William Goss Hicks

Second Lieutenant William Goss Hicks of the Royal Garrison Artillery 260th Siege Battery, died of wounds in France, aged 35, on 3rd July 1917, and is buried at Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, in plot 11, Row A, Grave 16.

Early Life

Photograph property of Jane Churchill, permission requested

William was born in the spring or early summer of 1882, to William and Mary Goss Hicks, in Hammersmith, Middlesex. William was the eldest child of three who were to be born in the family. By the census of 1891 the family had moved to 9, Chipstead Lane, Sevenoaks, Kent. William’s father was a butler who had previously worked at Eton College and may now have been working at Knole House. William (9) had a younger sister, Winifred Mary (3). William was a student at Lady Boswell’s School, which was at that time situated on the London Road. By the 1901 census the family had moved to 1, Surrey Villas, Sevenoaks. William senior was recorded as the butler employed at Knole by Lord Sackville but was not listed as living in the family home at the time the census was recorded. In his time as butler at Knole, William would have served both Lionel Sackville-West, 2nd Baron Sackville, and the 3rd Baron Sackville, also called Lionel. William senior was mentioned in a book about Knole commenting that Victoria (the mother of Vita Sackville-West the poet, novelist and garden designer) ‘had some twenty-four servants working in the house.  At the top of the hierarchy were the butler, Mr Hicks, and the housekeeper, Mrs Knox; at the bottom were the footmen, laundrymaids and the housemaids.’

Mary was still described as married, but as the head of the household. Knole, situated in the 1,000 acre Knole Park, Sevenoaks, was one of the largest houses in England, at one time reputed to have 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. It has been suggested that this was a calendar house but there is no evidence that it was designed as such and there had been many alterations over the years.

William, known as Bill, was employed as a school teacher at Lady Boswell’s School, having started in that position in 1898, and there was now another younger sister, Dorothy Edith (3).

By the census of 1911 the family had moved to 8, High Street, Sevenoaks, a nine roomed house. Mary was still the head of the household and still described as married, William was employed by Kent Education Council as a teacher and Winifred was also now a teacher. The youngest child Dorothy was a draper’s assistant. 1911 was the first time that the census form was filled out by the individual families rather than by an official recorder. It is interesting to note that although Mary was head of the household and as such hers was the responsibility to fill in the return, it was actually Winifred who completed and signed the census on behalf of her mother.  William senior has not been found on a census record for 1911, nor has his employer Lord Sackville, it is possible that they were abroad on that date, but the main house is missing from the census returns which suggests that no one was in residence.

A Career in Teaching

The census in 1901 tells us that William had already started on his teaching career by the age of 19. Two years later he began his certification course at Winchester Diocesan Training College.

He had several years of teaching experience, as an assistant teacher, behind him by the time he signed the register at Winchester in 1903. The College magazine , The Wintonian, gives some idea of the interests and social activities of the students in their time at College. In the 1903-1904 edition William is mentioned as one of the organisers of the farewell concert for the leaving senior students. He was responsible for organising the programme as well as singing in the concert.  In November 1904 William won a prize in the Battalion Firing Competition. All of the students were enrolled in the College Volunteer Force very soon after they arrived. Military drills and manoeuvres as well as shooting practice were an integral part of their training. In the magazine of 1904-1906 which covered William’s final year, he was again reported for his singing, this time of two folk songs in a concert of English Folk Songs.  Spanish Ladies, one of his offerings, was a traditional sea shanty and is the story of British Navy men sailing north from Spain along the English Channel.

At the end of his college course William was placed 10th in his year in his exam results. He had his best results in General Science, Geometry and Arithmetic, as well as scoring full marks in his Music exam.

Winchester Training College photograph courtesy of Alwyn Ladell


We learn about William’s early teaching appointments from articles in the local paper, The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, from Friday 9th October 1908, written at the time of his appointment to Lady Boswell’s School, reports:

Mr W.G. Hicks has been appointed assistant master at the Lady Boswell’s Boys School, out of about sixty candidates for the post. He was formerly pupil teacher there, leaving five years ago to go to Winchester Training College, where he gained his certificate. Since then he has been an assistant master at Tunbridge Wells and Bromley.

