On this day in 1916, William Henry Kingdom (1890-1916) died from heart disease in Mesopotamia in the Great War.
William, a corporal in the 1/4th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, arrived in a storm-lashed Sheikh Sa’ad in Mesopotamia on the last day of March in 1916 after spending more than a year in India.
He entered what is now Iraq amid one of the darkest eras for the British Army in the Great War. They were struggling against a battlehardened Turkish army in the harsh climate and unforgiving terrain.
A hundred miles south of Baghdad, in the British-Indian Garrison at Kut, thousands of soldiers and civilians were starving, dying from wounds and disease and coming under constant attack as they were besieged by the enemy.
The siege ended disastrously on April 29, 1916 with the garrison surrendering to the Turks and survivors, suffering from dysentery, scurvy and malaria, being marched to imprisonment – many not surviving the journey after being tortured and humiliated.
Based at Sheikh Sa’ad in Mesopotamia, William helped to defend desert out-posts and redoubts on the outskirts of the Army camp at which he was based, and worked on improving trenches, perimeter defences, roads and ‘bunds’, or embankments.
He frequently toiled in blistering temperatures and many of his fellow soldiers fell victim to dysentery, cholera and heat-stroke.
Hundreds fell sick, with increasingly large numbers admitted to hospital in the late spring and summer months.
William fell seriously ill in the spring of 1916 and lost his fight for life on May 27, 1916, aged 26. His death, from heart disease, at the ‘regimental detention tent’ at Sheikh Sa’ad, was recorded in the 1/4th Devons’ war diary by the battalion’s Adjutant, Major John Morth Woollcombe.
William’s death certificate showed that he suffered from heart failure as he ‘died of disease’ that day.
He completed an ‘informal will’ on April 10, 1916, just 47 days before his death, leaving his worldly possessions to his wife, Louise.
William was one of more than 12,000 soldiers who died from sickness in Mesopotamia in the Great War.
His death was reported in The Western Times on June 30, 1916 in just 31 words: ‘News has been received from the War Office that Cpl W Kingdom of the Devons, a native of Tiverton, has died on service. He leaves a widow and two young children.’
He is remembered on the Basra Memorial in Iraq which honours more than 40,000 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the war in Mesopotamia.
William is remembered at the War Memorial Hall and Library on Tiverton’s Angel Hill – where 281 men and women from the town are commemorated. He is also named on the war memorial at St Paul’s Church, Tiverton.
William was the eldest son of George Kingdom (1862-1952) and Lucy Roberts (1868-1945). Lucy, was the eldest daughter of John Roberts (1829-1919), my great-great grandfather who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
Born at Hensleigh Cottage, Tiverton on May 6, 1890, William worked as a domestic gardener in the run-up to the war. He lived with his parents at Howden Cottage, Tiverton in 1911. William married Louise Clarke (1882-1926) at St Paul’s Parish Church in Tiverton on January 1, 1912. He was 23 at the time and Louise was 30, They lived in the town, at 15, Sharlands Square. Louise died in Tiverton in 1926, aged 44.
William’s brother, Walter, was killed on the Western Front on September 20, 1918 – just 52 days before the Great War ended on November 11.
How William is remembered on the Basra Memorial. Picture by The War Graves Photographic Project.