William Horace Elmer was born in Rushden on 11 January 1893. He was the son of Samuel and Sarah Elmer, and the youngest brother of my grandmother Edith. The family lived in Duck Street, Rushden.
He attended Alfred Street School, being admitted to the Junior School on 1 October 1900 and leaving to start work on 8 January 1906.
William’s father, Samuel, died in September 1900 and by 1911 Sarah and five of her eight children were living in Queen Street, Rushden. At this time William was working as a finisher in the shoe trade.
By March 1913 William was in trouble for gambling with cards and was fined 5/- plus costs. He obviously didn’t learn any lessons because in June the same year he was again in court for gambling. This time he was fined 10/- plus costs.
What William got up to during the next year I don’t know, but by March 1914 he was back in court again, this time for a more serious offence. The report in the “Rushden Echo” is as follows:
CYCLE THEFT AT RUSHDEN
Wm. Horace Elmer, shoehand, Rushden, was summoned for larceny as bailee of a bicycle value £2/5/0, the property of Chas. Chamberlain of Wellingborough Road, Rushden, on 19 March 1914. He was further charged with respect to a bicycle value £5/10/0, the property of Charles Rouse, Kettering, on 23 March 1914.
Chas. Chamberlain, cycle agent, Rushden said defendant hired a bicycle to ride to Sharnbrook, and stated he would probably want it the next day to go to Kettering. The next day he called and said he would want it the day after. Subsequently he received a post card from defendant, who wrote that he wanted to keep the bicycle for a time and asked for terms. Four days later defendant told him he had had the bicycle stolen from him at Market Harborough, but the police knew where it was and witness would have it back. Arthur Payne, second-hand cycle dealer, Kettering, said that on Thursday, March 19th, he gave defendant 18/- for the bicycle. Defendant told him the cycle was his property. He did not readily admit to the Kettering police that he had bought the bicycle because he did not remember at the time. Defendant pleaded guilty, and said he was out of work at the time and was tempted.
In the second case, William Bush, mechanic, Kettering, employed by Charles Rouse, said defendant came to his shop on 23 March 1914 and hired a bicycle to go to Stamford. He gave his name as Pollard, and a Kettering address. He did not return.
William Abbott, of the Lightstrung Cycle Co., Rushden, said defendant offered the cycle for sale for £3 on 23 March 1914. Witness asked for a receipt and Elmer said he would bring it. He did not return, however, and no sale was effected.
Defendant pleaded guilty.
Sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in each case, the sentences to run consecutively.
I imagine that when war broke out William was one of the young lads who thought it would be a great adventure and that it ‘would be over by Christmas,’ because he was one of the first from Rushden to enlist in Kitchener’s Army. He was in the 5th Northamptonshire Regiment (Pioneers).
However, trouble seemed to follow him because in December 1914, when he was home on leave, he was injured in a football match at Raunds and was unable to return to the Shorncliffe camp where he was stationed. He supposedly sent a doctor’s certificate, which must have gone astray because he was arrested for overstaying his leave and tried by his Commanding Officer. His evidence was found to be true and his doctor sent another certificate. As his ankle was still not sound he was excused from marching but had to lose a day’s pay.
The 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment crossed to France on the 30th May 1915. Their work was hard and often very dangerous. It was their job to make roads, dig trenches, dug-outs, snipers’ posts, sandbagging, carrying and fixing bridges, duck-boarding, dressing stations, tramways, bombing posts, gun placements, huts, burying pipes, telephone lines, fixing scaling ladders, and loading and unloading trucks.
They still got involved in the fighting and in the first two years the Battalion received 28 decorations and was mentioned in despatches 12 times.
They obviously had to work in all weathers and were often knee deep in mud. A good deal of their work was carried out at night.
They were involved in many battles and their total losses were:- Officers – killed 8, wounded 33; Other Ranks. – killed 340, wounded 1,200.
Their last battle was Epehy in September 1918. A counter attack was planned for 19 September but information received led to the orders being cancelled. Unfortunately this did not reach the 5th Northamptonshire Regiment and at the appointed time they advanced. They came under terrible fire and although they managed to capture a trench they eventually had to fall back. The casualties were 4 officers wounded, and 124 Other Ranks killed and wounded. William was amongst those killed. He had survived all through the war and was killed less than two months before it ended.
The entry from the War Dairy for 19 September 1918 is as follows:-
“A” and “C” Companies took part in the operations – “A” Company under the command of CAPT. C. G. R. JACKS M.C., made an advance at about 11.0 a.m., CAPT. JACKS being wounded through the left shoulder. LIEUT DAWSON was in command of “C” Company and advanced at the same time as “A” Company, but owing to intense M.G. fire and snipers, took up position with 9 and 11 Platoons in Trench at F.2.a.9.1 – to F2.d.8.6 less their L.G. Sections, who were holding posts in EPEHY. “A” Company had 2 Officers wounded and 59 O.R.s killed and wounded. “C” Company had 1 Officer wounded (2/Lt. J. W. GORDON), casualties to O.R.s – killed and wounded – 60 – 2/Lt. W. H. TOWNSEND, M.C. was also wounded. “D” Company on the evening of the 19th were placed at the disposal of G.O.C. 37th Inf. Bde. for consolidation and went up under the command of Lt. P. C. SAINSBURY, (CAPT. J. V. BREWIN, M.C., O.C. “D” Company being in command of “A” and “C” Companies). The consolidation of Posts in the Front Line and construction of C.T. up to same was accomplished with a few casualties. (Lt. SAINSBURY wounded, 2/Lt. TAYLOR wounded). 5 O.R.s killed and wounded. “D” Company returned to Billets after work.
The first news Sarah had of her son’s death was at the beginning of October in an unofficial report from one of William’s comrades, but within a few days she received news that he had been wounded but his whereabouts were unknown. However, later in the month she received the sad news that her son had been killed in action on 19 September 1918.
William Horace Elmer
Scroll for William Horace Elmer
Epehy Wood Farm Cemetery
Sarah’s other sons, Frederick, Harry, Frank, Charles and Sam, all survived. In the Second World War Charles was to lose his wife and daughter in the bombing of Roberts Street, Rushden in November 1940, and Frank was to lose his son, also Frank, in 1942.