I first became aware of my Great Uncle Billy when I was a small child, I’d asked my Nan if she had any brothers and sisters, she told me she did and what all their names were, then she told me about William Charles, her oldest brother whom she’d never met. How did you never meet him Nanny? I asked, she told me he went to war and never came back, and that she was born after he left.
Nanny kept a photograph of him in the back of her wedding picture, which she took out and showed me.
Some years later I was inspired partly by this story to research my family history, and this is William Charles Earl’s story:
Billy was born in 1897 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk and attended St Nicolas School. His parents were William Jacob Earl and Sarah Francis Earl (Nee Fysh), they lived at 39 George Street. He was a well known local sportsman excelling at Football and Boxing, and while serving with the colours at Cambridge he won a medal for swimming.
On leaving school he was employed by Bristow and Copley who were a timber merchant in the town.
Billy enlisted as a territorial on 4th February 1915 in East Dereham where he joined the 1st/5th Norfolk Battalion (Service No 240827). For the first few months they were stationed in East Dereham, then on 30th January 1916 they sailed for Alexandria from Liverpool.
The regiment then supported front line troops in defending the Suez Canal, then in 1917 they embarked on the First Battle of Gaza. During the Second Battle of Gaza, Billy was taken prisoner of war by the Turks.
His last letter to his parents was sent on 23rd November 1917 but was not received until 16th February 1918 sadly 3 days after his death. In it he mentioned that he was in hospital but was expected shortly to be removed to a rest camp, no reference was made to a wound and the official report attributed his death to sickness.
It was consoling to know that he was treated kindly by the ‘Turks’ during captivity; testimony to this effect was furnished by Pte Charles Sheen of King’s Lynn, a fellow prisoner.
Billy died on the 13th February 1918 he was 21 years old, he was buried in Baghdad on 14th July 1918.
To my knowledge no member of the family has ever made it to his grave, but we remember him each year on Remembrance Day and thank him for the sacrifice he made.