William Hookham

William Hookham
Born in 1881 at Ely, William was the eldest son of six children born to William, a bargeman, and Eliza (née Bailey). Ely was the home town of William's mother, and where mother and two young children were living in 1881, lodging with Eliza's parents at Hills Lane, Ely.

William's father was, like his father and most of his brothers, a journeyman bargemen. Having served an apprenticeship and attaining master craftsman status, he was effectively self-employed, hired from day to day operating barges carrying goods along the River Great Ouse. Often away from home, on census day in 1881 William's father was with his parents and family at Filberts Walk, St Ives.

By 1891 the family were all living at 25 Filberts Walk, St Ives, with one of William's uncles and family living next door. Ten years later Eliza and three children had moved around the corner to 7 Victoria Terrace, Hemingford Grey. William's father was aboard a barge 'The Ouse' on the night of the 1901 census.

Where William himself was on 31 March 1901 is unclear. He served in the Army before the outbreak of World War I. The most likely explanation is he was serving abroad when the 1901 census was carried out on 31 March 1901, possibly in South Africa fighting in the Second Boer War.

William was back in St Ives marrying Harriet Famely in 1910. The couple lived at 5 Filberts Walk, St Ives, William working as brewer's carman driving a horse and cart. They had two children, William in 1911, Leonard in 1913.

As a reservist, William was one of the first to leave St Ives for War, drafted in to the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. Part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and a trained soldier, he fought in some of the first battles, landing in France on 12 September 1914. Described as the best British Army that ever went to war, the BEF were experienced, well disciplined and with high morale. In four months of fierce battle they stopped the German advance. But the force was decimated, suffering 54,000 casualties

William fought in the First Battle of Ypres. By mid November 1914 the weather was cold, with a little snow on 15 November. Conditions for the soldiers were appalling, with many suffering frostbite. Occupying trenches half full of freezing water, falling asleep standing up, and subject to constant sniping and bombing, the physical strain was tremendous.

First Battle of Ypres 1914
Trench conditions during the First Battle of Ypres
For three days from the 15 November 1914 the war diary describes the situation as 'Fairly quiet. Usual bursts of rifle fire at intervals, and constant intermittent shelling. Only mild attacks at various parts of line. 3 killed 7 wounded.'

William was one of the three killed, aged 33yrs, on  Monday 16 November 1914. In the trenches with four others, a German shell exploded killing William, one of his comrades, and wounding the two others. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium and Hemingford Grey War Memorial. News of his death was published by the Hunts Post on 11 December 1914. William left behind a widow and two young children.

Do you have a photograph of William or any additional information? If so, please get in touch via the make contact page.

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