Corporal William Henry Britt, 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment died of wounds on 22nd November 1917 during the battle of Cambrai. He was the third of three brothers to be killed in the war – eldest brother, Albert, died in 1914, whilst youngest brother, Sidney, was killed in February 1917.
It seems as if William’s first names were transposed, as his birth in 1885 was registered as Henry William, and he appears on census returns in 1891 and 1901 as Henry W. Britt. He was born in Elmdon Heath, where his parents, William Henry (1854-1925) and Mary Aldritt (1855-1940) had lived since about 1881.
The 1901 census shows 15-year-old Henry recorded as a bricklayer’s labourer, although he was also apparently serving in the Warwickshire militia (he enlisted in August 1900, inflating his age by two years and saying he was 17 years old). At the time of enlistment, he was a builder’s labourer, working for a Mr Thompson of Solihull as an apprentice. He purchased a discharge from the Army in 1902.
In 1906, William Henry Britt married Lilly Jennings, of Packwood, and the couple appear to have set up home in Drury Lane, Solihull. Information from the family is that Lilly was a caretaker at Solihull School. They had seven children: William Henry (born 1907); Beatrice Mary (born 1909); Charles (born and died 1911); twins Hilda and Jessie (born 22 March 1912); Frank (1913-1987); and Lilly (born 1915).
When William Henry Britt was killed in 1917, his widow was left with six children aged between two and ten years old. The older children – William Henry and Beatrice Mary – emigrated to Canada in 1925, when William was an 18-year-old butcher, and Beatrice was a 15-year-old domestic servant.
Information from William Henry Britt’s great-grandson is that Corporal Britt’s son Frank, a kind and decent man, had his father’s WW1 plaque sitting on the mantelpiece of his home in Solihull until his own death in 1987. Frank and his wife, Mary (a cook at Solihull School), were founder members of St Francis of Assisi Church at Elmdon Heath, and also had connections with St Alphege Church, where they are both buried. Frank was a member of the Royal Antideluvian Order of Buffaloes (“The Buffs”) and a volunteer fireman with Solihull Fire Brigade during the 1930s.
Corporal William Henry Britt died at a dressing station during the Battle of Cambrai. He is buried at Villers-Guislan Communual Cemetery and is remembered on the Lives of the First World War website. He is commemorated locally on war memorials at Solihull and Elmdon, as well as on the war memorial to Solihull Lodge (no. 506) of the Grand Independent Order of Loyal Caledonian Corks (GIOLCC).
The “Corks”, was a friendly, sick and dividend society that was established in Birmingham in 1884 and was dissolved in May 1971. At the time of its dissolution, the Solihull Lodge met at the Gardeners’ Arms, High Street, Solihull. The war memorial plaque (pictured above) was originally inside the Congregational Church, Warwick Road, Solihull. The church was situated on the corner of Drury Lane and Warwick Road, and was demolished as part of the Central Area Development of Solihull in the 1960s. It was replaced by a new United Reformed Church further down the Warwick Road on the opposite side of the road.
If you have any further information on William Henry Britt, or his family, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977