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William Hughf (1889-1918)

Bishop Middleham born man fought with AIF killed in action near Amiens

From the distance of 100 years, it is hard to understand the level of patriotism which would drive a man to volunteer to serve in a war on the other side of the world, especially when your young wife is suffering from the recent death of a child and is again pregnant. Yet, this is exactly what William Hughf did in 1916 when he enlisted as a private in the 4th Pioneer Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

William was born in Bishop Middleham in May 1889; the second child of John Burdon Hughf and his wife, Sarah Anne (nee Millett), from Callington, Cornwall. John was an agricultural labourer born in Aycliffe and he moved his growing family around the villages of County Durham and Yorkshire as he sought work on different farms.

As a young man, William decided to leave his family behind and emigrate to Australia, and settled in Brisbane, Queensland (QLD). There he met a young Scottish girl, Marion (sometimes Marie) Durward, who had emigrated with a friend in 1911, and on 14 December 1914, the young couple married. Ten months later, their first daughter, Dorothy Marion was born, only to die on 30 January 1916, aged just four months. Marion soon found she was pregnant again, with another daughter, Hilda May, who arrived on 22 December 1916.

In the meantime, William had enlisted as a private in the AIF on 5 June 1916, in Brisbane. His attestation papers record that he was 27 years old, 5’10” tall, with blue eyes and fair hair. At some point he must have suffered a serious accident as both legs were covered in scars, from the tops of his thighs, right down to his calves. He had already been rejected once from the army due to varicose veins but now was classed as fit for active service. Before Hilda was born, William was sent abroad, embarking for Europe from Brisbane on the “Kyarra” on 17 November. He was never to know his new baby.

William arrived in England early in 1917 and found himself in trouble soon afterwards when he was recorded as absent without leave from the military camp at Sutton Mandeville from 1 March until 10pm on the 3rd. He was dealt with harshly, receiving a sentence of seven days’ Field Punishment Number 2, as well as being docked 10 days’ pay (£2 10/-).

There were two categories of Field Punishment:
Number 1 consisted of heavy labouring duties, possibly being restrained in hand cuffs or fetters: being tied to a post or wheel for up to two hours at a time.
Number 2 differed only in that the offender was not liable to be chained to a fixed object.

William spent much of 1917 moving between army camps in Southern England. He finally left for France on 22 January 1918 and was taken on strength of the 4th Pioneer Unit on 2 February. His unit was attached to the Australian Fourth Division and was tasked with digging trenches: labouring, constructing strong points and light railways, and undertaking battlefield clearance, as well as being expected to fight alongside the infantry when the need arose.

With the 4th Pioneers, William would have seen much of the fighting of 1918 around Arras and in the Somme Valley. By July, he was on active duty near Amiens when on the 15th, he came under fire and was badly wounded when a piece of shrapnel pierced his tin hat. He was carried to the nearest casualty clearing station of the 10th Australian Field Ambulance at Les Alencons, but nothing could be done for him and he died of a fractured skull at 9.15 that night. William was buried in the St Pierre Military Cemetery near Amiens.

By 8 November, poor Marion back in Brisbane had still not received any details of William’s death nor had his personal possessions been returned to her. She was forced to write a respectful letter to the Army Records Unit asking that his death certificate be issued because, without this, she was unable to make an insurance claim or get any financial support for herself or her baby daughter.

Marion stayed in Australia and on 25 March 1924 she remarried and became Mrs Charles Sydney Easton.

Civil Parish: Bishop Middleham

Birth date: 1889

Death date: 15-Jul-1918

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Old Pit, Witton Park (ecclesiastical and civil parish of Witton-le-Wear 1891 census)
Ayr, Herbert, Queensland, Australia (1913-14 electoral rolls)
Paris Street, West End, South Brisbane (1916 attestation papers)

Employment: Labourer, cab proprietor

Family: Parents: John Burdon Hughf (1857-1922), Sarah Anne Hughf (nee Millett) (1861-1935)
Siblings: Mary Elizabeth Hughf (b 1888 in Marske), Ernest Hughf (b 1892-1965 Shildon), Alfred Hughf (b 1894-1964 Aldbrough, Yorkshire)
Wife: Marion Hughf (nee Durward b 1890 in Partick, Lanarkshire) married 14-Dec-1914
Children: Dorothy Marion Hughf (25-Sep-1915 – 30-Jan-1916), Hilda May Hughf (b 22-Dec-1916)

Military service:

Service Number 3114
4th Pioneer Battalion, AIF. Enlisted in Brisbane 05-0Jun-1916, killed in action 15-Jul-1918

Medal(s): British War Medal
Victory Medal

Gender: Male

Contributed by Kelloe Visitor, Trimdon Station

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