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William Henry Newton WW1

by Jess Gibby | People, World War One

William Henry Newton was born in Colaton Raleigh near Ottery St. Mary on September 21st 1894. By 1911 the family had moved to Higher Holcombe, Teignmouth presumably for work as William was registered as a “cow boy”. He joined the Royal Navy on 11th March 1913, aged 18 years, as a stoker. He was killed in action on the 31st May 1916, aged 21 years, at the Battle of Jutland.

Early Life

William Henry Newton was born in Colaton Raleigh near Ottery St Mary on September 21st 1894. There is a record of his baptism on 18th Oct 1894.

According to the 1901 census he lived with his father Henry Francis Newton who was an agricultural cattle man, born also in Colaton Raleigh,  and his mother Susan Sophia (née Small) who was born in Sidmouth. They were living at this time at 14, Gosford Road, Ottery St. Mary. Their first child Arthur died soon after childbirth. They then had Francis, William and Caroline.

In the 1911 census they had moved to Higher Holcombe, Teignmouth, presumably for work, as his father was still registered as a cattleman. William was 16 years old at this point and was working as a ‘cow boy’ along with his father. Interestingly they have a nephew, Ernest Cordey age 14 years, registered living with them who was born in Middlesex.

Military Experience

William joined the Royal Navy on 11th March 1913 aged 18 years, as a stoker and according to the RN Register of Seamen’s Services he was 5’7″  with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. William’s  Service No was K18439 who served on the ship HMS Defence.

HMS Defence 1907

HMS Defence 1907 Source in public domain This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights

“HMS Defence was the last armoured cruiser built for the Royal Navy. She was stationed in the Mediterranean when the First World War began and participated in the pursuit of the German battle cruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser SMS Breslau. The ship was transferred to the Grand Fleet in January 1915 and remained there for the rest of her career.”[1]

Death and Burial

HMS Defence was sunk on 31 May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the war. Whilst escorting the Grand Fleet, the ship was fired upon by a German battle cruiser and four dreadnoughts which detonated her rear magazine. The fire that resulted from that explosion spread to the ship’s secondary magazines, which exploded in turn. All the crew perished. [1]

William Henry was aged 21 years when he went down with the ship. His body was not recovered for burial and his name is registered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. Plot 16. Memorial ID 13300886. [2]

His mother Susan, who was living at 5, Radway Court, Bishopsteignton at that time, was informed on June 6th 1916.


Susan died 10 years later in 1926. William’s father Henry lived till he was 77 years old and his death is registered in Newton Abbot in 1937.

If you have any further information or photographs of William Newton and /or his family that you would be willing to share please get in touch.