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MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - SURREY

 WILLIAM BATTLE

58th SURREY (PURLEY) BATTALION


William Battle, of Kenley, volunteered for Home Guard service immediately formation of the Home Guard was announced on 14th May 1940 and was a member of the 58th Surrey (Purley) Battalion. He was a Platoon Commander and appointment so quickly to such a position of authority would almost certainly have implied Great War service. Whilst many details of the latter are as yet unknown, subsequent events were to provide confirmation of this and some additional information, including his unit, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, the fact of his having been wounded twice and one act of special bravery.

William had not always been a Surrey man.  The 1911 census sees him living at 45 High Street, Ramsey, Huntingdonshire with his wife, Elizabeth, and their four children, Bessie, Edith, Arthur and Ethel. William
(b. 25 January 1879)  and the two youngest children were all born in Blunham, Bedfordshire; Elizabeth and the two elder, in London. Ethel unfortunately did not survive into adulthood; and two more children, twins born in 1913, Jesse (a daughter) and Sydney did not survive infancy either.  William's occupation is recorded in 1911 as "Horse Slaughterer".  Thirty years later that grisly, typically Victorian/Edwardian occupation has been left behind and by the outbreak of WW2, twenty-eight years later, we find him living at Pyrford, Bourne View, Godstone Road, Kenley with Elizabeth and employed as a Messenger with the National Provisional Bank in High Street, Kenley.

The following image of him and Elizabeth, the only one which survives, shows them at the downstairs window of their home, Pyrford, and perhaps in happier times.



Only some nine or ten weeks after William formed his Home Guard platoon and held its first parade, the nearby RAF Kenley aerodrome, a Fighter Command base operating Spitfires and Hurricanes, was about to receive a massive attack from successive waves of Luftwaffe bombers. It was Sunday, August 18th, 1940, at lunchtime, between 1.00 and 1.30 p.m.
 
His great-granddaughter, Marcelle Williams, describes what happened on that fateful day:

My great grandfather, the local Home Guard Platoon commander, was at his post, I believe with another member of the Home Guard, at the Kenley Waterworks, just below RAF Kenley, when the first wave of German bombers approached. They began dropping bombs and unfortunately William who was watching their approach was killed immediately.  

William's policeman son, PC Arthur William B. Battle, (right) was on duty in the area and decided to call on his mother and older sister who lived close by to check on them.  When he got nearer to the house, he quickly realised all was not well, and found out about his father's death.  He went to see his father's body which was under a blanket.

A local person recorded the aftermath of the attack from his bedroom window close to the aerodrome.

And a young WAAF, Iris Cockle, who had only recently arrived at the aerodrome, recorded her experience of the violence of the attack for the BBC People's War Archive.

My first proper posting was at Kenley Aerodrome. It was now the August of 1940; I had been there for about a week and was beginning to enjoy my duties in the equipment section. My department was responsible for everything from aircraft parts to clothing and rations.

One afternoon, during a quiet spell, a male sergeant asked me if I would take charge whilst he and a few colleagues took a break. Shortly after he had left I heard the ominous tones of the air raid siren. The next thing I saw were planes of the Luftwaffe hedge-hopping across Kenley, dropping bombs and raking the area with gunfire. I threw myself into my section’s dugout to find that I was the only occupant. For the next few minutes I just sat there frozen with fear as the air raid exploded above me. Then came the deafening silence after the planes had passed over followed by the sound of a voice. “Hey Blondie,” it said, “you’d better get out of there. There’s an unexploded bomb on the roof of your dugout!” It was a young aircraftman who had stuck his head into the dugout to see if anyone was still alive. I vacated what I thought was my safety zone as quickly as I had entered it.

When I came up into the light all that I could see was devastation everywhere. There were great scoops ripped into the ground that had been created by the bombs. Rubble from what were once buildings lay scattered everywhere. Vehicles lay on their sides; some with smoke and flames billowing from them. A German plane had buried itself nose down in the ground. Worst of all was the sight of comrades lying either dead or injured. Fortunately for me, what had landed on top of my dugout was only an empty shell case.


I started to help with the cleaning up........

© Iris Cockle 2003.  To read the entire memoir, please click here. (You will leave this site. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC.  The complete archive can be found here.

William Battle had not been so lucky. His untimely death was reported shortly afterwards in the local press.

MR. WILLIAM BATTLE

Kenley Home Guard Killed On Duty


Mr. William Battle, of Pyrford, Bourne View, Godstone Road, Kenley, was killed by enemy action while on duty with the Home Guard on Sunday. He was hit by a bomb splinter.

61 years of age, Mr. Battle was one of the Home Guard pioneers having joined the day after Mr. Anthony Eden's appeal. He was one of the first members of the Kenley Section.

He was well known in Croydon where he had been a messenger at the National Provincial Bank in High Street for 25 years. He lived in Croydon before going to Kenley eight years ago. He enjoyed great popularity with the clients at the bank and one of the officials said this week "William Battle was a real tonic to us and to the clients. He was one of the best types of optimists".

