‘Cheerful to the End’ – Captain Alban Noel Wills

Alban Noel Wills was born in Loughborough, Leicestershire in 1888. His mother Katherine was from Bath in Somerset and his father Henry was a Leicestershire man from Narborough. The family settled in Loughborough where Henry had a business as a printer, bookseller and stationer. Alban had two sisters and a brother, and the family lived at the same address right through his childhood.

Alban qualified as a solicitor in 1909, moving to Liverpool where he was in practice and renting two rooms in a boarding house. He moved to Doncaster to carry on his career and by the time war broke out he had settled into life in the town. He rented two rooms in St Mary’s Rd and had his office in the High St in the town centre. We know he had connections with Doncaster Rugby Football Club, (now the Doncaster Knights), as the club published a memorial photo of him after the war.
He joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st/5th Battalion in 1915, being made 2nd Lieutenant on the 3rd of June, then promoted to Lieutenant on 1/7/1917. He was on active duty at the front in Belgium on the 7th March 1918, attached to the 4th Battalion as acting Captain, when he received the wound that proved fatal.

The Doncaster Chronicle of 22/3/1918 reported his story under the title “The late Captain A. N. Willis The Manner of his Death. ‘Cheerful to the End’. The article included the transcript of a letter sent to his family from the Sister who was with him at the Canadian clearing station to which he was sent.

She wrote ‘He was brought here at 3am on the 5th of March in a very low condition, the result of a compound fracture of the left thigh, haemorrhage and exposure and was quite pulseless on arrival. We succeeded in resuscitating him sufficiently to go to the operating room, where he received a blood transfusion of several ounces and his wounds were cleaned and dressed. His condition was so much improved that we all felt very hopeful and he was so bright and brave through it all. Early this morning (the 6th) it became evident that blood poisoning was setting in, and at 11pm it was decided that immediate amputation was necessary as the fracture was just below the hip. When the doctor told him he was quite reconciled and said he quite expected it might have to come off. He had already asked me when he came from his first operation if it was his leg or a camouflage one as it felt numb. 3am Your son has just passed away quietly, the shock of the operation in his artificially stimulated condition was too much for his heart and he slept peacefully away without recovering consciousness. Please accept, from a complete stranger, my heartfelt sympathy in your bereavement. His sweet, serene cheerfulness and bright disposition even in that short time, endeared him to all of us and we can realise how great indeed is your loss, but you can rest assured that he received every care and attention and nothing was left undone which might have aided his recovery.’ The sister added that the interment took place in a military cemetery near Poperinghe (Belgium) and each grave was marked with a simple cross. The Chaplain at the station wrote a letter similarly testifying to Alban’s cheerfulness and courage, adding that he had mentioned his father and mother and that ’it will always be a comfort to you to know that he was brave to the last.’

He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, Arrondissement Ieper, West Flanders, Belgium.

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