William Gingell

Private William Gingell was born in Preston, near Tockenham, in the Spring of 1895, the third of the six sons of Henry Gingell and Mary Jane, known as Jane, nee Horsell. In 1891 they had been living in Preston Lane, in the hamlet of Preston, and it seems likely that they were still there when William was born. By 1901 their address was simply listed as Preston, in the parish of Lyneham, and William’s father Henry was working as a cowman on a cattle farm. By the time William was about 13, in 1908, the family had moved to Hilmarton, and in 1911 they were living at Rodwell Lodge, Hilmarton. Henry and his older sons, Ernest, Frank, and William, were all farm labourers.

William’s service number indicates that he joined up soon after the beginning of the war. I believe he was one of 13 men who, as the Herald reported, volunteered at a recruitment meeting in Lyneham on September 1st 1914. Four of those men were from Hilmarton: A C Atlay, J K Atlay, W Rumming, and William Gingell. ‘Soldiers in the Great War’ gives his residence as Chippenham, but I have found nothing to corroborate this.

William signed his enlistment papers in Devizes and served as a Private in the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment (10269). He went out to France on the 11th August 1915.

Towards the end of September the Battalion were in the vicinity of Verquin, France. On the 25th, the first day of the battle of Loos, known at the time as ‘The Big Push’, they arrived at Breslau Avenue, ready to provide covering fire in support of an attack which was later cancelled. On the 26th, in the evening, the Battalion were ordered to take up a new position in reserve trenches running at right angles to and on the North of the Hulluch Road immediately behind the German trenches. After being relieved by the 1/4th Cameron Highlanders the night was spent improving their new position.

William was killed in action somewhere near the Hulluch Road on the 27th September 1915, age 20. The War Diary on the 27th paints a graphic picture of the day’s events:

Early in the morning the Commanding Officer Major CD Forsyth was given to understand that the 1/4th Cameron Highlanders needed immediate support, and at once ordered the Battalion across the open to reinforce the 1/4th Cameron Highlanders. This was done under heavy rifle and machine gun fire, and the Battalion again suffered heavy losses. Captain EC Mudge & Captain WM Geddes were killed, also 2/Lt E Schultz, who had got safely into the 1/4th Cameron Highlanders trench, got out again to give directions to some men coming on behind, and was shot in the head. Major CG Forsyth was wounded in the thigh, but remained in command. The morning was misty, and several men of each Company took the wrong direction. These Major CG Forsyth collected in the trench we had vacated. In these positions the Battalion remained until dusk, when it was possible to reorganise. The men collected by Major CG Forsyth in the trench by Hulluch Road were ordered to remain. The men who had succeeded in reaching the trench held by the 1/4th Cameron Highlanders were collected together in companies and placed on the Camerons left.

The battle ended on 14th October 1915 but it proved impossible to recover thousands of bodies which still lay in no man’s land. The battlefields were eventually cleared in 1919, by which time the bodies had decomposed, along with almost all means of identification from uniform or kit. Furthermore, the British soldiers’ single identity discs had been removed from the fallen on the battlefield in order to account for casualties, making identification even more difficult. (British servicemen were not issued with two discs until September 1916). In all, the bodies of over 20,000 men who fought in the area around Loos during the war were never recovered.

William is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, panel 102, along with eight other 2nd Wiltshire men who fell on the same day. He is also remembered on Lyneham Roll of Honour. He was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects gives Mary Jane, his mother, as his sole legatee.

Some time after the 1918 electoral roll, Henry and Mary Jane moved to Tockenham, where they lived until Henry’s death in 1940. Their son George Gingell, who had joined the Royal Navy in January 1914, was lost at sea in 1918 when his ship was wrecked off the Orkney Islands.

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