William Osborne Knights

William Osborne Knights
Born in St Ives in 1889, William was the second youngest of three sons and two daughters born to Thomas, a self-employed corn merchant, and Emma. The family home was at 6 Cromwell Terrace, St Ives. They were well-off enough to employ a domestic servant. William's father was Mayor of St Ives in 1880.

Some time after 1901 the family moved into Barnes House, which William's father had bought in 1877. It is a substantial house opposite St Ives Parish Church, from which Barnes Walk is named. Thomas extended the house, which has subsequently been divided into three dwellings.

On the 18 March 1909 aged 19yrs William emigrated to Canada with his friend, Harry Freeman, aboard the SS Canada. He settled in Souris, Manitoba, a farming community half the size of St Ives. Harry ended up 1,200 miles away in North Bay, Ontario. By 1913 William was living at Rose Valley, Saskatchewan, an even more remote location of a few dozen residents.

On 13 December 1913 William arrived back in England, landing at Southampton aboard the RMS Oceanic. He was listed as enrolled in the Naval Volunteers as reported on 4 June 1915. Transferring to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Marine Light Infantry, it's possible he fought in the hell of  Gallipoli. William was promoted to sergeant and took part in the the Battle of Ginchy. Badly wounded, he remained in his position, for which he was awarded the Military Medal as reported on 15 September 1916. He was allowed home to St Ives for a brief rest.

William returned to the front lines to take charge of a trench mortar unit. Their objective was to lob mortars from the British front line into the German trenches, or to cut the enemy barbed wire defences. If no-man's land was narrow they could do this from their own front lines. If the German positions were out of range, William's unit would have to locate forward of their own forces' positions.

WWW Trench mortar
Trench mortar
In late April 1917 he took part in the Battle of Arleux. The aim was to tie down the German reserves, thus assisting a French offensive. At 4.25am British and Canadian forces launched an attack. The battle raged all that day and the following day. William's Battalion was counter-attacked seven times by strong German forces, each time successfully repelling the enemy.

After a few days rest the British forces again attacked on 3 May in darkness at 3.45am. The aim was to break through German lines. This time things were somewhat different. The enemy artillery and machine guns targeted the advancing British forces, who were caught in the open. Over two days they made no headway. The attack was called off on the 4 May, many experienced soldiers saying it was heaviest, most intense artillery firepower they had ever experienced. The outcome was most severe for the British forces, with 6,000 soldiers killed.

William's trench mortar company had been given the job of knocking out a strong German post near the British lines. William was hit by shrapnel, sustaining a compound fracture of his left arm. Their position was very exposed. William was bandaged up and spent the rest of the day in the trench. At nightfall he was carried back to the dressing station, where he was told he would probably lose his arm. Leaving him in safe hands, one of his friends received a letter from William a few days later saying he expected to go to England any day. The Hunts Post reported he was severely wounded on 11 May 1917.

William died on Monday 7 May 1917, aged 27yrs. At the subsequent St Ives Town Council meeting the Mayor spoke fondly of young "Billy" Knights, as reported on 18 May 1917. His funeral with full military honours was reported in the same edition of the Hunts Post on 18 May 1917. William's sister received a letter explaining the circumstances of his death, reported on 1 June 1917. He is buried in St Ives Parish Church Cemetery.

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

Source materials
Click any of the links below to view original source materials.
1891 Census
1901 Census
1909 Emigration Register
1913 Immigration Register
Commonwealth War Graves Register
Commemorative Certificate

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