Private 15/1365 1st Leeds Pals
Willie King’s grave courtesy Julian Cooke
1897: In June of this year Willie King was born in Hunslet, the ninth and apparently last child of Arthur James King and Lucy Morton. His older siblings were Ethel, Herbert, Gertrude, Harry, George and Harold, and two others who died without having their names appear on a census. Using both Harry and Harold as names for brothers was quite a common practice it seems. Arthur was a lamplighter working for the city council, having earlier been a pavior. On the 1901 Census they were living at 27 Askern Terrace, Hunslet, but by 1911 had moved to 13 Rylstone Terrace, Hunslet. Willie was now 14, and an errand boy. (Find My Past 2015)
1914: When the war started Willie was only 17, too young to join up, but the following year,
1915: he enlisted at Colsterdale, probably as soon as he had had his birthday. His brother Harold also volunteered, and possibly they joined together. Harold, however, did not prove to be a satisfactory soldier, and after their initial training at Colsterdale, and then at Clipstone in North Nottinghamshire, he was discharged in April of 1916. Find My Past 2015)
1916: Probably in March, and certainly before Harold got his discharge, Willie was sent to France to join the Pals, ready for the Big Push. He wrote numerous letters to his mother, and also to other people, including Annie Marsden, who may have been his special girl. Many of these letters have survived and are now in the possession of his descendants. One such was written on 28th June 1916:
Just a line to let you know I am in the best of health. Well what you said about July I think will be right I dont think it will be long now, I soppose you will have read the good news in the paper. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself at Whitsuntide going up to the field to see the children, I would not have minded being there. I dont know what sort of weather you are having in Leeds but it is rainy every day here but still we dont care, as long as win the war. Will you tell Annie that I cannot send her a letter as I am not sure whether I can get this off or not, so give my Best Love to her and tell her to Keep Smiling as I sharnt be long before I see her, I got her letters and the photo of her friend I think it is alright I will tell you more when I write.
Well I think this is all I can say this time more next
Best Love to all
Your loving son
For Vinie xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Vinie, who is mentioned frequently, would appear to have been Lavinia, Ethel’s daughter, born in 1909.
On 1st July Willie went over the top at the start of the Battle of the Somme, and did not come back. He was initially reported missing, and as late as September his mother was still hoping he was a prisoner of war. She wrote to the army in August and was eventually told this was extremely unlikely, and she should prepare herself for the worst:
13 Rylstone Terr Hunslet
Augt 15 – 1916
We should be glad if you can let us have news of my son
Private W King 1365
West Yorks Leeds pals
last letter from him dated
June 28 – 1916
hoping you will oblige
Reply written on the reverse:
Infantry Research Office
22 Aug 1916
No intimation of any casualty occurring to your son has been received in this office.
According to my search he is still serving with his unit.
i/c No.2 Section
for Col: i/c Infantry Records, York
A Coy 15 Battn PWO (WY Rgt)
BEF France Sept 4 16
Your letter dated August 18/1916 has been handed to me as there were no officers of A Coy returned from the trenches July 1st 1916. I have been asked to answer same.
Your son has been reported missing, and seeing that you have not heard from him since then, I much regret to say that we can only assume the worst has happened to him.
As regards him being a prisoner of war, if he had been I am sure you would have heard from him ere now, and to buoy oneself up with these hopes, is only false hopes.
I may say, your son, although only a short time with our Battalion, was well liked by all who knew him, and on behalf of the few NCOs and soldiers left in the Coy. I offer you our deepest sympathy.
Should any definite news come through about your son, I will at once communicate with you. I can assure you that the strictest enquiry has been made re all soldiers who have been reported missing.
RH Spendall Co2 MS ‘A’ Coy
15 Bttn PWO (WYR)
(Letters courtesy of Julian Cooke)
His body was finally found, and he is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No.1, France. (CWGC 2015) He was subsequently awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. (Ancestry 2015)
Lucy King, courtesy Julian Cooke
Researcher: Peter Taylor
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
- Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.