‘Will’ was born in Datchet in 1889, a son of William and Kate Poole of 5 Wilton Cottages. He was the fifth of seven children; his siblings were Edith, Ethel, Lilian, Sidney, Ernest and Stanley
His father had been a ‘Boots’ and later a cellar man at the Manor Hotel, but by 1911 he was working as a carman (cartage staff) on the London and South Western Railway.
In the local press
There were a couple of articles in the local newspapers of the time which reveal a little more about the family. In 1906, Will’s brother, Stanley, was praised for his quick thinking in providing medical treatment for a fellow footballer. It transpired that he had picked up some useful first aid knowledge while acting as a patient for ambulance classes held at The Lawn.
And in September 1898, Will’s mother’s name appeared in the Slough Eton & Windsor Observer when she and others complained about the noise made by the Salvation Army in Green Lane every Sunday and asked for their “quietude and rest” to be protected.
From Datchet to India
By the time of the 1911 census, only young Stanley was living at home with his parents. He was 16 and had a job as a bookstall clerk at Smith and Son. (There was also a boarder, Miss Bertha Cranham. According to Janet Kennish, author of Datchet Village School, A History, “Bertha Cranham was a teacher at the village junior school from 1892 to 1931 and was still remembered for her strictness and free use of the cane by local elderly people until a couple of decades ago”.)
Will had enlisted in Slough before the war. In 1911 he was serving in Ceylon and India as Gunner 50149 in the 82nd Battery, part of the 10th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 6th (Poona) Division.
Serving in Mesopotamia
The 82nd Battery RFA was in Kirkee (Khadki) India at the outbreak of WWI. They received orders to mobilise on 9 September 1914 and sailed from Bombay on 8 November 1914 aboard S.S. Torilla. They disembarked at Saihan eight days later and served in Mesopotamia, helping to protect Britain’s oil interests.
In 1915, buoyed by a number of early successes, including the capture of Basra and Qurna, a decision was made to advance on the Mesopotamian capital of Baghdad. The 6th Division advanced upriver, leaving a thinly-stretched supply line of hundreds of miles behind it. They were halted by the Ottoman forces at Ctesiphon, on the western bank of the Tigris, in November 1915. After two days of hard fighting, they withdrew to Kut-al-Amara where their commander, Major General Townshend, decided to hold the city. The Ottomans, who had followed the retreating troops, simply surrounded and cut off the city.
There were a number of efforts to relieve the siege at Kut, and to free Will and his fellow soldiers. British forces in Mesopotamia had grown with the arrival of the 3rd (Lahore), 7th (Meerut) and 13th (Western) Divisions which were ordered to advance north along the Tigris to relieve Kut. They ran into fierce opposition but managed to get close. Then, on 29 April 1916, after a siege lasting almost five months, Townshend surrendered the garrison, and its 11,800 British and Indian troops, to the Turks.
The death march
The captured British and Indian soldiers were treated brutally and were marched to Turkish prisoner-of-war camps in Anatolia. Of the 11,800 men who left Kut-al-Amara with their captors on 6 May 1916, 4,250 died either on their way to captivity or in the camps that awaited them at the journey’s end. (You can read more about the Mesopotamia Campaign on the National Archives website.)
News reaches home
Back home, morale was low. The surrender of Kut followed just a few months after the evacuation of Gallipoli. The Windsor Express reported on 10 June 1916: “Mr W Poole, of Wilton Cottages, has received a notification from the War Office that his son, Gunner William Poole 82nd Battery Royal Field Artillery, who was with General Townshend in Kut, is a prisoner of war.”
The following month, Datchet Parish Magazine published the following: “Prisoners of War. Gunner William Poole (Wilton Cottages) 82nd Battery, RFA, who was with the gallant General Townshend during the siege of Kut, belongs to a family which has responded well to the cause.” This last comment refers to the three Poole brothers fighting in WWI. Sidney, Stanley and Will were all listed on Datchet’s War Roll.
In November 1916 Datchet Parish Magazine reported “William Poole has at last been heard of as a prisoner of war from the Kut Garrison. His father and mother are accordingly much relieved in mind.”
This news gave the family false hope. They were later to learn that Will had died on 26 August 1916. He had survived nearly four months in the most appalling conditions as a prisoner of war.
Remembered at the Basra Memorial
William Poole is remembered in Datchet and on the Basra Memorial which commemorates more than 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the operations in Mesopotamia and whose graves are not known.
Until 1997 the Basra Memorial was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about eight kilometres north of Basra. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website explains that “Because of the sensitivity of the site, the Memorial was moved by presidential decree. The move, carried out by the authorities in Iraq, involved a considerable amount of manpower, transport costs and sheer engineering on their part, and the Memorial has been re-erected in its entirety. The Basra Memorial is now located 32 kilometres along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what was a major battleground during the first Gulf War.
“While the current climate of political instability persists it is extremely challenging for the Commission to manage or maintain its cemeteries and memorials located within Iraq. Alternative arrangements for commemoration have therefore been implemented and a two volume Roll of Honour listing all casualties buried and commemorated in Iraq has been produced. These volumes are on display at the Commission’s Head Office in Maidenhead and are available for the public to view.”
Will was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and 1914-15 Star
A family at the Front
In December 1914, Datchet Parish Magazine reported that Stanley Poole, a Lance-Corporal in the 9th Lancers had been promoted to Sergeant, and that Sidney Poole was promoted to Quarter-Master Sergant, Natal Light Horse. In April 1917, the magazine announced that Stanley was granted a commission in the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment. Both men survived the war. Strangely, perhaps, there is no mention of their brother Ernest on the war roll.