First World War Project

William James PILE (of Teynham)

b. 23rd July 1882
d. 12th April 1915. Aged 34

Lance-Corporal, Service Number G/5223
Serving in 2nd Battalion, 
East Kent (The Buffs) Regiment
Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Grave Ref: Panel 12 and 14
Killed in Action

Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

George's Medal Card shows a death year of 12th April 1916 (incorrect) instead of 1915 (as recorded by the CWGC and the Dover Express of 14th May 1915). His wife's name also varies from record to record - Annie Mary and Mary Ann (née Seagars/Seagers) of the Isle of Sheppey. Indeed, both of the first two 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). Elizabeth must have lived in very straitened circumstances. In the 1871 Census, we find William's father, James (aged 9), as a child inmate of the Hollingbourne Union workhouse, mother's whereabouts not known, although James's appearance on the books of Hollingbourne may suggest she was local to that Parish as most Parishes resisted taking on inmates who were natives from other Parishes? It does seem that as soon as he could, he sought work as a Barge Waterman. It may be speculated that James's 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 that we have been unable to capture?

Moving on to William, 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 through his father makes it likely this is our 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. The 1911 Census gives William James Pile (28) as a "Water Side Labourer" living with his wife (Mary Ann, 30), two sons (Percy William (8) and William James(1)) and a five-year-old daughter (Violet Elizabeth) at 62c Abbey Street, Faversham. They had sadly lost one infant child by this time (Walter John, christened 28th June 1905). The 1911 record also suggests a marriage in 1902.

When William enlisted with the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) in 1914, his family is living at 96, Abbey Street, Faversham. The fact that he qualified for the 1915 Star means he landed in France that year. The War Gratuity of £3 further confirms his enlistment within 12 months of his death - it is entirely consistent to make the case that he enlisted at the outbreak of war. 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 Parish, where he is commemorated. There are no substantial military records to explain the link. Quite often, 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 was 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 or Oare, but we have not found any records to help make a case. The connection with Sheerness through his wife may help explain their presence at Teynham Parish. 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.

Circumstances of the death of Lance-Corporal William James Pile

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."

1915 scene of William Pile's death near becelaere

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 turnabout' 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 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: "11 pm. "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:

William James Pile's Effects

The Extended Pile Family (draft) - William James's Generation are FAVERSHAM people (including The Brents)

Draft Family Tree of William James Pile

Click on image for enlargement

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