Edward Percy Willis
Private 200631 1st / 5th Battalion
Royal Warwickshire Regiment
On 31st July 1917 Allied forces attacked along the Western Front, near Ypres in Belgium. The subsequent battle, the Third Battle of Ypres, lasted over three months, and there were over half a million casualties.
The name of the village being fought over is engraved in history: Passchendaele.
Historians argue still over the wisdom of the attack. It had been six weeks since the Allied partial success at Messines. Why attack at all when the American Expeditionary Force had not yet arrived? Most of all, why attack then? – it was known that in the region the rains came, without fail, in August. That year, 1917, saw the worst rains for thirty years. Passchendaele and the surrounding fields became a sea of mud.
Throughout the First World War, soldiers who died on the battlefield were, if possible, buried where they fell. Hundreds of thousands of bodies were never found at all. After the Armistice, those who lay in temporary graves or pits were exhumed and reburied in cemeteries. One such body, exhumed from an unmarked grave and identified by his identity disc, was that of Edward Willis, who had been killed in action on 22nd August 1917.
Edward’s body was reburied at Tyne Cot cemetery on 12th September 1919. The page on the reburial register contains fifteen entries, only four of which had been identified.
Edward Willis was born in Birmingham on 16th January 1895. He was baptised at St. Clement, Nechells, on the 10th May 1895. Edward was the eldest of five surviving children of Edward Michael Willis, a blacksmith, and of Lucy Quire, who had been a domestic servant and was the daughter of an agricultural labourer. Both parents were originally from Somerset.
The family moved from Nechells to Saltley, then to 221 Walford Road in Sparkbrook, were young Edward worked as a motor fitter. They later moved to 50, Benton Road.
Edward Willis was 22 years old when he died. The inscription on his grave reads:
“THAT WE MEET AGAIN AT GOD’S APPOINTED HOUR”.