centenary Revision of the Roll. Philip Collier‘s mother Eliza was the younger sister of Percy’s mother Alice.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
Percy Alfred Willmore aged 27, an Army Officer, previously resident in India, is named among the British passengers of the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd SS Chanda, which arrived at Plymouth from Bombay on 28th February 1921. According to the Incoming Passenger List, his intended country of future permanent residence was England.
In 1921 (3rd Quarter) Percy married Mabel Eva Hoult in Horncastle, Lincolnshire.
Percy, however, only stayed in England until 6th October 1921, when he returned to India, sailing from Liverpool to Bombay aboard SS Massilia. He then continued to serve as a Lieutenant with the 4th/9th Bhopal Infantry, attached to the 1st Brahmans. There is no evidence that Mabel went out to India, so it is assumed that Percy had leave in England again during 1922. Their daughter Beryl Grace (known as Paddy) was born on 3rd February 1923 and her birth registered in Horncastle, which suggests that her mother remained there with her own parents while Percy was overseas.
Percy is shown as an Absent Voter of 34 Ringshall, his mother’s address, until Spring 1923. However, by 1924 he had returned to England.
Electoral Registers for 1925 and 1926 show Percy and Mabel living at The Bungalow on the Downs, Kensworth, Bedfordshire. Then, between 1927 and 1933, they lived at 232 Gipsy Road, Lambeth. However, they then move back, to Luton, and lived at 11 Letchworth Road, Luton between 1934 and 1938.
The 1939 Register shows that, by September 1939, Percy, Mabel and their daughter lived at 59 Gardenia Avenue, Luton. Percy was working as a Motor Body Engineer (Experimental) and his entry adds “investigation & development”. He was almost certainly working at Vauxhall Motors, where his friend Bert Halsey had worked before emigrating to Australia. However, during the Second World War, the Vauxhall plant in Luton changed from car production to work on Churchill tanks, which progressed from design to production in less than a year. More than 5600 Churchill tanks as well as 250,000 lorries were then produced at Vauxhall Motors in Luton.
Percy Alfred Willmore, of 59 Gardenia Avenue, Luton, died, aged 66, on 25th September 1959.
5. http://fhsrd.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/December-2014BTL.pdf p3 History in the making. Bert Halsey in the First World War 1914-1916.
6. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
16. 1918-21 Absent Voters’ Lists Parliamentary County of Hertford, Hemel Hempstead Division, Little Gaddesden
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson