Lieutenant, 'C' Company, 6th (Reserve) Battalion,
Attached 2nd Battalion, The King's Royal Rifle Corps
Killed in Action, Battle of Aubers Ridge, Richebourg-l'Avoué, Pas de Calais, France,
9 May 1915, aged 38
No known grave. Listed on panel 32-33 of Le Touret Memorial

William Woodfall Melville
(Click to enlarge)

William was the son of Robert Melville, died 1 September 1891, County Court Judge for Hereford and Shropshire, and Agnes Melville. He was born at The Grove, in Hartfield, on 2 April 1877. His wife was Violet S. Melville, of Maypool, Galmpton, Brixham, Devon, whom he married in 1910; Violet was the widow of Lieutenant R.J. Jelf, R.E. and daughter of General Sir Richard Harrison, G.C.B., of Ashton Manor, Devon.

In the 1881 census William is recorded at Hartfield as the fifth of eight children of Robert and Agnes, although all his siblings were born in Kensington, London. Robert Melville was described as a practising barrister, for Hereford and Shropshire, born in Sierra Leone, Africa. The Hartfield household also supported a governess, nurse, cook and five servants.

In the 1891 census William, aged 14, and six siblings were recorded as being scholars at Ashford Hall at Ashford Bowdler in Shropshire. Again there was a governess, a private tutor and five servants.

Later that year, in September 1891, William's father, Judge Robert Melville, died. It is noteworthy that the latter is commemorated in a tablet in Hartfield parish church as having been 'primarily responsible for securing, in 1882, the commoners' rights on Ashdown Forest', having played a leading role in the famous Ashdown Forest dispute, 1872-1882. The conclusion of this legal case led to the creation of a board of conservators to regulate and manage the forest.

In the 1901 census William, now aged 23, was living at 8, Argyle Road, Kensington with three sisters and a brother, where he is recorded as a law officer. At the time the census was taken the head of household was not present. Three servants are also listed.

In 1911 William, aged 34, is the head of household at 3, Alfred Place West, Kensington, living with Violet and four servants. He is described as a barrister at law in the Civil Service.

Cap badge of the King's Royal Rifle Corps
(Click to enlarge)

When William volunteered for the army in 1914 his previous occupation was described as a principal clerk in the Chancery Registration Office of the Royal Courts of Justice. He had previously served with the City of London Mounted Infantry Imperial Volunteers during the Second Boer War in 1899. He was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with six clasps. As others, he was given the Freedom of the City of London on his return.

William was killed in action at Richebourg-l'Avoué, St. Vaast, Flanders, on Sunday, 9 May 1915, aged 38, whilst leading the attack on Festubert as part of the Battle of Aubers Ridge. He has no known grave but is listed on panel 32-33 on Le Touret Memorial. The latter commemorates 13,400 British soldiers with no known grave who fell between October 1914 and late September 1915 in this part of the Western Front.

Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais
(Click to enlarge)
(Source: CWGC)

The Battle of Aubers Ridge [1] was a disastrous attack costing 11,000 British casualties for no real gain. An artillery bombardment was aimed at destroying the barbed wire ahead of the German trenches, but many shells fell short, including some on the British lines. When the order to advance was given the situation became chaotic when the wire was found to be unbroken and intense machine gun fire across No Man's Land made any movement impossible. By the time the men were called back the 2nd Kings Rifles had lost 25 per cent of their men, including eleven officers. It was an action supporting a larger French attack known as the 2nd Battle of Artois. William was later awarded the 1915 Star and the British Victory medal.

William left officers' effects to the value of £44 9s. 6d. dealt with in February 1916 by joint executors, Jasper More and Hugh Parker. Final Probate of £1357 10s. 1d. was granted to 3, Alfred Place West.

An obituary to William notes that he was a member of the Caledonian, M.C.C. and Queen's Clubs, was a keen cricketer and football player, and fond of shooting, tennis and all sports.

William is remembered on the Hartfield War Memorial, on the Memorial Cross in Portsmouth Cathedral, and at St. John the Baptist Church, Ashton, Devon (see picture below).

Memorial to William Woodfall Melville,
St. John the Baptist church, Ashton, Devon

(It is incidentally striking that no less than four men who are commemorated on Hartfield War Memorial all died on the same day taking part in the Battle of Aubers Ridge. They are Pte. Frederick Sylvester Edwards, Pte. Thomas Edward Honeysett, Lt. William Woodfall Melville and Pte. Doctor Wheatley.)

Kevin Tillett

1)  For more information about the Battle of Aubers Ridge and the involvement of the Royal Sussex Regiment see
The Long Long Trail: The Battle of Aubers and 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment War Diary covering the Battle of Aubers Ridge (9th May 1915). [^]