This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: William Ernest Mauvan
Occupation: Epsom Church of England School
Birth Place: Withington, Herefordshire
Residence: Y.M.C.A., Ashbourne House, Waterloo Road, Epsom
Date of Death: Killed in Action 9th August 1915
Age: 30 years (30th December 1884)
Location: Suvla Bay, Gallipoli
Regiment: 2/4th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
Regimental Number: T/3356
William was the son of William and Louise Mauvan, both school teachers at Withington School near Hereford. They lived at 7, Elm Road, Hereford. William had four siblings, and at the time of his death Alice (aged 34) was a teacher in Birmingham, Agnes (29) a typist in London, and brothers Charles (31) and Alec (27) were soldiers.
William’s brother Alec and Charles both served in the war, in the Army Service Corps and the Royal Army Medical Corps respectively. Both survived.
William was educated at the Hereford Cathedral School, before, on the 13th of November 1899, becoming a goods clerk for the Great Western Railway Company, based at Cheltenham station. He was 14 years old. He subsequently moved to Hereford station in October 1900. William resigned from the company on 5th July 1902.
The 1911 census records him as boarding at 12 Sandfield Terrace, Guildford, Surrey, and working as an assistant school teacher with the ‘municipal borough council’. He was working at the Epsom Church of England School, and had been teaching at the local Sunday school.
On enlistment he was living at the Y.M.C.A., Ashbourne House, Waterloo Road, Epsom.
William enlisted into the 2/4th Queen’s, formed in August 1914 and a Territorial Force (T.F.) battalion, which like the rest of the T.F., was established for ‘Home Service’ only. Territorial soldiers, including William, had to volunteer for overseas service.
William’s army number, T/3356, suggests he may have been Territorial Force soldier before the war. The Epsom Advertiser in September 1915 lends this theory some support by affirming that he had been a member of the 5th East Surrey Regiment, which was a pre-war Territorial battalion.
On 17th July 1915 William and the 2/4th Queen’s embarked on HMT Ulysses at Devenport, heading to Malta to join up with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. They then sailed to Egypt where they spent just over a week before taking part in the landings at ‘C’ Beach, Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on 9th of August.
It was back on 25th April 1915, that British and French troops as well as divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) had launched an amphibious invasion to seize the Gallipoli peninsula from the Ottoman Empire, a German ally. The campaign had, by mid-October, turned into a war of attrition with the Allies bogged down, suffering heavy casualties.
To try and break the deadlock, the allies planned an assault on Suvla Bay to secure it as a base for future offensive operations on the peninsula. It was thought that the Turkish troops defending the bay ‘were not formidable’. Suvla Bay was shaped like an inverted ‘C’ and was a natural harbour for ships bringing in reinforcements and supplies.
The landings began on 6th August, with William’s battalion going ashore on the 8th at ‘C’ beach, to the south-west of the bay, i.e. at the bottom of the inverted ‘C’. Early on the 9th they were ordered to move forward to support 33 Infantry Brigade which was struggling in an attack on enemy forces in the area of Chocolate Hill (Hill 53), a high point inland overlooking the bay. The battalion moved off at 6.40 a.m. and immediately started taking casualties from enemy artillery.
They made their way to Chocolate Hill and were almost immediately ordered to attack Hill 70, 600 yards to their front and which became known as ‘Scimitar Hill’ because of its curved summit. Between 7.30 a.m. and noon the battalion launched at least two attacks on the hill, all the time taking casualties. At one point they were also fired upon by the British guns from behind them. By midday, the battalion had suffered 258 casualties; it had gone into action with 700 men. By then, given an absence of orders, the survivors returned to a captured Turkish trench and dug in. They were relieved on the 14th of August. It was during the attacks on the 9th that William died.
The landings failed, a stalemate set in, and for the next two months the battalion remained in and around Suvla Bay, digging trenches and carrying out garrison duty. They were withdrawn on 13th December; only 24 officers and 224 other ranks remained.
The Surrey Mirror on Friday 10 September 1915 (‘The Queen’s in Action’), published a depressingly long list of 2/4th Battalion men who died in the same attack as William.
On the 17th of September 1915, The Epsom Advertiser printed the following:
CORPL. W. E. MAUVAN, who has been reported missing at the Dardanelles, belonged to the 5th East Surrey Regiment and lived at the Y.M.C.A., Ashbourne House, Waterloo-road Epsom. Before enlisting Corpl. Mauvan was a teacher at the Hook-road Council Schools, Epsom and shorthand master at the Technical Institute evening continuation classes. He was very popular with his colleagues, and much liked by all with whom he came in contact.
Captain W.F. Newbevon, Officer Commanding Administrative Centre, 4th Queen’s, in Croydon, replied (undated) to a letter from William’s father:
‘I am sorry that I am not in a position to give you any information myself about him.
I have made inquiries from another Corporal who was in the same Platoon as your son was, but beyond the fact that he informs me that he was not wounded up to the time, he last saw him, he says that he has not seen him since the date he was reported missing, namely, 9th august 1915.
It is not probable that he is a prisoner in the hands of the Turks, but as far as I am aware no official lists of their prisoners have yet come to hand.’
After his death, William’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of William. As part of the process, the Council carried out an investigation into the circumstances of the family. In a letter to Surrey County Council, his father describes himself as a retired school teacher on a pension of £55 a year ‘after 35 years of service’.
A referee from the local Naval & Military War Pensions committee describes the father as ‘very lame and can hardly get about’, and that the couple need help. The family was eventually awarded £86.10 shillings and 7 pence.
William’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli (Turkey). He is also remembered on the following memorials:
- Guildford War Memorial
- Hereford Cathedral School WW1 Fallen – https://www.herefordcs.com/about/about-hcs/history/ww1-remembered-ww1-fallen-timeline/ww1-fallen-timeline/william-ernest
- Herefordshire County Council, WW1 Herefordshire war graves and war memorials – https://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/info/200139/community/283/first_world_war_centenary_commemorations/2?MemorialId=39254
William is also remembered on the St Martin of Tours Church, Epsom, Roll of Honour, which has the inscription:
WILFRED E. MAUVAN, took part in the operations at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, was reported missing and was presumed killed on 8th August 1915. He was an Assistant Master at the Church of England Boys School and taught in the Church Sunday School.
William is entitled to the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Surrey History Centre File CC7/4/4, file 19
Colonel H.C. Wylly, History of The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in The Great War (1925)
Regimental War Diary – 2/4th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
Surrey Mirror – Friday 03 September 1915, The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, a picture of William as part of 6th Platoon.
Further details of William can be found at: http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/WarMemorialsSurnamesM.html#MauvanWE
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/