William John Board
When the Reverend Cecil Knight became Headmaster of King Edward VI School in April 1914 he had been a Housemaster at Wolverley School in rural Worcestershire beside the meandering River Stour. Moving into the School House in Chapel Lane, he brought with him thirteen boys to board, including Hugh Parfitt Board and his older brother WILLIAM JOHN BOARD, the sons of William Board, a solicitor and Town Clerk, of Mapperley Park in Nottingham. Hugh was to stay at KES but within a few months William was moved to Oundle School in Northamptonshire where he remained until July 1916, joining Dryden House. Winning a place to read Law at University College, Nottingham, he soon joined the University Officers’ Training Corps – where the CO reported ‘Son of the town clerk. Excellent boy, remarkably good at details. Good word of command. Suitable for artillery’ – and was promoted to Sergeant.
William was attested just before his eighteenth birthday on February 14 1917 as a Private in the Army Reserve, applied for a commission on March 13 and was mobilised for service in the Royal Field Artillery (Regular Army) on October 13. He at once joined 3 Royal Field Artillery Cadet School at Weedon in Northamptonshire, where he was considered to be ‘a hard worker and good type’ with a fair military knowledge and average leadership.
After successfully completing the course he passed to Course 255 at the School of Gunnery, at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. Passing out on April 25 1918, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and posted to 5a Reserve Battery in Athlone, County Westmeath.
In October 1915, encouraged by Germany and Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria invaded and quickly established itself in Serbia before Britain and France had time to attempt to prevent it. At the pressing of the Greek government, an Anglo-French expeditionary force landed and established a defensive line from the Aegean Sea east of Salonika, west to Lake Ohrid and the Albanian border. Successive Greek governments were, however, less clear in their intentions, and this led to a long, sterile period. In December 1915 there was a small scale battle, and it was followed in the summer of 1916 by the Bulgarian invasion of Greek territory that was eventually pushed back in October by the British army, that followed up with another attack in April 1917.
At the start of 1918, preparations were made by Britain and her allies to launch a major offensive to end the war in the Balkans. In John Buchan’s book Greenmantle, that was largely based in the Balkans, one of the characters declares that ‘The war must be won or lost in Europe. Yes; but if the East blazes up, our effort will be distracted from Europe and the great coup may fail. The stakes are no less than victory or defeat.’ The Greeks, under new pro-Allied leadership, and with a large re- formed army were ready to play a full part. Their offensive began in July, with the British holding back until early September.
William Board sailed from Southampton on August 7 and arrived at the Greek port of Itea on August 23. Before his attachment to 31 Brigade Royal Horse Artillery at Baisili on September 2, there had been only sporadic artillery exchanges on both sides, with no attacks or even small scale raids. Salonika had been quiet for a long time, so long that a German described it as their greatest internment camp. Now the allied forces there came to life.
In early September, because of lingering gas, British forces, ‘under deadly fire, wearing a hot mask over their faces, dimly staring through a pair of clouded goggles, and sucking the end of a rubber nozzle,’ attacked and secured ‘Pip Ridge’, a strategically important position that was a 2000 feet-high heavily defended mountain ridge, with fortresses built on some of the higher mountains, including the Grand Couronne.
On September 18, the Greek infantry, supported by British artillery partly provided by 31 Brigade, attacked at Akindzali, a key enemy position on the main defence line to the west of Lake Doiran. The artillery opened gaps in the Bulgarian line and the Greeks advanced, but were forced, in the military phrase of the time. ‘to fall back to their original position’ by the defenders who were fighting so hard that the French had to use flamethrowers to silence some of the machine-gun positions.
The Greeks came under intensive artillery bombardment to which the British guns responded, and it was during these exchanges that William Board received the multiple gunshot wounds from which he died four days later in the 27 Stationary Hospital in Salonika. He had been in Greece for only three weeks and was 19. He was buried in Sarigol Military Cemetery at Kriston, about twenty-five miles north of Thessalonika, and is commemorated in the Oundle School Memorial of the Great War and in the Memorial Library at King Edward VI School.