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RIP Gunner William Talmage

Gunner William Talmage
Gunner William Talmage

William TALMAGE was born in 1884 in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, and married Ellen Maria KNIGHT in Medstead in 1910.  They had a butcher’s business in West Horsley, Surrey, but when the First World War started William was one of the many who volunteered and joined the Army.  An interesting family story about this came from Herbert TALMAGE, the son of William’s brother Herbert, who said that William was paying a visit to the family home in Ramsbury when there was a recruiting drive in nearby Swindon. He had driven the family’s horse and cart into Swindon when he happened to see the recruiting event and for whatever reason decided to join on the spot.  This he did, even to the extent of leaving the horse and cart in the town for somebody else to collect.  Interesting though this story is there is an element of doubt in the accuracy because in the “Soldiers Died in the Great War” database a different story emerges.  It basically confirms his service details but gives the place of enlistment as being in Guildford for 207739 Gunner TALMAGE of the Royal Field Artillery.  Not a great deal is known of his subsequent military service except that at one stage he was at a camp called Forest Row.  There are two postcards from this camp, one of which he sent to Ellen for her birthday.


According to a letter sent to his widow he was at one time a servant to Lieutenant DUNDAS before the lieutenant died from his wounds a few weeks earlier. At the time of William’s death on Saturday 5 October 1918 he was in “C” Battery, 161st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.  After he died a letter was written by the chaplain of the Divisional Artillery, R.E. GRICE-HUTCHINSON to Ellen informing her along with some details.   This was the person who buried him and was able to tell Ellen “that his death was practically instantaneous” and that he thought that William “could not have experienced any suffering”.  His body was brought back from the lines and was put to rest in a proper cemetery known as La Baraque located between the villages of Bellenglise and Joncourt.


The Debt of Honour Register held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirms that the remains of William are still in the same cemetery and have remained undisturbed since October 1918.  Unlike the massive cemeteries in some places in France and Belgium this one is small with less than a hundred graves, including a few with unidentified remains, and as such is remarkably quiet and peaceful.


The Register doesn’t give any details of his next of kin but a cutting from the local newspaper just after his death indicates that Ellen and her three sons had returned to Medstead where her parents were living.  There is no indication when she returned but it is quite possible that it was several years earlier because there would not have been anybody left in West Horsley who could carry on the family business.   The newspaper extract was for the village of Medstead and said :-


“The sympathy of the whole village goes out to Mrs W. Talmage (youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs E. Knight), and her three little boys, who have received this week a letter from France stating that her husband, Gunner W. Talmage, of the R.F.A., had been killed in action. Before joining up he carried on a butcher’s business at Horsley, Surrey.  Some time back he was officially reported as being dangerously wounded, but that was not so, as it referred to another man of the same name.”


There is another newspaper cutting which comes from the obituary column and said :-


“In proud and loving memory of my darling husband, Gnr William Talmage, killed in France, October 5th 1918.  Interred at La Barque Cemetery.”


Ellen had his name added to the Medstead war memorial in the village churchyard.  This is interesting because although they were married in the village it is unlikely that William ever lived there, but it makes sense because his wife and children had by then returned and taken up residence.


Roy Montgomery


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