Major William Mathias O’Kelly, M.C., Royal Army Service Corps
Born 12th September 1888 in Dublin, Ireland
Died 19th June 1941 at Ashridge Hospital – of pneumonia and complications following a perforated duodenal ulcer
Family and Home 1
William Mathias O’Kelly, M.C. was born in Dublin, Ireland the 6th child of William Henry O’Kelly and Frances Josephine née Peart.
His siblings were:
- Margaret Mary O’Kelly, born 8th August 1881
- John William O’Kelly, born 3rd August 1882
- Joseph Henry O’Kelly, born 27th October 1883
- Robert O’Kelly, born 16th January 1885
- Charles Martin O’Kelly, born 2nd May 1886
- Bernard John O’Kelly, born 9th November 1889
- Richard O’Kelly, born 16th August 1891
- Edward O’Kelly, born 25th October 1892
- Henry Kane O’Kelly, born 6th June 1894
In the 1901 Scotland Census, William and his older brother Charles were pupils at St Joseph’s College, Craig’s Road, Dumfries which, at that time, was a Roman Catholic Boys’ boarding school.
The O’Kelly Family in 1901 3
In the 1901 census, William’s parents William and Frances O’Kelly were living at Lower Killiney Road, Glasthule, Dublin. William’s siblings at home for that Census were: Margaret, 19, John 18, Joseph 17, Bernard, 11, Richard, 9, Edward, 8 and Henry, 6. Two other adult relatives, two servants and a Governess were also resident.
In the 1911 Census, William was a Bank Official living at Summer Hill, Tramore, Waterford, Ireland
First World War Service 5
William volunteered at the beginning of the First World War and, on 15th September 1914, he was Gazetted 2nd Lieutenant (on Probation) in the Army Service Corps. He first served overseas in France on 4th November 1914.
The Supplement to the London Gazette, 1st January 1918, announced that William, by then a Temporary Captain in the Army Service Corps Special Reserve, had been awarded the Military Cross for distinguished service in the field. For his service during the First World War, William was also awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.
Post-War Employment 8
William worked as a Stock Broker. His 1923 application for re-election to the Stock Exchange gives his residence as 1 Bryanston Mansions, London W1 and his office address as 1 Draper’s Gardens EC2. He was engaged in partnership with H.L. Beamish and L.J.E. McCalla, trading as Beamish & O’Kelly. He continued to work from Draper’s Gardens until at least 1931.
William married Gladys Winifred Eyre in 1921. The marriage was registered in Rathdown, Ireland.
Moving to Hertfordshire 10
Electoral Registers show William and Gladys living at 1 Bryanston Mansions, London W1 in 1923 but moving to Birchwood, Park Street, St Stephen’s, St Albans in 1924. From 1925 their address was Arravale, Shootersway, Berkhamsted.
William and Gladys had three children, all born in Berkhamsted: Richard William Ellison O’Kelly in 1925, Edward M S O’Kelly in 1927 and Mary C O’Kelly in 1931.
Moving to Aldbury 12
By 1937, William and his family had moved to Northfield Grange, Aldbury, Herts, but they had moved again by September 1939.
The Second World War – Living at Hudnall 13
William’s 1939 Register entry of 29th September 1939, records him as a Member of the Stock Exchange London, with a note added: “Army Officers Emergency Res. Capt. and Air Raid Warden, Berkhamsted Rural”. His wife Gladys, born 21st December 1893, was engaged in “Unpaid Domestic Duties” and a member of the W.V.S. in the Berkhamsted R.D.C. area.
By this time William and Gladys had moved to Little Gaddesden and were living at Kilbracken, Hudnall Common.
Home Service 14
During the Second World War, Major W.M. O’Kelly, 115033, Royal Army Service Corps was engaged in Home Service. On 29th August 1940 a British Army Casualty List reported that he was dangerously ill. No further details were given but he must have recovered because, in March 1941, he took on official responsibilities with the 7th Hertfordshire Battalion, Home Guard.
Adjutant and Quartermaster 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard 15, 18
The history of the 7th Hertfordshire Battalion, Home Guard, whose area included Little Gaddesden, states that:
In March (1941) the Home Guard was put on a proper military formation, a permanent staff was allocated to Battalions. The late Captain W. M. O’Kelly, M. C., was appointed to carry out the combined duties of Adjutant and Quartermaster.
Unfortunately, he lived for only a few months after that appointment.
The No 5, Little Gaddesden, Platoon of B Company, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion, Home Guard included the following Little Gaddesden First World War veterans: Albert Boarder, Walter Bunn, Donald Goodman, Horace Halsey, Joe Hing, Harry Hucklesby, Sidney (Jubal) Jones, John Mayling, Arthur Maunders, William Newman (father of Billy Newman), Edwin Purton, Reginald Purton, Frank Rogers and Edward Saunders.
Arthur Halsey, by then living in Berkhamsted, served in B Company but his Platoon is unknown.
No 5 Platoon Home Guard also contained young men, most of whom were subsequently called up for military service. Among these were George Halsey, son of Horace Halsey; Leonard Hing son of Lewis Hing; Raymond Hing, son of Joe Hing; Fred Hucklesby, son of Harry Hucklesby; Fred Liberty, son of George Liberty; John Oakins son of Steve Oakins; Gordon and Maurice Purton sons of Reginald Purton and Arthur Whitman son of James Whitman and named after his uncle Arthur Whitman. The Platoon’s first Commander was Major James Neville Gray, K.C., D.S.O., father of Duncan Gray.
Death and Burial 16
On 19th June 1941 William Mathias O’Kelly, M.C. aged 52 and of Kilbracken, Hudnall Common died in Ashridge Hospital, Little Gaddesden as a result of broncho-pneumonia and complications following a perforated duodenal ulcer. He was buried on 22nd June 1941 in the old churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Little Gaddesden, the burial service conducted by Father R.D. Cuming, Roman Catholic Priest.
William’s Grave and CWGC Headstone 17
William’s CWGC grave is located NW of the church tower. Beneath an engraving of the RASC badge, the inscription reads:
W. M. O’Kelly M.C.
Royal Army Service Corps
19th June 1941 Age 52
Beneath the engraved cross is inscribed:
“Fear thou not
for I am with thee;
I will strengthen thee;
Yea I will help thee”
In remembrance: 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard Order No. 91
The History of the Battalion includes Battalion Order No. 91, dated 1st July 1941. This notes the death in Ashridge Hospital of the Adjutant, adding that:
The funeral of the late Captain W. M. O’Kelly, M.C., having been held privately, it was not possible for the Battalion to give military honours, nor for his many friends in it to pay public tribute to the memory of a man well liked and admired both as an officer and as a sportsman. He was Adjutant of this Battalion for only a short period, but long enough for his new acquaintances to appreciate him as keenly as did his old friends.
Although British Army Casualty Lists record his rank as Major, he is consistently referred to as Captain in this Home Guard history.
An Unanswered Question
Although William has a CWGC headstone in Little Gaddesden churchyard and lived at Hudnall Common at the time of his death, he is not commemorated on the War Memorials in the church or on the village green. This must have been intentional, but the reason for his omission has not been established.
15. Brock, Capt. Alan St. H (ed), 1945, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard. A History of the Battalion 1940-44 (Publisher unspecified)
16. Little Gaddesden Burial Register 1813 – 1980
Police Constable Parker’s list of Little Gaddesden’s Local Defence Volunteers, compiled in May 1940
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson