William Fenn

3531 Corporal Hamor William Fenn, 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment

Born September 1880 in Whipsnade
Died 22nd March 1916 in France after a short illness

Family and Home 1, 2, 3, 4

Hamor William Fenn, always known as William, was born in the parish of Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, the eldest of the four children of George William Fenn and Harriett, née Burgess. William was baptised in St John the Baptist’s Church, Great Gaddesden on 31st October 1880. In the 1881 Census, he and his parents lived at Common Side, Studham. By the time his siblings were born, William’s family had moved to Little Gaddesden. His sister Rose was born in 1885, his brother Herbert in 1888 and his sister Annie in 1893. In the 1891 and subsequent Census returns, they lived at 18 Little Gaddesden. William’s father was initially a Labourer. By 1891 he was a Herdsman and by 1901 a Domestic Coachman. He died in the London Hospital and was buried in Little Gaddesden on 12th June 1908.

Education 5

William started at Little Gaddesden School on 13th April 1885, the term before his fifth birthday. It is not known exactly when he left school but the Log Book for 25th April 1892 records that

William Fenn, George Gadbury, Edward Hoar & Jim Janes having Certificates of Proficiency are gone stone-picking on the Estate for an indefinite time.

Service in the Volunteers 6, 7

Between 4th May 1896 and 24th July 1904, William served as a Private in the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

He was then promoted to Lance Corporal, continuing to serve until 8th May 1908 when the Volunteer Force was re-organised into the Territorials.

A 1908 entry in the Little Gaddesden Diary written by the Rector, the Revd. Edward Clark, reveals that

The Annual Church Parade for Volunteers continued until the Volunteers themselves came to an end. Very few of the old Volunteers, to be exact only William and Herbert Fenn, joined the Territorials.

Employment 8, 9

In the 1901 and 1911 Census returns, William was as a Plumber working on the Ashridge Estate.

The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 10

The Little Gaddesden Brass Band was formed in 1902 and a report and statement of accounts for 1902 – 1903 has survived. To obtain funds, entertainments were performed and donations sought. Each band member paid 3d per week toward the cost of tuition. The report noted “our balance in hand is very low, but we again rely on our many kind friends to give us their support and stick to our motto: Nil Desperandum”. The report included a photograph from which William was absent but his younger brother Herbert, aged about 14, is shown second from the right in the middle row.

Photo of Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902-1903
Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903. Photo courtesy of Lyn Hyde

Others in the Band with links to the Roll of Honour are:

  • Back Row, L to R: 1. Archibald Johnson; 2. Thomas Johnson; 3. Frederick Cutler; 5. John Wibden; 6. Edward Hing; 7. Edward Pinnock (father of George Pinnock and Arthur Pinnock).
  • Middle Row, L to R: 3. Arthur Johnson; 4. Sam Oakins; 6. Harry Wells (father of William Wells); 7. Walter Holland; 8. Herbert Fenn.
  • Front Row, L to R: 1. Steve Oakins; 4. William Johnson; 5. Sidney Rogers.
  • Under the drum: Hubert Halsey
  • Band members absent from the photo included Matthew Munden; the Band’s Secretary was Geoffrey Talbot.

Service in the Territorial Force 6

When the Volunteers were re-organised into the Hertfordshire Battalion, Territorial Force on 9th May 1908, 520 Lance Corporal William Fenn continued to serve. On 15th May 1911 he was promoted to Corporal. A year later the Territorials were re-named, becoming the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment. William was promoted Lance Serjeant on 30th April 1912.

“Being Medically Unfit for Further Service” 6

On 15th May 1914, William was promoted to Sarjeant but, on 8th August, after almost 12 years’ service in the Volunteer Force and over 6 in the Territorials and having been awarded the Territorial Efficiency Medal, William Fenn was discharged from the Territorials, “Being Medically Unfit for Further Service”.

To France with the Herts Guards 11

William must have wheedled his way back into the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment pretty quickly because, less than two months later, on 6th November 1914, 3531 Private William Fenn landed in France with the regiment, straight into the 1st Battle of Ypres. He was still living in Little Gaddesden and had enlisted in Hertford. Before going to France, the regiment trained for two months at Bury St Edmunds.

This is a copy of a postcard from Horace Ruffett to his brother Ernest, dated 30th August 1914:

Photo of F Company, 1st Herts batallion, in training
Men from F Company, 1st Hertfordshire Regiment training at Bury St Edmunds in August 1914.

