William Henry Parrish, born on the 17th of August 1897 in Wanstead, Essex, was the eldest son of ten children. His parents, Elizabeth Emily Parrish (nee Saunders) married William Parrish, a labourer, in June 1896 at The Parish Church of Leyton.1 Unfortunately, William’s father died in 1909, meaning his son William was left with the responsibility of looking after his family. William Henry enlisted in Stratford in 1915 at the age of 19 and was sent to join the 7th battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, where he was eventually sent to France.
In the years following her husband’s death, Elizabeth worked as a cleaner and ‘spinster’ to help support her family. Information passed on through the family, describe her as quite strict with her children. According to census records, her eldest daughter, Lily Elizabeth, was working in domestic service at around fourteen years old, although that was not uncommon. Rumour also has it, that Elizabeth had a pet duck who would follow her around everywhere including to work.
Shortly after William enlisted, he received a letter from John Walter Metson (although he called himself Roy), who was based in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The letter is part of the museum’s collection and reads:
Just a line to thank you for your cigarette and letter [which] I received quite safe. Hoping this will find you in the best of health and spirits, I am getting on fine myself. I have not seen any of your Regt out. Well in fair we are not all owed to tell anybody where [our] Reg t is, I wish I were you [illegible] a bit more for my King and country so I must, else my [illegible] hoping to hear from you soon. I hope by the time you have finish your training at home this will be all over. They say the Germans have only got a caretaker and his old woman in their trench I’ve [illegible] I don’t believe that [illegible] now conclude wishing you the best of luck from your old chum,
Roy . Germany.’
Roy initially enlisted with the 9th Battalion, Essex Regiment and had lived at 37 Cowley Road, which was close to William who lived at 61 Cowley Road according to the 1901 census. Census information also reveals that William’s Mother had lived in the road since she was a young girl. In July 1916, Roy was authorised to wear and “wound stripe” and was unfortunately, killed was in action on the 18th of October, 1916 aged 22.2
Cornwall’s Regimental Museum holds one of William’s personal military diaries which describes his profession as fishmonger; being 5ft 3” and having a mole on his front right thigh. Tragically, on the 5th of April 1916, William Parrish was killed. The war diary, kept at Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, describes him as having died of wounds.
Around the same time, William’s uncle – Nathaniel Saunders arrived on the Western Front after also enlisting in Stratford. He became a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and, from this picture, is believed to wear the ‘Farrier’s Proficiency Badge on his right sleeve’.3 Nathaniel was killed in action on the 30th November 1917 in Cambrai at the age of 27. His body was never recovered.
William’s cousin, John James Parrish also fought in World War 1. He enlisted in roughly 1911 and was a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion Prince of Wales South Lancashire Regiment. Tragically, he was also killed in action on the 25th September 1915, aged 22. Alongside William and Nathaniel, his name is commemorated on the war memorial in Wanstead High Street.4
William Henry Parrish is also commemorated with a grave in Likssentheoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. The headstone is inscribed with the words ‘Until We Meet’ which was chosen by his Mother.5 Elizabeth Parrish had her own photo of his grave and on the back, she’d written the words ‘My dear Will’s grave somewhere in France’. Elizabeth herself died in 1953 from strangulated hernia.
The museum currently holds and displays William Henry Parrish’s first pair of shoes, the letter from his friend Roy and a picture of his Mother, which were all kindly donated by his ancestor Elaine Cave. Their archives include pictures of William in his military uniform, as well as a picture of Nathaniel Saunders.