William Sambrook: A Race too Far

Regular Wyrleyblog readers (or reader 🙂 ) will be aware of my project to profile the lives of the fallen soldiers whose names appear on the gates of the Wyrley memorial gardens. This is for two reasons: firstly to remind locals that these names were once people and secondly, because there are so many errors on the plaques, to present the Parish Council with accurate, corrected list of those that fell.

The next soldier I decided to look at was W.T. Sambrooke, because it screamed error to me from the start. It seemed a simple error, but error none the less and I would of course need to prove it. So, what aroused my suspicions? Well, anyone from the Wyrley area would be suspicious at the spelling of the surname Sambrooke with an ‘e’ at the end; it is not an uncommon name locally and yet I have never seen it with an ‘e’ as the final letter.

George Henry Smith and a Thomas Smith on the Wyrley Gates. 2014.

William Thomas Deakin Sambrook on the Wyrley gates, mis-spelt with an ‘e’ at the end of the name. 2014.

And so the proof was looked for. The first piece of evidence is that there are also three Sambrooks on the plaques for the soldiers from the locale that served during the War – all spelt without an ‘e’ at the end. I then moved swiftly to my two general sources, both of which came up trumps for me. The first, the Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque, lists 18 fallen men and dates to 1928; it has him as William T. Sambrook.

The Smith boys on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque. (1928). 2014.

William T Sambrook on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque of 1928. 2014.

The second general source I then checked was the Staffordshire Roll of Honour: this was compiled in February 1926 by the Staffordshire War Memorials Committee and contains all the Staffordshire war memorials and the names upon them. This roll had a Sambrook, W.T. on it, whom, according to the roll, was a soldier of corporal’s rank but without a listed regiment. I was satisfied and this stage that I was looking for a William Sambrook and not a Sambrooke – everything I was to find from now on also bore this out and in doing so prove to me that the gates are wrong.

The 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour for Gt Wyrley - showing a H Withnall. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour for Gt Wyrley – showing a Corporal W.T. Sambrook.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

William Thomas Deakin Sambrook: Background
Before we look at William, I just wanted to throw a few small dates and other things in front of you regarding his background. I mentioned in the introduction that that the name Sambrook is known around Great Wyrley; well there is a village in Shropshire, near Market Drayton, called Sambrook and a simple scan of the birth/marriage/death indexes does show ‘Sambrooks’ in that area, unsurprisingly. This, perhaps, indicates that the family name may well have originated from there.

Be that as it may, ‘old’ Thomas was, according to the 1851-1881 censuses, born in Great Wyrley around 1805. He would leave Wyrley for a while but we know he did return as ‘young’ Thomas, his son and William’s grandfather, was born in Great Wyrley around 1847. ‘Old’ Thomas would seemingly spend his life as a brick and then an iron labourer, but it appears that he invested in getting an education for his children – a decision which would ultimately pay-off for William.

The education provided would allow ‘young’ Thomas to eventually become an engine fitter and, by 1868, married to a local lady Emma Deakin; it would be her maiden name would become a part of their grandson’s name, William Thomas Deakin Sambrook. By 1871, the couple were living in Landywood with her parents occupying the house next door. The couple had two children by this stage, Charles William was the eldest at a year-old – he was to be William’s father – the other was John Howard, who would pass away when he was three. Indeed, we know from the 1911 census that five of the couple’s eleven children who not live.

By 1891, ‘young’ Thomas and Emma were still living in Landywood, likely in Bentons Lane; they were also still living next door to Emma’s parents. There were now six children, after the sad loss of John. Charles had been joined by; Alfred (8), Harry (5) and Leonard(4), all of which were at school. The interestingly named Handel was two-years old and Minnie, just a year. Minnie would become one of the five in 1882, by which time I believe ‘old’ Thomas had also died. 1882 would have some significance for the future William, in that it was the same year that three cottages known collectively as ‘The Willows’ were built on the Walsall Rd, which is as I understand it is the only home William knew.

The Willows, three cottages built in 1882. It is very probable that it was the only home that William knew. 2015.

The Willows, three cottages built in 1882. It is very probable that it was the only home that William knew. 2015.

The ‘Willows’ must have been seen as a desirable, or at least acceptable, residence as by 1891 ‘young’ Thomas, now a foreman in an engine and turning shop, was living in the first cottage (the yellow one, above) with his family. The eldest boys followed in his footsteps: Charles, now 23, was an iron turner; Alfred, 18, an edge tool maker and Harry, 15, was an iron turner’s apprentice. Leonard and Handel were at school and Nellie, the youngest at 4 years-old, makes her first appearance on the census.

In 1896, Charles William Sambrook would marry Alice Mary Bolt. Alice was the same age; she had also once been employed as a housemaid at Westwood House, the home of the Conservative MP for Kidderminster and barrister, Augustus Frederick Godson. Dorothea, the first of the couple’s seven children was born in 1897. William, the second child, was born around the April of 1899.  Martha was their third child, she was born a few months before the 1901 census.

1901 census for William Sambrook, living in the middle cottage at The Willows, Gt Wyrley (National Archives)

1901 census for William Sambrook, living in the middle cottage at The Willows, Gt Wyrley
(National Archives)

That 1901 census has Charles’ family living in the middle cottage at ‘The Willows’, on the Walsall Road. They were living next door to Charles’ parents and those of his siblings that were still at home (Harry and Handel had also left to be married). Charles was now described as an iron turner, die sinker and iron engineer.

The Willows, Great Wyrley. The cream cottage was home to William throughout his short life. 2015.

The Willows, Great Wyrley. The central cream cottage was home to William throughout his short life. 2015.

William would grow-up living next door to his grandparents and some of his aunts and uncles, which is why I have given a little more family background than I usually would. Uncle Leonard would leave ‘The Willows’ in 1902, as he too would get married. At home, William was joined by new siblings: Abigail was the next to come along in 1903, Marjorie followed in 1904, Bernard in 1907 and finally Ralph in 1908. Ralph, I can only guess, was the Ralph Sambrook that later co-wrote Great Wyrley: A History 1051-1951, with teacher and local historian, EJ Homeshaw.

A small obituary clipping in the Cannock Advertiser gave me a little information about what happened next. In 1911, it appears William would move school. I don’t know where he moved from, but I know that he would head for his later education to Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. I believe this was due to the fact that he received a County Council scholarship. He was to remain at Queen Mary’s until 1917, but in his time there, undoubtedly, Sambrook’s highest achievement would come on the athletics field – in fact, it would be as a sportsman that he would be remembered in the school magazine in December 1918.

William Thomas Deakin Sambrook, joint winner of the QM Russell Cup in 1916. (Queen Mary's Grammar School)

William Thomas Deakin Sambrook, joint winner of the Russell Challenge Cup in 1916.
(Queen Mary’s Grammar School)

William’s athletic prowess culminated in his award as the joint winner of the Russell Challenge Cup for 1916.  The Challenge Cup was awarded to the best all-round athlete at the school games that year. In 1916, the school sports events, after 23 consecutive years at the Arboretum, were held at the Walsall Town Cricket Club at Gorway. The day, 29 July, was the hottest sports’ day ‘we could remember’.

A summary of the day can be found in the Queen Mary’s School magazine. It says that no records were broken, but a ‘good overall average was maintained’. Sambrook and a boy named Turton were both to score 19pts: Sambrook edged Turton to win the long jump; Turton won the mile race, beating William into third; William was runner-up in the three-mile walk, with Turton nowhere; Turton won the high jump, with Sambrook nowhere; the 100 yard dash saw William finish second, while Turton trailed in at fourth; the final event – throwing the cricket ball – saw neither finish in the top four and so left an overall tie.

Great Wyrley Council School, where Sambrook was a student teacher. (unknown via Tony Kulik)

Great Wyrley Council School, where Sambrook was a student teacher. (unknown via Tony Kulik)

William, by all reports a popular lad, was not just an athlete, but a more than competent academic student. He had, upon leaving Queen Mary’s, become a student teacher at the Great Wyrley Council School on Walsall Road – now the site of the Daycare Centre. The school was built in 1882, but enlarged in 1906. By the time William was recruited the premises were deemed unsatisfactory and the school managers were instructed to reduce numbers by excluding children from other districts.

