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The Fallen of Kirkby

William Relph

William Relph (Photo courtesy of Susan New)
William Relph (Photo courtesy of Susan New)
  • Son of Stephen and Agnes Relph of Town End Cottage, Soutergate.
  • Private, 17203, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, transferred to
  • Private, 31842, 17th Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry).
  • Killed-in-Action 4th September 1916 near Longueval (Battle of the Somme).
  • Buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Row IX, Grave 38.

William Relph was born in Soutergate around 1895, the first child of Stephen Relph of Coniston, an iron ore miner, and his wife Agnes, of Heathwaite. They went on to have six more children, Joseph, Thomas, Hartley, Agnes Jane, Stephen and Ann. (William’s brother, Joseph Sawry Relph, was killed at Roanlands, Lady Hall, The Green, presumably while in farm service, in 1913, aged 18.) It is believed that Hartley and Thomas may have joined up with William; if so they both survived the war. Stephen died in 1938 and his wife Agnes in 1940.

By 1911 William was working for a farmer, Robert Hartley, at Park Stile, Broughton-in-Furness, but according to the Barrow News, at the time of his enlistment in Millom in November 1915, he was working on Rectory Farm, Kirkby, for Mr William Coward. Relph gave his occupation as ‘horseman’, his age as 21 years and 5 months, and his status as single. He took the oath in front of a Millom Justice of the Peace on 16th, and by 27th he was in Winchester Rifle Depot being approved by a Lieutenant for Machine Gun Corps training.

Fortunately William Relph’s military records were among those that survived the blitz in the Second World War, so we know that he first signed to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. The following information is also contained in his record:

17th July 1916: embarked Folkestone, arrived at Boulogne the same day.
18th July: arrived at the Machine Gun Corps base at Camiers, France.
24th August 1916: joined 17 Company, Machine Gun Corps.
2nd September 1916: in the field with 17 company.
4th September 1916: Killed in Action.

On 30th September 1916, The Barrow News reported as follows:

KIRKBY SOLDIER KILLED

Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Relph, of Soutergate, Kirkby, received the sad news on Saturday that their eldest son, Pte. William Relph, No. 31842, Machine Gun Corps, had been killed in action, on the 4th September. Pte. Relph enlisted last November in the King’s Royal Rifles, along with three more Kirkby young men, and later they were attached to the M.G.C. He, with one of his mates, was transferred to France a few weeks ago. Previous to enlistment he was in farm service at Mr. Wm. Coward’s, Rectory Farm. He was 23 years of age, and a fine young fellow, had a cheery word for everybody, and was very popular with his comrades. Much sympathy is extended to his parents in their sad bereavement.

The war Office report says:- The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of his Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow. J. S. Dewhurst, Capt., Officer in Charge of Records.

According to the Barrow Guardian of 30th September 1916, William Relph was: ‘a fine type of a British soldier, manly and upright’.

Relph was remembered in a memorial service at St Cuthbert’s on 10th June 1917, along with five other Kirkby men killed in the war: Mark Grigg, Eric Rothery, Isaac Hudson, Thomas Ernest Heaton and Joseph Fleming.

William Relph
William Relph
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