It has not yet been established which school in Tunbridge Wells employed William for his first teaching appointment on leaving college. An obituary written by the Rev. J. Rooker tells us that:

When I first came across him he was a teacher in the Church Schools at Bromley, returning to his home in Sevenoaks for the week-ends. He came and helped us here in the choir and also in the Sunday School.  I was struck by his bright, open manner, and when the second mastership at Lady Boswell’s Boys’ School fell vacant I suggested to the Managers that he would fill the vacancy well.

As William took up his post at Lady Boswell’s school, another of our Fallen, Charles Erwood, was leaving the school, where, like William, he had been a pupil teacher. It is quite possible that the two of them had met as William was a frequent visitor in Sevenoaks. Perhaps it was at William’s suggestion that Charles applied to Winchester Training College to study for his professional qualification.

In 1913 he was appointed as the Headteacher and was involved in many activities within the community, including singing in the Church Choir, helping with the Sunday School, establishing a rifle range for the boys and bringing the new Scouting movement to Sevenoaks.  In 1909 he had founded the 1st Sevenoaks Scout Group, known as the Hick’s Own Scout Group, which is still in existence today. William was known as a strict disciplinarian but one who rarely needed to resort to the use of corporal punishment. William was engaged to Miss Jessie Ellman, the daughter of a local ironmonger. Jessie became involved in one of the temporary hospitals that were set up to handle the influx of wounded soldiers returning from the Western Front. It is not clear whether she was involved in setting up the temporary hospital, as well as  nursing the returning wounded soldiers. Red Cross classes were arranged to train young women to treat the wounded.


St Nicholas, Church, Sevenoaks

William’s contribution to the Church choir was particularly appreciated by the Rev. Rooker:

In the church he was a great help. He brought an excellent spirit into the choir, and his voice was a distinct gain. He never put himself forward, but his fine singing naturally made him prominent. No one who heard him sing such an anthem as Honour the Lord with thy substance could fail to enjoy the richness of feeling he put into it, and the beautiful refrain now seems specially appropriate, The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath thee are the everlasting arms.

The Outbreak of War

William enlisted on the 23rd November 1915. It is apparent from a newspaper report in The Sevenoaks Chronicle, published after his death, that he had been persuaded by the Rector of his Church, not to enlist at the outbreak of war.
When the war broke out he was in some doubt as to his duty. It was at my request he waited, for I put it to him that while many could fight, few could teach. The need of the school was just then I thought, his greatest call. But as the war went on he felt he must go and it was plainly his duty. He joined the RFA and had rough times but was always cheery. When he came home there were no complaints, but he was full of fun about his adventures.

The grounds of Knole House were used for a military camp and training ground for the war years and perhaps William did some of his training there. In 1916 the Kent Messenger reported that before the war there had been 71 employees at Knole, but it was now reduced to 52. The paper noted that when Lord Derby introduced his scheme to attempt to boost recruitment, Lady Sackville encouraged all her employees to attest and that all within the age range did so. Later though she wrote to Lord Kitchener:

I think perhaps you do not realise Lord K, that we employ five carpenters and four painters and two blacksmiths and two footmen and you are taking them all from us.

William Goss Hicks on the right. Photograph from Jane Churchill, permission requested

William’s Medal Card shows that he originally enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery at the rank of Gunner, his Regimental number being 140133. Below that are the initials KOSB  showing he later transferred to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers 1. No dates for this transfer have yet been found, nor was there any evidence in his military records at the National Archives to suggest that this ever happened. The RHA was responsible for light, mobile guns that provided firepower in support of cavalry. It was the senior arm of the artillery but the one that developed least during the course of the war, presumably as the relevance of the cavalry in modern warfare waned.  He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 4th April 1916 and transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery 260th Siege Battery. The Battery was equipped with 6-inch Howitzers. Shortly after his promotion he was sent to France.

