The Men from Hyde – William Frank Leach

William Frank Leach, known to all as Billy, was the son of William and Alice Mary Leach (nee Sawkins).  He was born in 1888 in Alderbury, near Salisbury. His parents had married in London in 1883 and went on to have seven children, only one of which was a son; William.

In the 1891 census, the family is living over a grocer’s shop at 41 Castle Street, Salisbury.  William Snr is a grocer and wine merchant.  He and Alice are both 35 years old. With them are their children Maud Sarah (7), Alice Winifred (6), Dorothy (4), William Frank (2), and Margery (under 1 month).  William Snr’s sister Sarah Leach is visiting.  The whole of the family was born in Salisbury.  William’s business appears to be thriving as he has two live-in nurses and a general servant.

In the 1901 census, the family is leaving in Bemerton, Wiltshire.  William Snr is described as a grocer’s traveller.  Maud is now 17 and a Pupil Teacher at an elementary school.  Another daughter has arrived since the last census: Mary, aged 3.  William is 12 years old.

According to the Winchester War Register, William enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment in 1906 at the age of 17.  This was probably a part-time role as in the 1911 census William Frank is 22 years old and a schoolmaster at an elementary school.  He is boarding with George Wheeler and his wife at 2, Alswitha Terrace, Winchester.  George Wheeler is probably a friend of William Leach as they were both born in Salisbury and George is described as a ‘Traveller grocer and provisions, wine and spirits’ like William Leach Snr.

William joined the Hampshire Regiment as a private, but rose to the post of Colour Sergeant Major, the highest rank open to a non-commissioned officer. He was sent to India with the 1/4th Hampshire Regiment, embarking at Southampton on 9th October 1914 and in March 1915 moved to Mesopotamia (Iraq), landing at Basra.  He was taken prisoner by the Turks, captured after the surrender of Kut al Amara on 29th April 1916.  By then William had been Mentioned in Despatches and had earned rapid promotion to the rank of Regimental Serjeant Major.

The capture of the British and Indian forces at Kut in central Iraq led to great hardship and many deaths; in particular the other ranks.  Ottoman central control was weak and haphazard, and as the Allies resumed their advance in the Middle East under, among others, General Allenby, the Ottomans marched prisoners away from their retreating front line to camps in the interior of their Empire.

William died on 2nd May 1918 of typhoid at the age of 30, caught, it was claimed, by those who were there, as he looked after British and Indian prisoners in the PoW camp at Nuseybin to the north west of Mosul.

There are several items belonging to William in the Royal Hampshire Museum.  One is a letter from a British officer who had been with him at his death.  The address from where it written is Afyon KaraHisar; William died at Nuseybin; he is commemorated in a very sensitive part of modern Baghdad, near the University.  The three places are separated by 850 miles.

Another letter from a British PoW who knew Billy says that he was “one of the few unfortunates who have died in this country who have received a decent burial”.  The inscription on his headstone says: “He did his duty”.

William Snr died in either 1919 or 1929 in Salisbury.  Alice Mary died in Romford, Essex in 1938 aged 83.

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