Rifleman William James Pavey

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Rifleman W J Pavey
1/8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles)
373391/6464
Died of wounds, 7.10.1916
Age, 18

William and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Pavey married in the Horsham district of their native Sussex in 1890. Lizzie (nee Spooner) was born in North Chapel in about 1867 and her husband in Billingshurst a year later. By 1891 they had moved to Weybridge where William was a bricklayer. They went on to have six children: Hetty, Ethel, Maurice, William James, Constance and Winifred. Their fourth child, William James, was born on 2 April 1898 and baptised at St James’ Church on 16 July. In 1901 the family lived at 3, Railway Terrace in Heath Road; they were at the same address in 1911 and young William a pupil at St James’ School (Baker Street) also worked in domestic service as a houseboy (general duties). As he joined the Post Office Rifles (POR) it is very likely that on leaving school he worked for the General Post Office (GPO) as this was a unit made up almost entirely of GPO staff.

When war broke out each male GPO employee received a letter encouraging them to fight. The call was also supported by union leaders. William enlisted at Kingston but when is not known. The 1/8th Battalion of the PORs embarked from Southampton on 17 March 1915; they were in the 140th Brigade of the 47th (2nd London) Division. William’s Division would experience some of the worst carnage of the war especially in the Battle of Loos (25 September-1 October, 1915) and the Battle of the Transloy Ridges (1-18 October, 1916) which came at the end of the Battle of the Somme. The 47th Division was on the right flank of the attack at Loos. The British used chlorine gas for the first time on the Western Front but it tended to hang in the air over no-man’s-land and then drift back to the British trenches. William’s Division had to advance through this gas cloud as they advanced at 7.05am on the first day of the battle. They were moving into the gap between Loos and Lens and by 12pm in concert with the 15th Division had captured Loos. This success was not capitalised on chiefly because insufficient back-up was available. On 26th September troops marching across the Loos plain in parade ground style were cut down by German machine gun fire; they became sickened by the ‘corpse field of Loos’ and did not fire on the eventually retiring British. After a few days more of sporadic fighting a British retreat was ordered.

The 47th Division came late to the Battle of the Somme at Transloy Ridges at the beginning of October 1916. Encouraged by the occupation of much of Thiepval Ridge General Haig decided to continue with a large scale attack into the autumn. The consequence of this decision was that the attack took place in worsening weather conditions: the battlefield turned into a quagmire. William’s Division captured the first day’s objective – Eaucourt L’Abbaye – two days later on 3 October. Follow up action was delayed by the atrocious weather conditions. Six divisions advanced on 7 October including the 47th; there were heavy British casualties of whom William was one. Unsurprisingly, he has no known grave as during the following night continuous rain inhibited the removal of casualties.

William is commemorated on Thiepval Memorial (Pier & Face 9C &9D) along with over 70,000 others. Of this total 90% died between July and November 1916. He had lived for 18 years and 6 months.

Sources:

The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – London Regiment; and the Battle of Loos (1915) and the Battle of the Somme (1916), www.longlongtrail.co.uk
The Post Office Rifles, www.postalmuseum.org
St James’ School War Memorial Board 1914-1918, St James’ Church, Weybridge
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

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