William Thomas Baxter was born in Strood in the summer of 1888. In 1891 he was living in Strood with his father (also William Thomas) and mother, Mary Ann, his younger brother, Edward, who was four months, and a nine year old cousin. William Senior was a wharf labourer.
Ten years later the family had moved to 65, High Street, Strood. Edward had died, aged 4 in 1895 but William had three new, younger siblings, Sidney, Daisy and Charles. His father was now working as a fisherman’s labourer.
In the 1911 census the Baxter family can be found at 6 Taylor’s Lane, Strood, which was near Rochester Bridge. By this time William Junior was aged 22, unmarried and working as a plumber. His skill would have made him an attractive recruit for the Royal Engineers (RE) which was the regiment he joined as a volunteer, probably in 1914. By the time of the 1911 census William’s 45-year-old mother had given birth to thirteen children, but only nine had survived. The household contained all nine living children at the time of the census. Sidney Baxter, now aged eighteen, was a gun-maker’s assistant, and the other family members’ ages ranged from twelve years to one month. Their father was now described as a fisherman.
In 1913 William Junior married Clara Alice Coomber. Clara was born in 1892 and in 1901 was living with her mother, Eliza at 24, Gun Lane, Strood, a short distance from William’s childhood homes. Eliza was a widow and according to the census worked as a ‘mangler’ (a washerwoman). At the time of the 1901 census Clara was eight years old and had two older brothers, one a crane driver and the other a cement labourer, and two older sisters, one who was a general servant and the other without occupation. Clara also went into domestic service and in 1911 was working as a general servant in Weybridge, Surrey. In 1914 Clara gave birth to a daughter named Dorothy.
William was a Pioneer (Private) in the 90th Field Company of the Royal Engineers and his service number was 63421. The 90th field company was part of Kitchener’s new, expanded army raised in 1914-15 which was technically part of the regular army. William was on active service by 1 August 1915. In 1916 the 9th (Scottish) division of which William’s field company fought on the Somme. It was here, in the opening phase of the battle, that he was killed in action on 3 July 1916. He was buried in the Quarry Cemetery, Montauban, which is ten kilometres from the town of Albert. He was posthumously awarded the British, Victory and star medals.
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915
1891 England Census Class: RG12; Piece: 653; Folio: 138; Page: 48; GSU roll: 6095763
1901 England Census Class: RG13; Piece: 720; Folio: 117; Page: 11; Class: RG13; Piece: 721; Folio: 106; Page: 10
1911 England Census Class: RG14; Piece: 3871; Schedule Number: 7; Class: RG14; Piece: 2991; Schedule Number: 141
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 [database on-line].
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line].