Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers, 39th Coy. AA Section.
Service no. 563845
Died on 7 March 1919, aged 21.
Remembered at Cologne Southern Cemetery, Germany
Chris Burge writes:
Alfred Willis was born in Clapham in 1897 to Arthur and Ellen Mary Willis who had married in 1894. Both of Alfred parents were from Kent. Arthur was listed on the 1897 Electoral Roll at 4 Larkhall Lane, Stockwell. In the 1901 census, the family of three were living a 2 Larkhall Lane and Arthur was working as a hay and straw salesman. Alfred’s younger sister Marion Edith Willis was born in 1902.
By the time of the 1911 census the Willis household had moved to 267 South Lambeth Road, situated just beyond the Stockwell Terrace, and consisted of Arthur, 43; Ellen Mary, 42; Alfred, 13; Marion Edith, nine; and Ellen Laura Dowell, 37, Arthur’s cousin by marriage. One of Arthur and Ellen’s babies had died in infancy. Arthur still made his income as a salesman of hay and straw. The family lived in some comfort in a two-storey house with seven rooms and a basement.
Alfred Willis was conscripted around May 1916, a date estimated from the war gratuity paid to his father in 1919. Alfred joined a Territorial Force unit of the Royal Engineers as denoted by his original army service number T/2833. His service papers have not survived but the papers of Sapper 563844 (T/2384) V.H. Prodham provide a guide. Prodham, a clerk from Ealing, worked for the Gas, Light & Coke Company in Horseferry Road, Westminster and was conscripted into the ‘London Electrical Engineers’, his service reckoned from 8 May 1915. At the outbreak of the war the London Electrical Engineers, who specialised on searchlights, were based at 46 Regency Street, Westminster, on the north side of the Vauxhall Bridge. London experienced its first Zeppelin raids on 31 May/1 June 1915 and a double ring of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns was established around London in 1916. Zeppelin raids continued into 1916 with bombs dropping on Brixton and elsewhere in South London. Gotha bombers began raids in May 1917. Between June 1917 and May 1918 they made about 17 attacks on London.
There is some ambiguity in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records as to which AA company Alfred served in and whether Alfred was deployed in England or France before the 1918 Armistice. Both the 39th Coy. AA Sect. and 3/Coy AA Sect. are mentioned in CWGC documents; they had both operated in France from 1916. There was also a no.39 AA Company based at Bower’s Gifford on the Isle of Sheppey operating six three-inch 20-hundredweight guns plus eight searchlights, as part of the Thames and Medway AA Defence Command. Commonwealth forces entered Cologne on 6 December 1918, less than a month after the Armistice, and the city was occupied under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles until January 1926. Alfred’s death was not combat-related and he may have passed away during the third wave of influenza pandemic in 1919 while serving in the army of occupation.
Alfred’s parents remained at 267 South Lambeth Road with Ellen Laura Powell until about 1930.