Captain William Austin, 9th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment; Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry attached Army Service Corps
Born on 15th January 1869 in Whipsnade
Died on 15th January 1922 in Denmark Hill, Middlesex
William Austin was born in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, the 4th of the 11 children of Tom Austin and Mary, née Birchmore. His father was a Master 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, Emma 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.
In 1912 (3rd Quarter) Emma Austin aged 44 died in Watford. William remained in Watford where his address, shown on his daughter Florence’s School Admissions Register, was 63 Victoria Road in September 1912 and 39 Bruce Grove in September 1913. In 1913 (3rd Quarter), a year after his first wife died, William married Emma Maria Champion in Reigate, Surrey. Their son John Kenneth William Austin was born in Watford on 21st December 1915, by which time William had been recalled to military service.
From 4th May 1915 to 4th April 1916 William served as a Temporary Captain in the 9th (Service) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, initially at Blackdown Barracks, Aldershot and on Salisbury Plain.
Officers of the 9th (Service) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment 17
Captain William Austin is seated on the right-hand end of the front row of this official photograph of Officers of the 9th (Service) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. It was taken at Blackdown in 1915, shortly before the Battalion sailed for Gallipoli. The photographer was Gale & Polden Ltd, of Aldershot and London.
The 9th Battalion at Gallipoli 15
Then, in June 1915, the Battalion was sent to Gallipoli as part of the 13th Division of the British Army, to reinforce the troops there. Captain W Austin was named as one of their 28 Officers. They left Salisbury Plain on Sunday 20th June 1915 to embark aboard the transport ship “Cawdor Castle” at Avonmouth. On 24th June they sailed via Valetta and Alexandria to Mudros on the Island of Lemnos, which they reached on 10th July. Three days later they continued to Gallipoli aboard the destroyer “Reynard” and the minesweeper “Newmarket”.
Late on 13th July 1915, the 9th Worcesters disembarked at “V” Beach at the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Heavily laden, they then marched North to the reserve shelters among the cliffs of Gully Beach before going into the trenches in Gully Ravine on the night of 14th July 1915. Then in August, after brief respite on Lemnos, they were involved in the Battle of Sari Bair, the Battle of Russell’s Top and the Battle of Hill 60, at ANZAC. However, soon after that, the Battalion transferred to Sulva Bay from which they were evacuated on 19th and 20th December 1915.
In Hospital with Enteric Fever 10
William, however, left Gallipoli earlier that autumn as the result of illness. On 19th October 1915 he was admitted to the 19th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt suffering from Enteric Fever. Then, on 24th November, after just over a month in hospital in Alexandria, he transferred to the Hospital Ship H.S. Dongola to return to England. It is likely that his remaining service in the Worcestershire Regiment was in England.
On 5th April 1915, William transferred to the newly formed 12th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. This was a Labour Battalion formed in Plymouth, which subsequently moved to France as part of the Fourth Army. However, by 6th December 1916, William was back in England in Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital at Millbank suffering from Bronchitis. He remained there for 10 days and was then transferred to Bathurst House Hospital for Officers, Belgravia to continue his recovery.
By 21st January 1919, William, still recorded as a Captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, was 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. His Medal Roll Index Card gives his address on 21st March 1920 as Linden, 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
William and Emma’s daughter Violet Ruby was born in Southampton on 13th December 1918 and their son Arthur William in Southampton in September 1920. In Autumn 1920 William was still shown as an absent voter of 39 Bruce Grove, Watford. However, it is probable that he did not return there after living in Southampton when attached to the Remount Depot at Swaythling. In 1921 and 1922, Electoral Registers record him living at 10 St John’s Street, Winchester, where he was the Licenced Victualler of the St John’s Tavern. However, William was admitted to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Denmark Hill, Middlesex where, on 15th January 1922, his 53rd Birthday, he died. The cause of his death was recorded as Morbus Cordis (heart disease), Heart Failure and Dropsy (swelling, possibly as the result of heart disease).
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.
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Book 1872 – 1886
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson