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"We had two great assets which the Germans could not emulate.  The unconquerable spirit of the British who are their best when they are losing and an unfailing sense of humour which can rise above everything else."

                                                                                              General Carton de Wiart


(Henry Arthur Williams)

There are two Forwards on the Riverhead memorial, Henry and John.  They are mysterious - neither appears in the CWGC website and neither appears in the list of war dead.


The answer is that they fought under aliases and they were known to the Army in WW1 as Henry Arthur Williams and John Martin Williams.  The evidence is as follows (and, in any event, this has now been confirmed as correct by a Great Nephew of these two soldiers):


In the list of Soldiers Died in the Great War there is a Henry Arthur Williams who was a Private in the Royal West Kent Regiment ("RWKR").  The CWGC site shows the same soldier and records him as being the son of the late Mrs Frances Williams of Sevenoaks and that he died on 15th November 1914.  Henry Arthur Forward appears on the Memorial as having died in 1914 and in fact the St Mary the Virgin Church Magazine of the time confirms the date of his death as 15th November 1914 - an exact match with the above mentioned Henry Arthur Williams.  Henry Arthur Forward was also recorded in the Church magazine as a Private in the RWKR.  The link to Sevenoaks, the Regiment, the date of death and the two first names all match exactly.    


Gunner John Forward is slightly more difficult.  He appears in the St Mary the Virgin Church Magazine as having died in October 1917.  A Gunner called John Williams of the Royal Horse Artillery ("RHA") does appear on the CWGC site but is shown as being killed on 4th September 1917 - a month earlier than the Church Magazine suggests.  However, the memorial tablet in St Mary's Church ( a photograph of which appears in the tab titled "Riverhead and WW1") must have been produced sometime later than the magazine and at a time when more information was to hand.  The memorial tablet records an exact date of death for John Forward (and shows him as a Gunner in the RHA) as 4th September 1917 - an exact match with John Williams.  The first name, the date of death and the Regiment all match exactly.  The Roll of Honour in St Mary's does correctly record John's age, when he died, as being 24.  The CWGC site incorrectly records his age as being 29 but this is clearly a mistake as his birth certificate records his date of birth as being 28th May 1893.


Further confirmation is to be found in British Army records dated 1901.  It appears that Henry Arthur Forward enlisted for the Army in 1901 (using his real name of Forward at that time).  His short service commission application shows that he was born in 1883.


His application shows his name and address of next of kin as:


                                                    "(Mother) Mrs Williams, Limpsfield Lodge. nr Oxted, Surrey

                                                      (Brother) John Forward             do-------------do-------do   

                                                      (Sister) Lily Forward                  do-------------do-------do"  


His Mother, Frances Williams, was born in 1863 and at her birth was registered as Frances Forward Thompson.  Her Father was a William Forward and her Mother Philadelphia Thompson.  She can be seen on the 1871 census aged 7 and on the 1881 census, aged 17.  Both times she is recorded as Frances Forward.  She was a domestic servant by 1881 still living with her mother in Ticehurst.  Her Father (who does appear with the family on the 1871 census) is not shown on the 1881 census.  By the 1891 census things had changed further:  Frances Thompson Forward (aged 27), Henry Arthur Forward (aged 6) and Lily Emily Forward (aged 3 months) were all inmates of the Union Workhouse in Ticehurst.  John does not appear on that census as he had yet to be born (in 1893).  Two years after John a further sister was born called Kate.  On 3rd March 1902 Frances married a Harry Williams in Limpsfield (they appear on the 1901 census as married but this is clearly incorrect).  


Frances died young in 1906 (she is buried in the churchyard at St Mary's).


Lily Emily Forward would later marry an Edward Sawyer in 1908.  Edward would also fight in the War with the RWKR but, unlike Lily Emily's brothers, he would return to his home.  By the end of the war they had moved from Chipstead Lane to Dunton Green.   They raised their family and spent the rest of their lives in Dunton Green (they are buried in the churchyard at St Mary's, Riverhead).


So, as has now been confirmed by their Great Nephew, the Forwards fought under their Mother's married name "Williams" and they were brothers  (in fact it is likely they were half brothers - their Father(s) do not appear on their birth certificates).


Henry did not fit the Army at all in 1901/2 - almost immediately running into trouble and being convicted on more than one occasion of insubordination for which he went to prison.  He was eventually discharged from the Army in November 1902 as:

                                                                          "Being incorrigible and worthless"


This may explain why when he rejoined the army he did so under a different name.  His Great Nephew places this re-enlistment as having occurred in 1903.  Clearly, his second attempt at the army proved to be better than his first and he would eventually lose his life disproving the assessment from his first attempt.


His brother John left for France on the same day as he did - 15th August 1914 and may have adopted his Mother's name when enlisting into the Army for the same reason.   The brothers were in the regular army when war broke out as they left for France within two weeks of its commencement and both were in Regiments that were part of the regular army (as opposed to the New Army rasied by Lord Kitchener).  


The Royal West Kent Regiment was heavily engaged between landing at Le Havre on 15 August 1914 and the date of Henry Forward's death on 15th November 1914. 


On 11th November the German Army launched its last major offensive of 1914 at Nonne Bosschen on the Ypres salient.

As can be seen from the above link, the German offensive at Nonne Bosschen failed and the era of trench warfare that was to last for the next three years was about to commence.  Henry Forward appears to have survived this battle as his date of death is recorded as 15th November 1914 - four days later.  The battalion diary for the RWKR 1st battalion on 15th November 1914 shows that the battalion was still located at Ypres. It records:

"We were fairly quiet all day.  Lieut. Walker supplementary list Special Reserve Dorset Regiment sent in an excellent rough sketch and report.  He also reported that the enemy were working hard at digging trenches about 300 yards in the rear.

The weather was very cold all day raining and sleeting. 

One man of the reserve company was shot through the head whilst getting [illegible] from a [illegible] just in [illegible] of the reserves.  This looked as if there were enemy snipers inside our position"

That would suggest there was no major engagement that resulted in Henry Forward losing his life - possibly he was the soldier mentioned in the diary, shot by a sniper.  However, the CWGC site records 10 men of the RWKR 1 btn killed on 15th November 1914.  Possibly they were engaged in one of the minor offensives (mentioned in the above link) that followed in the days after the Nonne Bosschen offensive of 11 November.  All but one of those killed on 15th November, including Henry Forward, have no known grave and are commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial.  We may never know the full story.  Below are his commemorative scroll and commemorative plaque.  This records his rank as a Lance Corporal - all other references are to him as a Private.  Immediately below (left and centre) are a pictures of his "14 Star" medal and bar (awarded to all ranks who served with British and Imperial Forces under fire or within range of enemy artillery between the 05.08.1914 and midnight 22/23.11.1914.) Insc:  L - 7314 PTE H. A. WILLIAMS 1/R.W. KENT R.  To the right is his British War Medal with Victory Medal Ribbon attached Insc:  L - 7314 PTE. H. A. WILLIAMS. R. W. KENT.  These pictures have been kindly supplied by his Great Nephew "Tom" Sawyer



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