William Rapley’s birth was registered in the Oct – Dec quarter of 1888 in Chobham, Surrey. His parents were James Henry Rapley (1847 – 1893) and Sarah Ann Herbert (1860 – 1942). He was baptised on Sunday 19 May 1889 at the Holy Trinity Church of England Parish Church, West End, Chobham, Surrey. His father is shown as a Labourer, and they were living within the Parish boundaries.
The 1891 Census shows William to be living with his parents and siblings at The Folly(1), Lightwater Rd, West End Bagshot, Chobham. In 1893 William’s father James died, leaving Sarah Ann a widow with eight children to care for. By the 1901 she was cohabiting with George Hill, a 29 year old General Labourer, also living with Sarah and George was William and two sons of George and Sarah (Sarah is shown as George’s wife). It wasn’t until 1910 that they married, (registered in the first quarter of 1911).
The 1911 Census shows that William was still living at The Folly with Sarah Ann and George and he was working as a Garden Labourer and was single.
On Sunday January 7, 1912 William married Florence Drew (8 Apr 1888 – ) at the Parish Church in Chobham(2).
William joined the Army to serve in World War I, unfortunately his service records did not survive the Blitz during the World War II, so I have attempted to put together details of his service, using available information, and making a number of assumptions along the way.
William was a member of the 6th (Service) Battalion Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. The 6th Queen’s was one of the first of the New Army Units to be raised(3). The Battalion was posted to the 37th Infantry Brigade of the 12th (Eastern) Division(4).
The New Army was established to cover the necessity for a considerable increase in the size of the Army, but there was current methodology for the increase in the Regular Army. On August 8, Field Marshall Kitchener asked for 100,000 men, and within 14 days they were in Camp, on one day 30,000 enlisted, the men were coming in quicker than arms, clothing and equipment could be provided for them.
The recruits were able to choose which regiment and unit they went to, they did need to meet the same physical criteria as the regulars, however, men up to the age of 45 who had previously served in the Army would now be accepted.
After his attestation, completing any necessary paperwork and examinations, the process concluded with William going home, and receiving his joining instructions – where to go, who to see, how to get there – and travel warrant a day or two later.
On joining the Battalion at Purfleet(5), William would have started his training, the principle of which being the Field Service Regulations, and would have begun with basic training for physical fitness, drill, march discipline, essential field craft, etc. William’s training was completed near Aldershot from February 20, 1915, with the cavalry, machine gun battery and other sections joining the Division(6).
At the end of May 1915, after at least 9 months training, the 6th Queen’s received orders to proceed overseas(7). The Battalion travelled in two sections to France, the Transport and Machine gun sections leaving Farnborough Station for Southampton on May 31 at 01:00, and Southampton for Le Havre at 16:30.
The last section of the Battalion left the Aldershot Military Siding for Folkestone at 16:45 on June 2(8), and then embarked on the SS Invicta bound for Boulogne, arriving at 22:35. The Battalion then marched to the rest camp at Ostrohove near St Omer, where they were accommodated under canvas.
At 18:30 on June 3, the entire Battalion marched out of Camp to Pont a Brique Railway Station, a distance of four miles, and joined the Transport and Machine Gun Section aboard the train in from Le Havre. The journey aboard the train continued at 20:20, arriving at Wizernes at 00:30 on the 4th.
As soon as the Battalion had alighted from the train, it marched approximately seven miles to the Billets at Ouve Wirquin and Wirquin arriving at 03:45. The transport ‘offloading’ was delayed by a lack of ramps at the station and arrived at the billets at about 04:30. Billeting was in barns and stables, with the Battalion Headquarters in the Chateau.
June 4 was spent resting in the Billets, orders for the march to Lynde were received at 03:45 on the 5th. The Battalion left the Billets at 07:00, marching via the Clety – Herbeville – Inghew Ecques – Quiestede –Wittes Blaringe to Lynde, a distance of 16 miles, arriving at 14:40. The Battalion bivouacked for the night at Lynde.
The next day the Battalion left Lynde at 06:00 marching the twelve miles to Meteren via Sercus – Hazebruck – Borre Strazele to Meteren. The heat was oppressive on this twelve mile march, and was felt by the men with four being admitted to hospital during the march. This is unsurprising when one considers that they would have been marching with full kit, which would weigh approximately 60lbs(9).
When they arrived at Meteren, the Battalion was accommodated in Billets (Farms and Barns), their prior condition on the march, exacerbated by a bad source of water. June 7, was spent settling into the billets.
Whilst at Meteren, training recommenced, with musketry practice and bayonet fighting on the 8th. The weather remained hot, with thunder in the evening. A routine set in of training, route marches and equipment distribution. On the 16th orders were received to be prepared to move at short notice. On the 19th, the orders to move were received; the Battalion were to proceed to Armetieres on the 20th for attachment to 80th Brigade.
