Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
William James PILE (of Teynham)
b. 23 July 1882 (Preston-next-Faversham);
d. 12th April 1915. Aged 34
Serving in 2nd Battalion, East Kent Regiment (The Buffs)
Remembered with Honour Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Panel 12 and 14
also at St. Mary's Church, Teynham
Killed in Action
George's Medal Card shows a death year of 12th April 1916 (incorrect) instead of 1915 (as recorded by the CWGC and newspapers - see right, Dover Express of 14th May 1915). His wife's name also varies from record to record - Annie Mary and Mary Ann (nee Seagar, of Sheerness). Indeed, both variations appear in one record of William Pile's effects that were forwarded to his widow at the time of her husband's death and after the War (the War Gratuity awarded after the war for those serving and killed overseas).
Very little is known of this man or his links with Teynham Parish. William was born into humble circumstances. His father (James William) was born to Elizabeth Pile (no husband indicated). As a child of 9 (1871 Census), William's father was an inmate of the Hollingbourne Union workhouse, mother's whereabouts not known. It does seem that as soon as he could, he sought work as a Barge Waterman. It may be speculated that his apparent absence from the 1881 Census is explained by his life aboard barges? Or there may just be a transcription error somewhere along the line?
The name "W. Pile" appears in the context of the Faversham Regatta - Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald (reported 31 August 1907): His association with the Faversham water-front makes it likely this is the same man:
"The banks of the Creek and the swing bridge were thronged with people on Saturday last (25th August) when what is known as Faversham Regatta took place, the object being to assist the funds of the Cottage Hospital....most of the events were of an amusing description and caused considerable merriment....Tub Race - 1st prize, hair cut and shave for six months, presented by Mr. Ledner, 2nd ditto for three months, also presented by Mr. Ledner. This event also created much merriment as the competitors had great difficulty in keeping their tubs afloat. W. Pile was first and S. Ackhurst second."
In 1903, William lived in The Brents, Faversham, the birthplace of his brother Percy William. In the 1911 Census, William James Pile (28) appears as a "Water Side Labourer" living with his wife (30), two sons (Percy William (8) and William James(1)) and five year old daughter (Violet Elizabeth) at 62c Abbey Street, Faversham. They had sadly lost one child by this time. When William enlisted with the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) in late 1914/early 1915, his family appears to be living at 96, Abbey Street, Faversham. The fact that he qualified for the 1915 Star means he either enlisted or was embodied that year. In the meantime, his sister Louisa Jane married (Q3 1905 - Faversham) James Henry Barton and like so many young couples at that time in Teynham (in particular) and surrounding towns and villages they moved to Toronto, Canada, to raise a family.
So, it is not at all clear what his connection was with Teynham, where he is commemorated. There are no substantial military records to explain the link. Sometimes, the "place of residence" recorded for Teynham men is given as "Sittingbourne" - the Index Card for "Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919" shows William as born in Faversham, recruited in Sittingbourne, living in Sittingbourne. This is the only plausible evidence for a Teynham link. His life aboard barges perhaps suggests Conyer, but we have not found any records to help make a case. However, he is confirmed as a "Teynham man" when his death is briefly noted in the Faversham and North East Kent News of 5th June 1915.
The B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) was made up of serving and experienced ex-soldiers who were needed to 'hit the ground running'. Their role was to hold back the German army while Territorial Forces were recruited and trained to swell the numbers of men available in Europe. At the same time troops from overseas dominions were recalled to the European theatre where possible.
Recently returned from overseas duty, 2nd Battalion East Kent Regiment (The Buffs), William spent most of January in Winchester before joining the 28th Division, 85th Brigade in Belgium around Ypres.
2nd Battalion, East Kent Regiment (the Buffs), had their first experience of living and fighting in trenches from the evening of 6th February at FERME CHAPELLE. New to trench warfare, they recorded in the Regimental Diary how poor the conditions were with knee-deep water and parapets that would not stop a bullet. Trenches went in straight lines without adequate communication trenches, so movements between trench lines were vulnerable to enfilade fire as soldiers were exposed moving between their own trenches. When relieved back to Chateau ROSENDAL (9th February), several men went off sick with swollen feet and frostbite.
Throughout February, the 2nd Battalion moved in and out of trenches suffering intense machine-gun fire, bombardment, cold and waterlogged trenches as German forces probed canal and other defences around YPRES and OUDERDOM. There were regular losses and injuries among officers and other ranks.
We don't know when William was first attested and joined his Regiment. The records show that his draft of men landed in France on 6th March 1915 and moved up to a holding position behind the lines until 10th or 15th March when officers and men were collected by a member of the Battalion to guide them to the trenches.
The Regimental Diary show that the Battalion was moved from LOCRE to the trenches at KEMMEL: 4th to 16th March 1915: "Battalion held these same trenches. On 12th March an attack was delivered on SPANBROEKMOLEN by the 7th Infantry Brigade, the 85th Brigade holding the trenches. Owing to fog attack did not take place until 4.10PM. It was preceded during the day by a heavy bombardment by our guns. The attack was not pushed home and the 85th Brigade continued to hold the trenches.
10th March: Draft of 3 officers, Lieut Chapman & Ryder & 2nd Lieut Seath, 255 men joined.
15th March: Draft of 1 officer, 2nd Lieut Selby, 105 men joined.
6th March: Captain Ronald joined the battalion.
17th March: By 3.30 am the Battalion having been relieved by 4th South Lancs Regiment and 4th Gordons had returned to billets in LOCRE."
The Battalion moved off to LACLYTTE on 20th March and rested there until 23rd March when the 2nd Battalion then moved to DICKEBUSCH to take over the trenches there from 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers at ST ELOI. There followed a month of 'turn and turn about' between these two Battalions in the firing line.
4th April (Easter Day), 2nd Battalion marched to YPRES to rest in the Cavalry Barracks but were soon (10th April) taking up their position at the centre of a defence line at the cross-roads for YPRES-MORSLEDE, PASSCHENDAELE-GHELUVELT [map - right; click here for another map from 1915 of this location] in close proximity to the German lines. It was also about this time that previously injured or sick soldiers were drafted back to their Battalion at the front. New recruits like William Pile were quickly drafted into the firing line to make good the Regiment's numbers.
On 12th April, the only action remarked was: "11PM. "B" Company endeavoured unsuccessfully to capture enemy's post in our parallel." This may be the action that claimed the life of William James Pile. During this whole period, in trenches, casualties from all causes were recorded as: "1 officer wounded (2nd Lieutenant Seath); Other Ranks - 4 killed and 13 Wounded."
On 13th April, the 2nd Battalion joined an assault on the German trenches, but found themselves seriously hampered by their own wire entanglements (which could not be removed without giving away the intention to attack). A few days later, these trenches experienced or witnessed the first gas attacks.
His "effects" were forwarded to his wife, but her place of residence is not recorded:
Click on image for enlargement