Percy Clarence Willday (1897-1915)
Private 312 Plymouth Battalion RN Division
Royal Marine Light Infantry
Clarence Willday was sixteen years old when he enlisted in September 1914. Clarence added three years to his age, which made him eligible for overseas service.
Born on 8th December 1897 in Worcestershire, Percy Clarence Willday, known as Clarence, was baptised on 28th August 1898 in Blockley. His father, Harry Repton Willday, was a farm bailiff and farmer. His mother, Elizabeth Glover, was a farmer’s daughter, originally from Knowle.
Clarence was barely a year old when his father died, aged 47. Elizabeth brought up her children alone, the family moving to 82 Gladstone Road, where Elizabeth let out apartments – Clarence’s three elder sisters almost certainly helped in his upbringing. By 1911 four of the siblings, now grown, lived at 3 Palmerston Road – Clarence was the only one still at school.
On 21st September 1914, Clarence joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in Plymouth. In the Naval Brigades, the function of the Royal Marines was to land first and act as skirmishers ahead of sailors trained as conventional infantry and artillery.
In February 1915, the Plymouth Battalion RMLI sailed for Malta, and then on to the Dardanelles. The first landing at Gallipoli, scheduled for 28th February, was cancelled due to bad weather at sea. After a landing on 4th March in support of an attack on Turkish guns, the battalion was sent to Egypt. On 25th April the Plymouth battalion landed again at Gallipoli along with other invasion forces.
In January 1916, after eight months' fighting, with approximately 250,000 casualties on each side, the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrawn. The campaign was considered a great Ottoman victory. In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the history of the state, a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire retreated. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli, as founder and president.
The campaign is often considered to be the beginning of Australian and New Zealand national consciousness; 25 April, the anniversary of the landings, is known as Anzac Day, the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in the two countries, surpassing Remembrance Day (Armistice Day).
Clarence Willday was one of the half million casualties, killed in action on the 13th June 1915, aged just seventeen. Clarence has no known grave and is commemorated on the Hellas Memorial at Gallipoli.
Clarence’s mother Elizabeth received a pension of 3/- a week, increased to 4/- a week in 1917.