William was not born nor was resident in Dartmouth itself but came from a family who were well-known in the district. His death and memorial service, including a fairly detailed account of his life and career, was reported in some detail in the Dartmouth Chronicle. He is therefore included on our database, though he does not appear on the town's memorials.
William's experiences at the First Battle of Ypres may be compared with those of Arthur Henry Rosdew Burn, another young officer on our database, who joined the British front line just a little further to the south, and died four days after William.
William was born on April 20th 1891 at Higher Coltscombe Farm, Slapton, Devon. He was the only child of William Bastard and his wife Helen Adkins.
William Bastard senior described himself in the 1911 Census as "Yeoman", even then a somewhat archaic term. He was a substantial landowner - the 1873 Land Tax Records show that he owned over 500 acres of land in Devon and also 30 acres in Somerset - and also a successful farmer, frequently exhibiting his animals at shows (such as the Dartmouth Fat Stock Show) and winning prizes for them.
He and his son were respectively the fifth and sixth generation of that name to live and farm at Coltscombe, Slapton, and the family are recorded in the Slapton parish registers and other documents from at least the seventeenth century.
William's mother, Helen Adkins, was the second eldest daughter of Joshua Edward Adkins, general practitioner and member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who lived and worked in Yealmpton, Devon, for all his professional life. He was the son of Sergeant James Adkins, Royal Marines. One of Helen's older brothers, George, followed his father into the medical profession, and became the first County Medical Officer of Health in Devon in 1908.
William Bastard junior was first educated in Plymouth, where he attended "Miss Tubb's preparatory school for the sons of gentlemen", now Mount House School. According to the school history, Miss Tubbs always wore black and had a cane nicknamed "Red Demon", which was in fact a hairbrush (it is not recorded whether William experienced it).
From there William went in 1905 to Blundell's, in Tiverton, where evidently he became interested in a military career, as he joined the Cadet Corps there. According to his biography in "The Bond of Sacrifice", he did well, winning the "Spurway" medal and the Devon County Shield for shooting.
During William's time at Blundells, the Cadet Corps became part of the Officer Training Corps. As part of wide-ranging reform of the British Army, Richard Haldane (Secretary of State for War) created the OTC in 1908 to increase the supply of skilled officers to the Army in the event of mobilisation. Existing school Cadet Corps and university Rifle Corps, which had been formed and run locally as part of the Volunteer movement, were reorganised into a single Corps, run and supported by the War Office. Contingents of the "Senior Division" were established in universities and of the "Junior Division" in public schools. By 1910, the year in which William left Blundells and went up to Exeter College, Oxford, there were 19 contingents in universities and 152 in schools, including Blundells.
William was one of about fifty freshmen coming up to Exeter College each year in the period before the war. Reflecting its medieval foundation by a Devonian, the College had a long tradition of drawing its members from the West Country and of the 482 coming up in the ten years between 1901 and 1911, 42 had been born in Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.
Befitting William's military ambitions, he studied military science as a specialist subject and joined the Officer Training Corps. According to the Oxford University Roll of Service, published in 1920, the eight or nine years before the Great War had seen an intensification of military activity in the university. "Commissions in the Army were brought within reach of graduates. Military History was given a recognised position among University studies. A Delegacy was appointed to superintend the instruction of Army candidates, and the University contingent of the Officer Training Corps grew and flourished. In place of the handful of volunteers who in the mid-Victorian era were regarded by their undergraduate fellows as a body of eccentrics, addicted to an unusual form of sport, the University, a year before the war, turned out, for review by Lord French, some twelve hundred Officer Cadets, very much in earnest". This was about a third of the undergraduate population - and would have included William himself, as he graduated in 1913.
OUOTC members attended drills in the university parks and college gardens; went on field days; practiced rifle and revolver shooting and competed against college teams; attended lectures on war tactics, map reading, engineering, and topography; participated in manouevres of regular regiments, and went on a compulsory annual summer camp. William was successful, and on 10th July 1912, he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on the Unattached List for the Territorial Force.
