Sergeant William Chamberlain PERKIN


Regiment/Service:
Canadian Infantry
(Eastern Ontario Regiment)
Unit:
Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
Service Number:
51373
Date of Death:
18 May 1915 (Died)
Age:
40
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
II. E. 8.
Awards:
n/a



Personal History:
According to his Service Papers, William Perkin was born on the 27th October 1878, although Birth Registers suggest that in fact he was born in Penkridge, Staffordshire in the September quarter 1877. He was the son of James (Farmer) and Lucy Anne (née Collier) Perkin, married on the 10th December 1867, at Penkridge. (1871 Census RG 10/2920 and 'England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973'). He had five older sisters, Lucy Thorley, Hannah, Julia Goodwin, Isabel M. and Janet C. A. and one older brother, John Goodwin. (1881 Census RG 11/2780).)

In 1881 he was living in the home of his stepfather, James Ball, at Otherton Farm, Penkridge. His father, James, had died in the March quarter 1877, and Lucy Anne had remarried James Ball in the December quarter 1879. By 1891(Census RG 12/2215)  the family had moved to Low House Farm, Rugeley Road, Colton, Staffordshire, and later retired to live at 2 Scarboro Villas, Fairfield, Buxton (1901 Census RG 13/3269) At this time William was working as a "Cabinet Maker".

By 1911 (Census RG 14/21236) he had married Elizabeth, née Kirkland, in the March quarter 1906, and they were living at Ashbourne House, Bridge Street, Buxton, and he was employed as a "House Furnisher". At some time in the next two or three years William and Elizabeth emigrated to Canada, and at the time of his enlistment, in Winnipeg, in 1915 William listed his occupation as "Cabinet Maker". His height was recorded as 5 ft. 8 ins. [1.73 m] and he had a 'medium' complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. At that time he was living at 309 Ambrey Street, Winnipeg, Canada.


Military History:
William enlisted in the Canadian Infantry, at Winnipeg, Canada on the 6th January 1915. It was made up of 90% recruits from Britain and most had served previously In UK forces. His Service Papers show that he had previously served for 6 years with the 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Forester Regiment. If he was born in 1876 then he may have served in Boer War, indeed his name is included on the Buxton Boer War Memorial in Buxton Town Hall. In view of this prior service he must have been treated as a returning Reservist and shipped straight to the Front, where he died just 4 months later. However, the inscription on the Memorial in St John's Church, Buxton, states that he was killed, or died, "IN BELGIUM".

When the Great War began on the 4th August 1914, Canada's response was immediate. However, there were thousands of former soldiers of the British Regular Army and veterans of the Boer War in Canada. If recruited, they would need only a minimum of training and could be in the field within weeks.

The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) was formed in August 1914, largely from this supply of ex-regular army soldiers of the British Army then resident in Canada. It was named after the daughter of the then Governor General of Canada, the Duke of Connaught. It was the first Canadian infantry unit to arrive on the Western Front, reaching France by December 1914. Initially it was attached to the British 27th and 28th Divisions, and joined the CEF in November 1915.

The Patricias served one year with 80th Brigade (named the "Stonewall Brigade" after its defence of the Ypres Salient in May 1915). The PPCLI was engaged in The Battle of Frezenberg on the 8th May 1915 at Bellewaerde Lake, in which the 84th Brigade was virtually wiped out. The enemy attacked behind clouds of poison gas, however, the Regiment held the front even though they were fighting from ditches and shell holes and were under fire from three sides. The PPCLI were hammered all day on 8th May and at 11.30 pm they were at last relieved and, commanded by Lieutenant H.W. Niven, came out with 3 other officers and 150 other ranks (most with wounds).

At 8.45 p.m. on the 6th May 1915 the Battalion had left the trenches at Hellfire Corner, Ypres for trenches in front of Bellewaerde Lake and relieved the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry complete by 11.30 p.m. Nos 3 & 4 Companies moved into the firing line, with 1 and 2 Companies in support. That morning, before leaving their trenches they were shelled, with 3 killed and 9 wounded.

The next day, 7th, shelling started by Germans about 9.00 a.m. and considerable damage was done to the Fire trenches.  Three men were killed and 13 wounded. The main battle came the following day, and the War Diary recorded the action:

"4.00 a.m. - Shelling by Germans started chiefly from our right flank which enfiladed our fire trenches  this grew more severe by 5.30 & about this time some Germans were noticed coming down hill directly in front of us and we opened rapid fire on them.

6.00 a.m. - All our telephone wires were cut by this time both to Brigade & also to trenches so all Signallers, Pioneers, Orderlies & Servants were ordered into Support trenches and shortly afterward all advance by Germans was checked and any not sheltered by buildings or dead crawled back over crest of ridge to trenches Germans had two possibly three Machine guns in buildings & were sweeping our parapets both in fire and support trenches. An orderly took a note to Brigade H.Q. notifying them of situation.

7.00 a.m. - Major [A.H.] Gault was severely hit [by shell in left arm & left thigh.] Shelling by heavy Howitzers using all high Explosives & field guns started again in heavy bombardment both on Fire & Support trenches. Fire trench on right being blown in at several points. A note by orderly to Brigade notified them we were being heavily shelled & asking for reinforcements as our casualties were heavy.

