24 Hours of Research

Pte William Lawrence ACKLAND

Yesterday, Sarah and I went to the little village of Old Basing and a small antique fair. I bought a few period items that I was pleased with and Sarah too found something for her little ‘Wesleyana’ collection. Having got home and as the day passed, it became increasingly clear that this little item was going to be the star of the show in its own right and would lead to another poignant and forgotten story of the Great War, and one this time quite near home.

I hope you like this story; it is a special one as it is actually less than 24 hours old. I dedicate this to a good friend, Scott Knowles. We were ‘chatting’ here on Saturday sorting out the activities of a soldier of the 5/6th Royal Scots at Gallipoli for his own researches. Yesterday evening, Scott told us here on FB of the death of his mother just at the time this story was unravelling. This one is just for you mate; none are forgotten by those who truly care...

As a local Methodist preacher, my wife Sarah collects old items related to the Methodist church and its founders, the Wesleys. She found this little book, typical of a late Victorian family gift at birthdays or Christmastime at the Old Basing fair yesterday quite unaware of what this would lead to later in the day.

The inner flyleaf of the book has been torn out – why does this happen to so many of these old books? However the name of the original owner, W.Ackland with the date 1897 and ‘Aug 16th 1902’ added later.

Turning to 16th August gave Sarah the owner’s first name, William. Indeed the book contained many such names in several different hands, chiefly family members and possibly local friends too. It was clearly a simple book to remind family members of birthdays (the sort of thing FB is used for today) Well, for Sarah, this would be all she would need to work with and in a very short while she had ‘found’ the Ackland family and put the family tree together. Remarkably, this little book had not travelled very far in the past 100 years or so it seems. Just on the opposite side of the A30 to the south of Old Basing is the tiny hamlet of Mapledurwell. The Ackland family here could be traced to the English Civil War, but in the late 19th century the Ackland family ran the one and only Village shop/Post Office. William himself was a baker and remained living with his parents gradually taking over the business. Other brothers and sisters would leave the village. Two would go to London and one of them would work in a branch of ‘Marshall and Snelgrove’ a department store. There was a mighty ‘squeak’ when Sarah found this out. This department store started in Harrogate, she is directly related to the ‘Marshall’ side of the partnership, sadly, the brand has long gone...She worked out that William had been born in 1880 and thus had been 17 when he had received this gift.

This is the final entry in this little book, another by William Lawrance Ackland (Sarah had his middle name now too – maybe as a reference to the (eventual) coronation of Edward VII in August 1902 (the 9th, not the 16th i.e. William birthday)?

I was now more curious to know to what became of William. Sarah again provided the answer. William and his siblings, if they married, did so later in life. Sarah found an entry for William’s wedding in 1916 to Mary Eliza. I wondered if there were living descendants?

Given his year of birth, 1880, it was conceivable that William might have served in the Great War, probably late on as a married conscript – had he?

The search was but a short one:

202717 Pte W(illiam) L(awrance) ACKLAND

13th Gloucestershire Regiment

Date of Death 22/03/1918

Place of Burial: Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension Plot III, Row H, Grave 33

Son of Joseph and F.Ackland, husband of Mary Eliza Ackland of Mapledurwell, Basingstoke

It did not take a genius to work out that William had been one of the first casualties in the German Spring Offensive of 21st March 1918 and subsequent days. Fortunately he appeared to be one of the few who did at least have a known grave.

The original burial register from the IWGC shows without doubt that the beautifully ordered war cemeteries of today originally were far from it. This shows the tremendous trouble taken at the time to ensure all those who could be correctly identified were indeed so identified.

But there was more...


This sheet from the IWGC shows that William’s body had been one of 41 such bodies buried by the Germans as a group. It is believed they were all from the same unit, the 13th Glosters. William was one of the fortunate few, his identity discs had survived on his body, he would be just one of the four such of the forty-one who would have an identified gravestone, and the remainder would be on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.