Three months later, in October 1912, his father died, so William inherited the estate as the sole heir, becoming a man of some consequence in the district. However, this did not deflect him from his plans for a military career. The farm was let to a tenant (a Mr A Cole, who had worked for his father) and his father's prize-winning stock was sold (much of it to Mr Cole). His mother moved to another property in the village, Oakhill.
In 1913 William obtained his BA, and a couple of months later, he achieved his ambition to enter the Army. As a University Candidate, he was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment on 20th August 1913 (published London Gazette 19th August 1913). The date of appointment, and hence his seniority, was subsequently antedated to 19th January 1912 (though without pay and allowances).
In 1913 the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment was in South Africa at the military base of Roberts Heights near Pretoria (now called Thaba Tshwane). William joined them there in November. They were still in South Africa when war was declared, and mobilised at Roberts Heights on 10th August 1914 to return immediately to England, "in a convoy of steamers escorted by two cruisers", according to the Battalion War Diary. They landed at Southampton on 19th September 1914 and went into camp at Lyndhurst, Hampshire, where they formed part of 21st Infantry Brigade, in the 7th Division. William had done well during his first year, and was promoted to Lieutenant (the appointment was dated 15th September 1914, but ranked for seniority from 22nd January 1913 - supplement to the London Gazette of 29th September 1914).
The 7th Division was formed during September and early October 1914 by bringing together regular army units which had been serving across the British empire. They assembled in the New Forest prior to crossing to Belgium, wherethey were originally planned to assist in the defence of Antwerp. However, by the time they arrived at Zeebrugge (the Bedfordshires arrived on 7th October) Antwerp was already falling. The Bedfordshires were therefore sent to the defence of Ypres.
The British Expeditionary Force held an advanced line running in a circle around the eastern side of the city, from Zonnebeke to Armentières.
"The battle that ensued raged almost continuously from early October, while the British and French were still attempting to push forward around what they thought was the German flank, until late November, when both sides accepted the onset of winter and their own exhaustion. Geographically it divided into four:
- a renewed offensive by [the Germans] against the Belgian Army on the coast, nullified by [the Belgians opening long disused lock-gates so as to flood the country]
- an attempt by [the French] to drive north of Ypres toward Ghent ... checked by the German offensive
- the battle of Ypres itself, between the BEF and the [German army, newly reinforced by German volunteers]
- to the south, a defensive battle conducted by the right wing of the BEF against the regular divisions of the German Sixth Army
Fighting on the three latter sectors merged effectively into one battle, so confused was combat and so unrelenting the German effort".
The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion records that they reached Ypres a week after their arrival in Belgium, and on 16th and 17th October were in Gheluvelt, ten kilometres from Menin. The objective then given to the 7th Division was to attack Menin - opposition was expected to be very light and easily dealt with. The Battalion very soon found out that this expectation was quite wrong. Over the next few days they sustained many casualties. The British, at first seeking to take the offensive, found themselves facing an extremely strong attack, but managed to hold the line - just.
On Sunday 18th October, as part of an overall Divisional manoeuvre to face south-east, the Battalion formed up on the road leading from Poezelhoek, just to the north of Gheluvelt, to Becelaire, and advanced towards the Ypres-Menin road. However, as they came over a rise and neared the road, they came under rifle fire, and as they attempted to move on to the road, they came under shrapnel fire, and suffered their first casualties - one officer killed and three wounded, one sergeant and one other ranks killed, 21 other ranks wounded, 2 missing. The Battalion therefore retreated slightly.
The following day, 19th October (which is now generally seen as the first day of the first Battle of Ypres) the attack on Menin was taken forward by the 22nd Brigade, which met with stiff opposition, and had to withdraw. The 21st Brigade covered their withdrawal, and the Battalion was in reserve. They left their trenches and returned to Gheluvelt, being billeted in the village. In front of them (in a position roughly north-east of Gheluvelt) the line was held by the Yorkshire Regiment on their right, the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the centre and the Wiltshire Regiment on the left.
On 20th October, the Battalion was moved up to hold the trenches of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Wiltshire Regiment, while they in turn were supporting a reconnaissance movement by 20th Brigade. The Battalion then returned to the reserve position.
