307437 Sgt WILLIAM GARDENER, 2/8th Royal Warwickshire Regt, d. 6 Dec 1917 aged 40

The man missing from the War Memorial

The Roll of Honour lists the men from East Ilsley who served in the First World War.  Among the names are those of William Gardener and his eldest son Edwin (known as Ted).  The War Memorial in St Mary’s Church shows that, sadly, Ted was one of those who lost their lives.  But William’s name isn’t there.

William Gardener was born in 1877 in Horton Heath, near Eastleigh in Hampshire.  As a young lad he worked as a baker’s assistant, but later became a gamekeeper and moved to Kent, where he met and married his wife, Anne. They had seven children, of whom Ted was the eldest.  In 1912 the Gardener family moved to East Ilsley, where William became landlord of the Star Inn;  his two youngest children, Alfred and Walter, were born there.

When war was declared in August 1914 William enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment, despite the fact that he had suffered from chronic rheumatism since an attack of rheumatic fever seven years earlier.  He was assigned to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, stationed at Chatham, but was taken ill in April 1915. His record states that “he continued his duty until May 3rd, by which time he could not walk”. After a spell in hospital, William was discharged in June as “permanently unfit” with a diagnosis of  rheumatism and valvular disease of the heart.

Unbelievably in 1916 William re-enlisted in the Royal Berkshire Regiment.  His papers state that he was called up from the reserve, and while his rheumatism is noted, there is no mention of heart disease. Transferred to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, he landed in France on 12 November 1916, and was soon promoted to Corporal and later Sergeant.

In March 1917 William handed over the licence of the Star to William Charles Eacott and it was probably then that the Gardener family left East Ilsley, moving to Brambridge in Hampshire, close to William’s parents.

William’s battalion was in action at Ypres in August 1917 at the Battle of Langemarck, in which his 19-year-old son Ted, serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed. A few weeks later William was granted some home leave, but after returning to the front, he too was killed in action on 6 December 1917 at Cambrai. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial.

So why is William Gardener’s name not on the East Ilsley War Memorial, while Ted’s is? We shall probably never know. Although the family had left East Ilsley, news of Ted’s death had obviously reached the village by 1921 when the memorial was unveiled. Perhaps no one knew then that his father, too, had given his life.