Pte. William Leslie Neaves (1894 -1917)

William Leslie Neaves was born in Charing, Kent on 26 June 1894. He was the son of Henry Neaves and Charlotte Stroude, and had seven brothers and sisters. In 1901 the family lived in Rye, however by the following year they had moved to Platt, and were living in the Brickfields. William and two siblings joined Platt School in late August 1902, after which he worked for Vickers and Company in Erith.

William enlisted in the Army at Bexlyheath around April 1917, and in September, following a period of training, 34749 Pte. W Neaves was sent to join the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment who were in France, and probably part of a draft that arrived with the battalion at Penin later that month.

On 25 September the battalion moved by rail and road to Nort-Leulinghem where they engaged in a short period of training. Rumours had begun to spread about an impending British attack, and it wasn’t long before the East Surreys were on the move again, travelling to Houlle (27th), Maison Blanche (28th) and Méteren (29th) where plans were set out for an assault in the Dickesbuch area several days later.

The battalion travelled by bus from Meteren on 1 October and relieved the 9th West Yorkshires, and a company of the 10th West Ridings, in an area south of Polygon Wood. The Surreys were ordered to hold the entire brigade front line which based on a description in the battalion War Diary, was almost non-existent, with the men forced to shelter in shell holes for cover. The ground, which had been continuously churned and re-churned by shelling, consisted of very loose soil, and consequently was quite unsuitable for digging trenches.

The position was at best precarious, and in addition to shelling, the threat from enemy snipers (who possessed a superior field of observation) was an almost constant danger. William had been due to take part in an attack on 4 October, however he was killed the day before, most likely from shellfire. As was the norm, the battalion War Diary for this period only notes the deaths of officers and so the exact circumstances of his death cannot be ascertained.

William’s body was either not recovered, or his grave destroyed later in the war, and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing in Belgium.

He was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

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