Captain William Austin, 9th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment; Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry attached Army Service Corps
Born in January 1869 in Whipsnade
Date of death unknown
William Austin was born in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, the 4th of the 11 children of Tom Austin and Mary, née Birchmore. His father was a Carpenter.
His older siblings were: John Willis Austin, born 26th February 1864; Henry William, who died as an infant, born 1865 and Sarah Jane, born 13th December 1866.
Younger than William were: Walter Edward, born September 1870; George, born 1874; Jason, born 21st December 1875; Tom, born 1880; Emily Caroline, born 21st December 1875; Ellen Elizabeth, born 1885 and Margaret Annie, born 24th February 1889.
The family’s address in the 1871 Census was just recorded as “Cottage”, Whipsnade, but they had moved, via Dagnall where George was born, to Ringshall by the time Jason was born in December 1875. In 1881 they were resident at Ringshall, Top Row.
Part of William’s education was at Little Gaddesden School. The School Log Book for 31st July 1879 noted that William Austin, who would then have been aged 10, was away at work (principally hay making).
In the 1881 Census, William was recorded as a 12 year old Agricultural Labourer. By June 1887 he was a Bricklayer employed by Lord Brownlow on the Ashridge Estate.
Joining the Army 6
On 2nd June 1887, William Austin, aged 18 years 5 months, became a Private, Service No. 1790, in the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. He was 5’ 4½” tall, weighed 120 lbs and had a 33” chest. His complexion was fresh, his eyes bluish hazel and his hair black. His religion was Church of England.
Having enlisted initially for five years, he first served at home, gaining his 4th Class Certificate of Education on 23rd June 1887, his 3rd Class at Fermoy on 8th May 1889 and his 2nd Class Certificate, also at Fermoy, on 11th February 1890. On 2nd December 1890, he was “permitted to extend his services to complete 12 years with the Colours”, under paragraph xix of the Queen’s Regulations 1889.
Between 25th August 1887 and 14th January 1890, William served as a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. He was promoted Corporal on 15th January 1890, Lance Sergeant on 26th January 1892 and Sergeant on 26th June 1892.
From 2nd January 1891 to 23rd November 1895, William Austin served with his regiment in India. During this period he passed classes of instruction in Supply on 21st September 1894 and Transport on 16th October 1894.
While William was serving with his regiment in India, the 1891 Census shows that his parents were at home at No 4 Ringshall, later re-numbered No 32 Ringshall, with their six youngest children: George, 16 and Jason, 15, both farm labourers, Tom, 10, Emily, 8 and Ellen, 5, all at school and Margaret, 2.
The Ashanti Expedition 6
Following service in India, William had 17 days at Gibraltar before heading to West Africa on the Ashanti Expedition, for which he left on 11th December 1895. He returned to England on 23rd February 1896. His Service Record notes that he was awarded the Ashanti Star.
Further Service Overseas 6
William undertook seven months service at home on his return from West Africa, before serving in Hong Kong as a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion from 3rd October 1896 to 31st December 1897. During that time, he elected to extend his period of service to 21 years. His time in Hong Kong was followed by service in Singapore from 1st January 1898 to 22nd January 1899.
The 2nd Anglo-Boer War and Marriage 6
From 23rd January 1899, William served for almost a year in the East Indies. On 17th March 1899 he was promoted to Colour Sergeant. This was followed by home service from 2nd January 1900 to 4th March 1901, during which he passed classes of instruction in Musketry at Hythe on 11th May 1900.
On 15th January 1901, William Austin married Emma Davis at St Andrew’s Church Watford. Less than two months later, on 5th March 1901, he was sent to Malta for a year.
At the time of the 1901 Census, William was in Malta with his regiment. His parents Tom and Mary were still at Ringshall, the cottage now numbered 32, with George, 26, Yardman on a farm, Tom, 20, Farm Shepherd and Margaret, 12. Emma’s 1901 Census return has not been found.
The Mediterranean Medal 6
For service during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, William was awarded the Mediterranean Medal, authorised by King Edward VII for volunteer and militia troops, including 855 members of the West Yorkshire Regiment, who had replaced the regular troops in garrisons across the Mediterranean during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. The medal and ribbon were identical to the Queen’s South Africa Medal, except that the word on the reverse was ‘Mediterranean’ rather than ‘South Africa’.
William’s eldest daughter Florence Emma was born in Ringshall on 18th November 1901. His second daughter, Winifred May, was born on 28th May 1903 and his youngest daughter, Constance Ena, on 30th January 1906.
From 7th March 1902 to 1st June 1908, Colour Sergeant William Austin served at home. From his daughters’ Baptism records, it seems that this included time at Chatham, York and Ripon. On 1st June 1908, William was discharged from 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment on completion of 21 years of service with the Colours.
In the 1911 Census, William, Ann and their three daughters aged 9, 7 and 5 were living at 34 Garfield Road, Watford. William was a 42 year old Army Pensioner. His parents Tom and Mary, his brother George and sister Margaret were still at 32 Ringshall, where his mother died in 1915 and his father remained until 1919.
The Death of his Wife Emma 7
In 1912 (3rd Quarter) Emma Austin aged 44 died in Watford; this is believed to have been William’s wife Emma as she is not named in later records. William’s address, shown on his daughter Florence’s School Admissions Register, was 63 Victoria Road, Watford in September 1912 and 39 Bruce Grove, Watford in September 1913.
Few details of William’s War Service have survived. From 4th May 1915 to 4th April 1916 he served as a Temporary Captain in the 9th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment; he was then transferred to the 12th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. By 21st January 1919, he was a Captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry attached to the Army Service Corps Remount Depot at Swaythling, Southampton. For his War Service he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
William’s Medal Roll Index Card gives his address at 21st March 1920 as 6 Upper Hill Lane, Southampton. He was also an Absent Naval/ Military Voter of 39 Bruce Grove, Watford.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
William Austin 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. The regiment listed for him is the 9th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment, the regiment in which he first served. He is similarly shown on the Centenary Revision of the Roll.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
A Mystery Remains 12
No records for William have been found after Autumn 1920 when, an absent voter on the Electoral Register, he is recorded as the sole occupant of 39 Bruce Grove, Watford who was eligible to vote. However, there is no conclusive evidence that he ever returned there after living in Southampton when attached to the Remount Depot at Swaythling. Nor can any definite records be found for his daughters Florence, Winifred and Constance, though we know that Florence was at school in Watford until 1916. Members of the Austin family, including William’s father Tom, his brother Walter and his sister Ellen, have been found at 98 and 145 Leavsden Road Watford. Despite the ease with which other family members have been found, William and his three daughters have not yet been traced.
Postscript: William’s Sister Margaret – A Red Cross Volunteer 1917 – 1918 12, 13
At the outbreak of war, Lord and Lady Brownlow offered Ashridge as the location for an auxiliary hospital and convalescent home for troops. This was controlled by St Albans Hospital and mainly staffed by the Red Cross. In 1917 and 1918 William’s youngest sister Margaret, who was still living at home at 32 Ringshall, volunteered part time for the Red Cross at Ashridge; her First World War Volunteer’s Record Card shows that helped with Red Cross needlework and collecting. In 1919 Margaret married Frank Gates. They moved to Watford, living at 39 Bruce Grove from 1921, though there is no evidence she lived there when William was registered there as an Absent Voter.
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Book 1872 – 1886
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson