Two local men from Knowle died in France on 4th October 1916, whilst serving with the 7th Battalion Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). The men – 35-year-old Lance Corporal William Abraham John Bird and 29-year-old Private George Samuel Thompson were friends and had sung together in the choir at Knowle parish church. They were killed by the same shell.
William Abraham John Bird was born in Rugby, and appears on the 1881 census aged three days. He was the middle child, and only son, of the three children of parents John (a tailor) and Martha Jane. In 1901, the family was still in Rugby, although only the youngest child – Elizabeth Jane – was still at home. The eldest daughter, 21-year-old Martha Ann, was working in Lincolnshire as an assistant school mistress, whilst 20-year-old William was a student at Saltley Teacher Training College, Birmingham.
In 1908, William became schoolmaster at the elementary school in Knowle and, in 1911, was living in Lodge Road, Knowle, with his wife, [Sarah] Alice (née Dawson) whom he had married in Shropshire in 1908. They went on to have two children – Frances Margaret (born 1911) and John Dawson (born 1914), who became a regular soldier in the Royal Artillery 1938-1951.
William Bird was a founder member of the local Volunteer Rifle Corps, which was established in February 1915. When he enlisted in the Army on 25th November 1915, he gave his previous military service as three years in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. After his attestation, he was posted to the 29th Royal Fusiliers and remained in England until 28th August 1916. He was appointed Lance Corporal on 8th August 1916. On 10th September 1916, he was transferred to the Royal West Kents. He was killed in action less than a month later. His death was reported in the local newspaper:
Birmingham Daily Post 23rd October 1916
Lance-corporal W. A. J. Bird, only son of Mr and Mrs J. Bird, 67 Railway Terrace, Rugby. He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers, but had been transferred to the West Kent Regiment. Had he not been killed he would have left the trenches the following day and a commission was awaiting him. He was formerly a useful member of Rugby F.C. but at the time the war broke out he had removed from the town, and was master at an elementary school at Knowle.
His widow was awarded a weekly pension of 22/11 for herself and the two children, with effect from 28th August 1917.
Lance-corporal William A. J. Bird has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated locally at Downing Hall, Knowle as well as in the Soldiers’ Chapel, Knowle, and on an individual plaque in the choir stalls at Knowle parish church.
George Samuel Thompson was born in Knowle in 1885 and was baptised at Knowle parish church on 6th December 1885. His parents were George Lewis Thompson (a carpenter and, later, a builder, who was himself born in Knowle) and Caroline Tovey Thompson (née Snook), who had married in Aston in 1883. He was the couple’s eldest child, and their only son. His sister, Gladys Annie, was born in 1890.
By 1911, George Samuel was a 25-year-old bank cashier, and still living with his parents and sister at Station Road, Knowle. He married Hilda Wade Cartlidge on 9th June 1914 at Aston. He enlisted in the Army on 11th December 1915 and, along with his friend William Bird, above, was initially posted to the Royal Fusiliers before being transferred on 10th September 1916 to the Royal West Kents. He was also promoted Lance Corporal on the same day at William Bird – 8th August 1916 – and was posted overseas on the same day – 29th August 1916. Both men served only 38 days on overseas service before they were killed by the same shell.
Whilst Lance Corporal Bird is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Lance Corporal Thompson is one of three men commemorated on Special Memorials at Mill Road Cemetery, Thiepval, and believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery.
He is also commemorated locally at Downing Hall, Knowle as well as in the Soldiers’ Chapel, Knowle, and on an individual plaque in the choir stalls at Knowle parish church.
His widow, Hilda, was awarded a pension of 13/9 per week, with effect from 28 May 1917.
If you have any further information about these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977