William Upfield Heathcote

Photo of William Upfield HeathcoteWilliam Upfield Heathcote

Born 27 April 1894, Chatham, Kent (in other documents it is 1895)

Enlisted Grenadier Guards 20 April 1911 at Caterham (Guards depot)
Short service enlistment (3 years plus 9 years in reserves)
Reg No. 15481
Aged 18 years 5 months
Previous employment: Carriage Maker
5ft 9in 123lbs 36in chest
‘Fresh’ complexion, Hazel eyes, Brown hair
Large scar on left calf
Religion: Church of England

3rd battalion Grenadier Guards
Appointed Lance Corporal – 3 Jan 1915
Received pay of appointment Lance Corporal – 17 Jul 1915
Promoted Lance Sergeant (equiv to Corporal) – 5 Oct 1915
Appointed Lance Sergeant – 29 Oct 1915
Note: All promotions by Lt H.Rumbold
Discharged “No Longer Physically Fit for War Service” – 13 Apr 1917

Military History and Pension
Home service 1911 until 25 July 1915
British Expeditionary Force (France) 26 July 1915 – 29 Dec 1915
Home service 30 Dec 1915 – 13 Apr 1917

Gunshot Wound – Right Leg

Pension: 15 shillings per week
Grant of £2 by Grenadier Guards in 1922
Character:  Very Good. Clean, Sober and Hardworking

1914-1915 Star (Mons Star)
British War Medal
Victory Medal
King’s Certificate on Discharge

His story

William signed up with the Grenadier Guards in 1911 and remained in the peacetime army in the UK at the Caterham depot or one of the London Barracks. His Battalion was not one of those included in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to France in 1914. In this he may have been lucky as many of these units (e.g. 2nd Grenadier Guards) had casualty rates of over 80% in 6 months and were virtually wiped out. After October 1914 his unit (i’m fairly sure) was stationed at Wellington Barracks, next to Buckingham Palace, and it is in this period where it is most likely he may have stood guard at the palace. In peacetime he may not have been tall enough to be eligible for the King’s company who normally required six footers.

His unit was also the last Regular Army battalion to leave England and may have needed special permission from the King. The Prince of Wales (future Edward VIII) was an officer in the 3rd Grenadier Guards at this time and it is likely William would have seen or even been commanded by him. The Prince was not allowed to serve on the continent however but did visit them for a dinner once they were in France.

His unit finally made it to France on 27th July 1915 taking its place in the 2nd (Guards) Brigade of the newly formed Guards Division. Guards units until this time had been spread out in other divisions. On arrival there was a lot of drill and training in new skills such as use of machine guns and gas attacks as well as practicing building trenches.

Two months after William’s arrival in France the Guards Division took part in the Battle of Loos (25 Sept – 18 Oct). They were a battle reserve and took part two days into the offensive but were part also part the defence against the later German counter-attacks. By the end of the battle, after 50,000 casualties, including 10,000 dead, the British troops had made only a small advance. This was the largest offensive battle Britain had taken part in during the war so far and proportionally as bad as later battles such as the Somme. The battle is also notable for the extensive use of Chlorine gas by the British, over 2,000 of whom were injured themselves due to variable winds.

William’s Battalion, attached to the 2nd Guards Brigade, attacked the German lines on 27th (Chalk Pit Wood) and 28th Sept (Puits 14 bis – a factory), although were not the lead unit in either attack. It was during the attack on the 28th that Rudyard Kipling’s son John was killed. He was in the 2nd Irish Guards, part of the same Brigade as 3GG. William’s Battalion was taken out of the line on 1 Oct and put in reserve. William was promoted to Lance Sergeant on 5 October so it is assumed he is unscathed at this point.

