Remembering Private William Manktelow, 1/4 Essex Regiment

William Wallace Manktelow was born in Farningham in 1892, the son of William, a carpenter and joiner and his wife, Winifred. The 1901 census recorded William at home with his parents and siblings living at White Post Cottages in the parish of St Peter and St Paul, Seal near Sevenoaks. By 1911, he was working as a footman for the widowed Sir Vyall Vyvyan, a Baronet and Clerk in Holy Orders, who, at eighty four, lived with his daughter and a total of eleven servants.

For several years William had been a choirboy at St Mary’s Riverhead. After his death, William’s friend, Geraldine Parkes published a small collection of extracts from his letters and diaries including letters to herself, the Rev G F Bell, Vicar of Riverhead, and his parents as well as extracts from his diary while on service, including vivid descriptions of his life in Gallipoli and Egypt.  The Sevenoaks Chronicle carried a story in November 1917, detailing the publication of “a neat little brochure” which had been privately printed.The article noted that :

During his leisure hours he made himself almost perfect in French and also studied other languages. When war broke out he was one of first the first to volunteer. He was rejected at one recruiting station, but later tried again at another and was in khaki before many months of war had passed. He did not take the step without anxious reflection, as his thoughts were turning more and more to ordination. Ever a dreamer and a thinker, a soldier’s life was quite against his nature, and it was only the thought that he was helping bring war to an end that he so heroically through so many hardships, to the supreme sacrifice (sic)”.

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Private William Wallace Manktelow 

William served with 1/4 Essex Regiment and his Battalion had left England at the end of July 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli in the August. Some weeks later he wrote to Rev Bell: “The Turkish trenches are just 200 yards away. You dare not show a finger over the top. Bullets often go through the periscopes”.

He later described the charge across the Anafarta valley, bathing in the sea and “taking no notice of the occasional shell – whizzz, whizz”.

He wrote of how he celebrated Holy Communion under fire and then how he himself was shot and taken to a dressing station on a hospital ship. He wrote to Miss Parkes that “My cot was put in a sort of wooden cradle and we sailed to Alexandria. You can’t think what it is like after 12 weeks in Gallipoli, it is another world. Still, I am not a coward. I will go back and finish my work right to the end when I am well”.

He was later invalided home and spent Christmas 1915 there. On his recovery in the New Year, he rejoined his regiment, sailing for Egypt in June 1916.

He wrote to Rev Bell: “A great aim of mine is to make myself worthy of the confidence you have placed in me”. To his parents he wrote “I have set my heart on ordination and intend to work hard to make myself fit, physically and mentally.”

He later wrote again to Miss Parkes, commenting that “I am sorry to see that I am the only private out of three hundred men here in Egypt to make my communion”.

By February 1917, he was marching with his battalion to Syria, where he wrote: “ Can you picture our long march across sand? This morning we passed several wooden crosses – the last resting place of some of our English Tommies, fallen on the field of honour. At night I saw those magnificent stars, this heavenly roof. It is so superb, shining and grand. It is enough to make one think and see further than the blood-stained battlefields of Europe“.

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William’s grave at the Gaza War Cemetery 

William died at the Battle of Gaza on 26th March 1917 and was buried in the Gaza War cemetery. His father received a letter stating that “Your son was seriously wounded on the outskirts of Gaza at a place called The Green Hill. He lingered for a few hours but did not suffer pain as we gave him morphia. I saw him just before he died and cannot write too highly of him. He was an example to his officers as well as to the men and would hold Evensong Services in his tent. He, like the master he loved and served with his whole being, died on a green hill far away without a city wall – if not at Jerusalem – in the Holy Land”.

As a young reporter on the Sevenoaks Chronicle, local journalist Bob Ogley interviewed William’s father, Wallace, in the mid 1950’s about his memories of Sevenoaks in the 19th century when he played cricket for the Vine and football for Woolwich Arsenal. Bob recalls:

Aged 90 at the time, he told me about his friendship with Winston Churchill, his early adventures as a prize fighter, his extraordinary trip to the North Pole, how he found a living as a bricklayer and helped to build the Club Hall, destroyed by a bomb in 1940. His most treasured memory was helping to build the world’s first glider, which flew from Magpie Bottom in Eynsford and gave the Wright brothers’ the inspiration to develop their own flying machine. He did not tell me anything about his heroic son Wallace, who succumbed to his wounds in a faraway country. Maybe because I did not ask him. Maybe because the memory of him was just too powerful to talk about”.

We remember William on the hundredth anniversary of his death.

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