12473 Private William Wells, 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment
Born on 20th November 1890 in Ringshall
Died on 2nd April 1960 in Ringshall
William Wells was born in Ringshall, Buckinghamshire, the seventh of the 10 children of Harry Wells and Alice née Temple. He was baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 21st February 1891. His father was a Plumber working on the Ashridge Estate.
His siblings were:
- Rose Emily, born in 1882
- Ruth, born in 1883
- Frank, born in 1884 and died as an infant
- Harry Temple Wells, born 29th August 1885
- Alice, born 15th July 1887
- Elizabeth Caroline, born 11th January 1889
- Irene, born 20th July 1893
- Annie, born 23rd November 1895
- Bertha, born 23rd February 1897
The 1891 Census shows the family living at 5 Ringshall Road, which was later re-numbered as 31 Ringshall. William’s father is recorded as a Plumber (Head), while Rose, 8, Ruth, 7 and Harry, 5 were at school. Alice, 3, Elizabeth, 2 and William, 4 months, were at home with their mother.
On 8th May 1894 William Wells of Ringshall entered Little Gaddesden School as an Infant. He was then 3 years 6 months old.
On 27th October 1898 two cases of Scarlet Fever were recorded in Ringshall, quickly followed by other cases in Hudnall and Little Gaddesden. Therefore, on 31st October the school was closed for three weeks by order of the Medical Officer of Health. However, when the school re-opened on 21st November, many children were absent sick and several more cases of Fever were reported before Christmas. Then, on 2nd January 1899 the Headmaster wrote:
I am sorry to say that last week two more children were taken with Fever. Elizth. Wells St. 3 and Willm. Wells St. 1. Their sister has just returned from the hospital & it is thought she has brought it home with her.
By 9th January, their little sister Irene, Infant Class, also had Fever. More children succumbed and, on 13th January, the school was closed for another three weeks. Fever was followed by Influenza and the school was not back to good attendance until after Easter.
The 1901 Census gives the family’s address as 31 Ringshall; the Ringshall cottages had been re-numbered and this is the same one in which they lived ten years earlier. Elizabeth, 12, William, 10, Irene, 7, Annie, 6 and Bertha, 4 were all at school. Their father Harry was a Plumber and their brother Harry, 15, a Bricklayer’s Apprentice. Their mother Alice and their sister Alice, 13, were both at home.
Prizes for Attendance and Religious Knowledge 5
On 3rd March 1902 the Rector gave away prizes to 10 children for attendance during the past year. William Wells was awarded 2 shillings and 6 pence and Horace Ruffett, Walter Bunn and Reginald Purton were similarly rewarded. Sidney Hart and Godfrey Bunn were each awarded 1 shilling and 6 pence.
On 26th January 1903, the Reverend A.R. Buckland examined the children in Religious Knowledge during the annual Diocesan Inspection. 33 children distinguished themselves in the examination, including William Wells. On March 2nd that year, William was awarded a prize of 2 shillings for full school attendance during the past year. Horace Ruffett, Walter Bunn, Godfrey Bunn and Archie Wells were among the 11 children who also achieved that distinction.
On 16th May 1904, William Wells aged 13½ left Little Gaddesden School with a Certificate of Attendance.
The 1911 Census shows 20 year old William working as a Plumber’s Apprentice on the Ashridge Estate. He lived at home, 31 Ringshall, with his parents and his youngest sisters Annie, 16 and Bertha, 14.
William attested for the Bedfordshire Regiment on 26th August 1914. He was the first of 16 men on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour who volunteered for that Regiment in the first month of the War. 12589 William Grant, 12591 George Cash and almost certainly 12593 Charles Batchelor volunteered the next day. 13330 Frank Dove R.I.P. and 13724 Horace Halsey then joined on or before 3rd September 1914 and a further 10 men attested on 3rd September. These were 13785 Edward Saunders, 14374 Harold Catt, 14532 John Mayling, 14553 Victor Collier, 14546 Frederick Purton R.I.P., 14457 Ernest Bearton, 14575 Arthur Maunders, 17221 Bertie Purton, 17231 Herbert Fenn and 3/8219 Jesse Holland.
William Wells was then posted to the 6th Battalion, in which he served as a Private, Service Number 12473.
The 6th Battalion was a “Service” battalion, raised in August 1914 specifically for the duration of the War. Other local volunteers who served in this Battalion included Private William Grant, Private George Cash, Private Charles Batchelor and, for two months, Private Bertie Purton.
The Battalion was formed around a cadre of 200 experienced soldiers from the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, one of whom was Private Jesse Holland. They trained at Aldershot and then on Salisbury Plain until July 1915.
However, on 29th July 1915, the Battalion boarded trains at Ludgershall Station near Andover, arriving at Southampton late that afternoon. They then left for France at 6.30pm on board the Empress Queen and landed at Le Havre at 7am on 30th July 1915. They were based around St Omer before moving forward to the front line. The Battalion served entirely on the Western Front.
Only William’s Medal Records and a Silver War Badge Record have been found. The latter shows that he was discharged from the Army on 12th May 1917, under paragraph 392 (xvi) of the King’s Regulations as the result of wounds. He was no longer physically fit for War Service. On 9th June 1917 he was then awarded Silver War Badge number 196282.
The 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment fought in several key battles on the Somme during 1916:
- Bazentin Ridge, during which they lost 330 officers and men during their assault against Pozières on 15th July.
- The Battle of Pozières on 8th – 9th August
- The Battle of the Ancre between 13th and 18th November
In April 1917 the 6th Battalion fought at the Battle of Arras, specifically in:
- The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9th – 14th April
- The Second Battle of the Scarpe, 23rd – 24th April
- The Battle of Arleux, 28th – 29th April, during which they emerged from their assault against Greenland Hill with just 58 men.
However, the records found for William do not enable us to determine exactly when and where he was wounded. For his War Service, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
After his discharge, William returned to his family home, 31 Ringshall. His father Harry died in April 1919 but his mother Alice lived at 31 Ringshall until her death in January 1946.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper” 15
William Wells 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. His unit is given as 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment and he is similarly shown on the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll. Also named on both Rolls is Donald W Goodman, Northamptonshire Regiment. Donald became William’s brother-in-law when he married William’s youngest sister Bertha on 15th January 1921.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
In the 3rd Quarter of 1922, William Wells married Mabel Violet Osborn, who, in the 1911 Census, was a School Teacher living with her family in Dagnall. William and Mabel then lived at 31 Ringshall.
The 1939 Register shows William, Mabel and Alice still at 31 Ringshall. William was then a Postman while Mabel and Alice both had “Unpaid Domestic Duties”.
Service to the Little Gaddesden British Legion 17
In 1956, William Wells and Joe Hing were two of the first branch members to be awarded the Gold Badge, for outstanding service to the Little Gaddesden Branch of what is now the Royal British Legion. The branch had been established in 1923 out of the Old Comrades’ Association and was the seventh Legion branch to be established in the UK. Joe Hing was one of its founder members and possibly William Wells was another.
William Wells of 31 Ringshall died aged 69 on 2nd April 1960. He was then buried in the new churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 6th April. His widow Mabel continued to live at 31 Ringshall until her death aged 80, on 1st September 1972. She is buried with William in Little Gaddesden churchyard.
2. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
14. Little Gaddesden Burial Register 1919, 1946, 1960, 1972
15. Little Gaddesden Marriage Register 1921
17. Senar, H (1983), Little Gaddesden and Ashridge, Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson