This is the story of William Edward Hodgetts, a soldier of the First World War who has never been forgotten by his family. They love and treasure his memory and are keen to keep his story alive for future generations. Their present day knowledge of the man; his character, emotions and his tragic death has been passed down through the generations from the people who knew him well.
William was born in 1893, into a large family where he was the oldest of nine surviving children. They lived in Edlington Street in Denaby Main, where the only work available locally was at Cadeby Colliery. Everyone called him Bill, though he liked to refer to himself as Will. As soon as he was able he got work at the pit to help support the family. He was a bright lad and a very devout Christian, attending the local Methodist Chapel regularly, organising the Boy’s Brigade and arranging outings for the youngsters to enjoy. He and his charges were proud of their distinctive uniforms and were often seen marching with the Methodist band to mark important dates in the Christian calendar.
He became a lay preacher, and carried his small black leather bound Bible around with him everywhere, even when he went to work. A red Prayer Book was another treasured possession.
He fell in love with the local schoolteacher, Elsie, and the family was delighted when he announced their engagement. However, when war was declared both he and his father were among the first to respond, enlisting in Conisbrough. Arthur was 21, his father, also called William, aged 44. Arthur was attached to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, firstly with the 5th, then later with the 9th Battalion. He was shipped out to France in June 1915. William senior joined the 7th Yorks and Lancs Regiment.
Arthur was a good correspondent, always enquiring after Elsie and the family, but never mentioning what he must have been experiencing at the Front. He had one known spell of leave, around Christmas, when he attended Chapel and enjoyed seeing family and of course his beloved fiancée.
Bill managed to survive life at war until the 3rd Battle of Ypres – otherwise known as Passchendaele – which began in July 1917. Then at the beginning of October his luck ran out. As his best friend returned to their trench after a particularly horrific wave of enemy fire, it was Bill’s turn to go “over the top”. Just before he climbed out he turned to his friend, gave him his Bible and said, “Please promise if I don’t come back that Mother gets this.”
Later a soldier reported that he had seen Bill badly wounded making his way to the Red Cross Station. But after that he was never seen again.
It was thought that being badly injured he must have fallen into a deep, flooded shell hole and drowned.
After the war Bill’s father and brother Harold travelled out to the Battle Grounds in response to a request for volunteers to help bury the dead. They hoped to find Bill’s remains while carrying out this grim task but sadly his body was never found.
The family never really got over his loss and his fiancée Elsie never married, instead devoting her life to teaching.
The Bible did come back to his Mother, and that, along with the red Prayer Book, is a treasured keepsake within the family.
Many decades later, in the year 2000, family members were able to go to Ypres and lay a wreath at the foot of a large stone plaque bearing his name in Tyne Cot Cemetery.
May Bill and his comrades rest in peace.