"The part of the line I was on was just fifteen yards from the German line. We were so near that every morning a German used to shout to me, "Hello Tommy!" and I would reply, "Good Morning Fritz!"
British Corporal Frederick Francis
(John Martin Venn Williams)
Please see Henry Arthur Forward where details are given of the two Forwards, their use of the alias "Williams" and the fact that they were brothers (in fact it is likely they were half brothers - their Father(s) do not appear on their birth certificates). John's full name was John Martin Venn Williams.
John ("Jack") Forward arrived in France on 15th August 1914. Above is a copy of a postcard sent by him from somewhere in France in 1916 showing him with three colleagues. John is seated in the front row on the right with his hands folded. Below are further photographs of John during his military career and a photograph of his memorial plaque. All of these have been kindly supplied by his Great Nephew, "Tom" Sawyer. Like his (half) brother he was a member of the regular army at the outbreak of WW1 and was one of the first troops to arrive in France. His Great Nephew believes that he probably enlisted in 1911 (when he was 18) but that cannot be established with certainty. The earliest firm evidence is an army certificate of education issued on 23 October 1913 at Dublin District Barracks. The CWGC site records that, at the date of his death, he was married to Mary Jane Williams (nee Saville) of 7 Pinders Road, Clive Vale, Hastings. They were married while he was on leave in 1916. She had already been widowed once by the War and was to be widowed again on John's death (she would eventually marry again, in 1921, to an Ernest Todd and then emigrate to Sydney, Australia in 1926 with her husband, their three year old son (also Ernest) and her 16 year old son, Frank Saville, from her first marriage. Mary and Frank (then about 6/7 years of age in 1916/1917) are pictured with John below).
There is an entry on what appears to be an admissions list for a military hospital (the date is missing) - it lists John's unit as E Battery, 3rd Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery. 3rd Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery was one of the first units to arrive in France in 1914 and E Battery is reputed to have fired the first shot in anger. Later it was assigned to the 5th Cavalry Brigade of the 2nd Cavalry Division and it remained there for the rest of the War. His record says 'NYD slt.' - Not yet diagnosed, slight. His Great Nephew recalls his Grandmother (John's sister) saying that John had been lightly wounded and was stretchered away with a cigarette in hand, joking and giving the "thumbs up". The wound was, however, to cost him his life when it turned gangrenous.
In this way John died "of his wounds" in a military hospital in Etaples on 4th September 1917. Almost nothing of his service can be located as the records were destroyed by enemy action in WW2.
The ribbon sewn to the back of the British War Medal ribbon, which is actually attached to the Inter Allied Victory Medal, is that of the Russian Imperial Order of St George. During the First World War, Russian soldiers would receive the Cross of St George, awarded in four Classes; the most common was the 4th Class - over a million awarded between 1912-17. The inscription on this medal reads 62660 GNR. J. WILLIAMS. R. A.
During WW1 there was a regular exchange of medals between the Allies on a reciprocal basis. It can be difficult to track down precisely what they were given for, but all had to be listed in the London Gazette in order for "permission to wear" to be recognised. In many cases, soldiers were given foreign awards almost on a quota basis to recognise service short of a British award; many family legends have sprung up about service rendered to the bestowing nation when in truth they were distributed from British headquarters in the great majority of cases. Although British soldiers and NCOs were awarded the Cross in various grades, more were given the Medal of St George.