Willenhall History Society

Our Local Memorials

 

Now that we have moved into the new Millennium, we shall reflect on the past and probably only remember the good times and possibly the highlights of the latter years. Around the area covered by the old local authority we have reminders of some of the bad times when the inhabitants of Willenhall were prepared to stand up and be counted to do their duty for their country. The War Memorials at Portobello, Lane Head and Willenhall serve as reminders to show the cost in lives of the bad times which we tend so easily to forget. They tell us of the sacrifices made by local people during the Boer War in South Africa from 1899 to 1902, the Great War from 1914 until 1918, from 1939 until 1945 in the Second World War and even during the recent conflict in Northern Ireland.

On the wall behind the War Memorial in Willenhall is a plaque commemorating the Boer War. When it was unveiled on the 4 th September 1905, it was installed at the gates of Wood Street Cemetery commemorating twenty servicemen from Willenhall who died in the South African conflict. Fourteen of those who died were serving in battalions of the South Staffordshire Regiment.

The Great War from 1914 to 1918, is covered by the Portobello, Lane Head and Willenhall memorials which shows the extent to which families throughout the whole of the old Willenhall area were so sadly and tragically affected.

Amongst the three hundred names on the Portobello memorial involved in this war is that of Arthur Everitt. Buried in Terlincthun Cemetery near Boulogne, he was serving with the Royal Scots when he died of wounds on the 18th August 1918 aged 18. His parents, Thomas and Harriet Everitt, were living at No. 5 Back Brick Kiln Street, Portobello.

Private William Benjamin Millward, whose name appears on the Willenhall Memorial, was the son of the late Harry Millward and Agnes Hodson (formerly Millward) of 85 Stringes Lane, Willenhall. Lost at sea on the 10 th April 1917, Mr Millward was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to hospital ship HMHS "Salta" when it was sunk by a mine explosion half a mile north of Whistle Buoy off Le Havre, France. His name is commemorated on the "Salta" memorial in the Ste Marie Cemetery in Le Havre.

On the 25 th March 1918, 22 year old Pte Charles Booth of 71 High Road, Lane Head was killed whilst serving with the Machine Gun Corps. He is buried in Bucquoy Road Military Cemetery in France. This was the second tragedy to strike parents George and Fanny Booth, in that their other son Jonah had been killed at the age of 21 years, only a few months earlier on the 22nd October 1917. Having no known grave, Jonah's name is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial near to Ypres.

Thomas and Phoebe Maria Allcock of 180 Coltham Road, Short Heath, suffered similarly to the Booth family, also losing two sons. Joseph Charles Allcock was killed on the 13 th October 1915, whilst serving with the South Staffordshire Regiment. Having no known grave his name is commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing. His brother Seth, who was killed on the 13 th December 1916, is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery in France. On the same day that Joseph Allcock was killed, seventeen other members of the South Staffordshire Regiment whose names appear on the Willenhall Memorial were also killed.

The small Douai British cemetery at Cuincy in France, which when it was started was surrounded by fields, is now overlooked by multi storey blocks of flats on one side and playing fields on the other. Despite this urban setting this well maintained cemetery is the resting place of Raymond Hunt, whose mother, Mary Ann Hunt, was at the time living at No 42 Lichfield Road, New Invention. Private Hunt had been serving with the Worcestershire Regiment when he was killed on the 14 th October 1918.

The carnage and loss of young Willenhall lives during the Great War is reflected in almost five hundred names on the Willenhall memorial compared with one hundred for the Second World War. Amongst the names for this second conflict is that of Thomas Gibbons aged 24. He was the son of Richard and Martha Gibbons of Willenhall, and was serving with the Royal Artillery when he died in Singapore on the 15 th January 1942, a month before the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. He is buried in the Kranji War Cemetery on Singapore Island.

Wilfred and Nellie Morgan of Willenhall learned that their son Gunner Wilfred Leslie Morgan serving with the Royal Artillery had died on the 29 th April 1943. He is buried in the Enfidaville Cemetery in Tunisia.

Involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy, Corporal Maurice William Mills was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps when he died on the 11th July 1944, aged 24. The son of William and Beatrice Mills and the husband of Joan Ida Mills, he is buried in the St. Manvieu-Norrey Cemetery near Caen in France.

Private William Edward Williams of Willenhall was serving with the Dorsetshire Regiment in France following the D-Day landings when he died aged 23 on the 10 th July 1944. He is buried in the Banneville Military Cemetery near to Caen in Normandy.

To have tablets giving the names of the civilians of Willenhall who were killed during the war was an excellent idea which is not seen in many other towns, as was the siting of the plaque to commemorate Mr D A Smith who lost his life in Belfast.

When one walks past one of the local memorials, perhaps having got off a bus in Field Street to walk into town, ponder on the names on the memorial! Behind each name is a story, a family and probably a young local servicemen who is buried in some foreign field. As memories fade, maybe the well known words of Laurence Binyon "we will remember them" should in deference to the inscription on the Portobello memorial, "duty, liberty and sacrifice" be changed to "we must remember them".