Private William James GENT
 

Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
1st Battalion
Service Number:
60596
Date of Death:
14 September 1918 - Died
Age:
38
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
I. L. 11.


Personal History:

William was born in Tonbridge, Kent, in the September quarter 1876, the son of James (Freeman Tailor) and Helen Gent, living in 1881 (Census RG 11/1660) at Victoria Road, Chesterton, Cambridge. William had an older sister, Marion M., and a younger brother, George M.

Ten years later (1891 Census RG 12/2779) the family had moved to Fairfield Common, Buxton, and grown considerably larger. Younger children, James, Margaret, Harry, Charles, Dorothy Nell and Winifred had been added. William was employed working on a bookstall.
In 1897 William married Mary Jane Cotton and lived at Woodbine Cottage, Fairfield, with their two eldest children, Elsie, and Leah. A third child, William James was born in 1909.  In 1911 (Census RG 14/21234) the family were living at 68 King's Road, Fairfield, Buxton with their three children, William was working as a "Painter and Decorator". Sadly, William's wife, Mary, was not informed of his death until May 1919. Knowing he had become a prisoner of war and, having past the Armistice, she may well have been expecting his safe return.

Military History:
William attested in Buxton in August 1916 and was posted to the 1st Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, on the 22nd March 1917, but unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. The Battalion had been in in Bombay, India at the outbreak of War and returned to England, landing at Plymouth on the 2nd October 1914. Obviously, William joined later as a reinforcement.

The Battalion was attached to the 24th Brigade in the 8th Division. After William joined them he would have seen action at The Battle of St Quentin; The actions at the Somme crossings; The Battle of Rosières, and the actions of Villers-Bretonneux - all phases of the First Battles of the Somme (21st March - 5th April 1918) and later at The Battle of the Aisne.

In terms of significant losses, a lot of 1st Battalion, Notts & Derby men were captured defending St. Christ on 23rd - 25th March 1918, two days after 'Kaiserschlacht'  - the first day of the German Spring Offensive: 21st March, and more on 27th May 1918 on the Aisne.  One Officer and 19 men of William's Battalion were killed or died of wounds defending St Christ and a further two Officers and 111 on the 27th May.

William had been previously wounded but was posted as missing on the 27th May 1918 at
Guyencourt, during a fighting retreat, and later listed as a Prisoner Of War. His Battalion had
begun the day of the 27th May 1918 in the village of Roucy. Enemy bombardment had
commenced at 1.00 a.m. and continued till 5.00 a.m. and was said by many British veterans
to be the heaviest of the war. He was posted "Missing" on this date.

One source states: "On the right front, isolated and surrounded, remnants of the 22 D.L.I. &
1 S.F. were still holding portions of the Bois de Gernicourt. All positions were heavily shelled
and gassed."  (Boraston & Bax)

There are records that a number of POWs died in the last three months of the war, with
their poor health blamed on the starvation rations given to them. This, as a likely reason,
is supported by his cause of death being listed as "Died" rather than succumbing to wounds
received in action.

Along with another Buxton casualty, Pt. John Ernest Burgess, William was imprisoned at
Trelon, where he died in Hospital on the 14th September 1918. He was buried in Glageon
Communal Cemetery Extension.

The CWGC says "Glageon village was in German occupation during practically the whole of the War.
The Communal Cemetery was used for the burial of German soldiers and Allied prisoners from
September, 1914, to August, 1918; the Extension was then begun, and was used until the following October."


Footnote:
· One of William's comrades, Pt. 71688 Joseph RILEY, another Buxton man of the 1st Battalion, Sherwood Foresters was also captured and died
   as a POW the day before William

Sources:
· I am grateful to Steve Morse, 'Bronno' and Jim Grundy (GWF) for information about William's service.
· I am also grateful to Phil Bennett for the photo of William's grave
· "1st and 2nd Battalions the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the Great War" - H.C. Wylly
   (ISBN-10: 1845744241) pps. 42-43
· "Eighth Division in War 1914-1918" by Lt Col J. H. Boraston and Captain E. O. Bax Cyril (ISBN-10 1843421895)

Link to CWGC Record
William Gent's grave
German Offensive - Chemin des Dames
poppy
Map of the German Offensive -
Chemin des Dames