Sunday 16 November 2014

William George Choney 1887-1914

William George Choney

18th March  1887- 16th November 1914

William Choney was a 2nd cousin three times removed. His grandmother Mary Ede was an older sister of my 4x grandmother, Eliza Ede.

William’s parents William Choney and Alice Carpenter were married on May 14th 1887 at Holy Trinity Church in Bramley, Surrey. William was born on March 18th the following year and baptised at Holy Trinity on May 6th.

When the census was taken in April 1891, the family were living at Birtley Road in Bramley, now the A281 between Guildford and Horsham but then, of course, much quieter. William senior was an agricultural labourer and, as well as three year old William junior, the family had another son Albert who was 18 months old while Alice was just a few weeks away from giving birth to Herbert. Two years later, the boys acquired a little sister, Alice and in 1895 another brother Ernest.
In 1901, the family; William, still an agricultural labourer, Alice and the children, William aged 13, Albert aged 11, Herbert aged 9, Alice aged 7 and 5 year old Ernest were still in Birtley Road Bramley. In June of 1902 the family welcomed their last child Annie.

William junior enlisted in the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment for five years on 27 Dec 1906 at Guildford. He was aged 19 years and 10 months. A reference was given by his employer Mr Charman of Shamley Green who had known William for 14 months and who described him as being of good character. 

The regiment was based in Colchester and did not see active service until 1908, by which time William had become a Lance Corporal. In 1910 the regiment was posted to Gibraltar and William became a Corporal. On the family’s 1911 census return he is listed as “soldier abroad” then crossed out and "away on census night" noted. He was indeed away in the barracks in Gibraltar.

In 1912 they went to Bermuda and on 19 Oct 1913, William was passed fit for service in South Africa having extended his period of army service to 12 years. At this time he was given a glowing report.  It read; “Character very good. An excellent man in every way. Thoroughly reliable and well above the average in intelligence. Has been a caterer in RATA 1910-11 and in charge of transport since 1913. 

The regiment spent six months in South Africa returning home in home the following summer. William became a sergeant in September 1914 when the regiment arrived back at Southampton. They marched to Lyndhurst at which point there were 28 officers, 2 Warrant Officers, 40 sergeants, 49 corporals and 855 men. During the week of 21st September, the soldiers were allowed 24 hours leave to visit their families; the rest of the time was spent in exercises and route marches.

On October 4th they embarked at Southampton for Ostend then on by train to Bruges where they joined the 22nd Infantry Brigade as part of the 7th Division of the British Expeditionary Force.  They took part in the battle of Mille on October 8th and throughout October were involved in defending various strategic sites and attacking forward lines in and around Ghent. They endured a three day march westwards in the rain arriving in Ypres on October 16th, some men being so footsore they completed the journey by train. They fought numerous battles over the next few days which did not change the frontline; some days there were advances, some days retreats and the soldiers were constantly being sent to help defend new strategic points  such as railway lines and canal bridges. They were in action every day with little rest.

This from the war diary of October 21st. “The ridge along the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road was held by part of A company and a squadron of Life Guards on the left and other portions of the Queens on the right. About 4pm a company of Irish Guards arrived and took over the ridge and the Queens withdrew to the railway embankment where they had been ordered to take up a fresh position – stragglers were here collected including a party of Warwick’s and Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Orders were then received for the battalion to go up to the Passchendaele Road and get orders from Lt Col Cadogan of the E W Fusiliers. The Queens were ordered to fill in a gap between them and the Staffords but it was pitch dark and no-one knew where the Staffords were.“ And so it went on day after day.

The battalion had moved on by the end of October to Kruisick south east of Ypres. They took up position beside a road but were shelled out of their trenches and had to quickly dig new ones further back. At one point a firing line was ordered meaning that the men stood in a line along the edge of the road and fired towards the Germans. The Germans however were stronger and small parties worked their way behind their enemy’s lines and attacked. It sounds like complete chaos and must have been a terrifying experience. Eventually the British soldiers retreated into the village or took shelter in some woods and in a chateau while they awaited reinforcements. On the 5th November the brigade left the area and were billeted in the Hotel de Ville in Ypres. They rested for a day and by 6am on the 7th were in place ready to storm German trenches. This appears to have been a well-planned and prepared attack. The war diary from that day reads, “At about 5am the brigade left the field behind Lord Cavan’s HQ and went down a path through the woods leading to the trenches held by the Germans. The attack was scheduled for 6.15am. There was a heavy mist and it was only just becoming daylight. The brigade deployed in lines, the Queens forming the first two lines. They advanced over the rise in the ground and a heavy machine gun was opened by the Germans. The second line came up with the first and together the charge was made. It was completely successful and the enemy got out of their trenches and ran away.” The line was held all day but there was a lot of resistance and the British soldiers took many casualties. The toll was five officers, 59 other ranks killed and 19 missing.

After this the battalion had a long break, first to rest and then to dig and equip new trenches. There was no action with the enemy, partly due to the appalling weather, between the 7th and the 16th November when William Choney died of his wounds, so presumably he was injured in one of the earlier battles. He was reported as having been shot in the head right side and hand but no indication is given as to whether he was on the front line or still working in support either in catering or transport as he had done previously. His possessions were recovered and returned to his family and the family informed of the whereabouts of his grave, all of which implies that he died in a quieter place than on the field during a battle, so presumably at a field hospital somewhere behind the lines. He is buried in Larchwood cemetery south east of Ypres very close to where he died. Larchwood Cemetery contains 856 burials from the First World War and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

He was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His medals and scroll were sent to his parents who moved soon after the war to East Street in Epsom. Both died in the 1930s in Epsom.

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