Lance Corporal, London Regiment, 23rd Bn.
Service no. 4180
Killed in action on 18 July 1916, aged about 39
Remembered at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, France
Henry Williams was born in Lambeth in about 1879. There are no clues to his early life apart from the fact he was named after his father, who was a soldier. Henry Williams was 19 when he married Frances Matilda Oliffe, a domestic servant of the same age, at St John the Evangelist, Walworth, on 10 Apr 1898. The marriage was not witnessed by relatives of either Henry or Frances, who was only able to make her mark at the time of the wedding. By the time of the 1901 census, Henry and Matilda had two young children, Frances 3 and Harry 1. They lived in a single room at 5 Northall Street, Stockwell. A property that housed ten other people in four rooms. ( https://booth.lse.ac.uk/map/18/-0.1235/51.4700/100/1 )
There were two more children in the Williams family when Henry completed his 1911 census return. Neatly listed by age, they were Elizabeth Franc [sic] Williams 13, Harry Williams 11, Ada Williams 8 and Thomas Williams just 10 months old. Henry appears to have misjudged the space on the form, shortening the middle name of both his daughter and his wife whose name was written as “Matilda Franc Williams”. Henry was now 32 and working as a “coal porter” and Matilda was 31. The family lived in just two rooms at 35 Lingham Street, Stockwell, a property which also housed an elderly couple living in one room and a family of six living in three rooms. Their youngest son was baptised “Thomas Edward George” at St Andrew, Stockwell Green, on 2 September 1914 when the family had moved to 7 Stockwell Cottages.
Henry Williams made the critical decision to volunteer in May 1915, a time when renewed recruitment campaigns across London were attempting to boost the dwindling numbers of volunteers. The campaigns often emphasised the pay and allowances for married men which may have swayed Henry. He went to 27, St John’s Hill, Clapham Junction on Wednesday 19 May 1915 to join the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment, part of the Territorial Force. Henry was 38 years old, 5ft 6 inches tall with a 37 inch chest and physically fit. He signed the agreement to serve overseas which all TF soldiers were asked to make there and then at Clapham Junction and was posted to the 3rdreserve of the 23rdLondon as private 4180, Williams H. Henry was not drafted to France until October 1915, embarking from Southampton on Saturday 9th October andjoined his unit by 14 October 1915. Henry was one of 78 men noted to have joined the battalion on a day when they were in billets in the Loos sector. The battalion stayed in the Loos sector until they moved to the Souchez sector in May 1916. In July they were south of Lens near Vimy. The keeper of the battalion’s war dairy simply noted that 7 men were killed and 8 wounded when in the front line on 18 July 1916. Henry Williams had been promoted to unpaid Lance Corporal on 16.7.16, just two days before he was killed in action.
Henry’s pocket book with letters, cards and photos was returned to his wife in October 1916, a year after her husband had first gone to France. Frances Matilda Williams was now living at 4 Bricknell Place, an alley off the south-west side of Stockwell Road, close to the Plough Public house on the corner of Stockwell Road and Stockwell Green. Henry’s widow Frances Matilda was subsequently informed she had been awarded a weekly pension of 21 shillings for herself and her two youngest children with effect from 29 January 1917.
Matilda Frances and her son Thomas were still living at 4 Bricknell Place in the 1930s.