William Henry Ames: First and Last

Introduction
While I have plans to write a couple of further articles on World War One, particularly regarding as to how the village has commemorated the fallen and remembered the events over the generations, this in fact is the last of the articles on the fallen First World War soldiers of Great Wyrley, who are represented on the Great Wyrley Memorial Gates, to be written. Ironically, while William Henry Ames is the last of the soldiers to be addressed, he is in fact the first of those ‘fallen’ names on the gates by virtue of alphabetical order.

William Henry Ames on the Wyrley Gates. 2014

William Henry Ames on the Wyrley Gates. 2014

William ended up as being the last to be researched purely because I needed to visit the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham in order to access not only the war diary for the unit in which he served, but to access those of a couple of the soldiers that I have already done to see if I could glean a little more about their deaths.

William’s war records do not survive and I was interested to see, by way of the plaques on the gate piers of those that served, that two of his brothers, Edward and Maurice, also fought, but thankfully they did get through it. I thought I would try to follow these guys as well, however, true to form, they didn’t have surviving war records either.

Yet, before I kicked-off, I needed to prove that W. H. Ames was in fact the name of the person I was looking for, as the plaques on the gates do contain a lot of errors. I went to the other local sources to corroborate his name and both the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist plaque (1928) and the 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour did just that; indeed, they added that William was his first name and that he was a driver in the Royal Engineers.

William Ames' entry for the Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour, 1917. (Staffordshire Record Office)

William Ames’ entry for the Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour, 1917. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The final piece of evidence that confirms that William Henry Ames is indeed the correct name is supplied by the application made to have his name placed onto the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour. Applications were invited initially for those that had joined the colours on or before 21 September 1917 and in the February of 1918 a roll was displayed on the corner of Bentons Lane/Walsall Road. William Henry Ames, Maurice Ames and Edward Thomas Ames were all represented and, at that time, all were alive.

The Amiable Ames Boys: Early Life
The boys were sons of Edward Thomas Ames and his wife, Ellen. Edward Thomas Ames was actually born Edward Thomas Ames Doolan, as his parents, Thomas Ames and Henrietta Doolan, didn’t actually marry until a few years after his birth. Edward was born in Burton upon Trent, late in 1863. Thomas was a butcher by trade. The family uprooted and settled in Cannock by at least August 1878, as Edward was baptised in the town at this point.

The 1881 census would find Edward employed as a groom and gardener at a house in Mill Street, Cannock. The house belonged to the unmarried Dr John Blackford, who employed his sister as his housekeeper. Edward’s parents lived near Spring Terrace, just off Mill Street, so it is likely he lodged with them and travelled to work.

The Ames family would, in 1891, find their way to Gorton in Manchester. Thomas remained a butcher and Henrietta continued to take in laundry, but the family took in a lodger to help pay their way. Edward was now working as a ‘striker’ – likely an apprentice to a blacksmith. A few months after the census was conducted, Edward Thomas Ames married Ellen Carslake in Manchester. Ellen, six years his junior, was a cotton weaver; she and her parents had originally hailed from Devon.

Edward and Ellen remained in Manchester for a couple of years; they had their first two children up north, Elizabeth followed by Edward Thomas junior on 12 November 1892. At some point between 1893 and 1894, the family moved down to the Cannock area, which would have been familiar to Edward senior at least. It is possible the move was due to the death of Thomas Ames, which left Henrietta a widow in mid-1894. It is likely that Edward became a coal miner at this stage – he certainly was by 1901. A parade of children followed the move: our William Henry arrived in August 1894 – being baptised at Cannock St Luke’s on 2 December, Maurice in 1896, Ellen in 1898 and Clive Carslake in 1900. By 1901, the family were living on St Johns Road in Cannock.

Edward and Ellen’s enthusiasm for adding to the family continued unabated. Noreen Ames was born in 1902, Dennis in 1903, Henrietta in 1905, Kathleen in 1908 and Sheila in 1911. The final baby was to be Beryl in 1913. All of the children, except Ellen who was residing with the Carslakes up in Manchester, were still at home in 1911; home being 63 Newhall Street, Cannock, at that time. Edward senior is still a coal miner, but both Edward junior and William Henry had become horse drivers, underground, in the pits.

The 1911 census for the Ames boys (National Archives)

The 1911 census for the Ames boys (National Archives)

Sadly, we have little other personal detail on William from this point on. It is possible that William worked in Harrison’s pit in Great Wyrley, as prior to the outbreak, or on the outbreak of the war he had joined Colonel Harrison’s 2nd North Midland Field Company, a Territorial unit of the Royal Engineers.

We do know a little more about William’s brother, Edward. On 1 April 1912, Edward also attested into the 2nd North Midlands Field Group; at the time he was still living at Newhall Street and was working as a miner at the West Cannock Colliery, based at Hednesford. I suggest it is likely that William worked here too. Edward was numbered 1326, William 1324 – suggesting he joined just prior to his brother. Edward remained in the unit until he asked to leave on 1 July 1913.

Edward's attestation into the 2nd North Midlands Field Company in 1912. National Archives.

Edward’s attestation into the 2nd North Midlands Field Company in 1912. National Archives.

William’s War: What Little We Know
I suppose we can only assume that William was already in the Territorials when war broke out, and the 2nd North Midland Field Group was mustered immediately. By mid-August the unit had made its way to the military camp at Limbury, near Luton. It is possible William joined the unit late, but we know he is there by mid-September as he is included in the roll call list later published in the Lichfield Mercury.

