Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Despite his name appearing on the Guildhall Cenotaph and the Cathedral WW1 memorial, and being mentioned in the National Roll (Portsmouth section) there is no evidence that William Gillingham ever lived in Portsmouth The fact that he is listed as one of the dead from Portsmouth is more to do his mother's residence in the town than his own, though he may have visited occasionally and may have been in barracks locally.
William's father Albert J. Gillingham was a General Hawker, who was born in Devon but spent most of his life on the road, sometimes taking his family with him. He had married his wife Rebecca, who came from South Wales, in 1885 and they had four children, all of whom were born in different places, William (b. 1886) in Taunton, Arthur (b. 1889) in Bedford, Frederick (b. 1894) in Cheltenham and Florence (b. 1898) in Portsmouth. The location of Florence's birth offers the suggestion that William was actually present in Portsmouth at the time.
At the 1901 Census the family were living in Poole, Dorset, whilst in 1911 they were split up - Albert was in a lodging house in Leatherhead (where he declared himself to be single), Rebecca, Frederick and Florence were in Woolwich, William was serving with the army at Meerut in India and Arthur is missing from the records. Albert died in 1912 and at some point over the next few years Rebecca moved back to Portsmouth where she lived at 23 Lombard Street, within sight of the Cathedral.
According to the National Roll, William Gillingham was mobilised in August 1914 which suggests he may have left the army prior to the war only to be called back at the outbreak. The National Roll suggests that he was held back in Britain, possibly as a trainer, until September 1917 when he was posted to France. He took part in many important engagements but was killed during the Retreat in April 1918.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website lists Serjeant WA Gillingham MM (7469), 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, date of death, between 20/04/1918 and 27/04/1918. Awarded the MM. He is buried at Crucifix Corner Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux, (Grave Ref III.E.21.). Son of Rebecca L. Gillingham, of 23, Lombard St., Old Portsmouth, Hants., and the late Albert J. Gillingham.
William Gillingham is remembered on the Portsmouth Cathedral WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X, p87.
William's brother Arthur Gillingham was killed at the Battle of the Somme on 3rd September 1916.
Tim Backhouse
October 2014