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Remembered Today:

STEEL from Kent: 8 brothers in the war


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I am writing a short biography about two brothers Stephen Joseph and James STEEL commemorated on local war memorials (East Wickham and welling in Kent) for the new website www.ewt.org.uk. According to a local newspaper (1935?), it is said that 8 of the 14 children of James and Maria Steel served in the Great War, although I understand that the youngest was found to be too young for service.

The 2 older sons enlisted both in the QORWKR, William James (born 1886) in the 2nd battalion No L/9017 (he is in India on the 1911 census) and Stephen Joseph (born january 1888) in the 1st Battalion No L/8766 (he is in the barracks in Headley, Hampshire on the 1911 census).

I would like to know what the L means. And also if it is possible to deduct from their respective number that Stephen enlisted before his older brother. Did the numbering apply to the regiment or was there a different numbering for each battalion ? It seems logical to me that the numbers are for the Regiment, with men later dispatched in different battalions, the higher number of William explaining why he was not in the same battalion as his brother, but I am French and not very sure of my military knowledge (either side of the Channel...).

I heard of a website where one can find an approximate date of enlistement using the service number. Stephen entered the war on 15th August 1914 according to his medal card. William entered on the 6th February 1915, but I supposed it depends if your regiment was sent early or not and this does not help.

In case someone would like to pursue this further, here is what the 1935 article tells (Kentish Times) : It started because a Mr H. Rogers, treasurer of the East Wickham and Welling branch of the British Legion, disclosed that he was one of seven brothers who fought in WWI and thought that was a record for the region. But William James Steel, living in Welling, stated that himself and 8 of his brothers served in the war. "He served 12 years in the Army abroad. He was due to retire when the war broke out but had to carry on." (..)

"He was in the 2nd battalion Royal West Kent and served in Persia, Turkey, India and the Dardanelle.> He had many narrow escapes during the war. Once a stray bullet went through his helmet and continued its career. On another occasion a missile struck the rifle he was holding and split it in two." (...)

The brothers who served were as follows, in order of the newspaper [my comment or question between brackets] :

- William James (30) 2nd battalion Royal West kent,

- Joseph [= Stephen] (27) Royal West Kent, wounded at Mons, Wounded twice, later killed.

- Ernest (25) 20th London County Regiment, invalided home from France,

- Edward (24) Royal Field Artillery, serving in France,

- James (21) RFA, in Serbia, Killed in Salonika.

- Norman (19) RFA in France,

- Albert (23) Royal West Kent

- Charles (16) Royal Navy (bought out)... [what does that mean ? He was under age, but "bought" ??]

- John (20) Royal West Kent

At the time of the article the parents were still alive, James Senior being 82.

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Stephen Joseph. Landed in France on 15 Aug 1914 with 1 Battalion,part of 13 Brigade of 5 Division.

Somewhere along the way,probably after a wounding that you mention,he changed to 7 Battalion,a frequent occurrence as once you leave a Battalion and return to fitness you are often drafted to the next needy Battalion as a replacement for their casualties. As you mention that he was wounded more than once he could well have been in other Battalions too,but he finished up being killed whilst with 7 Battalion at the Battle of Arras which ran from 8 to 11 August 1918. He is buried in Beacon Cemetery,Sailly-Laurette in Grave III C 10.

William James. Landed in Asiatic Theatre (5A) on 6 Feb 1915 with 2 Battalion at Mesopotamia and under the command of 12 Indian Brigade. You may have seen that the Battalion was split into two and one half,with 30 Brigade of 6 Indian Division, was besieged at Kut-al-Amara and captured in April 1916. You can read of this in the long Long Trail. The two other Companies ,with 34 Brigade of 15 Indian Division,remained fighting in Mespot to war's end. William was discharged to sickness and a Silver War Badge (No:B91914) on 20 Jan 1919.

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