"On November 5th 1914 I went over on the boat to Calais, France, from Southampton at 12 midnight and the moon was shining lovely. A chap on the boat sang a song from the top deck on a wonderful night. He sang 'When we return'. The old boat we went across on she sunk on the way back." So began Bill Wing's active service in the First World War, recalled in "Old Bill - Memories of a Meldreth Man", compiled to celebrate his 100th birthday on 10 March 1993.
Bill, who grew up in Meldreth, left school at thirteen to work on Bury Farm for three shillings a week. He joined the Territorials in 1912 and then served with the First Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment. His expertise with horses was put to use in moving supplies and munitions up to the front line. Bill remembered losing three horses altogether; in one case “a shell hit him just behind my leg and we had to shoot him”.
Bill saw action at Ypres, Neuve Chapelle and Loos, where he was almost gassed when the wind changed direction and blew gas back into the British trenches. He also fought on the Somme and saw wave after wave of men go over the top of the trenches during the opening bombardment when shells fell all around him: “Yes, there were near misses – we were just the lucky ones”.
On Christmas leave in 1915 he was leaving the station and saw a group of German Prisoners of War coming up the street towards him; they had been cleaning out the river. “I thought I’d got away from the Germans!” said Bill. On that same home leave he met his wife-to-be and they were married at Holy Trinity, Meldreth on 1st November 1919, almost five years to the day since he sailed on that moonlit night for France.
Bill Wing died in 1994 at the age of 101.
For more information, see http://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/page/memories_of_the_great_war?path=0p4p24p109p.