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  • Claire Jordan

"Steel True & Blade Straight"

Big love today goes out to Cpl William Feiling, a Dulwich-born bank clerk who as a teenaged had possessed the splendid title of ‘Boy Copyist for the War Office’.

His Dad Henry Augustus was a stockbroker’s clerk; William was their youngest but there was also Harry, a clerk for the Post Office, and the beautifully-named Marguerite, who at 17 was an earnest pupil-teacher at a school in Tufnell Park.

William’s Mum Mary sadly died when he was still young; perhaps she went on ahead for her boy.

He must have been one of the earliest volunteers, landing in France in February 1915 with the Cameron Highlanders (a resplendent group of whom are shown above).

On leave before the Big Push on the Somme, he married his sweetheart, 25 year old Elsie Turner Morrell in Islington on 24th June. Days later, he was back across the Channel and in position with his 5th Cameron Highlanders, standing-to.

Their big moment came in the operations at Longueval and Delville Wood on 13th July and these brave men were involved in the heaviest hand-to-hand fighting, tasked with clearing the trenches around Waterlot Farm.

Back in the thick of it in mid-October, they were ordered to capture and hold Snag Trench on the Le Barque Road; with great determination and courage, they managed this, and then held the position against the inevitable German counter-attacks.

Elsie’s William stared down death countless times during these endless days and did not flinch; perhaps it was some comfort to him to know that back home, Elsie was expecting a baby.

Their son John was born mid-April 1917.

By the last year of the War, William was truly a veteran of the trenches and he was granted further leave at the start of 1918. He met his little boy and held his wife again at long last.

On 19th August 1918, with the end now in sight and the enemy finally on the backfoot, William’s 5th Cameron Highlanders were in the line at Hondeghem when they were order to relieve a Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

“Enemy artillery very active during early part of night from 9pm to 11pm,” runs the Battalion war diary, “High Explosives and Gas. Heavy gas concentration put down over our whole front line from 1.30am to 4am.”

An enemy aircraft was reported over the British positions at 5.10am that morning, but William was probably already gone.

The vicious enemy bombardment had claimed him, along with 2nd Lt James Veitch and Privates George Phillips and Alex McQueen. The four brothers-in-arms lie buried side by side at the #CWGC’s La Kreule Military Cemetery at Hazebrouck.

Three months later, on 24th November, Elsie gave birth to their second son. She called him William, after his Dad.

She never remarried and when the time came, she chose the most lovely epitaph for the man of whom she thought the world:

“Steel True & Blade Straight, the Great Artificer Made My Mate”

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