NOSTALGIA: The short life of a Great War hero

Grandfather of Tim and Dave Rudwick, Harold, is pictured on his horse.  Courtesy of the Rudwick Collection
Grandfather of Tim and Dave Rudwick, Harold, is pictured on his horse. Courtesy of the Rudwick Collection

William George Gray was just 17 when he left his Cocking home and enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery as a driver soon after war was declared.

He could not have imagined the horror which awaited him when he said goodbye to his mother and father, Loveden and Alice Gray, at their home, 193 Cocking on the corner of Crypt Lane.

The family had moved to Cocking from Chichester when Loveden got a job as a maltster.

The malthouse stood on the main road, just north of Crypt Lane, and produced malt for the brewery behind the Angel Hotel in Midhurst, run by Messrs Parker and Popplewell.

And it was here that William spent his short life, growing up with his six brothers and sisters and watching his father play cricket. Loveden, a keen player, was the opening bowler and batsman for the Cowdray Esate XI.

But his carefree days were short-lived when William was posted to northern France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in July 1915, having been promoted to a gunner.

His parents must have been proud back home when he earned the Military Medal in July 1917, awarded for ‘acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire’.

He received the medal for trying to rescue an injured officer during battle, but there was heartbreak for the family when the young man was killed in action in Belgium just three months later on October 15, 1917 at the age of 19.

He was a member of 221st Trench Mortar Battery at the time of his death and was buried at Huts Cemetery at Dickebusch in Belgium. Gunner Gray’s is just one of many hundreds of moving stories.

Many of the area’s young men were buried abroad.

Others, like Charles Ryan, who also lived in Cocking, made it home after the war, but their lives were never the same again.

Charles was 23 when he left his mother and father, Charles and Eleanor, at their Manor Cottage home.

He joined the Royal Engineers and was the victim of gas poisoning.

He died from his wounds after the war on March 18, 1920 and is buried in Cocking churchyard. There are more stories of gallantry and tragedy on every war memorial.

At South Harting, Emma and William Soal lost two sons, Arthur and William.

Arthur was killed in action at Vermelles on November 9 1915, aged 24. 
His brother died a year later at home from his wounds.

There are families still living in the Observer area whose grandfathers’ names appear on their village war memorials.

At Stedham, the name of former parish council chairman Eddie Lintott’s grandfather, Horace, appears on the wooden memorial tablet in St James Church.

“Every year at the Remembrance Service,” said Eddie, “I am reminded why my middle name is Horace.”

His grandfather, who ran the Gnu village pub (now a private home, The Ale House) with his grandmother Ethel, served with the 1st Reserve Battalion, the Royal Engineers.

He died from his wounds in Aldershot hospital on April 27, 1917 and is buried in Stedham parish church.

The grandfather of well-known Midhurst historians Tim and Dave Rudwick, Harold, returned from the war and lived until the 1980s, working at the family business, now the home of Midhurst Museum.

Harold served in North Africa where he was hit in the head by shrapnel and sent home.