11th (Service) Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), (Lewisham).

Born Friday 4 September 1896      Died Tuesday 31 July 1917. Aged 20.

Only son of Edwin Jelley and of Mrs. Fanny Mary Kezia Jelley (née Booker) of Falconhurst, Bonnington, Hythe.

Commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Panel 45 and in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) Book of Remembrance in St. Faith’s Church, Maidstone, Kent.

On the morning of Friday 4 September 1896 at Coldharbour Farm, Coldharbour Lane, Hildenborough, Tonbridge, Kent, as Gumley, Leicestershire native Edwin Jelley (the Farm Bailiff) waited for his wife Fanny to give birth to twins. At 4.30 a.m. Fanny Sarah made her entrance into the world, followed three hours later by her brother William Edwin; they being a brother and sister for Rose and Annie. Following the birth of William and his sister Fanny, their mother gave birth to three more daughters the youngest of whom was Alice.

Unfortunately, it would appear to be that Williams’ army service papers are among those destroyed by a Luftwaffe bombing raid during the Second World War so we have scant information about his war service; his medal documents providing no date for his posting to the Western Front with the British Expeditionary Force.

We do know that William lost his life during the first day of the costly Battle of Pilkem Ridge which was fought from Tuesday 31 July until Thursday 2 August 1917, and was the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres attack that was fought until Saturday 10 November 1917.

The following is a brief extract from the history of the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) during the Great War; “The 10th and 11th Battalions meanwhile were enjoying a peaceful July. The Forty-First Division was relieved by the Forty-Seventh at the beginning of the month and had three weeks near Fletre, in which, if training was by no means neglected, officers and men were given ample opportunities for rest and recreation. These were enjoyed to the full, indeed this interval of rest was quite a halcyon period for the 10th and 11th, and as several drafts were received both battalions marched back to Ypres in full strength and in excellent condition and took over the line astride the Canal on the 24th. This brought them in for a very trying week before the great attack was launched. The weather was wet, the trenches had been much knocked about and were little better than mud-holes, and the Germans were replying with great vigour to the British bombardment. Indeed, the week cost the 11th no less than 80 casualties, many incurred by a fighting patrol sent out to investigate a report that the enemy were withdrawing from their front line. This was found to be anything but the truth; the Germans were in force and the patrol suffered heavily in returning to its own lines. The 10th lost less but had an arduous and exhausting time in very uncomfortable conditions.”

If the number of casualties shown in the above book are reasonably accurate it is clearly indicative that the day of his death was one of the most costly in terms of loss of life for his battalion during July 1917.  William was numbered among the 60 casualties serving his battalion who died on Tuesday 31 July 1917, of whom 50 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Menin Gate,

Due to the date of his death, nobody from Aldington and Bonnington would have been able to remember William, when as a boy the compiler tried to find out as much as possible about the Aldington, Bonnington & Hurst victims of the two World Wars. The late Peter Boulden and his brother Clive said that both remembered Fanny Jelley, who was disabled, living at Pinn Farm, Bonnington with their uncle and aunt Eyton and Edith Boulden.

In later life, Fanny Jelley lived with her sister Alice and her husband, Stephen Mace Sillibourne at Noakes Farm, Ruckinge, which is where when making deliveries whilst employed as a lorry driver by G. Prebble & Son of Aldington, the compiler first met Mrs. Sillibourne, who always provided a cup of tea and huge slice of cake when unloading the lorry had been completed.

In conversation with Stephen Mace Sillibourne, known to all and sundry as Mace, the compiler was told that, although he had not known William, he had been given to understand that he had not been serving in the army overseas for very long before he was killed. Williams’ Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) regimental number suggests that Mace Sillibourne was correct when providing this information.

Williams’ youngest sister Alice, told the compiler that her family lived at Falconhurst, Hurst from 1912 until moving to Horton Green Farm, Ruckinge in 1920.

The compiler first visited the Menin Gate at Ieper to photograph the names of ‘our’ men and others commemorated on it and is always moved by the experience, especially when the Last Post is played at 2000 hours by buglers of the Last Post Association. Now having visited the Menin Gate approximately 50 times  the experience is always, in truth, quite emotional, having researched the lives and deaths of hundreds of the 54,608 casualties it commemorates.

Probably the fact that the Menin Gate was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, whose father was a former Vicar of Aldington and is at rest with his wife in St. Martin’s churchyard, adds to the emotions felt when present: literally hundreds of people attend the ceremony at 2000 hours every day.