The bells of St Nicolas Church will be rung at 6pm today (Wednesday 20 September) to honour the memory of a Newbury soldier who was killed in the First World War.
William James Quintin, known as Billy, enlisted in the 2nd Berkshires (regimental number 33511) in January 1915.
Born in Maidenhead in 1889, Billy was the oldest of the three sons of Samuel and Annie Quintin, all of whom saw active service in the war.
Their father Samuel became a bricklayer in the booming building trade at the turn of the century and the family moved to Newbury, where they lived at 42 Russell Road (then known as 3 Hope Terrace) and later 5 Berkeley Road in the thriving Westfields district.
Samuel was a member of the Newbury Volunteer Company, and later served in the Royal Defence Corps.
Billy married Beatrice (nee Franklin) and they had a baby daughter Margaret, known as Peggy, born in early 1915.
Prior to his enlistment he was employed as a bootmaker at Swaites Boot and Shoe Warehouse, 48 Bartholomew Street.
He must have been musical; in the little leisure time they had, both Billy and his father Samuel were bell-ringers at St Nicolas Church in West Mills, and Billy played tuba in a band. He was also a Special Constable.
Billy served with the Berkshire regiment in France, but in late 1916 or early 1917 was sent home unwell.
When he returned to the Front later in 1917, it was with the 8th Battalion Gloucestershire regiment to which he had been transferred (regimental number 37995), as the Berkshires were already there.
After he left Newbury, Beatrice discovered she was pregnant with their second child. She wrote to tell him; they corresponded often and referred to the unborn baby as ”Little Bill”
In September 1917 the 8th Gloucesters were part of the 57th brigade in the 19th (Western) Division) which was protecting a section of the line south of Ypres near the border between Belgium and France.
The British forces launched an offensive known to history as “The Battle of the Menin Road”, one element of the third battle of Ypres.
On 20 September as a result of enemy artillery barrage, the 8th Battalion suffered the loss of 164 men killed, missing or wounded – around a quarter of the entire battalion.
Billy Quintin was one of those killed, and his death was reported in the Newbury Weekly News of 11 October 1917.
At that time, heavily pregnant Beatrice and daughter Peggy were living at 8 Ena Terrace (now known as 95 Russell Road).
The Bellringers paid tribute to him; as reported in the same edition of the newspaper:
“Local war Notes.
“St Nicolas ringers paid appropriate honour to a soldier comrade Pte William Quintin, who had fallen on active service, by ringing a half-muffled peal on Saturday afternoon.
They were prompted by the lines: “The Comrades muster round the old church tower,
To tell the tidings sad with bated breath;
Then let the bells ring out in muffled power,
Their sad requiem for a soldier’s death.”
At the conclusion of the peal, the Rector conducted a short memorial service. He also thanked the band for the reverent tribute of honour to a fellow-ringer, who had given his life for his country.”
The baby Billy never knew, “Little Bill” was born that December.
She was Mrs Winifred Whale, nee Quintin, always known as Bill or Billie.
In 2014 the NWN photographed her holding her late father’s medals. Mrs Whale lived in Thatcham until she passed away in December 2015.
Billy is remembered in a panel in the belfry of St Nicolas Church, alongside fellow bell-ringer Pte C Whitehorn.
The name of WJ Quintin also appears on panel 5 of the Newbury war memorial outside the church.