William Henry Anstey (b 1877)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

William Henry Anstey, known as Willie, a member of the Stoke Gifford Ansteys, was born in Cardiff on 30 December 1877 (registered 17 January 1878) to parents Thomas Henry Anstey and Eliza Morse. He was the brother of Tom, one of the chief researchers of this Anstey project, as well as brother of George James Anstey and Edward Archibald Anstey.

Willie’s mother Eliza died in 1888 when he was a young boy, so he was brought up by his father, living in Cairns Street, Cardiff. On 7 August 1899, Willie joined the Metropolitan Police in London (Warrant Number: ‘85392’). He was posted to ‘B’ Division as a Police Constable, residing during this period with his Aunt Kate Anstey and his brothers in Wandsworth. Just days before the 1901 Census was taken, Willie resigned from the Metropolitan Police to join the South African Constabulary (SAC) in order to fight in the latter stages of the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

Willie (SAC ‘E’ Division, Regimental Number 2407, ‘Detail’ Troop’) travelled to Cape Town, South Africa on the ‘Pinemore’ ship from Southampton on 27 April 1901, arriving at Table Bay on 20 May 1901. We are fortunate to have a letter sent by Willie to his Aunt Kate Anstey in August 1901, which reads:

2407 Tr W Anstey, Detail Troop, South A. Constab, “E” Div, Blomfontein,Orange River Colony. August 2nd 1901

My Dear Aunt and brothers,

I have delayed writing until the last min. hoping to get a letter from you but none have arrived to me, but I know they are in our Post Office. Our P.O is a standing joke and is a criticism of the S.A.C. I know you will excuse my not writing a long letter as I really have nothing fresh to tell you. I received a letter from dear George & the poor chap appears to be enjoying himself. I expect he was at Vlakfontein. Have you heard that all men who had landed in S. Africa before July 15 ’01 were entitled to the War medal! By that, George and I are entitled to it. It is official & I can wear the ribbon if I like. How are Tom & Ted getting on? Give my love to them & accept the same yourself. Remember me to Mr & Miss Bowden. Things are getting very brisk here. Bruce Hamilton’s Column and Pilcher’s Column are near & have made a lot of captures. I am going to Abrahams Kraal next week, I expect to go through it then. I shall not be able to write to Aunts Lizzie and Sarah this mail, so I must ask you to either send this or tell them I am alive and kicking. I expect to receive about forty letters when I get any. I should like any photos of either you or the boys as it is one of the best things I can imagine is to think of the dear ones at home. I shall not have my photo taken for a long time as they are dreadfully dear over here. I hope you are all enjoying splendid health. I am sorry I cant write to Aunt Lizzie as I have to rush to catch the mail. I hope to send you £7 – 0 – 0 next mail. I am as saving as I can, but I cannot save much more than £6 per month. However that’s more than I could save at home.

Again love to you all, I remain your affectionate nephew and brother

Willie Anstey

Willie fought throughout 1901 and 1902 during the Second Boer War and for his services he received the Queen’s South Africa medal with four clasps ‘Cape Colony’, ‘Orange River Free State’, ‘South Africa 1901’ and ‘South Africa 1902‘.

Once the war was over, Willie decided to stay in South Africa and become a South African Anstey pioneer, getting married at St George’s Church in Cape Town to his childhood sweetheart Eliza Jane Bamon in July 1903. By this time, Willie had been promoted to Corporal in the SAC and was stationed in Sydenham, Bloemfontein in the Orange River Colony, South Africa. Willie and Eliza had children Thomas John (b 1905 in Kroonstad, Orange Free State) and Nellie (b c1910, who died young of diptheria).

By the outbreak of World War One, Willie (by now a civil servant) and Eliza were settled at Alma Cottage, St George’s Road, Greenpoint, Cape Town, right next to the coast. However Willie remained closely tied to the Army throughout his time in South Africa; even as a civil servant he was involved in military affairs, especially in the early months of World War One, as the below letter that he wrote to the ‘Western Mail Newspaper’, printed on 16 October 1914, makes clear:


Mr W. H. Anstey, an old Cardiffian, who recently returned to Africa where he is in the service of the Union Government writes from Prieska as follows: It might interest the readers of your paper if I detailed a few of the incidents happening to those who, although not with the Allies in their glorious fight on the continent, are helping in a small measure to keep the Germans ‘on the run’ in South Africa. I was a little surprised to find on landing at Cape Town [in August 1914] that war was on the tapis. I had orders to proceed to Pretoria and after a stay of about ten days was instructed to proceed to Prieska. The Union Government [South African Government], in deference to the wish of the Imperial Government [British Government] had decided to attack German South West Africa. Prieska was to be the base for the attack on the land, the force used being the Active Citizen Force, formed of youths between the ages of 17 and 21, most of them being the sons of those glorious old voortrekkers [Boers] who put up such a fight in 1899-1902. They looked a fine body of men as they mobilised here and set off on their hardy ponies on the long trek to the German border where by the time you receive these few lines you may have heard with what success. Compared with conditions at home, the country around here is awful. No rain has fallen for the past three years and the roads are sandy in some places and rocky in others. I rode a portion of the way. Unfortunately as the railroad at present is at Prieska I shall have to remain here. The Government have sanctioned the building of the railway from Prieska to Upington, a distance of 190 miles, and they estimate it will be ready for use within four months, so on that completion I expect to go forward. To realise the difficulties and cost of transport in this country it need only be stated that it costs £20 a trip per motor car whilst if donkey transport – sixteen spans of donkeys to each wagon – is used the time occupied is about twenty days for the return journey. Consider that the forage has to be carried for those donkeys and you can imagine what a load the wagon will carry. Water is very scarce and what little there is is bad. It is obtained by digging holes and after the donkeys have had a drink they are depleted, and the next lot will have to wait until they are full again. I had occasion, burying a comrade, to visit the cemetery at Prieska and was interested to find that a gravestone had been erected in the memory of some men who had fallen in South Africa. We are all in the best of spirits and as my wife sends me the ‘Evening Express’ (for the whole week) every mail you can imagine I am in full possession of the war news. The Express is in such demand that it is carefully passed around and read by all. Even the magistrate reads it (why not?). The cost of food is not excessive here, mutton chops 6d per lb, bread 6d for two lb, sugar 3d per lb, and milk 2d per quart. As we are on active service, and most of our men are veterans, we know how to live.

In April 1926, Willie and his wife Eliza decided to terminate their South African adventure and return to live in England, boarding the ‘Edinburgh Castle’ steamship at Cape Town for the last time. When Willie arrived in Southampton on 3 May 1926, he described himself as “retired” on the disembarkation card, stating also that their intended address in England was “The Ridings, Yate” [the address of his Aunt Kate Anstey], and that their ‘Country of intended Future Permanent Residence’ was “England”.

At the time of the 1939 Register, Willie (a “retired Warrant Officer”) and his wife Eliza were living at 11 Cae Gwyn Road, Cardiff with Aunt Kate Anstey. Willie passed away on 6 February 1945.

Anybody who would like to add anything to this biography, please contact us at research@theansteystory.com.

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