Private 203767 William Willis

Killed in Action on Wednesday, 26th September 1917, age 23.
Commemorated on Panel 35 to 37 and 162 to 162A of Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

2nd/5th Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment. 177th Brigade of 59th Division.

Son of Joseph and Eliza Willis, of 1, Wood St., Tipton; husband of May Southall (formerly Willis), of 12, Union St., Princes End, Tipton
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Tipton, Resident: Unknown.

First landed France & Flanders, post 31st December 1915.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library, and St. John's memorials.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/875222/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
47 Wood Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Joseph Willis (46, Foundry Labourer, born Tipton), his wife Eliza Jane (46, born Sedgley), and their 7 children: Albert (20, Furnace Labourer, born Tipton), Ruth (14, Domestic Worker, born Tipton), Lily (13, born Tipton), Joseph (10, born Tipton), Frederick (8, born Tipton), William (6, born Tipton), and Arthur (2, born Tipton).

1911 Census
1 Wood Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Joseph Willis (56, Labourer, born Tipton), his wife Eliza (56, born Sedgley), and their 5 children: Albert (29, Foundry Labourer, born Tipton), Joseph (20, General Labourer, born Tipton), Frederick (18, Telegraph Fitter, born Tipton), William (16, Machinist, born Tipton), and Arthur (12, School, born Tipton).

Marriage of William Willis and Mary Millington registered June quarter 1916 in Dudley. The birth of a son named William A. Willis was regsitered June quarter 1916 in Dudley, a busy few months.

Personal Data

William was employed as a Goods Porter at Wolverhampton Railway Station and is recorded on their War Memorial which can be seen on Doug Lewis's excellent site: www.wolverhamptonwarmemorials.org.uk. As an employee of the London & North West Railways, Percy's name is also included on their Roll of Honour commemorating their 3,726 employees who lost their lives in the Great War.

William also had 5 brothers who served in the Army. William was killed on the opening day of the Battle of Polygon Wood, during the 3rd Battle of Ypres. His body was never recovered and it was 6 months later that his wife and parents were officially informed of his death.

After William's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £2/7/2d (2 pounds, 7 shillings and 2 pence); this was paid to his widow, May, in May 1918. His War Gratuity was £3/0/0d (3 pounds exactly), this was also paid to May in November 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that William had enlisted within the previous 12 months.

Action resulting in his death

The Battle of Polygon Wood commenced on 26th September 1917, during the second phase of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. This was part of the successful advance across the Gheluvelt plateau towards the Broodseinde Ridge which was to be captured on the 4th October.

William Willis belonged to the 2/5th Lincolns in 177th Brigade of 59th Division. They attacked in a north westerly across the Zonnebeke / Langemarck road towards Dochy Farm, in the direction of present day Tyne Cot Cemetery. 177th Brigade attacked with 2/4th and 2/5th Leicesters leading, with 2/4th and 2/5th Lincolns in support. The Leicesters went well until they ran into their own barrage and dug in around Dochy Farm. 'B' Company of 2/5th Lincolns then advanced to take Dochy Farm and to consolidate. The Leicesters resumed their advance and took the final objective, Otto Farm.

Between 5.30 pm and 6.50 pm the Germans counter-attacked. Some of the forward posts fell back but the attack was beaten off. 177 Brigade troops then fell back from Riverside House, leaving the troops at Otto Farm isolated and in danger of being cut off. Reinforcements were brought up, Otto Farm held and by 11 pm, the situation had stabilised.

During this day, William Willis was killed in action and his body never recovered. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Newspaper Cuttings

Tipton Herald April 20th 1918
KILLED IN ACTION. Mr and Mrs Willis of Wood Street, Tipton Green (who have 6 sons in the Army) have been officially informed that their son, Private W. Willis, of the Lincolns, who had been missing for six months, is now reported killed.