WE begin to tell the very poignant story of the three sons of the Williams family from Marlow who fought in the Great War.

They were the sons of William and Matilda Williams. William was a native of the village of Westbury near Buckingham in the north of the county, where he was born March 21st 1862.

Initially he followed his father by becoming an agricultural labourer, and married Matilda Smith at the parish church in Ludgershall on June 2nd 1887.

The couple’s first child Eda was born in September the following year , when they were living in Ludgershall, and William was employed by farmer Edwin Smith.

William joined the Bucks Constabulary on March 24th 1890 as a ‘3rd Class Police Constable’. After training he was appointed on May 21st 1890 to become the local P C at West Wycombe.

He served there for over 10 years, being progressively promoted to a ‘merit Class Constable’ on March 1 1897.

During this time the couple’s three sons were born, William Alfred on April 6th 1891, Charles in April 1893, and Cecil on January 17th 1896.

In 1900 the family moved to Hambleden, where William was again appointed to the position of village Police Constable.

The family stayed there for 8 years before William was appointed to Marlow on April 13th 1909, where the family lived at 200 Oxford Road. He therefore saw a total of 27 years service in the Constabulary before retiring in May 1917.

At the time of his retirement his certificate of conduct was marked "Exemplary". However there was one blot on his record.

At the Chief Constables Office, Aylesbury, it was recorded on 10th September 1903 that ‘Police Constable 112 William C. Williams is severely reprimanded for not having arrested at Hambleden, on the 29th August last, a man who was dressed in the uniform of the 11th Hussars with whom he had been speaking, and of whom he had just received information that he was wanted on a charge of fraud.

This Constable’s length of service and experience should have enabled him to have shown more ability in acting.

Family legend suggests that the Hussar mentioned, having just returned from the Boer war, had fraudulently travelled on the train in order to get home to his family, so William used his discretion.

It was also said that when William caught a poacher, or kids scrumping apples, if they came from a poor hungry family, he would not take formal action.

This one blemish on his record must have been ignored, when in 1911 he was awarded the George V Coronation medal. He formally retired on May 6th 1916, when he was granted a pension of 53.18.4 per annum.

In retirement he and his wife returned to their roots in the north of the county and lived at 4 Coronation Cottages in Steeple Claydon. William became a church-warden at the parish church, St Michael’s. He died on August 20th 1935 aged 73.

Following William’s retirement in 1916 the Bucks Free Press reported ‘In each parish he earned the respect and esteem of the inhabitants ….. he has three sons serving with the forces – Pte Cecil Williams of the “Buffs’, who is just recovering from severe wounds; Pte Charles Williams of the Royal Irish Regt; and Pte Alfred [ie William Alfred] of the King’s Royal Rifles.’

Cecil Williams, their youngest son, enlisted together with his elder brother Charles on September 25th 1914. He then joined the Royal East Kent Regiment on December 7th 1915. Formerly the 3rd Regiment of Foot, it became known as The Buffs, an infantry regiment of the British Army until 1961.

With a long history dating back to 1572 it was one of the oldest regiments in the British Army, being third in order of precedence (ranked as the 3rd Regiment of the line).

The regiment provided distinguished service over a period of almost four hundred years, and accumulated one hundred and sixteen battle honours. Following a series of amalgamations since 1961 its lineage is today continued by the Princess of Wale’s Royal Regiment.

The Regiment's nickname of "The Buffs" is said to have originated in its use of protective buff coats, made of soft leather, during service in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Later they adopted buff-coloured facings and waistcoats as uniform distinctions and wore equipment of natural buff leather rather than the customary white.

Cecil was in the The Buffs 5th Battalion who were sent initially to India. After training the native soldiers they then marched through Afghanistan into Mesopotamia to reinforce the troops under the command of General Maude.

An offensive to capture Baghdad was launched by Maude on December 13th 1916. The British advanced up both sides of the Tigris river, forcing the Ottoman army out of a number of fortified positions along the way.

After occupying the town of Kut, where most of the enemy forces were concentrated, the British were on the outskirts of Baghdad by early March. On 11 March 1917 the British entered Baghdad where they were greeted as liberators.

During the battle for Baghdad Cecil was hit by a hail of machine-gun bullets and left for dead. After the British troops had moved on the local Arabs came for ‘pickings’, they were very keen on Army boots for example, and found Cecil still alive.

Although they robbed him, they did take him by a loaded date barge to a British Army depot and left him outside. He received immediate treatment for his wounds and was then shipped back to England and treated in a London hospital.

Whilst back home in London Cecil took the opportunity to get married to Gladys Webb towards the end of 1917.

Cecil recovered from these wounds, but was not considered fit enough for active front-line service. He was therefore transferred to the Highland Light Infantry and posted to Dublin, where he served for the remainder of the war.

After being discharged he received a small pension, but this was withdrawn after he obtained employment in the Civil Service as a GPO telephone operator.

He enjoyed a long and successful career in the Civil Service, being promoted to Supervisor at the Shepherds Bush telephone exchange, and the joining the Board of Trade with the rank of Chief Executive Officer.

After his experience in the Great War Cecil might have been expected to ‘take it easy’ during WWII. Despite being in his forties that was not in his nature. So soon as volunteers for the Local Defence Volunteers (later the Home Guard) were called for he joined the 21st City of London Royal Fusiliers unit.

This was appointed to guard Telephone exchanges. Initially Cecil was given the rank of Company Sergeant Major (CSM). Later he was appointed Captain and served full time at a training establishment.

In September 1940 his house in N.W. London was flattened during the Blitz, and his wife Gladys, and son John returned to stay with relatives in Marlow, until alternative accommodation was found.

After the war he returned to the Board of Trade. Cecil died in 1953 aged 57 and was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium.

I am most grateful to Cecil’s son John D Williams for much of the information contained in this article and for allowing me to share his memories. We will tell the stories of the other two sons of William and Matilda Williams, Alfred and Charles, in a future Nostalgia page.