9.00 a.m. - Cessation in shelling and Germans again attempted to advance  but heavy fire from our Machine Guns & rifles checked them & forced them to retire & take cover at this time P.P.C.L.I. accounted for many of the Enemy. Lieut [A.G.] Martin [1266] & [G.] Triggs were hit & came out left communication trench with number of wounded Capt. [S.H.] Hill & Lt [M.S.] De Bay hit also.

9.30 a.m. - I Lt [H.W.] Niven went at this time & was in communication with the Officer of K.O.Y.L.I. on our left & Officer of 4th Rifle Bgd. on our right both were suffering heavy casualties from enfilade  fire. Bombardment started again particular attention being paid to our Machine Guns all machine guns were buried but two were dug out & mounted again over three times but a shell killed every man on its section.

10.30 a.m. - Left half of our Right fire trench was completely destroyed & Lt [H.S.] Dennison ordered Lt [D.A.] Clark [1763] to take remaining men & get in our Right Communicating trench. Lt [H.S.] Dennison & Lt [P.E.] Lane [1789] still held part of our right fire trench with few men. Lt. [N.A.] Edwards was killed

Our Left fire trench (right half) suffered severely & trench was blown in and Machine Gun put out of action. Sergt Scott [L. 640] and few men withdrew to communication trench & held it until it was blown in. Lt [R.G.] Crawford who was most gallant was severely wounded. Capt [Agar] Adamson who had been handing out ammunition was hit in shoulder but continued to work with only one arm useful. R. Sergt Major Fraser [A. 3] was also handing out SAA to support trenches was killed instantly by bullet in head

12.00 p.m. - Snipers had been extremely brave taking messages to Brigade & reserve Batn kept in rear of BELLEWAARDE LAKE during the morning as ground they covered was continually shelled. A message was sent asking Brigade for more S.A.A., as rifle fire was brisk at all times.

1.30 p.m. - One Platoon of 4 R.B's was sent us as reinforcement [& the support trench gave them a cheer as they came up.] I Lt. N [H.W. Niven] placed them on our extreme right in trees order to watch our flank as we were unable from trench to overlook this ground. They were in line with our support trench behind trees & hedge. They also sent a Machine Gun and section that did good service.

2.00 p.m. - I went with orderly to BELLEWAARDE LAKE dugouts as ordered by Brigade to telephone G.O.C. 80th Infty. Bgd. complete details of situation returning at 2-30 P.M.  Orderlies accompanying me both going and coming were hit by High Explosive shells.

3.00 p.m. - A platoon of K.S.L.I. under an Officer reached our Support line with 20 Boxes S.A.A. which was distributed. This party also acted as reinforcement & occupied Left end of Support Trench.   

4.00 p.m. - Made tour of Support Trenches & found we were out of touch with Regt. on our Left a gap of fifty yards was unoccupied, I placed 8 men in this gap to inform me of happenings there. Shortly afterward I was informed that Monmouth Regt. on left of K.O.Y.L.I. had withdrawn to trenches 300 yards in rear and about 5.30 was informed that K.O.Y.L.I. had also withdrawn to same line of trenches

Another attempt by Germans to advance was stopped by our rifle fire although  some reached our [inserted: fire] trench on right that could not be observed from our support trench but I believe at this time there were none of our men alive at this point.

11.30 p.m. - We were relieved by 3rd K.R.R.C. who gave us assistance to bury our dead that were in Support & Communicating trenches as it was impossible & imprudent to attempt to reach the fire trenches.

Our casualties were as follows Killed: Lieut. [N.A.] Edwards died of wounds Lieut [R.G.] Crawford, missing, Lieut [H.S.] Dennison & Lieut [P.E.] Lane. Wounded: Major [A.H.] Gault, Capt. [Agar] Adamson, Capt. [S.H.] Hill, Lieut [M.S.] De Bay Lieut [A.G.]Martin [1266] , Lieut [G.] Triggs.  Other ranks 93 killed, 79 missing, 203 wounded."

The Divisional Commander said in his report to Corps: 'The PPCLI were relieved that night, but only a remnant of the regiment was left. No regiment could have fought with greater determination or endurance. Many would have failed where they succeeded.'

Canadian Archives show that William "Died of wounds - Gunshot wound, leg amputated at No. 3 General Hospital" on the 18th May 1915. It is more than likely that William was wounded in the action described above and had been evacuated to Le Treport where he died and was buried in the Cemetery close to the Hospital.  During the First World War, Le Treport was an important hospital centre and No.3 General Hospital was established there in November 1914.

'The Buxton Advertiser' on the 22nd May 1915, reported William's death in Hospital by saying that "... hopes had been buoyed by reports that .... (he) ... was making satisfactory progress ...", although: "... one leg had been amputated, and it was thought the crisis had been passed, but, another operation was deemed necessary and this had been performed.

He bore his suffering uncomplainingly and with a stoicism that was characteristic of the brave fellow many of us in Buxton personally know that he was."

Sources:
· Library and Archives Canada - Circumstances of Death Registers, First World War
· Canadian Great War Project - Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, War Diary
· The Buxton Advertiser, 22 May 1915
· I am grateful to The War Graves Photographic Project for the photo of William's grave

An unknown grave
poppy
Link to CWGC Record