William Henry Bastable was born in March 1891 in the parish of St Cuthbert in Wells, Somerset as the first child of Elizabeth and her husband Henry Edwin Bastable. The 1891 census says that Elizabeth worked as a Dressmaker and Henry as a ‘Shoeing and General Smith’. Henry had been born in Manston; Elizabeth in Stickland, so both were Dorset folk living in Somerset.
By 1901 (William is now 10) they are back living in Manston with Daniel Bastable then aged 73 Henry’s father, who died in 1914. Daniel’s gravestone can be found in Manston Churchyard. His great grandfather, John, was blacksmithing in Manston before 1841. Thus the Bastable family had been the Manston village blacksmiths for over 100 years.
When William began at Blandford Secondary School it is most likely that he travelled to and from each day on the railway from Sturminster Newton. This would have entailed a 2-mile cycle or walk to get to the station so it is also possible that he just cycled the 18 mile round trip (there is evidence in Blandford Museum to this being common). Although most pupils left Blandford Secondary School around 14, William stayed on as a ‘Pupil Teacher’.
William left Blandford Secondary School to become a student at Exeter College of Education. After graduation in 1911 he was an assistant schoolmaster in Poole boarding in Parkstone, Poole, one of three boarders (Minnie Holt, Reginald Rice and William) – all teachers, living with the Westaby family. He was soon recruited by the Abbey School Tewkesbury , a new school which opened in 1911. According to the Tewkesbury Record’s obituary, he became a ‘much beloved’ member of the choir and a Sunday School teacher.
William was conscripted in May 1916 and for a short time was stationed in Tewkwsbury, billeted with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Williams, Barton Road. He was drafted, for no obvious reason, into the 1st/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, a Territorial Battalion which had been formed in 1914.
The Army, in the light of the problems encountered by having geographically centred units (such as the ‘Pals Battalions’) causing disproportionately high casualty rates for some towns according to the fortunes of their local regiments decided to spread new recruits around. (A classic example is a family headstone in, I think, Child Okeford where one son is commemorated being killed in the Dorsets in 1915 and a younger brother in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1918)
Either way the circumstances of William’s death can only make one stop and reflect on the relative luck we enjoy. By August 1917 the British Army was fighting an attritional battle to break out of the ‘Salient’ around the Belgian town of Ypres.
With a summer of heavy rainfall, low lying ground, and drainage destroyed by almost three years of incessant shelling, the idea of even managing to construct trenches as we might know them would have been rendered impossible by the sea of mud. I’ve attached the relevant portions of the ‘War Diary’ of 1/7 Warks. (A daily summary of its action and activity filled in daily by the Adjutant – the commanding officer’s executive assistant)
To top it all, if those weren’t hard enough conditions to deal with, they were heavily shelled with Mustard Gas. (not really a gas, but actually a heavy nasty chemical which doesn’t evaporate and causes terrible blisters even on contact with tiny amounts). A shell landing on a Company HQ and causing 12 casualties suggests either a very large shell or more likely just a very unlucky direct hit. The war diary then just continues from day to day with this just another unfortunate incident. What luckily different times we live in……..
10th August At dusk the battalion moved forward and relieved the 5th R War R (the 5th Royal Warwickshire Regiment) in the front line in the St Julien sector. The relief was carried out without any casualties to this unit. The 6th Bn (Battalion) Gloucester Rgt (Regiment) were on the left, the 2nd Innniskilling Rgt on the right.
11th August The enemy shelling and sniping was very heavy and active. ‘B’ Coy (Company) Hd Qrs (Head Quarters) were blown in causing two officer and 10 OR (Other Ranks) casualties. During the night the line was advanced slightly to a position about 100 yards east of the STEENBEEK. Posts were also established on the ST JULIEN – WINNIPEG and ST JULIEN – POELCAPPELLE roads. The enemy used considerable quantities of “Mustard Oil” gas shells against us..
(We can assume therefore that William was one of the 10 ‘OR’ – ‘other rank’ casualties suffered when ‘B’ Company’s HQ suffered a direct hit on the 11th.)
12th August The 5th R War R relieved the battalion in the front line during the night 13th/14th during the course of which the enemy put down two gas shell bombardments.
The whole tour in the line was very trying owing to the bad state of the ground. The heavy shelling and constant rain making any movement extremely difficult. After relief the battalion were in reserve in shelters in the East bank of the YSER.
William is commemorated on the Menin Gate as one of ‘missing’ with no known grave; on the Blandford School War Memorial, at the Church of St Nicholas in Manston, and on Tewkesbury Town War Memorial