William Henry Corbett jr – the first non-army man

William Henry Corbett jr was born at Ashtead on 4 August 1897. His father, also William Henry Corbett, was also a ringer at Ashtead. This makes it quite hard to determine which of them is actually the one meant in many peal reports and similar. He is listed on the original roll of honour as H W Corbett jr, suggesting that he was known as Henry or Harry. So far just one peal report has been found which lists Harry W Corbett as a ringer, rung at Ashtead on 4 August 1919. Unfortunately his service record suggests that he was actually serving in the Army of Occupation in Constantinople at the time! To further confuse matters, there are reports that simply list Henry Corbett among the ringers, but there were other Corbetts in the village one, Fred, was killed in the war, and the CWGC details list his father as Henry Corbett. I’ve not quite managed to confirm the relationships, but the ages suggest that that Henry could have been father of William Henry Corbett sr, and grandfather of William Henry Corbett jr.

By the time he signed up with the Royal Marine Artillery on 17 December 1915 he had followed his father in the garden trade, the father is recorded as a gardener domestic in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. He joined up in London on 17 December, signing up for a full regular enlistment of 12 years, rather than just joining up for the duration of the war. He seems to have spent a considerable time training at the RMA base at Eastney barracks, Portsmouth – he was not posted to a ship until 26 June 1917, when he was sent to join the armoured cruiser HMS Achilles attached to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. In August 1917 Achilles was detached to join the North America & West Indies station to serve in convoy escorts. In early 1918 she returned home to refit, although she was in the dockyard Corbett initially seems to have remained on her books, not formally posted back to Eastney until 1 February 1919 (by which time Achilles had become a training ship). Though the war was over, as a regular Corbett would soon be posted elsewhere, in April he sailed for the Aegean to join the Royal Marine Garrison based on Moudros. From there he was posted to the occupying forces in Constantinople. After a brief hospitalisation with synovitis of the right knee in mid-August he was posted home in November 1919. From 1920 to 1924 he served aboard HMS Warspite. From 1924 to 1926 he was aboard HMS Repulse, this period included taking the Prince of Wales on a royal tour of South Africa. His final ship, in 1927, was HMS Ramillies. Having completed his 12-year enlistment, he was discharged on 16 December 1927. His service record suggests he would return home to Ashtead, so far no trace of further ringing has been found, nor any other evidence as to what he did for the rest of his life.

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