Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte W J Bagley
2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
Killed in action, 5.4.1915
Age 32 (probably)
William John Bagley’s life was defined by service: domestic service and military service. He joined the army in 1901 and again in 1914. The periods leading up to his enlistments saw him serving as a footman and butler respectively. His first stint as a soldier with the Middlesex Regiment lasted 12 years and took him to South Africa between 1903 and 1906 and then to China between 1906 and 1908. He transferred to the Army Reserve in 1909 and by 1911 he was the butler of a small household in Limpsfield, Hampshire. William was discharged from the Army Reserve on 11 June 1913. The break in his military service would come to an end just over a year later.
He was born to William and Alice Bagley in Dorney, Buckinghamshire c.1883/4. His father is described in census records as a hurdle maker and a general labourer and on his son’s marriage certificate as a carpenter. The parental home remained in Dorney and William’s only sibling Ellen Beatrice, four years his junior was already in service in 1901 aged 13. William married Maud Alice Mary Newman at St. James’ Church, Weybridge on 2 August 1913. By this time both his parents were dead. His wife came from Weybridge, her father Charles Newman was a chimney sweep. Maud Bagley lived at 2, Radnor Road, Weybridge during William’s war service.
He enlisted in Weybridge on 4 September 1914 and was posted to the 5th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. William stood five feet and eight inches tall, had a sallow complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. He remained in Britain until 25 January 1915 when he was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment and arrived in France the following day. His new unit had been on the Western Front since November 1914 where they had been in and out of the trenches near Laventie (16.1 km north-east of Bethune). William was among 82 men and 2 officers who joined the battalion in late January. The usual routine continued until the battalion went into reserve on 28 February.
In the following month the 2nd Battalion was embroiled in their first major battle at Neuve Chapelle, a village on the road between Bethune, Fleurbaix and Armentieres. This was the first planned British offensive of the war. On 10 March William’s battalion attacked and secured the enemy front line after a second bombardment of that line. Hundreds of them were killed by two German machine guns. They reformed in their new position and held it until 12.15 am on 13 March. During those three days they sustained heavy casualties: 7 officers killed, 70 other ranks killed, 8 officers wounded, 299 other ranks wounded and 89 reported missing. The British had been able to break into the enemy lines but attempts to move on further over the next few days failed. Neuve Chapelle had been taken but it had not been possible to exploit that success. Poor communications had been a key factor.
By the end of March, William and his comrades were billeted at Fleurbaix (5 km south-west of Armentieres). They went into the trenches on 3 April; 2 were killed and 4 wounded. The battalion was relieved on 5 April and went into Divisional Reserve at Bac St Maur. William was killed on this day yet the War Diary does not record any casualties. He has no known grave so this may suggest that he was the victim of a shell explosion or his dead body may have been destroyed in a shell explosion.
William is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial (Panel 8) in the Berks Cemetery Extension, 12.5 km from Ypres (Ieper).
A few of his belongings – letters, identity disc, two coins , a pencil and three buttons – were retrieved and sent to his widow. She was awarded a pension of 10 shillings per week. Maud Bagley remarried, to Ernest East, in 1920.
British Army Service Records, 1760-1915, www.findmypast.co.uk
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1837, www.ancestry.co.uk