The Germans counter-attacked heavily on 8 October and the 3rd Grenadier Guards are pushed back before counter-attacking themselves with help from 2nd Scots Guards. The CWGC lists 26 battalion dead on this day alone. The war diary entry for the 8th reads:

In the afternoon we were heavily attacked all along the line. The enemy bombers rushed our left flank and came bombing down the line. They surprised and surrounded our own bombers killing most of them including Anson. A machine gun commanded by Lt R. Williams from 2nd Battalion was also killed and 3 successive machine gun sergeants. The two companies who occupied the finger nos 2 and 3 were ordered to retire down the communication trench and make way for bombs and bombers who were rushed up the support companies. The bombers of the 3rd Bn: Coldstream Guards who were on our right in the advanced line managed to stop the rush and our bombers coming back by various communication Trenches assisted in clearing the enemy out and the Trench was re-occupied. After the attack was over. (It was repulsed along the whole line with great loss to the enemy) two companies of the 1/Scots were sent to relieve our 2 forward companies.

The Guards Division was relieved again on 13 Oct. His appointment to Lance Sergeant came through on 29th Oct but I don’t know if that would have gone through anyway, even if he’s been wounded on 8th Oct?

Annoyingly the battalion war diary for all of September is missing and picks up again in October. This would cover the attacks on the 27th and 28th September and give me an idea of casualties.

Back in the line on 15th Oct, the battalion took many casualties while attempting to extend and improve their trenches over the next weeks. They were opposite the german strongpoint known as ‘Big Willie’ (possibly named after Kaiser Wilhelm?). As only officers are named in the war diary it is impossible to know at which point William was shot. The fact that he was shot in the leg implies it was either during an attack (or retreat) or in open ground although this is not necessarily so.

3rd Grenadier Guards were out of the line for the whole of November and returned again in December. Casualties are reported in December during this period but mostly from shelling. The war diary lists Christmas day as ‘25th was celebrated in the customary manner, the men getting 1 pint of beer and Christmas pudding’.

As he was promoted on the 5th October I think it most likely that he was wounded either on the 8th October or from the 15th-30th October. Things seemed quieter from then until the end of the year.

It is possible that William spent some time (maybe several months) in a British Hospital in France before his injuries were considered serious enough to be sent home. He was evacuated from France on 29th December 1915 arriving in England the next day. It is not stated where he convalesced but he married Kathleen Mara (my great grandmother) in July 1916 in Kings Norton, Staffordshire. Perhaps the hospital or convalescent home was nearby? He was discharged the following summer with the character reference ‘Very Good. Clean, Sober and Hard Working’ and given a war pension of 15 shillings a week.

William served in France for 5 months, fought in a major battle but may have only been in the frontline for a few weeks. It does seem that he received the perfect ‘Blighty wound’ – enough to be considered unfit for military service but not permanently maimed or disabled.

3 thoughts on “William Upfield Heathcote”

  1. Christine Francis said:

    Hello, I believe this gent was my granddad as my nan’s name was Kathleen. It would be nice to find out more. Thanks.

    • Hi Christine

      The american branch of the family have done quite a bit of research and there is a bit more info here: https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/1817881

      My grandfather, George Raymond, was William’s eldest son.



      • Christine Francis said:

        Hello Jason,
        Thanks for your reply, I apologise for not getting back to you sooner but I am not a computer expert. I knew your grandfather as uncle Ray. My mother was the youngest of 9 and quite tall, she said she took after her father who was approx. 6ft which is different to your info. I wander if that was because he was not fully grown at the time? Nanny was quite short and aunty Marjorie took after her. I expect you already know the family was a bit spread out, and because my mum did not drive at the time we were more in contact with relatives that lived more locally ie Crystal Palace and Herne Hill.
        I went to my local school in Sydenham as did my younger sister Kathleen Mary, my mum said she was named after nanny.(slightly different to your info)
        I do remember my nanny and granddad as we often visited them as they lived locally and went by bus.
        I have the little remembrance card of when granddad died somewhere so will look for it and advise you of anything on it. I think I remember his year of birth was quoted as 1894..

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