Born in Newport, South Wales, on 16 June, 1894, William Alfred Bale was the eldest child of dock worker William Humphrey Bale and his wife Mary.
My great-grandfather Chris Bale was born a year later and four more children followed. The 1901 census shows the family living in rooms in a house on the since demolished Price Street along with a blacksmith and his family. By 1911, they were on Milman Street close to the town’s Alexandra docks and the recently constructed Transporter Bridge. Both of William’s grandfathers had also worked on the docks but the 16-year-old is listed as being an apprentice hot water engineer. Things would soon change for young William as war broke out across Europe.
I had looked into some family history a few years ago and returned to my notes in preparation for this blog. I knew two of my maternal grandfather’s uncles, Charles and Walter Carter, had fought in France and Belgium (more on them another time) but I didn’t know of anybody else involved in the First World War. However, the Newport Registration Office Absent Voters List of Autumn 1917-Autumn 1918 held at Newport Reference Library revealed both William and Chris Bale were serving. I found the family’s Milman Street address in the list and there were their names. 21 year old Private Chris Bale was with the 15th (Transport Workers) Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, working at Merseyside docks. He would continue as a coal trimmer at the docks in Newport after the war. Lance Corporal William Bale was with the 6th (Royal Monmouth) Siege Company, Royal Engineers. Crucially, the absent voters list also included both Chris and William’s regimental numbers which proved vital as my research continued.
Using The National Archives’ Discovery catalogue, I found William’s record among the War Office Service Medal and Award Rolls Index (WO 372). Listed as a Sapper, he was awarded the Victory and British War medals. The Medal and Award Roll book itself (WO 329) added no new information so I then ordered up the May 1916 – June 1919 Unit War Diary of his company with some trepidation, wondering what information WO 95/331 would reveal about my great grand-uncle’s experiences. But first, I looked at the War Office Soldiers’ Documents (WO 363) on Ancestry. I had already searched this ‘burnt documents’ collection for details on the Carter brothers but to no avail. As I anticipated, a search for variations of William A Bale also came up with nothing. So, instead, I tried his regiment number which I had first found in the absent voters list. And a record came up. He had been listed as ‘William Ball’ but on scrutinising the fragments of documents with which I was presented, I discovered that this was indeed my ancestor.