Just One Man

William Thomas Green


William Thomas Green as PC 75 Green Norwich City Police

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the passing of this Norwich City Police officer.

William Thomas Green joined Norwich City Police on 23rd October 1911 and had given exemplary service.

After war had broken out three Royal Engineer Field Companies were formed by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, John Gordon-Munn M.D., in February 1915. These were the 207th, 208th and 209th Field Companies. They are rightly 3 ‘Pals’ units and evidence shows that many men joined up together to serve in them. The prime example of this is William who joined up with three other police officers from Norwich City Police. The others being Harry Hazel, William Jinks and Herbert James Whitehand. All of them initially served in the 208th Field Company.

We can ascertain this because Norfolk Constabulary records show they all joined up on 7th June 1915 and their service numbers were between 85503 (Jinks) and 85550 (Hazel). Because these service numbers were sequential you can see that their service numbers are just 47 digits apart between William Jinks & Harry Hazel joining up. William Green became Sapper 85542.

The three Norfolk Royal Engineer Companies went on to serve with the 34th Division and by 15th January 1916, the whole of the division were in France. Their first experience of battle was terrible. On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the three brigades of the division were given the task of attacking the heavily defended area in front of La Boiselle and lost 6,811 men killed or wounded between the 1st and 5th July, including 8 senior officers.

The division was taken out of the line and after a brief period of rest and recuperation was put back into the fighting on the Somme. They saw action again between July and August 1916 fighting around Bazentin le Petit and Bazentin le Grand in an effort to capture Intermediate Trench. Sadly their efforts to do that failed

Having been pulled out of that area they then spent the rest of 1916 around Armentieres. In total their casualties up to the end of the year was 733 officers and 15,235 men killed, wounded, missing or sick.

Of this total William Green became sick and contracted trench fever. This was a type of typhus which was contracted from lice that plagued the soldiers in the war. On the louse there lay a bug which has been described as being central between a virus and a bacterium in size named Rickettsia Quintana. This got into the soldier’s body by way of the bloodstream and the symptoms are described thus,

‘There is an incubation period of 8-30 days, a sudden onset with severe headache, myalgia, trunk, leg and, characteristic shin pains. Rigors were common. There was sometimes a short lived maculo-papular pink rash, sometimes lasting only hours. The spleen was usually enlarged. The fever was exceedingly variable, but was usually of a few days, followed by a remission and then relapsed after 5-6 days. Relapses were single or multiple, up to 12 relapses every 5 or 6 days were not uncommon!’

From Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the AIF by Dr M.G. Miller


William’s grave in Earlham Cemetery.

Death would generally come in the later stages of the illness and was generally due to heart failure. Sadly it was a condition that a lot of men never recovered from. William died at St John’s Hospital in Southport on 18th November 1916. He was 27 and the son of Louisa Emma Green of 19 Bishop Bridge Road in Norwich, and the late Daniel Thomas Green. His CWGC listing notes he was formerly a constable in Norwich Police Force.

The Battle of the Somme officially ended the day after William died when the subsidiary Battle of the Ancre finished with the first snowfall and is recognised as being the end date in the Official History of the Great War.

William was just one man who now lies in Earlham Cemetery who had served on the Somme from the opening of the battle and is, to me, an unsung hero.

He probably did not think that. He certainly would not have thought that when he was dying. But I do think it. He volunteered, he could have stayed in a reserved occupation, but he didn’t. So to me he is an unsung hero.

So perhaps, if you get a chance, you could go and visit this unsung hero and say hello.




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