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William Robert Povey

Private 15403 William Robert Povey, 6th (Service) Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regt

William (Will) was born in Newbury in 1884, the son of James Povey and his wife Hannah, née Nicholls. He was the eldest of their seven children; his arrival was followed by Benjamin (born 1885), Arthur James (1887), Harry Christopher (1889), Elizabeth (1891), Frederick John (1893), and Ellen Annie (1895). Shortly after Ellen was born her father died aged only 39, she would never know him.

Hannah was left with seven children to raise, the eldest aged only eleven.  She worked as a charwoman, doing her best, hopefully with the support of the wider family.  When the children left school and were able to contribute to the family income life must have become somewhat easier. 

Will became a baker; this was recorded as ‘journeyman baker’ in the 1901 census – suggesting that he may not have had a full-time employer and was working on day rates as and when he could find work.  If this was the situation it is not surprising that he gave up baking and took a labouring job for the sake of a regular pay packet.  He worked at Plenty & Sons’ Eagle Ironworks in central Newbury (much of the Kennet Centre was built on the site of these works).

The 1911 census records the family living at 4 Northampton Terrace, Newbury, previously they had been living at 2 Kennet Place.  The two addresses are very close together on the London Road to the east of Shaw Road. By this date there were five children at home, all working, so their mother appears to have been able to take a rest from charring – she is recorded as having no occupation.

2 Kennet Place

2 Kennet Place.

Northampton Terrace

4-7 Northampton Terrace.


Later in 1911 William married Fanny Hillier from Chisbury, Wiltshire, who was living in Newbury as a servant in the household of Frederick Hopson, whose furniture business on the corner of Northbrook Street and West Street was a Newbury landmark.  The firm is still in business having merged with Alfred Camp’s Drapery Bazaar to form the Camp Hopson department store. The happy couple set up home together at 9 Railway Road.

When war arrived on 4 August 1914 the Povey family responded en-masse – before long all five of the boys were in uniform.

Newbury Weekly News,  10 December 1914 – Local War Notes
Mrs Povey, of Northampton Terrace, has five sons in His Majesty’s Forces. One is on duty with the RAMC at the Front [Frederick], and on the outbreak of war one joined the Royal Berks [Will], another the Norfolks [Benjamin], a third in the Berks Reserves [Harry], and the fourth in the National Reserves [Arthur]. Mrs Povey says she is proud of them, but would be happier if they were all at home again around her table.

Will had joined the local regiment, the Royal Berkshires. He was posted to their 6th (Service) Battalion, one of a number of new battalions raised by the regiment in 1914 to take the rush of new recruits. The ‘Service’ in the title reflects the different terms under which these volunteers signed up for service for the duration of the war, rather than the regular army term of 12 years.

An early tragedy struck the Povey family in September 1914, when Frederick’s baby daughter, Joan, died of meningitis. As a Regular soldier, Frederick was already in France with the Royal Army Medical Corps:

Newbury Weekly  News, 1 October 1914 – Deaths
POVEY – Sept 18, at Newbury Hospital, of meningitis, aged 3 months, the dearly loved child of Mr and Mrs F J Povey, RAMC, of 2, Roseland-cottages, Newbury. The father of the deceased child is with the British Expeditionary Force.

The 6th Battalion trained at Colchester, Essex, and Codford St Mary, Wiltshire before crossing the Channel to France on 25 July 1915. The battalion was not sent out alone; an entire Division (the 18th) went out from Codford and assembled near Flesselles, north of Amiens. They set off on 24 July, the move taking five days in all. The 6th Royal Berks was one of four infantry battalions in the 53rd Brigade along with the 8th Norfolks, the 8th Suffolks and the 10th Essex. Together with two more brigades (54th and 55th) they made up the front line troops of the 18th Division.

It was to be almost a year before the Division were involved in a major action, but they weren’t idle. The Division took over a section of the Front Line near Albert and the 6th Royal Berks took their turns to man the line.  Even when the line was quiet there was constant danger, and, especially in the winter months, dreadful conditions.  A friend of Will’s from Plenty’s, Harold Freeman, wrote home:

Newbury Weekly News, 16 March 1916 – Local War Notes
.. Pte Freeman said the battalion was back on rest, bulleted in barns. It had been snowing very thickly, eighteen inches, and then a thaw, causing a terrible mess. While they were in the trenches they had the biggest bombardment yet experienced, but they had the last word. Next day another snowstorm, and terribly wet and cold feet. Then a second bombardment, but the enemy found a hot reception. A flare disclosed Germans leaving their trenches, and twenty British machine guns started arguing with them, so that not one reached the trenches. Then the artillery took a turn, and the Germans were not able to fetch their wounded. It was not likely that they would try their games again. ...

