William Henry PEPPIATTBorn December 1888 - Killed in Action 5th February 1915
William Henry Peppiatt was the second eldest son of W R Peppiatt and Emily E. Peppiatt, of "Longdens", Beaconsfield, Bucks. The family consisted of mother and father together with William and his brothers in order of age: William, Leslie and Kenneth. While the boys were growing up the family lived at ‘Magtona’, Derby Road, South Woodford. All three Peppiatt brothers attended Bancrofts across the early years of the twentieth century. William was a keen distance runner winning the mile open towards the end of his schooldays. He also came second in the Open half-Mile as an OB in 1913.
On leaving school William followed the career of his father beginning in 1907 a career working in the offices of the London North Western Railway Company based at Euston. William was active in the church locally in Woodford, helped out a good deal with the children of the School Mission in Silvertown and was on the Old Bancroftians committee. He was also an accomplished pianist frequently providing the accompaniment to concert parties and other entertainments.
Like a number of our boys he had joined the Territorial Army before the outbreak of war and in his case the 5th Battalion the London Rifle Brigade. We can tell from his service number he enlisted with them in 1912. Here was another arena for his strength as a runner. In the years leading upto war he was one of the marathon winning team for his battalion within the territorial army and also one of the winning team who marched from London to Brighton in record time. It is in retrospect that today we can see the telltale signs of the nation readying itself for war in these years before 1914.The posturing of the great powers was not lost on anyone.
Indeed there is an argument for saying that war scares had become so frequent as to have lost their impact in the public’s consciencousness.
Moreover, the territorial army established in 1908 together with the burgeoning national scouting movement gave fit young men an opportunity for exercise, leisure and not a little adventure. The rapidity of the slide into war in that glorious summer was however a shock. For those like William who were already signed up inn the reserve the shock and speed of deployment showed no signs of abating.
Within a year or so William was called to the colours. Territorial army soldiers when they signed up had the choice to elect not to serve overseas. In those first weeks of August 1914 there was a frenetic effort on the part of the Army command to convert their territorial soldiers for overseas service through getting them to sign a waiver in this respect. Thousands of men did so willingly. In some battalions troops were paraded en masse and asked for the commitment. in some the commitment was as good as assumed.
William arrived in France as part of the 5th Battalion on 14th November 1914. John Gray another OB very active like William in the Old Bancroftians was there also.
Training continued in France and focussed on trench digging in frozen and waterlogged ground. On the 19th the Battalion moved towards the front lines in the midst of a snow storm. They were then deployed in the trenches sharing them with more experienced battalions to get the hang of the ropes. At dusk on the 20th they proceeded to the lines around Ploegstreet on the southern edge of the Ypres salient.There first task in the next few days was to attack the German forces in partial occupation of Ploegstreet Wood.
They were successful and by Christmas had fully occupied the trenches running through the wood. The famous ‘Christmas Truce’ of Christmas 1914 for the Rifle Brigade is evidenced in the letters home of John Gray: Yet Christmas passed and here they remained suffering from the sodden ground caused by the overflowing of a neighbouring river and the depradations of intermittent shelling and sniping. The clothing was for the most part inadequate, with soft caps, balaclavas sent from home and layer upon layer of tunics and coats and each soldier made what little comforts they could as one day’s discomfort and danger seemed much like another. The trenches were scarcely more than a succession of shallow holes in the ground, scrapes cut through the saturated clay and topsoil. February the 4th was a Wednesday. senses yet to reach that stage where hundreds of soldier’s deaths filled column feet of the daily newspapers.
Meanwhile, his brothers Lesley and Kenneth continued to serve in their case in the 7th Battalion and though wounded and commissioned and decorated they managed to survive. On the anniversary of William’s death in 1918 his mother and sister paid further tribute in the Times:
Outside Euston Station, where a hundred years ago William worked, stands a memorial erected after the Great War to the men of the railway who gave their lives in that conflict.
The busy Euston Road runs past and axies and buses circle it full of commuters and travellers going about their important business. It is an island in many respects amidst the toings and froings and hub-hub of this busy commuter terminus. The memorial is inscribed:
To the Glorious Dead
If you’re passing it is worthy of reflection, it stands for men like William.