William Jack Gill, brother of David and Ezekiel Gill, was the third son of David Gill and Louisa George. He attested on December 1, 1915, 102 years and one day ago. By this point, his brother David was in France, and likely also his brother Ezekiel. What is certain is that David and Louisa had three sons in the western theatre of war at the same time while also supporting seven other children at home with another to arrive in 1917. The stress of it is deeply difficult to imagine.
Piecing together William’s war service is a combination of close reading, interpretation, and guess work. Although his military file is available, the condition of it makes it very difficult to read. We can discern his original regiment, the fact that he was wounded at some point in 1916, and that he was later transferred to serve the final part of the war in England.
William initially attested to the the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment. Although both his record and the available war diaries make it difficult to completely discern, it appears he was posted to one of the “football” battalions, which were 2 battalions formed to encourage professional footballers (soccer players to those of us in North America) to join the war effort. I have found no evidence to suggest that William was a footballer, and this is consistent with the fact that the units were supplemented with men from other walks of life.
He sailed for France in May of 1916 which is consistent with the timeframe of the 23rd (second football) battalion which was part of the 41st Division. William’s records tell us that he was in France from May to October of 1916 which meant he was likely part of two of the largest battles of the Battles of the Somme 1916: Fleurs-Courcelette, and Le Transloy.
The Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette, September 15-22, 1916, marked a general regrouping and renewing of the offensive at the Somme, including the entry of Canadian troops into this part of the campaign. As an aside, this is the first specific WW1 battle I was ever conscious of, as it figures prominently in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside.
The war diary for the 23rd battalion states that at 6:20 am on September 15 the “attack [was] launched–124th bgde on right–122nd bgde on left–tanks leading.” This is significant as it was the first time tanks were used in battle. This was a gamble, for as the Long Long Trail states, the tanks were “few in number, mechanically unreliable and as yet without proven tactics for their best use.” By the end of the day on September 16th, the Ordinary Ranks (non-officers) of the 23rd battalion had suffered many casualties: 22 killed, 129 wounded, and 32 missing.
The battle of Le Transloy is one that is characterized by the muddy and miserable conditions that have become synonymous with WW1. The 23rd Battalion was charged with kicking off their participation with a reconnaissance mission:
Whether it was at Courcelette, Le Transloy, or any of the other myriad of places a Private could be injured in the fall of 1916, at some point William was shot in the left shoulder, and he was returned to Britain by October 10, 1916.
At some point in 1917, William was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving at the Reading War Hospital in Berkshire. A wonderful tribute to the Reading hospitals was done in February 2014 through the the local news, GetReading.
There is not much I can discern from William’s file about what his role was at the hospital. There is a sense that at some point in 1918 he found himself in trouble as there is a misconduct form in the file, but its contents are illegible. William was formally discharged as part of demobilization in September 1919.
William married Grace Maud Woolmer in 1925. He died in 1986 at the age of 89.