During the last war Mr. Battle served with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and was twice wounded. He leaves a widow, son (a member of the Metropolitan Police) and two daughters

The funeral will take place on Friday morning at Bandon Hill Cemetery and his coffin will be draped with the Union Jack. His family have asked that instead of sending flowers people should send donations to the Croydon Fighter Fund as they feel that this would have been his wish.

And then, reports of the funeral which tell us more about William Battle.

MR. WILLIAM BATTLE

Funeral Of Kenley Home Guard

One night at Neuve-Chapelle during the Great War, Mr. William Battle crept out into No Man's Land and, under fire from the enemy trenches, dragged a wounded officer to safety.

On Friday morning, twenty-five years later, the same officer, Captain L. V. Noel, late of the 3rd Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) stood in Bandon Hill Cemetery to pay his last tribute to an old colleague and friend. On Sunday August 18th, William Battle, aged 61, of Kenley was killed by an enemy bomb while going on duty with the Home Guard. Mr. Battle was a pioneer among the old Local Defence Volunteers and was commander of "C" Company platoon working at Kenley.

A born optimist and a great patriot, he was widely known and loved in Croydon where he was a messenger at the National Provincial Bank in High Street for 23 years.

Among the Home Guards who attended the funeral and formed a guard of honour were:
Captain R. L. Haine, V.C., M.C. (commander of No. 1 Battalion, Purley),
Captain R. G. Hudson (commander of "C" Company),
Captain H. C. Brewer (adjutant of the battalion),
Company Commander W.C. Dodkin (commanding the Eastern Section),
Captain L. Plowman (company commander of the Western Section),
Captain F. Crosse (Platoon Commander,
Mr. C. V. Lewin (Platoon Commander),
Major S. F. Wood (Platoon Commander) and
Mr. F. Kearns (Platoon commander of the Carshalton L.P.T.B.)


OLD COMRADES

Others present included two of Mr. Battle's old comrades in the last war, late C.S.M. How and late Corporal Chesworth (who was with Mr. Battle when he was wounded at Loos).
The coffin covered by a Union Jack was borne by:
Company Commander W. C. Dodkin, Platoon Commander C. V. Lewin, Captain E. V. Noel,
Section Officer A. W. Collins and
Home Guards C. R. Burbill and E. C. Harrison.

The National Provincial Bank, High Street was represented by Mr. A. J. Rose (manager), Mr. P. E. Potter, Mr. L. W. Freeman, Mr. F. A. Murton and Mr. T. Dorrell (temporary messenger), the Midland North End by Mr. F. W. Heslop, (manager) and Mr. F. Jamieson (messenger), the Westminster, High Street by Mr. H. P. G. Archer (manager), Barclays North End by Mr. H. E. Fraser (messenger) and the Midland, High Street by Mr. W. Boxall (messenger).

Mr. Christopher Ogle (deputy chairman and joint managing director) and Mr. A. E. Cornwalle-Walker (joint managing director) represented the East Surrey Water Company.

Sub-Officer E. H. Robinson, Sub-Officer A. E. Bullock and Firemen Simmons, Wadey and O'Leary attended from the Wallington No. 4 A.F.S. Post.

Family and private mourners were the widow, Mr. Arthur Battle (son) and Mrs. Arthur Battle, Mrs. Wallis and Mrs. Miles (daughters), Mr. H. Diamond (brother-in-law), Mr. L. Arnold, Mr. Smith, Mr. H. Lankaster, Mr. and Mrs. Miles, Mrs. Drell, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Wilson.

Instead of sending flowers, friends were asked to make donations to the Croydon Fighter Fund as it was felt that this would have been Mr. Battle's wish.

AN ORDINARY ENGLISHMAN

A short service at the cemetery chapel, conducted by the Vicar of Wallington, the Reverend R. Bren preceded the internment.

In a short address Mr. Bren said that they were meeting that morning to pay their last tribute of respect and affection to William Battle. "He was an ordinary Englishman. He was past the age for military service and he, like many of you present, was a volunteer to do his bit for this very dear land of England. He faced those long hours which you are all facing on night duty when other men like myself are in the comfort of our beds and he completed his service by giving all that he had to give – his life for this dear land."

It was only fitting, added Mr. Bren, that on such an occasion he should express on behalf of them all, on behalf of that large body of ordinary citizens of which he himself was perhaps representative, their deep sympathy with those near and dear to him. Yet they should not unduly mourn his passing for he was happy in that he had reached his home call in doing his duty as an Englishman.



William is commemorated in the Croydon Roll of Honour.

 

William Battle is thought to be the first Home Guard to have been killed by enemy action in the Second World War.  May he continue to be remembered with honour and respect by later generations of his family; and by those, including visitors to this website page, who see his name commemorated elsewhere.




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Both William's family and staffshomeguard would welcome any further information about
William Battle

and the man whose life he saved in 1915,
E. V. Noel

If you can help, please contact us via the Feedback link below.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
is gratefully made to Marcelle Williams for providing most of the above information and generously permitting its publication; to The Commonwealth War Graves Commision; to Iris Cockle and the BBC People's War Archive; to Croydon Library; and to other unidentified sources of the above information
Personal image © Marcelle Williams 2018


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x159 April 2018