The Battalion left Meteren at 05:30 and marched to Armentieres via Baileul and Nieppe, arriving at 09:00. Accommodation was in billets in the Railway Goods Yard and surrounding factories.
“A” Company went into the trenches on June 21, attached to the King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry) [K.S.L.I.], “B” Company was attached to the 3rd King’s Royal Rifle Corps (K.R.R.C.), and “C” and “D” Companies were placed under the instruction of the 4th K.R.R.C. and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (P.P.C.L.I.) during the day and at 21:00 each Company sent 100 men with the respective Battalions to dig Communication Trenches. “C” and “D” Companies proceeded to trenches with the 2nd K.S.L.I. and 3rd K.R.R.C. respectively, on the 22nd relieving “A” and “B” Companies who returned to the billets at 01:00 on the 23rd.
“A” Company was employed, between 08:00 and 11:00 on the 23rd, with the 4th K.R.R.C. digging dugouts at “Asylum”, and were relieved by “B” Company from 11:00 till 14:00. In the evening they went with the 4th K.R.R.C. and 4th Rifle Brigade (R.B.) to relieve the 2nd K.S.L.I. and 2nd K.R.R.C. The following day “A” and “B” Companies returned from the trenches and the first casualty in the Battalion was reported, No. 6744 Lance Corporal Bully, who had been wounded in the head(10).
On the 25th the Battalion left Armentieres at 19:00 and were met by guides of the 5th Royal Warwick Regiment at Chapelle Romple at 20:30, beginning the relief of the latter Regiment. Each Company of the 6th Queen’s relieved the corresponding Company of the R. Warwick, with the being completed by 00:00. The trenches taken over were:
“A” Company 1 – 5 & Fort Paul
“B” Company 6 – 10 & Fort Dudley
“C” Company 11 – 14
“D” Company 15 – 19 & Lancashire Support Farm
“A” Company of the Royal West Kent Regiment was at Reserve Farm in reserve. Reserve Farm was also Battalion Headquarters.
For the next four days the Battalion stayed in the trenches, work being carried out to improve the trenches each day. The Battalion lost one man to a sniper on the 26th(11), on the 27th Lieutenant H.F. Orpen was wounded at night whilst mending the wire in front of the trenches, two other men were also wounded.
The Battalion line was shortened on the 28th, with the 6th Buffs taking over trenches 18 & 19 on the left at 16:00, and the 9th Royal Fusiliers of the 30th Brigade taking over trenches 1 – 6 at 21:00. “A” Company who had been occupying trenches 1 – 5 went back to Reserve Farm and relieved the Company of Royal West Kents who returned to the subsidiary line. “A” Company had two sections in both Fort Paul and Fort Dudley. Two other ranks were killed(12,13), and five were wounded on the 28th. June 29, saw the Battalion experience 6 wounded, five of whom returned to duty after being dressed.
The Battalion was relieved by the 7th East Surrey Regiment on June 30, commencing at 14:00, completing at 17:30. The Battalion moved back to Billets at Ploegsteert, and was held in a constant state of readiness to occupy a subsidiary line of trenches, two other ranks were wounded on this day.
July started with quiet days and with the Battalion remaining in their billets and finding working parties to work in the trenches. On the 1st 260men went to bathe in the Pont De Nieppe Baths. The working parties on the 2nd were at Observation Park.
On July 4, the Battalion was relieved by the Essex Regiment (35th Brigade), and proceeded to Armentieres where it took one of the Billets occupied by the 5th Berkshire Regiment, at the Blue Blind Factory, Rue Jules Lebleu. The entire was accommodated on the ground floor, which was still working.
The Battalion remained in the Billets, their time being taken up with route marches, Drill Parades and Bathing Parades. On the 7th, the Battalion were designated the Divisional Reserves and was confined to the Billets. On the 9th, a draft of 60 other ranks arrived from Base, twenty-two of which were men who had been left behind sick at various places since the Battalion had left England, the rest from the 3rd Battalion.
The Battalion relieved the 7th Royal Sussex Regiment on July 10, leaving the Billets at 04:00. The Companies left in platoons at 200pace intervals, and were met by Guides at Motor Car Corner, and were conducted by them to the trenches, the relief was completed by 08:00. The Companies were deployed such that “A”, “C”, less two platoons, and “D” Companies were in the fire trenches. “B” Company, less two platoons, were at Lys Farm. The two platoons from each of “B” and “C” Companies were in the support trench.