The following afternoon, 21st October, they were ordered to move north to Zonnebeke to reinforce 22nd Brigade which was under attack, and while doing so were heavily shelled. A platoon of D Coy which had reinforced the Royal Scots Fusiliers returned during the night to the Battalion and were shelled. One officer was killed. Later on 22nd October they reached Zonnebeke, and began to reinforce 22nd Brigade, but then once again were ordered back to the reserve trenches in their previous position near Gheluvelt.
On 23rd October C Coy was tasked to go forward to fill a gap between the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Scots Fusiliers, but came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire and so could not hold the position. One officer was killed and there were "heavy casualties" amongst the men. B Coy was then given the job and also came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire but was nonetheless able to hold the position. Two officers were wounded, but B Coy succeeding in consolidating the position during the night.
On 24th October the Battalion, nothwithstanding "desultory" enemy rifle fire, dug in and improved the trenches, holding the position. C Coy was next to the Royal Scots Fusiliers, D Coy was in the middle with A Coy behind them, and B Coy was next to the Yorkshire Regiment.
On 25th October, the Battalion was ordered to support an attack on Becelaire, north-east of Gheluvelt, and held by the Germans. The attack took place late in the afternoon and practically in the dark. According to the Battalion War Diary, the attack required "practically a wheel to the right" and orders had been given that on no account was touch to be lost. In the effort to stay in line with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, C and D Coys of the Battalion lost touch with each other; so the CO ordered B Coy on the other side to halt out of the trenches while touch was re-established. They were subjected to heavy enemy fire, and there were several casualties. But orders were then received that the attack was suspended, so all Companies reoccupied their trenches. The Battalion HQ had been shelled during the day and set alight. By this time, William had been in action eight days.
The Battalion thus began the morning of October 26th in the trenches. During the morning, instructions were received that the Guards Brigade were to attack Becelaire, through the Battalion's line, after which the Battalion were to advance on the Guards right flank. The Guards advanced under heavy shell fire and did not get beyond the Bedfordshire trenches; and during the day the order came that the 1st Scots Guards were to relieve the Battalion, which relief was completed early in the morning of 27th October.
Unfortunately this relief was too late for William. The War Diary states: "10.30am Captain A G Hall was shot by a sniper. Captain W E Wetherall took command of D Coy. Lieut W Bastard was also shot in the same way on this day".
However, according to William's entry in "The Bond of Sacrifice", his death occurred in a slightly different way: "On 26th October he was in the trenches directing the fire of his platoon to help the advance of another battalion, when a German machine gun opened fire and killed him instantly".
Whether by sniper or by machine gun, he was the fifth officer of the Battalion to die since the Battalion had gone into action.
According to information provided to his mother, William was buried by a fellow officer, Captain Thom, at the edge of the wood south of the junction of the road from Gheluvelt with the road to Becelaire. However, as with several of his fellow officers killed at this time, his grave must later have been lost, as he is now remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial, for those with no known grave.
The regiment's Commanding Officer, Colonel Coates, who had been left in England due to illness, wrote to William's mother, Helen, as the Dartmouth Chronicle noted, describing him in the highest terms:
"From the day he joined I recognised that your son was one of the best types of officers - very keen on his work, thoroughly sensible, and willing to take responsibility. I always had him in my eye as being well fitted for the Adjutancy later on. He was very popular with both officers and men, and I can assure you his loss to the Battalion is very, very great."
The entry in "The Bond of Sacrifice" states also that: "his Company Sergeant Major and Quarter-Master Sergeant also wrote expressing the regard which not only his platoon, but the whole of his Company had for this young Officer, who died gallantly, rifle in hand, and who was always solicitous for the welfare of his men, whom he led in battle without fear".
Subsequently, together with many others who had fought at First Ypres, William was mentioned in despatches (Sir John French's despatch of 14th January 1915, published in the London Gazette on 17th February 1915). William's name was misspelt, and a correction was published in the Gazette on Wednesday 7th April 1915.
