William Huntley

William was born at Hoe Benham on 9th October 1879, the son of Thomas Huntley, a farm labourer and carter, and his wife Thirza, née Seymour.

The Huntleys were a large Boxford family which had settled in the village in the 1860s and are still known in the area today; a later member was Elsie Huntley, author of the history of the village, Boxford Barleycorn.

Hoe Benham was the Seymours’ home village and Thomas and Thirza lived there for their first few years together, before moving back to Boxford parish in the mid-1880s, and settling in Westbrook.  Here their family grew to nine surviving children, and Thomas turned his hand to gardening for a living.

William began his working life as a carter, like his father.  On 15th October 1901, aged 22, he married Emily Hannah Edwards of Easton at Welford Church.  Emily was a Domestic Servant at Welford Farm.  The couple settled at Easton and William, perhaps following his father’s lead, gained employment as a gardener at Welford Park.

Two children followed, Fred and Emily, and in his spare time William was a member of the Welford Choir, being described by the Parish Magazine as “one who could always be depended on”.

The 1911 census shows William and Emily living at Easton with their two children in two rooms; William’s occupation at that time is given as ‘groom’.

Like many of his friends and workmates, William volunteered for military service at the outbreak of war, but he was turned down on medical grounds.  However, he persevered, and when he tried again in August 1915 he was accepted.  He enlisted at Reading and became a Private in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, no. 19084.

The 3rd Battalion acted as a ‘feeder’ unit for the active service Battalions, training recruits and despatching them in drafts for the Front.  William joined them while they were stationed at the Victoria Barracks, Portsmouth, as part of the Portsmouth Reserve Infantry Brigade.

Meanwhile, other members of the Huntley family were contributing to the war effort. Two of William’s brothers, Thomas and Albert, also joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment, serving with the 1st and 6th Battalions respectively; Thomas was killed in action in March 1918 and is commemorated on the Boxford War Memorial, as is their cousin Frank, who served with the 10th Canadian Battalion.  A third brother, Reginald, joined the Tank Corps, and there were several more among the extended family who also served.

It was whilst in training with his Battalion at the Victoria Barracks that William sustained an injury through a strain.  He appeared at first to have made a full recovery but further treatment became necessary and he was admitted to the Alexandria Hospital at Cosham. 

After a month as an inpatient, William was discharged with a pass to go home on sick leave.  However, the improvement he had shown was not sustained and symptoms developed which required him to be immediately readmitted to hospital.  The condition became so serious that his wife was telegraphed for.  Emily travelled to the hospital, but William’s condition had so deteriorated that he was not conscious of her presence and he died shortly afterwards, on 28th March 1916, age 36.  The cause of death was given as exhaustion and cerebro-spinal fever – what today we would call meningitis.

William’s body was returned home and he was buried at Welford on Saturday 1st April 1916.  The Huntleys were connected by marriage to many families in the parish and amongst the chief mourners were members of the Vockins, Brown, Chandler, Smallbone and Thorne families – uncles and aunts, cousins and in-laws.  Many wreaths and messages of sympathy were received from the officers and men of ‘H’ Company, 3rd Battalion Royal Berks, now stationed at Fort Nelson.

William’s resting place is today marked by the white headstone of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.