Looking through William’s other military records, as well as being awarded the British War medal and Victory medal he is listed as being a member of 2/4th, 2/6, 14th as well as 13th Glosters. This ‘mystery’ is partly solved from the Gloucestershire Regiment website:

‘The Bantams of 14th Battalion were disbanded on 11th February 1918, and the survivors, some 250 strong, were transferred to 13th Battalion. On 20th February, 2/4th and 2/6th Battalions were also disbanded, their surviving personnel transferring to 2/5th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment and 24th Entrenching Battalion. 10th Battalion had already been disbanded in February 1917, its survivors transferring to 1st and 8th Battalions, and 13th Entrenching Battalion. On 21st March 1918 the German Spring Offensive, or 'Kaiserschlacht', began with Operation Michael on the Western Front. British Third and Fifth Armies' fronts were penetrated at several points. The following day 39th Division, including 13th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, was in action and taking heavy punishment over the next week, with the battalion losing over 300 men in killed, wounded and missing.’ 

Really William’s record indicates he was once part of the bringing together of reduced battalions of the Gloucestershire in early 1918 and that he was killed as part of the 13th. However, his original battalion he would likely have joined as a conscript might have been the 2/4th Glosters as his 5-digit number for these (20411) would pre-date his 6-digit one (202717) given for the other three battalions he is given as being a member of.

The 13th Glosters were a pioneer battalion that had originally being raised in the mines of the Forest of Dean. Here is their war diary of these dark days in 1918. As with other battalion diaries heavily involved in defending against this massive onslaught, the entries are few and not detailed. Their brevity for me only highlights the tremendous courage of the units involved in these desperate actions that all too often went unrecorded.

The diary reads:

21/3/18 – The battalion moved to TEMPLEUX LA FOSSE to concentrate with 39th Divn Reserve and on the same night dug and wired with other troops the line LONGAVESNES-SAULCOURT

They knew what was coming, they could already hear it, wounded troops were passing through them doing their best to get back to safety...they knew would have to hold to the last man...

22-23/3/18 – Battalion moved to and occupied as infantry, the GREEN LINE East of TEMPLEUX LA FOSSE and fought a rear-guard action retiring through PERONNE and CLERY taking up a position near HERBECOURT (24/3/18).

Pte William Ackland was killed during this rear-guard action, he being one of 41 men making that determined last stand – I do not know if any prisoners were taken, there may well have been no survivors of this stand of the 13th Glosters.

What a privilege to find and pass on just a part of this forgotten story...

This is St Mary’s Church, Mapledurwell. This hamlet is too small to have its own War Memorial, but I believe there is a small one inside this church, William L.Ackland should be named upon it, one of just four from Mapledurwall who never returned from the 1914-18 war. The surnames of another (Paice) can also be found in Sarah’s little book showing just how close knit this community was. Sarah and I will go here soon.

In putting this story together, it feels like I have come a very long way both in time, distance and events since Sarah bought her little book at the fair, but it was only yesterday...

I do not recall having visited Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension, but one day I will. William’s wife left some words that were engraved on his headstone there ‘Out of the stress of doing, into the peace of done’, I do not recall seeing this particular inscription anywhere else...most fitting words for any who have lost a loved one, then or now...


It was at this point that I thought things were drawing to a close and I was searching the internet for any picture of a war memorial inside Mapledurwell church. On the Parish Council website, there was a history page with a link to letter written by an ‘Ackland’ regarding his family who lived at the Village shop/Post office. Names matched up perfectly with the book, so I contacted him who came back to me later in the day with his own family researches, in the meantime...

An addition - Working with the original map references, here is the site of the original German burial of the 41 British soldiers that were relocated to Peronne CCE. They were brought quite some way but would follow the route of their more fortunate comrades on their retreat that day. These 41 soldiers (included Pte W.L.Ackland) were some of those who met the Germans head on on the morning of 22/3/18 and stood their ground. Their remains were found beneath a single cross.

And from the Ackland family...

The Acklands had traced their family tree and were able to supply the remaining photographs in this series - Mapledurwell War memorial - William Ackland and Nathaniel Paice were brothers-in-law and were killed within a few months of each other...
The original Village shop sign from Mapledurwell, rescued by the Ackland family in 1990, the shop itself long since derelict, but seemingly now rebuilt


One of the younger members of the Ackland family by the grave of his great-great-uncle, Pte William L.Ackland. 

The past 24 hours have certainly been a roller-coaster ride of discovery, I think this final photograph confirms something I said right at the beginning of this one - 'not forgotten by those who still care' - hopefully, this young man will now one day be able to understand just a little more about the brave soldier whose grave he stands by.

For a direct link to the author of this article, email David Whithorn

Copyright David Whithorn, December, 2014

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