Gunner William Reed, 251st Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.
Killed in Action, 28th August 1918
in Wancourt British Cemetery, Plot IV, Row B, Grave 33.
William Reed was born in Hunslet, Leeds, on 29th
September 1892, but was baptised in All Saints’ Church, Barwick in November the same year. He was oldest of the three
surviving children of the five between Alfred Reed, a hay and straw dealer, and his wife, Annie Louisa. The family lived on
Potterton Lane, in Barwick.
After he had left school, William Reed began working with his father in the hay business, but by the time of his
marriage, he had moved to Briggate (later renamed Main Street) in Garforth, and was in business for himself as a cab proprietor.
On 15th April 1915, William Reed married Gladys Mary Eaton,
of Barwick, who was five years his senior, and the daughter of Robert Eaton, a retired Civil Servant.
|Gunner William Reed of the Royal Garrision Artillery
Reed volunteered for the Army under the Group System devised by the Director General of Recruiting, the Earl of Derby. The
system quickly became known as the ‘Debry Scheme’ and it was designed to regulate the flow of voluntary recruits
into the army which had begun to fluctuate and drop off from the what it had been at the beginning of the war and for its
first few months. Another aim of the scheme was to eliminate the recruitment of underage boys who lied about their age to
Under the Group System, which utilised the National Registration Act to support it, all men of military age were
required to register and provide their employment details. The men could either enlist voluntarily and begin their service
immediately, or they could attest for the army and accept an obligation to report for training when called upon by the army,
which would be done by groups, according to their ages and marital status. The system allowed the men a degree of choice in
which regiment or corps they chose to serve in, which was not available to them once general conscription began in January
1916. The ‘Derby Scheme’ was only partially successful and fell short of the number of recruits it was expected
to attract, and as a result, conscription was introduced in Great Britain to ensure an adequate flow of men into the army.
Conscription was not introduced into Ireland for political reasons.
Having presented himself for attestation
on 10th December 1915, William Reed was mobilised for service in July 1916, and ordered to report to No. 4 (Coastal) Depot,
Royal Garrison Artillery, in Great Yarmouth. There, he trained to be a gunner operating the large calibre guns that were on
issue to the Siege batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Having completed his training, he was posted to 251st
Siege Battery at Codford on Salisbury Plain, and crossed to France with the unit when it embarked for France from Southampton
on 4th January 1917, arriving in Le Havre on 5th January.
|William Reed and Gladys Eaton on their wedding day
Gladys Reed had died on 4th October soon after giving birth to their son, Colin Eaton Reed on 12th September.
The battery immediately
took over positions at Herbécourt, west of Péronne in Picardy, and stayed in this area for two months before
moving north to positions at St Aubin, near Arras. For the remainder of the war the battery occupied numerous positions near
Arras, with a period spent in early 1918 in Belgian Flanders near Poperinge.
251st Siege Battery was equipped with 4 x 6-inch Howitzers, and each gun took ten men to manage it. The model
of 6-inch howitzer that the British Army took to war in 1914 was already obsolete, and it was necessary to design a lighter,
more manoeuvrable, more powerful, longer ranged gun with which to replace it. The 26cwt gun that was developed was a very
stable and reliable gun and stayed in service until after the Second World War.
|Colin Eaton Reed, William and Gladys' son
William Reed was killed when his battery position was shelled on 28th
August 1918. His family was informed of his death in a letter from an officer in his battery, who also lived in Garforth, and
had witnessed what had happened. The officer wrote that Gunner Reed and his gun crew had just been stood down from action
at the end of a fire mission and had settled down for some sleep in a dug out after eating when their position, near Monchy-le-Preux,
was shelled. Two men, including William Reed were reported killed, with an officer and four soldiers being wounded.
He was originally buried where Guemappe British Cemetery
was built, but his remains were exhumed by a graves exhumation unit and moved to Wancourt British Cemetery, and now lie buried
in Plot IV, Row B, Grave 33.
|The original grave marker for Gunner Reed, marked with an X
was to visit the Reed family once more before 1918 came to an end. The Influenza Pandemic was sweeping the world, and in the
space of a few months had killed more people than had died as a result of the war. William and Gladys’ son, the two
year old Colin Eaton Reed died of the ‘flu, and was buried in Barwick Churchyard, with his mother, on 28th
November 1918, just as the world was coming to terms with the end of the war.
I am grateful to Mr F. Reed, Gunner Reed’s
nephew for permission to use the original photographs on this page.
William Reed is also commemorated on
the war memorial inside St Mary’s Church in Garforth, although his unit is wrongly recorded as 25th Siege
Battery, and in 2018 a new memorial was commissioned which now stands outside in the cemetery.
|Gunner William Reed's grave as it appears today