The  Rector of St Nicholas’ Church, as reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, pays tribute to the character of William: ‘Mr Hicks as he always was, bright, alert and cheery, with a breezy swinging carriage, he moved about his boys and friends as one who rejoiced in life, and wanted others to share his joy.’

There is little doubt that William was a popular character in Sevenoaks; on his last leave home he was spotted by some of his former Scouts and pupils who carried him shoulder high through the town. Commenting on the nature of his letters the Rector said that they were ‘still buoyant and hopeful—even when he got up to the line.’


The War Diary of the Siege Battery tells us where William was in the months leading up to his death. 

12th February 1917:          Battery disembarked at Le Havre and proceded to No.1 Rest Camp. [William is listed among the Battery Officers.]

15th February 1917:          Entrain for Doullens

16th February 1917:          Detrain at Rest Camp

17th February 1917:          Proceeded to Beaumetz-les-Loges

9th March 1917:                 Battery takes up position SW of Dainville

18th March 1917:               Battery takes up position behind the Citadel west of Arras

13th April 1917:                   Proceeded to Neuville Vitasse

14th April 1917:                   Arrived at Neuville Vitasse

27th April 1917:                   Guns moved to forward position near St. Martin sur Cojeul

21st June 1917:                   Battery moved to Estrée-Caycgue

24th June 1917:                  Battery took up positions at Souchez, near Cote de Caumont

According to the War Diary of the 260th Siege Battery, he was at Cote de Caumont on the 2nd July 1917, when he was fatally wounded.

Cote de Caumont 2nd July 17 2:30pm Shell fire fell in battery position. Casualties, killed 3 gunners, wounded 2Lieut WG Hicks, one serjt and four gunners.

Cote de Caumont 3 July 17 4:40pm Lieut WG Hicks died of wounds

The article in the Sevenoaks Chronicle gives us a more detailed account of how William died.

‘Lieutenant Hicks was in charge of the battery on Monday 2nd July. A German shell came over and struck him. He was removed to the clearing station but the loss of blood was great. Transfusion was tried and it is witness to his popularity that many men offered to give their blood to him. The operation was tried and he seemed to rally. It was only temporary, however, and about mid-day on the Tuesday he began to collapse and died about half past four. He knew he was dying but was quite happy. He left messages for those he loved and thanked all who had been kind to him, and passed away smiling.’

News of what happened to William was passed to his family by telegram. The first informed them that he had been dangerously wounded and was being treated at a casualty clearing station. The second telegram arrived soon afterwards informing them of his death. The Chaplain who had been in the clearing station 2 wrote to his parents, He was amazingly brave and smiling quite up to the last.’

Photograph by Peter Lidgitt and Pat Naylor

William had not made a will. His father had to request a death certificate in order to apply for letters of administration. That would then enable him to settle William’s affairs.  The Death Certificate was sent on 10th August 1917 with the Letters of Administration granted the following month. The firm of solicitors hired by William’s father were Knocker, Knocker and Co. of Sevenoaks, Kent. One of the tasks they had was to write to the Ministry of War to ask for a certificate that would prove that the deceased was exempt from death duties under the Exemption from Estate Duty (Killed in War) Act 1914. When this was provided it was then sent to the Inland Revenue. Many of the records available at the National Archives are concerned with the processes required to settle the effects of military personnel who died without making a will. William’s effects of £235 12s were finally passed to his father who was living at 114, Sidlescombe Road North, St. Leonards on Sea, Sussex. As well as the money that William had left his father also received two parcels containing the items that William had with him in France.