Rations were brought up at 21:30 to the Battalion Headquarters and from there issued to Companies. A Water Cart was also brought up to the Battalion Headquarters, and left there. Transport had also moved on the 10th, to Pontceau, could not come up to Headquarters by day, so they used a handcart which had proved useful for bringing baggage and stores up from Motor Car Corner.
Ration distribution to the Companies was found more convenient early in the morning rather than during the night. The Communications trenches were clogged by the nightly Work Parties moving to and from the Subsidiary Fire Trenches, which were under construction. Rations, then, were dumped at the Battalion Headquarters by night, divided into Company Messes by the Company Quartermaster Sergeant and fetched by Companies about 03:30.
On July 14, at 03:45 a Trench Howitzer opened fire on the German barricade on the Le Touquet Road from 92 Trench (where “A” Company were located), doing some damage. The Germans replied with Hand Grenades, Mortars and Trench Howitzers at about 05:00 wounding Captain G.H. Higgings, Captain Rolls (Slightly) and seven men, two of those slightly. It was later reported that one of the hostile grenades fell into the Bomb Store in 92 trench causing an explosion, and was assumed to be the cause of the casualties. The rest of the day was quiet, as was the 15th.
The Germans fired Trench Mortars into 94 Trench (“D” Company), wounding three men. The Battalion was relieved by the 7th East Surrey Regiment commencing from Motor Car Corner at 21:00, and was completed by 00:30. There was heavy rain during the relief, making the trenches very muddy and slippery, delaying the relief. On relief the Battalion marched to Billets at Le Bizet, the last platoon relieved arriving at 03:30.
Over the next five days in Le Bizet, the Battalion remained in Billets, and provided working parties of about 600men each day to work on the Subsidiary Fire Trenches. On the 22nd the Battalion returned to the trenches at Le Touquet, relieving the 7th East Surreys. The 23rd and 24th are recorded as quiet days with work continuing on the trenches.
The morning of July 25 is described as ‘lively’ in the War Diary, with, at 10:45, the enemy firing about 14 cylinder bombs into Barkenham House and the Communication Trench around old Snipers House. This was replied to with Trench Mortars and Rifle Grenades. The Germans again opened fire on 93 and 94 Trenches with Rifle grenades, Cylinder Bombs and 15lb High Explosive shells, which were relied to with the Gunners assistance, who fired Shrapnel. No damage was done to the trenches, and the tit for tat closed about noon with the Battalion having the last shot. The rest of the day was quiet.
Following a quiet morning, at 14:00 on July 26, the British Artillery heavily bombarded the Crater, which adjoined the Brewery and the enemy trenches in the area, there was no reply. The 27th and 28th saw the Germans firing High explosive shells in the late morning, with the rest of the days being quiet. The Battalion was relieved on the 28th by the 7th East Surrey Regiment, commencing at 20:00, and completing by 22:30 returning to Billets at Le Bizet.
The Battalion days in Billets were quiet, although, once again Working Parties were found of approximately 600men to work on the Subsidiary Firing Trenches. August 2, is recorded as a quiet day, without Working Parties.
On August 3, the Battalion returned to the trenches, relieving the 7th East Surreys, commencing once again from Motor Car Corner at 20:30 and completing by 22:45. The return to the trenches mostly consisted of quiet days. On the 4th a draft of 40 men arrived from the Base, on the 5th the enemy’s working parties were evident in the early morning.
Although the 6th is recorded as being a quiet day, the Germans fired 15ib shells into the trenches, doing no damage but killing Sergeant Gillbank(14) and wounding three other ranks. The interesting situation with the latter three is that they were reported to have been hit by the same bullet as they walked in a Communication Trench – the first in the eye, the second in the chest and the third in the thigh.
Over the next three days the Battalion came under fire from the Germans, doing little damage, but on the 8th making two direct hits on Surrey Farm (formerly Headquarter Farm) with High explosive shells, which detonated on the roof. On the 9th, commencing at 03:50, the Germans heavily bombarded the trenches to the right of the Battalion across the River Lys, also firing a considerable number of shells into the Battalion Communication Trenches and Le Touquet Road. A number of shells fell close to Battalion Headquarters. The bombardment lasted for nearly two hours.
At 20:30 on the 9th relief of the Battalion by the 7th East Surreys was started, completing at 22:45, with the Battalion returning to the Billets in Le Bizet.
The next five days were a repeat of the previous periods in Billets throughout July and August, remaining in Billets, and resting or finding Work Parties to work on the Subsidiary Fire Trenches by night. On August 15, the Battalion relieved the 7th east Surreys commencing at 20:00 from Motor Car Corner, completing at 22:30, once again there was rain. A German working party was silenced in front of Trench 92 by the Battalion machine gun.
