PRESTON, William Charles

No.9228, Private, William Charles PRESTON
Aged 21

7th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment
Died of his Wounds on Monday, 10th January 1916

William Charles Preston was born in Little Wratting on 2nd July 1894 (Risbridge Q3-1894 4A:675), baptised in St Mary's Little Wratting on 5th August 1894, son of Charles and Ellen PRESTON (née MAYES).

1901 census...Aged 6, He was at Little Wratting with his father Charles PRESTON [31] horseman; his mother Ellen [30] born Barnardiston; sister Ethel [3] and brother Stanley F [6 months]. All except his mother were born in Little Wratting.

1911 census...Aged 16, entered as William Clark Preston, he was a hall boy at Drayton House, Thrapston (home of Sackville George Stopford-Sackville). His parents were still in Little Wratting, father now a journeyman butcher, with sister Ethel Mabel and widowed grandmother Ann MAYES [79]. His brother Stanley Frank had died in 1901, aged 1 year.

The Army's "Living Relatives" form completed by his mother (at Stone Cottages, Little Wratting) on 27th May 1919 gave just his parents and sister Ethel [22] living in Little Wratting.

He enlisted in Norwich on 11th August 1914 for 3 years in the colours.
William was the first Little Wratting soldier to die in the Great War. he had served an apprenticeship with harness maker C Mynott in Haverhill but at the time of his enlistment he was a footman, giving his date of birth as 2nd July 1894. He was 5 feet 6.5 inches(168.9 cm) tall, weighed 133 lbs 60.5 kg), chest 33.5" to 36" (85.1 to 91.4 cm), with grey eyes, brown hair and Church of England.
He joined the Expeditionary Force in France on 30th May 1915, was wounded in action on 10th January 1916, taken to No.33 Casualty Clearing Station in Bethune with gun shot wounds to the abdomen and right leg, but died at 4 pm the same day.
The South West Suffolk Echo carried a report of a letter from a chum of William, Private Clegg. They had become friends, making plans to visit after the war. Early in the morning the Germans started shelling their HQ. The men were sheltering in the cellars and Clegg was slightly wounded. William was on his way to the cellar when a shell burst, killing one man and wounding other. Clegg and William were taken to the dressing station in the same ambulance, William complaining of pains to to the abdomen and right leg. They parted when William went on to the C.C.S., promising to write to each other. Private Clegg only learned of William's death when he received a letter from William's parents.

The war diary has :-
Givenchy Sector -10th January - The day in the trenches was fairly quiet. Bn HQ which was at WINDY CORNER was shelled with 5.9 shells about mid-day - one direct hit on the house being scored - 1 man killed and 2 badly wounded

Windy Corner was the HQ and dressing station, very close to the current Guards Cemetery.

The Cambridge Independent Press of 18th February 1916 recorded:-
Little Wratting Man's Death -
Mr. and Mrs. Preston of Little Wratting have received official information that their son. Pte William Preston, of the 7th Norfolk Reiment, had died from wounds received while on service in France on January 10th. He was hit by a bursting shell and only lived a short time.He has been buried in Bethune Cemetery and a cross has been erected on the grave. The deceased soldier, who was only 21 years of age, was the only son of his parents. He enlisted during the first week of the war, and went out with the Expeditionary Force last May
The following two letters have been received from R.Gallenders, Church of England chaplain:
"January 10th. You will probably have had a wire from the War Office informing you your son passed away this afternoon. He was wounded in the abdomen and lived but a short time afterwards. I was present with him when he passed away. His end was painless and very peaceful. May our Heavenly Father bestow upon you at this time His comfort".
" January 19th.I am writing to you to say that your son, as far as I can remember - a large number are passing through my hands daily -was brought into the reception room of the dressing station in an unconscious condition. I could only hold the poor lad's hand and pray over him and for him. His paybook contained his will, which was made in your favour. This you will have received before now. He is buried in Bethune Cemetery and a cross has been erected, bearing his name and regiment. May God comfort you. Please accept my sympathy".

Pte.J.Wegg, writing from France under date January 27th , says:-
" I have just received your letter, and I am so sorry to know that your son is dead. I send out my most sincere sympathy.I am extremely sorry, as your son and myself had been firm friends for some time. I have been staying at the mess since November, but have known him ever since we have been out here. We heard several days ago that he was dead, but were not quite certain until yesterday, when we heard from the orderly room. It happened on the morning of January 10th, the battalion went into the trenches the previous evening, Sunday, but my headquarters were in some buildings some little way behind the trenches and soon after breakfast on the mOndaymorning the Germans started shelling the place where he was. We stood and watched them for some time as they did not come very close, but soon we had to get into the cellar. it was not so very safe where I was, but I had to stay as I was on duty at the telephone. Your son was on his way to a cellar a short distance away when he was hit by a bursting shell. The next shell struck the place I was in, killed the signals sergeant and severely wounded another three died (sic) and myself slightly wounded in the left leg. When I arrived at the dressing station the doctors were just binding up William's wounds. He looked very bad but was quite conscious and asked the doctor if he thought his wounds dangerous and also for a drink of water. He also asked me how I had fared. We went away in the same ambulance car and on the way he was conscious. I asked him how he was feeling and he complained of pain in the abdomen, also in the right leg which was also hit. He promised to write to me as soon as was able and I said ' ?' when I got out at the hospital and he was taken straight on to the clearing station. I inquired after him while I was in the hospital, but was unable to gain any information. I might have spoken to him more than I did, but I did not think it advisable, though I almost wish now that I had. I saw him a few minutes before we were hit and he came to borrow my pencil to address a letter he was sending off.I have always that if ...??...would be unable to write to us for some time. That is why I wrote to you and I have told you exactly what happened, as I am sure you wish to know the facts. If you wish to know anything else about him I shall be only too willing to let you know all I can. I only wish I could let you know more> My home is in Norfolk and William and myself ha arranged to exchange visits should we both be spared. I am extremely sorry as we were most comfortable here and I trust that you will have strength to bear up through your terrible loss. I know what it must mean to you. The cook also wished me to send you his deepest sympathy and with me, he is very sorry as also is everybody else."

photo: Rodney Gibson

William Preston is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery, grave 4:H:17

click here to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for full cemetery/memorial details

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