yeovil at War

William James Warren

Died in France of his wounds


William James P Warren was born in Yeovil in 1897, the son of china warehouseman Edward Warren (1869-1924) and Charlotte Ann née Hurlestone (b1871). In the 1901 census Edward and Charlotte were listed living at 3 South Street with their children; Florence (b1896), three-year old William, Ewart (b1899) and Gertrude (b1900) together with Charlotte's widower father, Stephen Hurlestone (1837-1903). Edward gave his occupation as 'Warehouse Man (China)'. Just a couple of years later, on 22 February 1906, the family home in South Street, just behind the Three Choughs Hotel, was burnt to the ground (see Gallery).

By the time of the 1911 census the family were living at 145 Huish at which time the family had grown with another daughter, Ellen (b1906). Edward was working in a china shop as an assistant and 14-year old William was 'Learning for Reporter in a News Paper Office'. He was, in fact, working at the Western Gazette at their new offices on the corner of Newton Road. William was also a member of the Yeovil Volunteers and, by the time he enlisted, was a Section Commander.

William enlisted at Yeovil, joining the 15th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (the Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles) as a Rifleman. His Service Number 533214 suggests that he enlisted around May 1916. 

He was most likely sent to France in October 1916 at which time his Battalion were fighting in the Battle of Le Transloy Ridges (1 to 18 October 1916) in France.

The Battle of Le Transloy began in good weather and Le Sars was captured on 7 October. Pauses were made from 8–11 October due to rain and 13–18 October to allow time for a methodical bombardment, when it became clear that the German defence had recovered from earlier defeats.

 Haig consulted with the army commanders and on 17 October reduced the scope of operations by cancelling the Third Army plans and reducing the Reserve Army and Fourth Army attacks to limited operations in co-operation with the French Sixth Army.

Another pause followed before operations resumed on 23 October on the northern flank of the Fourth Army, with a delay during more bad weather on the right flank of the Fourth Army and on the French Sixth Army front, until 5 November. Next day the Fourth Army ceased offensive operations except for small attacks intended to improve positions and divert German attention from attacks being made by the Reserve / Fifth Army.


A letter published in the  Western Gazette, 20 October 1916

Private William Warren, of the Civil Service Rifles, who at the time of his joining the Army was on the reporting staff of the Western Gazette writing to his parents, who reside at 32 King Street, gives an interesting account of his first experience in the trenches. Private Warren, who was a member of the Volunteer Training Corps from its inception to the time that he enlisted, has also experienced some narrow escapes whilst at the Front. He says: "Well, for the first experience in the line it was very warm, and to me it appeared to be one continual nightmare. I'll describe to you some of my experiences so far as censorial limits will permit, but can't mentioned any dates. After spending four days in reserve, we moved into the support trenches on --, the march lasted from five o'clock one afternoon till 1.30 the following morning. We were shelled occasionally the first day there, but it was fairly quiet until the evening of the next day, when we were 'strafed' somewhat harshly, and suffered one or two casualties. I had a lucky escape during the earlier part of the day. I was helping one of my chums to make a little shelter in the side of the trench, when a 'whiz-bang' shell burst near and all at once I felt something strike me in the middle of my back. It proved to be a piece of shrapnel, and bowled me over for a time, but fortunately for me examination showed that it had only torn my tunic and bruised my back, and I was able to carry on after a rest. I picked up the piece of shrapnel later, and found it to be a nasty jagged piece and concluded that it must have struck me on the flat side, otherwise it would have penetrated more than it did. We took up position just behind the front line late that evening in readiness to make an attack the next day. This was actually carried out, but I think it wise not to mention any details, suffice to say that it was simply h--l. I missed my chums soon after getting out of our trenches and when it became too hot, took refuge in a shell-hole with three other men. Just as it was getting dark we noticed that a trench was being dug on our right, so crawled over to it and helped with the digging. It was whilst there that I was commandeered with another ---th man by a machine gun corps officer to make up losses they had sustained in the attack. The MGC were relieved the following evening and I went with them and carried one of their guns out of the action. I fell into a trench in doing so, but luckily no damage resulted. Early the next day whilst having a rest in some dug-outs hidden in the the remains of a village about a mile behind our newly won position, we were shelled very heavily, the three dug-outs were blown in a very short time. I was partially buried in one, but got out alright, although I lost my rifle and most of my equipment. Altogether twelve men were buried, and of the eight that were got out alive, four of them had sustained wounds, and one of killed was the ---th man commandeered with me. What were left of us quickly quitted the village (as it meant certain death waiting there), and we made our way to the MGC headquarters in the reserve trenches. I stayed with the machine gunners for the rest of the day and left the following morning with a note to report to the headquarters of my own unit, which I heard had been relieved the night after I left the line. After walking all day I found the --th at the quarters where we were stationed before going into the trenches. I soon hunted out my chums (or what was left of their number), and very surprised they were to see me, as, having been missed at the beginning of the action, and getting no news of me, they had been forced to conclude that I had gone under. I've been told that two of my chums were killed and five wounded, and so there are only seven of us to carry on."

from "Letters home to Yeovil in the Great War, 1914 – 1919" by Jack Sweet
Courtesy of Jack Sweet


On 5 February 1917 William was wounded in the day-to-day fighting in the trenches and hospitalised at Boulogne, where he died from his wounds on 10 March. He was 20 years old.

On 16 March 1917 the Western Gazette reported "Mr and Mrs Warren, of 32 King Street has been informed that their son, Private WJ Warren, London Regiment, died on Saturday at a base hospital from wounds received in action on February 5th. This news will be received with utmost regret by Private Warren’s many friends in the town, particularly in the Yeovil Volunteers, in which at the time of joining up, he had attained the rank of Section Commander. He was a popular and valued member of the Western Gazette Reporting Staff, and although only in his 21st year, by his conscientious and painstaking work was regarded as having a promising career ahead of him. He volunteered for service when he became of military age and joined a well-known unit of the London Regiment, which had seen much service in France. He had been in France about six months and had some very narrow escapes in the Somme battles. The utmost sympathy has been extended to Priv. Warren’s parents at the loss they have sustained. At the Wednesday night parade of the Yeovil Volunteers, the detachment stood at “the present” whilst the “Last Post” was sounded as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased."

William was interred in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery - Grave VIII.A.188 and his name is inscribed on the roll within the memorial to the Prince Of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles (see Gallery) and is also on the War Memorial in the Borough.


Other Yeovil men buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery include - Albert Bowden, Henry Hardy and Horace Heard.




From my collection

The ruins of two cottages destroyed by fire, on 22 February 1906; these were numbers 2 and 3 South Street. The two firemen are standing in the ruins of No 3, which was the home of the Warren family. This photograph is by William Ross and was produced as a postcard. The site of the burnt cottages is now the rear access yard of Argos.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of William Warren.


William's grave marker in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.