William was born in St Wenn 1898, the second son of Richard and Lavinia Collet.
The census of 1901 shows William with his mother and father on Pengelly Farm with brothers Harry (aged six) and Richard (aged one) and sister Edith Jane (aged four). Also listed with the family is Charles Henry Buscomb, described as a cattleman aged sixteen.
A third son John Vivian is born in 1909.
The census of 1911 shows the family still farming Pengelly. Harry is now described as a horseman on farm. Janie is carrying out dairy work. William and Richard are at school and John is at home aged one.
According to William’s Great War service records, he enlisted into the army on the 30 March 1916 but was only called up for service on the 16 February 1917.
His records state that he was a horseman on Pengelly Farm which is probably why he joined the Royal Field Artillery. His regimental number was 11304 later changed to 212686. He was posted to No 3 Depot RFA based in Hilsea and trained as a driver.
He was posted to the 14th Reserve Battery as a driver on the 6 June 1917 and then promoted to bombardier (gunner). His battery was part of the 3A Reserve Brigade based in Larkhill which comprised four batteries numbers 13,14,15 and 57. The Brigade went to France on the 1 September 1917. The Royal Artillery was divided into three main arms.The Royal Horse Artillery ( RHA) with light, mobile horse-drawn guns, normally 13 pounders, that provided firepower in support of the cavalry but in practice supplemented the second arm, the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). The RFA was the most numerous arm and was responsible for medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line. The guns being largely horse-drawn were therefore reasonably mobile. The third arm was the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) which was armed with heavy large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front but had immense destructive power.
The 18 pounder field gun was the standard artillery piece and formed the backbone of the RFA. It was produced in large numbers by Armstrong Whitworth and over 10,000 guns were produced between 1903 and 1940. Its calibre and shell weight (18 pounds) were slightly greater than their equivalent in the French and German armies. The gun was generally drawn by a team of six horses and required a crew of five driver/gunners, three actually driving the horses, one man per pair with two men on the limber. The sixth man would normally be the commander of the gun, a sergeant riding his own horse. Each gun was accompanied by a second horse team towing an ammunition wagon and a second limber.
William was both a driver and gunner and being a member of the RFA, he probably was part of the crew of one of these formidable 18 pounder guns.
The family recall one story whilst a battle was raging and guns were being moved at night, William’s Battery came to a crossroad. The soldier in charge wanted to head in one direction but William, with his knowledge of the stars, disagreed and recommended an alternative route having used the stars to calculate their position and direction. Those that followed the soldier in charge all perished but William’s team survived.
On the 13 October 1918, William was wounded in action, receiving a gunshot wound to the shoulder. He was admitted to No 6 Base Hospital in Rouen and then transferred back to ‘Blighty’ to a hospital in Bristol. He was there from 21 October to 20 December 1918. He was demobilised on the 28 February 1919. He would have been entitled to the silver war badge, but it would seem that he was not awarded this medal.
William married Annie D Chapman in 1923. They took over Cristoe Farm. They had two daughters, Margaret born 1925 and Frances born 1927.
William was quite a prankster. A local used to visit the pub with his horse and trap. He returned one night to find his horse one side of a gate with the trap the other side, the shafts poking through the gate but still connected to the harness! Much confusion for the local and much hilarity for William!
The 1939 Register shows the Blake family farming Trekenning Farm. William’s brother Harry is farming Little Skewes. William’s younger brother Richard is farming Pengelly. Youngest brother John is farming Lower Hewas, Ladock with his family including his mother and father.
William’s daughter Margaret married John Weldhen in 1949 and the Weldhens are still at Trekenning, the farm now owned by their son Rundle. Daughter Frances married Melville Roberts in 1960.
William died in 1984 and his wife Annie passed away in 1997.
Thanks to Michelle Blake for the ‘crossroads’ and ‘horse and trap’ stories!