The War: 1917 – 1918
However long his stay was, within months of his arrival he was on the move; this was possibly as early as March 1917, but I think more likely the 6 May 1917 – date supplied by the Walsall & District Roll of Honour. William’s war records do not survive; we can hazard a guess that as he was called-up and placed into a general training battalion for his basic training. William was in the 7th Training Reserve Battalion, which was stationed at Rugeley.

Rugeley Camp, where William and the 7th Training Reserve Battalion were stationed (Staffordshire Archives/Heritage and Bob Metcalf)

Rugeley Camp, where William and the 7th Training Reserve Battalion were stationed
(Staffordshire Archives/Heritage and Bob Metcalf)

When basic training was over, Sambrook, like many other conscripts, was then assigned to fill gaps in serving battalions. In this way soldiers from Great Wyrley could find themselves in the Durham Light Infantry or the Lincolnshire Regiment for example. We know the William was posted into the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. In April 1918, he would be mobilised, landing in France on 16 April; he was 19 years-old.

The situation that greeted William was a grave one, but one that had really passed its critical point. On 21 March, the Germans had launched the Kaiser’s Battle (Ludendorff Offensive): buoyed by troops from the defunct eastern front, facing an endless stream of Americans and starvation at home, the Germans had attacked the allies with the intention of driving a wedge between the British and French. Their target was Amiens, which if achieved may have seen the British rolled back and into the sea. This offensive – named Operation Michael – was halted just outside of Amiens on 5 April. It was here William was sent upon landing.

The Germans tried other offensives in other areas of the front, but like Michael, they fizzled out. By mid-July the offensives had clearly failed and even some areas gained were given-up. The counter-offensive was launched at Amiens on 8 August 1918 and achieved complete success – indeed, Ludendorff himself called it the ‘black day of the German Army’. Within days, the Germans were in retreat. This offensive would be the start of the 100 days in which the allies relentlessly pushed the Germans back. By 12 August, the German High Command knew the War was lost. Sadly, the fresh-faced William fell on the 11 August.

So what role did William play in all of this? Well, we do know. As fate would have it, a gentleman named Chris Mills wrote an article for the Hellfire Corner websire ( http://www.hellfirecorner.co.uk/alice.htm) back in 1997. He was researching his grandfather, also from the 2nd KOYLI and also killed on 11 August 1918. He got hold of the Battalion diary and wrote the following:

‘…the only day within this period that the Regiment had seen action, or suffered any losses, was the 11th. On the previous night the regiment had been marched the few miles from Domart, south east of Amiens, and deployed at the village of Beaufort… The attack was scheduled for 4:30 am on the morning of the 11th but was postponed as Brigade HQ could not guarantee having all the troops ready for this time. Zero hour was set for 9:20 am. The attack managed to advance about 1000 yds, but owing to heavy enemy machine gun fire and impassable barbed wire it was brought to a halt. At midnight the forward troops were withdrawn to Beaufort as it was established that only artillery or tanks could dislodge the machine guns. Losses for the day were as follows: 1 Officer killed and 4 wounded. 29 other ranks killed, 79 wounded.’

William Sambrook and Ted Mills were two of those men.

William may have been wounded, later succumbing to his injuries, or killed outright; the initial report the family received indicated he was wounded rather than dead. He was laid to rest at the Bouchoir Cemetery, which is a few miles from where he fell. In time, Charles would receive his medals – the British War and Victory medals – as well as £11 8-/2d in effects and as a gratuity. One thing that is unclear is William’s rank: some references have him as a Private, others a Lance Corporal – so he may have been acting-up rather than fully promoted.

Charles and Alice would mourn him for far longer than they had him. Alice died in 1950, aged 80 and Charles in 1962 at the ripe age of 92. I believe we can now remove the ‘e’.

In Memory of William Thomas Sambrook

My thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
Great Wyrley Methodist Church
National Archives
Cannock Library
Queen Mary’s Grammar School
Tony Kulik
Staffordshire Archives/Heritage
Bob Metcalf
Chris Mills


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