William George Draper was born in late 1895 and baptised at St Peter’s, Woodmansterne, on 17th November. He was the second of three sons born to Arthur and Louisa Draper.
Arthur was born in Bagshot, Surrey, but moved to Woodmansterne when he was a child. Louisa Fuller was from Shirley, Surrey, and they married at St John the Evangelist, Shirley, in 1892, and then lived at Clock Farm Cottages, Woodmansterne. Their first son, Frederick, was born a couple of years later. They moved to a cottage in “Canon Lane” (probably Canons Lane, Burgh Heath) and William was born in 1895. Their final son, Albert, was born in 1900.
By 1901, the family were living at Mint Cottages, Banstead, just off Park Road and next to The Mint public house. Arthur was a carter working on one of the nearby farms. In 1910, they moved up Park Road to 3 Apsley Cottages, a little nearer to the village. This may have coincided with Arthur changing jobs as the 1911 Census shows that he had become a roadman (responsible for maintaining a road – probably Park Road) and perhaps lost the use of the cottage by Mint Farm.
When William left school, he became a messenger working at a local post office (probably for Mrs Tonge in Banstead) delivering telegrams. Boys could apply to become messengers between the ages of 13 and 14½ years old and it was a good job for those who left school at the standard age of 14. The hours were long (50 hours per week) but they were eligible for holiday and sick pay. It was the first rung on the Civil Service ladder and the boys were expected to spend at least 4 hours a week in education in order to advance their Post Office career. There was a military feel to the messenger boys, with their uniforms that were similar to the Royal Artillery and the requirement for boys to drill with (unserviceable) rifles, although it doesn’t seem likely that the boys of Banstead would drill often as there were only three of them in 1911! At the age of 16 the boys would either be let go or would be retained and become postmen, telegraphists or clerks. The exception to this rule was if a boy wanted to join the Army. In that case he was allowed to stay on until he was 19 and guaranteed a job when he later returned to civilian life.
That may have been what William did as, in 1913, he was living in Woodmansterne when he joined the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own). He was probably not quite 18 at the time and may well have added a year to his age so that he would be able to serve overseas. They were in Cork, Ireland, when war broke out and were mobilised at 5:45pm on 4th August 1914. They joined 17th Brigade in England and trained together at Newmarket. They sailed to France aboard the SS Lake Michigan and disembarked at St Nazaire on 12th September. By 21st September, they were at Dhuizel, in Picardy, and in the trenches for the first time.
The early trenches were not the safest place to be and there was a steady stream of casualties. Both sides probed each other’s defences during October. William was wounded and evacuated home. He was recovering in Worthing Hospital by the end of October and later returned to France to serve with the 1st Battalion. He was wounded once more but returned again and served with the 3rd Battalion and fought in the Battle of the Somme.
The 3rd Rifle Brigade were up near Kemmel when the battle began and only moved south at the end of July. After a week in the sandpits at Albert, they moved up to the craters between Carnoy and Mametz. The craters had been in No Man’s Land just a few weeks ago and German machine-gun posts sited there had inflicted heavy casualties on Banstead man Harry Bates and the 2nd The Queen’s as they had advanced on Mametz. Now, they were being used as a holding area for reserves, safe enough from rifle fire perhaps but still in range of the German artillery. The Riflemen lost 55 men in a week, presumably down to shelling.
On 18th August, they took part in a surprise attack on two lines of trenches outside the village of Guillemont. The advance was protected by a creeping barrage. As soon as the shelling stopped, the men rushed the last 50 yards, got into the first trench and fought hand to hand. The attack was a success, 70 prisoners were taken, but came at a price: the 3rd Rifle Brigade suffered 170 casualties.
William was killed in action. He was 20 years old. His body was either never recovered or was not identified and he is listed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.
William is commemorated on the Memorial Lychgate in Woodmansterne, on the Garton Memorial in All Saints’ churchyard and on the wooden panels in the Lady Chapel at All Saints’. His name is inscribed in the All Saints’ Book of Men Who Served Overseas.
He was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914 Star.
William was commemorated on the 100th anniversary of his death, on 18th August 2016, at All Saints’, Banstead. A service of remembrance was held and a bell was tolled 100 times. Longer versions of the stories of the men being commemorated by Banstead and Burgh Heath’s remembrance project are available on request. If you are a relative of any of the men and have information or photographs of them then we’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below!