The first parcel comprised: 1 rule in case, 1 pair scissors, 1 box paints and 3 brushes, 1 pair tweezers, 1 cigarette holder, 1 tube white vaseline, 1 cigarette case, 1 padlock, 1 pipe, 1 stud, 1 box (damaged), 1 shrapnel bullet, 2 pens (damaged), 2 tubes of liver pills, 1 pencil, 3 books of views, 1 rubber, 7 railway tickets, 1 pair compasses, 2 pieces of cord, 1 protractor

The second parcel contained: Letters, 1 purse, 1 penknife, 1 collar stud, 1 tie pin, 9 buttons, 1 cigarette case, 1 pocket book, 2 collar badges, 1 gold ring, 2 keys

William’s address at the time of his death was given as Lady Boswell’s School House, Sevenoaks. In the obituary published in the local paper,  Rev. Rooker commented:

There was much to make life attractive for him. He had a good position, he was engaged to be married, he was thoroughly popular, and he was valued by all who had to work with him His duty called and he obeyed cheerfully. There was no grumbling, but there was an honest radiant character that took life’s ups and downs as part of the days’ work.

Rev. Rooker also mentions the last letter that he received from William:

Tomorrow work, and—well God knows and cares. To him I leave everything. He is good, as I have found out many times.

William is buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, near Bethune, in France. His father received a letter from the War Graves Registration Office with the information: ‘The grave has been registered in this office, and is marked by a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing full particulars.’ The wooden crosses would later be replaced by the gravestones we recognise today.

William is commemorated on the Sevenoaks War Memorial and on the Roll of Honour at St. Nicholas’ Church, Sevenoaks.

(Note: Jane Churchill, a great, great niece of William Goss Hicks, created an art installation commemorating him called Echoes Across the Century which has been displayed in the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.)

Researcher and Author: Dee Sayers

Hicks’ Signature From the Students’ Register photograph by Dee Sayers

Photo, left – The War Penny sent to William’s family  photograph jane Churchill, permission requested

  1. The article in the Sevenoaks Chronicle written after his death states he began his military career in the Royal Field Artillery rather than the Royal Horse Artillery and makes no mention of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. Extra research will be needed to confirm the details.
  2. A Casualty Clearing Station was part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the aid posts and field ambulances. Between May 1916 and October 1917 Barlin Cemetery was used by 6th Casualty Clearing Station at Bruay.
Alwyn Ladell photography. (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alwyn_ladell/sets/72157665876163520/ [Accessed 2018].

Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk [Accessed 2018].

British Newspaper Archive (1908). Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser – Friday 9 October 1908, p.4. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001067/19081009/132/0004 [Accessed 2018].

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at www.cwgc.org/ [Accessed 2018].

ebooksread.com (2018). Creswick, P., Kent’s care for the wounded online. [online] Available at: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/paul-creswick/kents-care-for-the-wounded-ser/page-8-kents-care-for-the-wounded-ser.shtml [Accessed 2018].

Lidgitt, P. and Naylor, P. Cemetery photographs.

The Long Long Trail, (2018). Welcome to the long long trail. [online] Available at: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/ [Accessed 2018].

The National Archives. Lieutenant William Goss HICKS Royal Garrison Artillery, WO 339/68751. London.

National Union of Teachers. (1920). War Record 1914“1919. A Short Account of Duty and Work Accomplished During the War. London: NUT.

Pressreader (2018). Service for a hero who died from wounds 100 years ago. [online] Available at: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/kent-messenger-maidstone/20170803/282913795574035 [Accessed 2018].

Sackville-West, R. (2010). Inheritance. The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles. London: Hogarth Press.

Sevenoaks WWI (2016). Knole at war – stories of the estate workers. [online] Available at: https://sevenoaksww1.org/2016/03/19/knole-at-war-stories-of-the-estate-workers/ [Accessed 2018].

Sevenoaks WWI (2018). Echoes across the century – a memorial for William Goss Hicks. [online] Available at: https://sevenoaksww1.org/2017/06/30/echoes-across-the-century-a-memorial-for-william-goss-hicks/ [Accessed 2018].

Wikipedia (2018). Spanish Ladies. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Ladies [Accessed 2018].

University of Winchester Archive “ Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.