Corporal William (Willie) WEBSTER


Regiment/Service:
Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
Unit:
17th Battalion
Service Number:
1346
Date of Death:
7 February 1917 - Killed in Action
Age:
25
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
I. E. 24.

Personal History:
William was born in Buxton in the June quarter 1891, the son of John J. Webster (Cab Driver) and Elizabeth Ann Webster (Cab Proprietress). In 1901 (Census RG 13/3269) he was living at 2 New Market Street, Buxton, with his widowed mother, his older sister, Lily, and younger sister, Alice. William's father, Joseph, had died in the late 1890s.

In 1911 (Census RG 14/21241) the family was at the
same address and William was employed as "Clerk
in Estate Office" (The Devonshire Estate Office -
Buxton Advertiser).  After the War his mother moved
to 7 Crowestones, Buxton.
In reporting his death, 'The Buxton Advertiser', 17th February 1917, gave considerable details of
his successful local cricketing career, calling him ".. probably one of the best all-round cricketers
Buxton has produced, and perhaps what is more, a true sportsman".

His averages were also detailed (see right) - perhaps rather strange for an Obituary - although the
Advertiser went on to sympathise with his bereaved mother and sisters and declare that ".. Buxton
will be poorer by the passing of another of her most promising sons".

Military History:
William (Willie) enlisted at Buxton in December 1914, and had been in France about 18 months when he was killed in action. Unfortunately, his Service papers have been destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered the War, in France, with the 17th Battalion, on the 17th November 1915, which is confirmed by the Battalion history.

The 17th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, was formed in London on 31st August 1914 by the British Empire Committee. On 26th June 1915 it was attached to 99th Brigade, 33rd Division, and after landing in France on 17th November 1915. By the 21st November the 33rd Division had concentrated near Morbecque and on the 25th The Battalion transferred to 2nd Division as part of an exchange to strengthen the inexperienced 33rd Division.  It transferred with the Brigade to 2nd Division on 25th November 1915. On 13th December 1915 they transferred again to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Division.

In 1916 William's Battalion fought in the Battles of the Somme and the Operations on the Ancre. In 1917 they were in action during The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battles of Arras and The Battle of Cambrai.

It is not known where Frank's Battalion was engaged on the 7th February 1917 when he was killed in action. His Division took part in the Battle of Arras, but this did not begin until 9th April and the 'Buxton Advertiser' reported that although he had only had one leave in the 18 months he had been in France, he had successfully applied for another and ".. was expected home this weekend". (i.e. about 18th - 19th February 1917)

The Battalion History makes no mention of the 17th Battalion around this time, other than to locate
it in the Courcelette Sector, where near the end of the month discovered the enemy had vacated
its position and so advanced their front line to new positions.

However, since October 1916, the Royal Engineers had been working underground to construct
tunnels for the troops. The Arras region is chalky and therefore easily excavated; under Arras itself
is a vast network (called the boves) of caverns, underground quarries, galleries and sewage tunnels.
The engineers devised a plan to add new tunnels to this network so that troops could arrive at the
battlefield in secrecy and in safety. Maybe it was during one of these activities that he lost his life.


Sources:
· Buxton Advertiser 17 February 1917
· 'The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War' by H.C. O'Neill [available online]


Link to CWGC Record
Willie Webster's Grave
L/Cpl Willie Webster
Buxton dvertiser, 17 February 1917
Willie Webster's Cricketing averages
- Buxton Advertiser 17 Feb 1917
One of the Arras Tunnels
One of the exits from Wellington Quarry, Arras (April 2011)
poppy