It was given to Michael McCaul for the Little Gaddesden Archive by Ernest Ruffett’s son E. H. Ruffett in 1996/7.

The postcard reads:

F Com. 1st Herts
Bury-St-Edmunds
Dear E I thought you would like one of these. It is a good one. You will know them nearly all. It is very hot here today. Yours H

Horace Ruffett aged 22 is seated far right and the young man fifth from right is 19 year old Arthur Whitman. Joe Hing (uncle of the yet-to-be-born Leonard Hing, who was to perish in the Second World War) is on the far left, but we do not know who the other men are. If one of them is William, who was then aged nearly 34, he is likely to be the man second right. Other men who may be in this photo are: Vernon Batchelor, Harry Cutler, Richard Hoar and Herbert Impey.

Admitted to Hospital 12

On 9th July 1915, 3531 Lance Corporal W Fenn, 1st Herts, aged 34 and with 19 years’ service, was admitted to 4th Stationary Hospital, St Omer, France with “Pyrexia UO” – i.e. a fever of unknown origin. He was discharged to duty on 25th July 1915.

Death in France 13

On 22nd March 1916, 35 year old Corporal William Fenn,1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, died in hospital in St Omer, France after a short illness. His CWGC Casualty Record notes that he was the “son of George William and Harriett Fenn, of 18, Little Gaddesden, Berkhamsted, Herts.”

Burial in France 13

William is buried in Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France; his grave reference is II. B. 47.

Photo of William Fenn's gravestone
Photo courtesy of David Heard

Beneath the badge of the Hertfordshire Regiment, the inscription on his headstone reads:

3531 Corporal
H. W. Fenn
Hertfordshire Regiment
22nd March 1916 Age 35

Beneath the cross are the words:

Beloved and missed by all.

News of William’s Death reaches Little Gaddesden 7

An April 1916 entry in the Little Gaddesden Parish Diary, written by the Rector, the Revd. Edward Clark, reads as follows:

All Little Gaddesden was saddened when the news came that William Fenn had died in hospital in France on March 22nd. Quiet, unassuming, truly religious turn of mind, William Fenn was deservedly popular; as Sunday School teacher, in the Choir, at the Reading Room, he was a constant influence for good, and probably no one in the place contributed more generously to the offertory in proportion to their means than he. Thorough in everything he did, he made a gallant, one may even say heroic soldier, and his death was a grief not only to his family but to the whole village.”

“Our village is appreciably poorer for his death” 14

William’s obituary was published in the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser in April 1916. The text was taken from an article in the Berkhamsted Deanery Magazine:

Facsimile of William Fenn's obituary in The Hemel Hempstead Gazette
William Fenn’s obituary in what was then the The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, as published in April 1916. This copy published courtesy of the Hemel Gazette & Express

By the death of William Fenn after a short illness in hospital, at St Omer, France, on March 22nd, our village of Little Gaddesden is appreciably poorer. He was universally and deservedly popular, both at home and in France, where he proved himself a very gallant, and, we may add, though he received no official recognition, heroic soldier. But we shall remember him best for the quiet, useful life he lived among us, lending a ready hand to any good work; for many years a teacher in our Sunday School, a member of the choir, and secretary of the Reading Room, which last owes not a little to his enterprise and generosity. The Rector made a feeling reference to his many admirable qualities on the Sunday morning after the news was received, and the congregation by a quite unpremeditated act of homage to his memory stood while the ‘Dead March’ was played at the conclusion of the evening service. Our sincerest sympathies go out to his mother and other relatives in this time of sorrow.

We will remember them 11

William Fenn is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Roll of Honour in the church, together with his younger brother Herbert Fenn, Machine Gun Corps, who survived the war and was awarded the Military Medal.

William was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.

References

1. https://www.findmypast.co.uk England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947

3. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census

4. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census

5. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1872 – 1886 and 1887 – 1906

6. https://www.findmypast.co.uk  British Army Service Records 1914-1920

7. The Little Gaddesden Parish Diary 1877 – 1918

8. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcription

9. https://www.findmypast.co.uk  1911 Census for England & Wales

10. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903

11. https://www.ancestry.co.uk  British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920

12. https://www.findmypast.co.uk  British Armed Forces, First World War Soldiers’ Medical Records, Fenn, W

13. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/20099/fenn,-hamor-william/

14. Obituary of William Fenn from the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, published by the Gazette in April 1916.

Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson