Captain Billie Percy Nevill – a short history of military service

W P Nevill

Title: W P Nevill
Description: East Surrey Regiment officers including Billie Nevill by-nc

Wilfred Percy Nevill (often referred to by his family as ‘Billie’) was born on 14 July 1894, one of seven children, in Highbury, North London.

Educated at Dover College (where he was recorded on 1911 census), he started at Jesus College, Cambridge, reading a Classical Tripos, with the original intention of following a teaching career. Wilfred gained a temporary commission on 27 November 1914 following the outbreak of war in August 1914.

Although gazetted into the East Yorkshire Regiment, Wilfred was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, which was part of 55 Brigade, 18th Division (a ‘New Army’ Division commanded by General Sir Ivor Maxse).

The 8th East Surreys were posted to France in May 1915 and held part of the line near Albert. Wilfred’s correspondence home described life on or near the front line and included some humour despite the front line conditions.

On 1 July 1916, at the start of the Battle of the Somme, the Battalion took part in the 18th Division’s attack at Montauban. The objective of the Battalion was to secure part of a ridge-line near Mametz.

Wilfred commanded B Company, 8th East Surreys, and is remembered for commencing the attack by encouraging his soldiers to kick footballs before them as they advanced towards the enemy lines. Wilfred was killed during the early phase of this assault.

Compared to fortunes further north on the assault front, 18th Division achieved more of its objectives, although at a high cost, the East Surreys suffering over over 400 casualties.

Shown here are some images of ‘Billie’ and fellow officers in France in 1915 and 1916 (from a photograph album described below). Several of these images include two 8th East Surrey officers who were awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry on 1 July 1916. Captain C. Janion (then a Second Lieutenant) rallied surviving soldiers from the Battalion and led bombing raids down the enemy trenches and organised a further assault against the Battalion’s final objective. Captain E. C. Gimson was the Battalion Medical Officer who spent many hours on the front line dressing the wounds of injured soldiers whilst under constant shellfire.

Wilfred is buried at Carnoy Soldiers’ Cemetery and commemorated at Jesus College, Cambridge, and on St Mary The Virgin War Memorial in Twickenham.

 

Billie Nevill’s Photograph Album

The photograph album was donated to the East Surrey Regiment by Reverend T. S. Nevill, the brother of Wilfred Nevill. The album contains views of trenches at Tambour & the remains of Bercordel (including one of the church bell which apparently was used to warn of gas attacks). The images also show views from Flixecourt, the Somme Valley, Vaux Wood, groups of soldiers (mainly Battalion officers, including ‘Billie’ Nevill), a nurse and occasional civilians, taken 1915-1916. Also an unclear photograph of senior Allied Commanders (Haig, Foch, & Allenby).

 

Sources

  • Surrey History Centre Archives reference ESR/25/NEVI (include a photograph album capturing trench and rear area life prior to the Somme battle).
  • Ancestry Institution records, Long Long Trail and Surrey Infantry Museum records.

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