Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

The French family first registered a presence in Portsmouth in 1889 when William James's father Abraham Thomas French married his mother Martha Fifield in the district of Portsea Island. Abraham must have arrived in town a year or two before the wedding, having left his home in North Munden, near Chichester. There he had been born son of Benjamin and Jane French in 1865 and was in 1881 working as a 'farm servant'. Martha had been born at West Wittering, south of Chichester, in 1869.
The first address for Abraham and Martha comes from the 1891 census where they are listed as living at 1 Wesley Place, Fratton. At the time they had just one child, Alice, who was born in 1891 whilst Abraham was working as a labourer. Ten years later the family were at 69 Brompton Road and three more children had arrived, Edward Victor, William James and Charles who were born in 1892, 1893 and 1896 respectively.
The 1911 census shows Martha French with her three sons living at 51 Reginald Road, Eastney. Martha was described as a widow and records show that Abraham had died in 1909. All three sons were working in the food industry; as waiter, baker's assistant and butcher's assistant, but soon after the census William James must have left to join the Royal Navy where he became a Cook's Mate on board HMS Queen Mary when the Great War broke out. On 31st May 1916 the ship took part in the Battle of Jutland where she was struck by two shells causing her magazines to explode. The ship sank with over 1200 members of her crew, including William French.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists William James French, Cook's Mate, HMS Queen Mary, Royal Navy, died, 31/05/1916. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, (Panel 21). Son of Martha French, of 51, Reginald Rd., Eastney, Portsmouth, and the late Abraham T. French.
William French is also commemorated on the Cenotaph, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth. He is not listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X.
Tim Backhouse
January 2015