Pte William Hutchins
Pte William Hutchins

William Hutchins was born in Devizes on June 8th 1877. William’s mother, Martha, nee Dally, didn’t have the best start in life. Her mother died when she was only a year old. At the age of 16, in 1855, Martha and her sister Mary Ann were convicted of stealing a muslin de laine dress, which they then sold on to a shop.

Both girls were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour, with an extra two weeks for Mary Ann, due to a second theft of a petticoat. The trial was reported in the Wiltshire Independent, where they are described as ‘girls of very bad loose character’. The article states that the ‘learned Recorder’ regretted the lack of a Reformatory School in the area to which the girls could be sent. He was concerned that a gaol sentence could turn the girls’ behaviour worse than before, but he was left with no other recourse. He advised them both to mend their ways after their sentence was complete.

Martha married John Stockman and had three sons, John junior, then a baby called Samuel who died in infancy, then another Samuel. On the death of her first husband she married Charles Hutchins. Neither Martha nor Charles could write. From 1871, the year they were married, they were both living at 2 Wharf Court, Devizes. Charles was a labourer, and latterly a lockkeeper in Devizes. Their first child, William’s older sister, Annie, was born in the late summer of 1871. Another daughter, Emily, was born in 1873, but she died in infancy.

Like her mother before her, Martha died young, in 1885 when William was about eight years old. I believe William’s father Charles died in 1893, when William was 16.

The next evidence I have found for William is in 1901. At that time he was working as a water company labourer in Devizes, and was boarding with the Burgess family in Bridewell Street. By 1911 he was working as a GWR labourer in Newbury, and was boarding with the Smith family. A 1911 accident register lists a labourer named Hutchins in Newbury, whose foot was bruised when a lock bar fell. This may perhaps be William.

He must have returned to Devizes after this, as William was listed as a canal labourer in the Engineering Department in Devizes, when he featured in a Roll of Honour in the GWR magazine.

William was probably called up when conscription began in 1916. He enlisted in Devizes, and was allocated to the 13th (Labour) Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment (30691). The Battalion was formed in Cosham in July 1916 and moved to France on 21 September 1916. The battalion was transferred to the Labour Corps in April 1917 and the men were divided between the 164th and 165th Labour Companies. William was in the 165th (98646).

William was killed in action on the 10th of July 1917. He was buried at Coxyde Military Cemetery in Belgium, grave reference I.D.56.

By this time, not only had his parents died, but also one of his half brothers, and I have found no trace of his sister Annie as yet.

The CWGC lists Mrs Barbara Penny, 20 Rotherstone, Devizes, as the contact on his grave registration documents. She did not, however, make any special requests for his headstone, so it seems likely that she was a former landlady, rather than a relation.

William’s story ends all the more sadly as it seems there was nobody to mourn his loss. In December 1921 authorisation was requested to dispose of William’s medals, as nobody had claimed them.