The roll call is very interesting: Territorials at this stage were given the option of serving abroad or to stay on home service and, according to the roll call, Driver William Ames was listed with those men that elected to stay on home service. The Company remained at camp until the November, when those that agreed to overseas service, and now called the 1/2 North Midlands Field Group, took a meandering path to the coast, and to France on the 26th February 1915.

So initially it appeared to me that William stayed until forced overseas after conscription scrapped the home service option in early 1916. The trouble is, he is awarded the Territorial Forces Medal: this medal was given to those that joined or rejoined the Territorials prior to 30 September 1914, had agreed to serve abroad by the same date and were not entitled to a 1914/1915 star. So, the award of this medal suggests that Ames agreed to serve abroad, but was kept at home and only released for service abroad after 1 January 1916.

Territorial Forces Medal, awarded to William Ames.

Territorial Forces Medal, awarded to William Ames, suggests he agreed to overseas service but remained at home at the start of the war. Unknown source.

Quite why Ames should not have gone after he had agreed to serve abroad (which the TF medal suggests he did) is a mystery: he could have required more or specialist training, he could have been ill or considered slightly unfit, or he may have been required to stay for military needs.

Further, just quite what William Ames would have been doing after 1/2 North Midland Group departed isn’t fully clear. The oracle that is Andrew Thornton told me that ‘The 2/2nd North Midland Field Company remained at behind at Luton from their formation in September 1914 – these were the home service men – but a 3/2nd Company was formed in the Spring of 1915 and was stationed at Redmires Camp near Sheffield… as the 2/2nd were being prepared for overseas service’.

So, William may have been in Luton or in Sheffield. The truth is we do not currently know where he was or what he did, all we know is that in 1918 he turns up in France serving with the 93rd Field Company, Royal Engineers. The 93rd Field Company were attached to the 17th Division and on 21 March 1918 they found themselves in the worst possible place, the St Quentin region – that is on the Somme – in France.

21 March was the date set for the launch of Operation Michael, also known as the Ludendorff Offensive. With Germany facing starvation, and with the number of American soldiers in France increasing daily, Ludendorff decided on an all or nothing strategy that would either win the war swiftly, or lose it. Ultimately, the series of offensives he launched would fail, but in the short term they did make considerable gains and a movement that had not been seen since 1914.

Launched at St Quentin, the idea of the offensive was to split the British and French, roll the British towards the channel and the French towards Paris. The offensive opened with a barrage of 3.5 million shells that lasted for hours and stretched from the front line to three or four miles behind the lines. During this barrage the 93rd were put in battle positions and effected trench repairs.  An assault by German storm-troopers followed, and with thick fog assisting was very successful. British troops fell back, often after heroic stands and rear-guard actions.

The advance continued on the 22 March. The 93rd received orders to pull back from the battle zone at 4.15 am and at 7 am they arrived at Hepburn Spoilbank. The Company were moved further back within a few hours, arriving at Bertincourt at 11.15 am. Here they spent the rest of the day working on deepening and fire-stepping trenches on the ‘green line’  – a defensive position some 9 miles or so from the front.

At 6.45am on the 23 March, the 93rd were ordered still further back, to the ‘horse lines’ at Beaulencourt. The Company left Bertincourt at 7.30 am, and marching via Bus and Rocquigny, their target was reached at 11 am. Here they made camp before the Officer in Charge reconnoitred the ‘red line’ defensive position. Between 7.30 pm and 11.30 pm, the Company dug a 310 yard trench, 3 feet by 3 feet.

At 7.30 am on 24 March, the Company were again withdrawn, however, William Henry Ames would not be with them. All we know is that Ames was one of two ‘other ranks’ killed on 23 March. The fact that he is only represented on the Arras Memorial suggests to me that he was blown-up by a shell and his body lost or buried. The German advance in this area was halted in April, short of Amiens.

William was awarded, in due course, the War Medal, Victory Medal and the Territorial Force Medal. These were sent, along with his effects and a gratuity of £17, to his father Edward Thomas Ames, the family now residing in Streets Lane, Landywood. The completion of the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour forms, which had to be done by 21 September 1917, suggests they had moved to Streets Lane by this time.

The Roll of Honour entry for 'Driver' Edward Ames. Staffordshire Record Office.

The Roll of Honour entry for ‘Driver’ Edward Ames. Staffordshire Record Office.

So, what of the other Ames boys? Well, Edward did not return to the 2nd North Midlands Group when the war broke out. The truth is I cannot tell where he served or with what unit, as any later war records are missing. He is listed in 1917 as a ‘driver’ – but the only ‘driver’ I could find of the same name was in the Royal Field Artillery and killed in 1918. All-in-all, I suspect with his horse experience, he may have been the E Ames that was in the Army Service Corps – which employed a lot of drivers. Edward died in 1975, in Caernarvon area.

Great Wyrley Roll of Honour application for Maurice Ames. Staffordshire Record Office.

Great Wyrley Roll of Honour application for Maurice Ames. Staffordshire Record Office.

Maurice Ames is equally problematic.  The only clues we have is that he was a ‘Private’ and the somewhat rarity of his name. I can only trace three births for a Maurice Ames and one would be too young to serve, and I can only trace one medal card – which was for a ‘Private’ in the Dorset Regiment. Ellen Carslake, Maurice’s mother, originally hailed from Dorset, although I am not sure we can place much reliance on that. So, currently, all I can say is that Maurice settled in the Wantage area, married in 1927 and died in 1977.

In Memory of the Ames boys

My thanks to:
Staffordshire Record Office
National Archives

Comments
    • Pam Russell says:

      William Ames would have been my grandmothers brother and although it was common knowledge he had died in WW1, the story of his life made interesting reading, thank you.

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