Townley, William

William Townley was the first born son of John & Rachel Townley (nee Rogerson) who had married in the March Quarter of 1888 in Ashton. ( Vol.8d Page 501). On the 1891 census they were living at 15, West Street, Ashton Under Lyne, Audenshaw, Lancashire.   Head of the household was father John James Townley, 22, a Foundry Labourer, who had been born in Crewe, Cheshire.   His wife Rachel M. was 24 and a Power Loom Weaver, who had been born in Audenshaw Lancashire, as had son William who was 1 year old.

By the 1901 census the family had moved to 30, Botany Lane, Ashton Under Lyne, Lancashire.  John James, 33 was a Furnace Man at the Iron Works. His wife Rachel Mary was  34.The listed children were William, 11,  Edith, 8 and Lilian, 1 (who was to die before the next census, bless her).

The 1911 census  places the family  at Ash Grove Shotton, Flintshire. John J. Townley, 43, was now a Steel Worker at John Summers & Sons, and he and Rachel, 44 had been married 23 years. Five children had been born, but 2 had died. The  3 remaining children were William, 21, a Steel Worker,  Edith, 18, was  a Ticket Collector at the Hippodrome, (Connah’s Quay).   John, 6, was at school.

William married Edna Marland in St. Ethelwold’s Church, Shotton in 1912 (C115/01/E84), their children, Lilian was born in 1913 (HAW/16A/67), Edna in 1915 (HAW/19A/2) and William in 1917 ( HAW/22A/4), so apart from Lilian* who may have remembered her father, (but he enlisted possibly a year after her birth) so she probably didn’t have many memories of her father, the other two children Edna and William would not have remembered him at all.

*Carol Jones recently got in touch to say that Lilian Townley was to meet and marry Frank Harmes, whose brother George Edwin Harmes was to lose his life in WW2.   Their marriage was not to last, but they had 3 children Glynnis Marian (Carol’s mother), Frank Jr. & David.   When the children were little Lilian split from Frank and left the 2 oldest children in Lluesty in Holywell and took baby David with her.   So George Edwin Harmes Senior, mentioned on George Edwin Harmes Junior’s page and William Townley who died in WW1 are her Grandparents.    Please click on the link to read his story.   Many thanks to Carol for adding this to his story.

UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 accessible on confirms William’s his regimental details and tells us that he was born in Hooley Hill, Manchester. He enlisted in Connah’s Quay and died in the Egyptian Theatre of War. His medal card, also on ‘Ancestry’ details his medals and adds that his first Theatre of War was the Balkans and he entered it on the 8th August 1915.

William Townley’s Army Service records have survived and are accessible on ‘Ancestry’. Many of the pages are very faded and it is almost impossible to decipher them. Nevertheless there is enough to explain what happened to him.

He signed his Attestation Papers on the 4th August 1914, (the day that war was declared) in Connah’s Quay.  He was 24 years and 5 months old and his address was 38, Kingsley Road, Garden City, Nr Chester. His place of birth had been Holly Hill, Lancashire. The papers tell us that he had previously served in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

He was medically examined on that day and the report tells us that he was 5 feet 6 and a half feet tall. His chest measured 35 inches with a 2 inch range of expansion. His vision and physical development were good and he was deemed to be fit for the Territorial Force.

A Casualty form records that he left Devonport for Alexandria on the 8th October 1916 and he joined the battalion for duty  ‘in the field’ on the 23rd October 1916. He was promoted to paid Acting Corporal in April 1916 but a spell in hospital (‘constipation’) during May meant that he was unable to carry out his duties and so reverted to Private. He returned to duties in July 1917 became Acting Corporal again at the end of July 1917.

The final entry on the casualty sheet is dated 13th July 1918 states that he was killed accidently (Cleaning grenades) in the field on the 10th July 1918.

The papers that followed are almost impossible to read as they are so faded. It is clear, however, that the Army held an immediate Court of Inquiry.

There is a document, of which only parts are legible but it seems to say that William and 200722 Pte. W. Evans and 241197 Pte. T Evans and the writer of the statement ( I think) were to carry on with the cleaning and detonating of No. 20 Hales Rifle Grenades. ” We had cleaned and detonated about 26 yesterday.   Each box contains 20 grnds and this morning we commenced work about 07.00.   We sat round in a circle each sitting on a box containing undetonated ………. Townley sat facing me about 2 yards ……

There is a Certificate of Trade Proficiency, which was presumably presented at the Court of Inquiry,  Dated 28th March 1918. certifying that  240547 Cpl Townley, W. had been tested in the Workshops of Army Ordiance Dept 1/5 R.W.F. at Cairo and proved himself a Skilled Hammerman.

The following letter from the Major Commanding the 1/5th Bttn of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers is still in good condition and is legible. It is transcribed here in full.

Headquarters. 158th Brigade.

            I regret to have to report that a serious accident while cleaning No 20 Rifle Grenade occurred 10th July 1918 resulting in the death of one N.C.O. and serious injury to two privates.

            As is the custom in the Battailion, all grenades were examined as soon as the line was taken over.

            1063 No. 20 Rifle Genades were handed over to me by O.C. 21st Punjabis, with the information that they were all defective. Having had experience with this type of Grenade I was not surprised, but decided that I would have them examined and cleaned before returning them to Jerusalem as I urgently required Rifle Grenades in my front line.

            At the time of the accident, about 1040 Grenades had been examined.   Almost without exception they were found unserviceable as they stood, but it was possible to clean most of them, with the result that 774 Grenades were serviceable.     The remainder have been condemned and were returned to Jerusalem on 11th Inst.     Unfortunately, this accident occurred during cleaning and it’s exact cause will never be known.

            I would point out that Corporal Townley was a very experienced bomber and the cleaning was carried out under the supervision of Lieut. Jones, the Battalion Bombing Officer, who is an expert.

            Major, Commanding 1/5th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers – July 1918.

There is considerable correspondence between the army and Mrs Edna Townley, the widow concerning his commemorative plaque and scroll. There is also information about her pension entitlement which was 30 shillings and 10 pence with effect from January 1919. ( One wonders how she managed from July 1918 to January 1919).

In January 1920, Edna completed an army form detailing William’s living relatives but it isn’t very clear and somewhat confusing.  She lists herself as the widow,  Mrs Edna Townley and she lists his children as Lillian, Edna and William. They all lived at 38 Kingsley Road, Garden City. His parents were John J Townley and his mother was Mary Townley.

Two Flintshire WW1 Index Cards were made out for William in different parishes, one Sealand which states that William was killed accidently on the 16th July 1918 and was signed by Edna (his wife) on the 24th September 1919.  The other, Queensferry F 28 agrees with the date on other documents above, but is not signed or dated, but on the reverse “Address sent 21st February 1921.   To be entered on lists when received.”   Large “E” written on card.   Both cards have the same address, 38, Kingsley Road, Sealand on first card and 38, Kingsley Road, Garden City, Queensferry written on the latter.

William was also named on St. Ethelwold’s Church Screen, left of the Alter, in the Lady Chapel, the War Memorial Plaque in St. Andrew’s Church and the North Wales Memorial Arch (Panels) in Bangor.

Learn more about the other soldiers on the Hawarden Memorial

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