Private 863 William Key

Killed in Action on Saturday, 1st July 1916, age 22.
Commemorated on Pier and Face 1 C of Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

10th Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment. 101st Brigade of 34th Division.
Formerly 14536 South Staffordshire Regiment.

Son of Joseph and Rosannah Key, of 34 Toll End Road, Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Stafford, Enlisted: West Bromwich, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 9th January 1916.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives survived and transcribed.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library Memorial.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/798140/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
Back 10 Eagle Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Joseph Key (38, Timber Sawyer, born Eccleshall), his wife Rosannah (37, born Tipton), and their 4 sons: Matthew Charles (14, born Stafford), Joseph (11, born Stafford), William (7, born Stafford), and Herbert (6, born Stafford).

1911 Census
Back 10 Eagle Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Joseph Key (48, Timber Sawyer, born Eccleshall), his wife Rosannah (47, born Tipton), and 6 of their 7 surviving children of 9: Joseph (21, Labourer, born Stafford), William (17, Printer, born Stafford), Herbert (16, Office boy, born Stafford), Amy (9, born Tipton), Bertha (7, born Tipton), and Alice (2, born Tipton).

Personal Data

William attested with the 10th Battalion South Staffs at West Bromwich on 26th September 1914, and was given the number 14536. He was 20 years 353 days old, and employed as a painter. William was 5 feet 4 inches tall with a 32½-inch chest, had a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair, and was Church of England. He had a scar on his neck and two marks on his left forearm.

William was in a batch of approximately 120 South Staffs men transferred on 8th October 1914 to form part of 'D' Company, 10th Lincolnshires (the Grimsby Chums). As well as William Key, they included Tipton men Callear, Gittins, Morris and Lycett, and the West Bromwich and England footballer Harold Bache. Callear, Gittins and Key all died on 1st July 1916, and only Lycett was to survive the war.

After training in Grimsby, Brockelsby Park, Ripon and Salisbury Plain, the Chums crossed the Channel to Havre on 10th/11th January 1916. William's papers show that he arrived in France on 9th January 1916. In February, the Chums were in the area of Armentieres for their initial instruction in trench warfare.

Originally the CWGC and SDGW showed William serving in the 1st Battalion Lincolnshires at the time of his death. William's enlistment papers survived and although his transfer from the 10th South Staffs to the 10th Lincolnshires is shown in October 1914, there is no indication of a transfer to the 1st Battalion Lincolnshires. Indeed a letter from the War Office to Infantry Records at Lichfield dated 23rd January 1918 regarding William's personal possessions, still refers to William Key of the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. His 'Statement of Service' shows his Battalion as 1 when it records 'officially regarded as dead', this could be a simple matter of a clerical error recording his Battalion as 1 rather than 10. The current owner of William Key's medals (not me) has managed to persuade the CWGC that William was actually a member of the 10th Lincolnshires (Grimsby Chums) and their web site now reflects that.

Action resulting in his death

The 10th Lincolns were part of the 101st Brigade of the 34th Division that included the Tyneside Scottish and Irish (102nd & 103rd) Brigades. The 34th Division was to attack at La Boisselle at 7.30am immediately after the explosion of the mine that created Lochnagar Crater.

'A', 'B' and 'C' Companies advanced at 7.30am, 'A' to the left with the furthest to go across no mans land, 'B' in the centre and 'C' with the benefit of a slight bit of cover from the newly created crater lip of the Lochnagar mine crater. Little progress was made and losses were huge. At 9.00am 'D' Company was sent to support the attack. By then any element of surprise that had existed had gone, and the German machine gunners had control of No-Mans Land.

It is known that Gittins and Callear were both in 'D' Company, and killed almost instantly. As Key transferred from the South Staffs with Callear and Gittins, it is almost certain the he was another casualty of 'D' Company. William Key's body was never recovered and in 1917 his records were amended to show "officially regarded as dead 1-7-16". He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

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