The Battalion's relief on the day of William's death was short. By the evening of 27th October they were back on the front line, this time south of Gheluvelt, on the road to Zandvoorde. On 29th and 30th October the Germans mounted a major attack on this section of the British line under General von Fabeck, with the express intention of breaking it. Zandvoorde was taken, exposing the 2nd Bedfordshires to very heavy fire, so that they sustained many casualties. During the fighting, in the early hours of 31st October, the Battalion was ordered to hold a "small fir wood" which had been subjected to heavy shell fire the previous day. The War Diary states: "it soon became evident that the enemy were advancing in force on the left of the wood ... and also on the right". The order was given to retire fighting, which was accomplished, but with "very severe" losses, including the acting Commanding Officer, Major J M Traill, and his second in command Major R P Stares. Four other officers were killed and four were wounded.
(The War Diary does not give numbers of other ranks killed or wounded. Soldiers Died in the Great War gives 66 deaths during October 1914 for the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, 35 of which were recorded on 31st October).
However, the Battalion was able to retire to a line which it was able to hold for the next five days, until finally relieved on the evening of 5th November.
31st October 1914 was a day of extremely heavy fighting all along the front and subsequently the date became known as Ypres Day. After the war, blue cornflowers were worn in remembrance of those who had fought and died there.
The Dartmouth Chronicle first reported William's death on 6th November, and then three weeks or so later, on 20th November, reported the Memorial Service held for him in Slapton Church, concluding "His death is deeply regretted in the locality".
In addition to the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, William is commemorated on the Slapton War Memorial, which is in the churchyard of St James, Slapton, where many of his family were baptised, married, or buried.
He is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Exmouth, possibly because this was where his mother was living at the end of the war (she died there in 1919). His uncle, George Adkins, also lived in Exmouth after the war.
In addition, he is commemorated on the First World War Memorial at Blundells School, and on the First World War Memorial Panels in the Ante-Chapel of Exeter College Oxford. During the course of the war, 771 Exeter men saw active service, of whom 141 were killed - about 18% of all those serving. Those who had come up in the years immediately preceding the war, like William, were the most vulnerable. The worst hit cohorts were those of 1911 and 1912 - in the first case, 23 out of 59 were killed, and in the second, 18 out of 53. In William's year, 1910, 32 served, and nine died (both figures include William).
William's death is recorded both on Commonwealth War Graves Commision records and Soldiers Died in the Great War as 27th October 1914. However, the Battalion War Diary clearly records the date of death as 26th October 1914 and this date is reflected in contemporary newspaper reports and biographical records. Our database therefore records his death on that date.
The War Diary of 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment October 1914-December 1915 may be downloaded from the National Archives reference WO 95/1658/2 (fee payable)
The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War: excellent website about the Bedfordshire Regiment, includes biographies of officers who died
The Bond of Sacrifice: A Biographical Record of all British Officers who fell in the Great War, Volume 1, August - December 1914. William Bastard's entry is on page 22 and includes a photograph.
Information on Slapton and Exmouth War Memorials at the Devon Heritage website
Exeter College Oxford Roll of Honour This includes an article entitled "An Infinitesimal Part in Armageddon": Exeter College and the First World War, reprinted from The Exeter College Association Register 1998
John Keegan, The First World War, publ Hutchinson, 1998
Websites quoted above accessed on 21st October 2014.
Information Held on Database
|Military Unit:||2nd Bn Bedfordshire Regiment|
|Date of Death:||26 Oct 1914|
|Age at Death:||23|
|Cause of Death:||Killed in action|
|Action Resulting in Death:||First Battle of Ypres|
|Place of Death:||Near Gheluvelt, Belgium|
|Place of Burial:||Commemorated Menin Gate, Ypres|
|Born or Lived in Dartmouth?||No|
|On Dartmouth War Memorial?||No|
|On St Saviour's Memorials?||No|
|On St Petrox Memorials?||No|
|On Flavel Church Memorials?||No|
|In Longcross Cemetery?||No|
|In St Clement's Churchyard?||No|
|On a Private Memorial?||Yes|
|Name of Private Memorial:||Blundells School, Tiverton, Exeter College, Oxford|
|On Another Memorial?||Yes|
|Name of Other Memorial:||Dartmouth Chronicle Obituary, Slapton War Memorial, Exmouth War Memorial|