It was during this ‘quiet’ period on the Somme front that Will died, shot in the head by a sniper:

Newbury Weekly News, 24 February 1916 – Local War Notes
The sad news was received on Saturday evening by Mrs W Povey of Railway-road, Newbury, that her husband, Private William Povey, of B Company, 6th Royal Berks, had been killed while doing sentry duty. The deceased, who was 32 years of age, had worked for some years at the Eagle Ironworks, and joined the 6th Royal Berks early in November of 1914. After putting in some eight months’ training in various camps he was drafted with his regiment to the front about six months ago, and went through the strenuous work round about September 25th in safety. He had been home on leave for seven days in November last, and since his return had been slightly wounded once by shrapnel, but not sufficient to incapacitate him from duty.

Although no official notification has been received from the War Office, there is little doubt as to his having been a victim of an enemy sniper, for the following letter has been received from his officer, Second-Lieut G W H Nicholson:- “Dear Mrs Povey: I am afraid I have some very bad news for you. Your husband was shot while on sentry duty about midnight on February 13th, and killed instantaneously. I am sure it will comfort you to remember that as he was a soldier, his was a soldier’s death, and that he died as a man should – for his country. He was one of the best of my platoon, and his loss is deeply felt both by his comrades and myself, who knew that he could be trusted for anything, and also bright and cheerful through it all.” Confirmation of this letter is given by Pte A Bosely, of the above company, who saw his comrade fall and hastened to his assistance, but only to find his lifeless body. The news came as a severe shock to Mrs Povey, who had been unwell for some days, and for whom every sympathy is felt at this abrupt termination of a short by happy married life. The deceased soldier was the oldest of the four sons of Mrs Povey of Northampton-terrace, London-road, who are all on service, the remaining sons being in the Norfolk Regiment, the RAMC, and National Reserves.

The family place a notice in the paper:

Newbury Weekly News, 2 March 1916 – Killed in Action
POVEY – Killed in action in France on February 13th, Pte William R Povey, 6th Royal Berks, of Railway-road, Newbury, and son of Mrs Povey, of London-road, aged 32 years.

A little more information came in the paper’s local war news column:

Newbury Weekly News, 2 March 1916 – Local War Notes
Official confirmation of the death of her husband, Pte W R Povey, has been received by Mrs Povey, of Railway-road, from the Divisional Record Office, together with a letter conveying the sympathy of the King and Queen from Lord Kitchener. Although known in Newbury by Saturday, February 19th, Mrs Povey did not herself receive any information until the following Monday evening.

His mate, Harold Freeman, also passed on the news:

Newbury Weekly News, 16 March 1916 – Local War Notes
... Poor Will Povey had been shot through the head by a sniper, with an explosive bullet. He was one of the best and would be much missed. ...

His body was buried in grave I.E.13 at Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt.

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Benjamin's name on Newbury War Memorial

(middle right)

Locally he is remembered on tablet 12 of the Newbury Town War Memorial and on the Speenhamland Shrine


His name was also among those on the memorial board in Speenhamland School- this was St Mary's School in St Mary's Road; the memorial has been lost since the school was demolished in the 1970s. 

Will was not forgotten by his family:

Newbury Weekly News, 8 February 1917 – In Memoriam
In ever loving memory of Pte W R Povey, late of 9, Railway-road, who was killed on active service in France, February 13, 1916. – From his Wife, Mother, Sisters and Brothers.

Newbury Weekly News, 14 February 1918 – In Memoriam
In loving memory of William Robert Povey, of the 6th Royal Berks Regt, who was killed in France, February 13th, 1916.

In loving memory of a good son and brother, Pte W R Povey, who was killed in action in France February 13th, 1916. – From Mother, Sisters and Brothers.

Newbury Weekly News, 13 February 1919 – In Memoriam
In loving memory of William Robert Povey, of the 6th Royal Berks, who was killed in action, in France, February 13th 1916. – From his loving mother, sisters, and brothers.

The family were to suffer another loss in France when Benjamin was killed in action on 16 September 1916, seven months after Will.

Most instances where brothers are recorded on the Newbury Town War Memorial are obvious - because the brothers’ names are grouped together (in general the names were distributed by lot).  However, in the case of Will and his brother Benjamin this is not the case – Benjamin is on tablet 5 and Will on tablet 12.

Frederick, Harry and Arthur all survived the war.

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 Died this day:
22 June 1919
H W Howe

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