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20285 (1852616) Company Sergeant Major
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2004. All Rights Reserved.

William Phillips Whitley was born on the 7th of May 1892 at 26 Wiggin Street in the Lady Wood district of Birmingham. He was the son of George Henry Whitley, the manager of one of the many steel rolling mills in Birmingham, and Emma Elizabeth Whitley (formerly Cooke).[1] The 1901 British Census indicates that the Whitleys had a second son, Albert, who was born one year after William. This same census shows that the Whitleys lived at 188 St. Mary's Road in Handsworth.[2] The Whitley household in 1901 consisted of George, Emma, William and Albert.[3]

Whitley enlisted as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers on the 28th of June 1910 at the age of 18 years and 51 days.[4] Upon the certification of his attestation he was appointed a Sapper and given Regimental Number 20285. Immediately after his enlistment he was ordered to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent where he underwent recruit training. During the four years prior to the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 Whitley was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.

At some point during the Great War, Whitley was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal. According to his Medal Index Card[5] he was awarded the British War Medal but not the Victory Medal. According to Gordon, the British War Medal "was issued singly without the Allied Victory Medal to certain regular and mobilized personnel who did not see any fighting."[6] It must therefore be assumed that 2nd Corporal Whitley served either in the United Kingdom during the war or at some location such as India where no fighting took place.

Following the war Whitley was promoted to the rank of Corporal and on the 7th of August 1924 he was promoted Sergeant.[7] He was also issued Army Number 1852616 following the war, when the British Army changed over from using Regimental Numbers to universal Army Numbers. On the 27th of June 1928 he completed 18 years of service and became eligible to receive the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.[8]

Whitley was promoted to the rank of Company Quartermaster Sergeant on the 14th of July 1929. According to the November 1930 edition of The Sapper magazine he was serving at that time at Barry in South Glamorgan, Wales. He became eligible for discharge on the 27th of June 1931 when he completed 21 years of service with the Colours. Sometime prior to his discharge he received a final promotion to the rank of Company Sergeant Major.[9]

After his discharge from the Army, Whitley, now an R.E. Pensioner, took up residence at 17 Albert Road in Handsworth, Birmingham. He took a job there as a groundsman for a cricket-ground or sports-field. He died in Birmingham on the 21st of June 1957 at the age of 65. Present at his death was W.L. Green of 131 Heathfield Road, Birmingham 19. Whitley's death was certified by W. de Reybekill, LRCP who listed the causes of death as Ia) cerebral metastases (cancer of the brain), Ib) bronchial carcinoma (a cancer of the bronchial tubes), and II) hyperpiesis (abnormally high blood pressure). William Whitley's death was registered on the date of his passing by H.F. Ricketts, the Registrar for the district of Birmingham.

Whitley died intestate. The probate index for his death reads as follows:

William Phillips Whitley, 17 Albert Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, died 21 June 1957, administration granted at Birmingham 23 August 1957 to Maud Whitley, widow.



1. GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.

2. JONES, H.W., HOERR, N.L. and OSOL, A. (editors). Blakiston's New Gould Medical Dictionary. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, 1941.


1. 1891 British Census, Public Record Office Reference RG 12/2374.

2. 1901 British Census, Public Record Office Reference RG 13/2818.

3. BIRTH CERTIFICATE: Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth, Registration District of Birmingham, Sub-district of Lady Wood, County of Birmingham, General Register Office Number BXCA 556839, dated 14 September 2004.

4. DEATH CERTIFICATE: Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, Registration District of Birmingham, Sub-district of Handsworth, County Borough of Birmingham, General Register Office Number DYA 429155, dated 14 September 2004.

5. MEDAL INDEX CARD, National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

6. PROBATE INDEX for William Phillips Whitley quoted in a letter dated 24 September 2004 from Peter Bennett of Fleet, Hampshire.


1. The Sapper, May 1929.

2. The Sapper, November 1930.

3. The Sapper, December 1957.


[1] According to his birth certificate, William's birth was registered on the 14th of June 1892 by Mr. William Wood, the Registrar for the district.

[2] 1901 British Census, Public Record Office Reference RG 13/2818, Administrative County: Staffordshire, Civil Parish and Municipal Borough: Smethwick, Ecclesiastical Parish: St. Mary's, Ward of Municipal Borough: Bearwood, Parliamentary Division: Handsworth.

[3] In the 1891 British Census, PRO RG 12/2374, the George and Emma were living with George's father at 17 Gillott Road in Birmingham. George's father, Charles Whitley, was a 66-year old widower whose occupation was listed as Engine Fitter. George's occupation was listed as Foreman Engine Fitter and Toolmaker. A 24-year old domestic servant by the name of Ann Haines also resided in the household.

[4] The Sapper, November 1930, p. 111.

[5] The Medal Index Card shows that Whitley's entitlement to the British War Medal may be found on the Royal Engineers medal roll RE/101A, page 91.

[6] GORDON, p. 311.

[7] The Sapper, May 1929, p. 286.

[8] This medal is in the author's collection and is the basis for this research.

[9] The Sapper, December 1957, p. 155.