From their arrival in the trenches on the 15th and on the 16th, German snipers had been active. The Battalion’s own snipers claimed to have hit ‘a man looking through a large and obvious loophole’. This loophole was removed during the night of August 18. This period in the trenches to August 21 had snipers active on both sides. The German snipers were generally observed in the houses in Le Touquet, and use the following method of firing:
‘They remove one brick from the wall & fire through loophole thus made – On our snipers firing at them they replace the brick & take another out elsewhere.’
On the 18th the British Howitzers were fired at the houses in Le Touquet in an attempt to find the snipers but unfortunately did no damage. That night was ‘lively’ with hostile machine gun and rifle fire. The 19th was quite with enemy snipers being inactive, but during the night German working Parties were active around the Brewery.
The Battalion returned to Billets in Le Bizet after being relieved by the 7th East Surreys between 20:00 and 22:05 on August 21. Once again after a day of rest, on the 22nd, the Battalion remained in Billets finding Work Parties each day until a second rest day on the 26th. The 27th saw the battalion return to the trenches, again relieving the 7th East Surreys.
This return to the trenches was a quiet time, with some sniper activity, it seems the Battalion were settling into a routine with time in the trenches and relief in Le Bizet. The next relief from the 3rd to 8th September was more of the previous reliefs – a day of rest for the first and last days and finding work parties on the other three. The Battalion returned to the trenches relieving the 7th East Surreys between 19:30 and 21:30 on the 8th, and had a quiet night.
A Patrol went out in front of Trench 92 on September 9 and found grass in front of the German wire for a considerable distance. On the 10th after another quiet day, an Officer’s Patrol located a German machine gun in a strongly fortified house, the Patrol also examined the wire in front of Pond House, finding no trip wires but a row of low knife rests about 50yards from the enemy lines, the wire was very thick and heavily backed.
German sniper activity increased on the 11th, particularly from the houses of Le Touquet, the Battalions own sniper activity accounted for two members of a working party and a periscope.
Another Officer’s Patrol went out on the evening of September 12 and located three German machine guns, and examined the wire near Pond House, bringing back samples. Battalion snipers hit two Germans who were working near Black Redoubt and the machine guns scattered a working party near the Red Tile House.
Both September 13 & 14 were quiet days, with the Battalion relieved in the trenches by 7th East Surreys. The relief commenced at 19:30 from Motor Car Corner and was completed at 21:40, the Battalion returned to Billets at Le Bizet.
The routine of rest and Working Parties started again, the 15th was a day of rest and the 16th, 17th and 18th saw Work Parties of about 700men working on the trenches. September 18 was marked by the death of two other ranks, and it is here that our story ends – William Rapley was one of the men, the other was Private 557 Alfred Dewey.
William and Alfred were buried next to each other in Tancrez Farm Cemetery which stands behind a rebuilt farm house, used during the war as an aid post(15). I think it safe to assume they were taken to the aid post on being wounded, where they subsequently died.
- The Folly was a gravel pit which lay on the boundary between the parishes of West End and Windlesham. (http://www.adiebarrett.co.uk/wecc/local/westend2.htm)
- Record was provided to Surrey Archives by St Lawrence Church, Chobham.
- History of the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in The Great War; Wylly, H.C., Gale & Polden (N&M Press Reprint), p. 188
- Wylly, p. 189
- The majority of what follows is based upon the Battalion War Diary found at http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/local/1_6Bn_Queens.shtml.
- William’s Medal Index Card contradicts the Battalion War Diary, with his arrival in France being shown to be June 4, 1915. This could be due to one of two things, the clerk completing the records made a mistake or he did not arrive until the 4th. For the sake of ease, I am assuming William arrived with the Battalion and a mistake was made by the overworked clerk.
- Field Service Pocket Book (1914)
- William Bulley, (1896 – 1919), was born in Heilford Heath, and at the time of his enlistment was working as a Footman. He enlisted in Guildford on the 11th August, 1914. After being wounded, he returned to duty on July 15, 1915. William is shown in his Casualty form as being wounded a further two times; April 20, 1916 when he suffered shell shock and deafness, and Jul 3 1916 when he was severely wounded in the neck and groin. On April 23, 1917 William was discharged from the Army as he was considered no longer fit for active service, and received a pension. He died on October 1, 1919 and is buried in the Little Amwell (Holy Trinity) Churchyard.
- George Carell, G/1882, commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial
- Albert John Leat, L/10670, I.N.3 Calvaire (Essex) Military Cemetery
- Alfred Walker, G/597 I.N.2 Calvaire (Essex) Military Cemetery
- George Gillbank Sergeant, G/31, I.B.22 Tancrez Farm Cemetery
NOTE: The area in which the 6th Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) were operating is shown on Google Maps at this link: Map