William Philip Anstey, a member of the Exminster Ansteys, was born in St Edmonds, Exeter in 1875 to parents Henry Charles Anstey and Mary Jane Martin. He was brother to fellow Anstey heroes Frederick Charles Anstey, Frank Anstey and Stanley Leonard Anstey
William grew up living at Casley’s Court in St Thomas, Exeter, then in 1892, at age 18, a gardener by trade and still unmarried, he signed up for six years of Army service as a Militiaman in Devon with the 1st Battalion (sometimes also the 4th Battalion) of the Devonshire Regiment. On his Attestation Form he stated that he was at that time also serving with the 1st Voluntary Brigade “W. D. R. A.“.
Around a year into his service, William married Emily Ellen Counter in Croydon in 1893 and they had at least four children together, being Emily Jane Anstey (b 1894 Croydon, died 1897 St Thomas); Frederick Charles Anstey (b 1895 Exeter – an Anstey Hero); Winifred Lilly Anstey (b 1896 St Thomas); and Percy William Anstey (b 1899 St John’s Exeter – an Anstey Hero).
After completing five years of his service, William joined the Militia Reserves in 1897, at which time he was living at Wright’s Court, Corvick Street, St Thomas, Exeter with his family. Then on 7 March 1900 he was “called up for permanent services and posted to the Devon Regiment as a Private [Service Number: 2540]“, the reason for the call up being to fight in the Second Boer War. He duly embarked for South Africa from Southampton on 14 March 1900 with the Devonshire Regiment, returning on 29 August 1902 without suffering any war-related injuries.
His total “embodied service” during this conflict was just over two years, at which point he was discharged because of “termination of engagement” in September 1902 with “very good” character. For his services in South Africa, William was awarded the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps ‘1901’ and ‘1902’, as well as the South African War Medal with clasps ‘Belfast’ and ‘Natal’.
These medals and clasps confirm that William was in the South African ‘Theatre of War’ for at least 18 months prior to 1 June 1902; that he served in Natal between 11 October 1899 and 11 June 1900; as well as confirming his involvement in the Battle of Belfast in August 1900.
From 7 June 1906 to 28 April 1908 William again undertook active service with the Army, this time as a Sapper with the Devon and Somerset Royal Engineers (Service Number: 3008) – the same form also noted that he undertook “annual training” with the Wessex Divisional Royal Engineers at Saltford from 1908 to 1916, with preliminary training as a Driver beginning on 3 April 1912 in Exeter for a period of 18 months (Service Number: 3083). At the time of his extension of service in 1908 he indicated that he was a driver for the Great Western Railway, living at 20 Oxford Street.
In 1909 William’s wife Emily, still living at Oxford Street, St Thomas, was involved in fostering children. We know this because she appeared at this time at an inquest into an infant which died whilst in her care (as reported in the ‘Western Times‘ newspaper on 13 September 1909). The ‘Western Times‘ 09 March 1910 reported “William Anstey, a fish hawker of 20 Oxford Street, St Thomas was summoned for cruelty to a pony by working it in an unfit state…“
By the time of the 1911 Census, William and his family were living at Foxenholes West Hill, Ottery St Mary – he was a “waggoner milling copy“.
At the outbreak of World War One, for some currently unknown reason William was living apart from his family, in Toronto, Canada, where he enlisted for active service on 8 August 1914. His formal commencement date and location was 22 September 1914 in Valcartier, Quebec, Canada, where he joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force as first a Private and later a Corporal (Service Number: 26161). On his Attestation Paper he noted that he was born in Exeter; that his wife Emily was living at 3 Prospect Place, St Thomas, Exeter; that he was a labourer by trade; and that he had previously served for 11 years in the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.
He initially joined the Queens Own Rifles 14th Battalion 3rd Brigade but was soon transferred to the 14th Canadian Battalion. He sailed with them from Quebec on 3 October 1914 on the ship ‘S. S. Andania‘, arriving in Plymouth later the same month. Soon after arriving, in November 1914 in Larkhill, England, he was fined 10/- for being “drunk and disorderly“.
William embarked to France with the 14th Battalion (as part of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division) in early February 1915, remaining there until July 1916, serving a total of “22 months in France” according to his Discharge Sheet. As such, he would certainly have taken part in the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 (specifically the Battle of St Julien), and likely the Battle of Mont Sorrel in June 1916 (amongst others).
During his time fighting in France, he suffered from “stricture of urethra” in April 1916 (at which time he was in “billets in Dickebusch [near Ypres]“). The condition worsened in July 1916, so he was admitted to first a hospital in Calais, then to Warncliffe, Sheffield and finally The Kings Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Bushey Park to recuperate.
William was in hospital again in January 1917 with the same condition (at “C. G. II Hastings” Station). As such, he spent much of 1917 performing general duties in Seaford and Shoreham.
Meanwhile, William’s wife Emily was living at Ide (her town of birth) in 1917 when she appeared at an inquest into an elderly woman’s suicide – she was described as “Emily Ellen Anstey, wife of a soldier in the Canadian Army” in the ‘Western Times‘ newspaper on 24 May 1917.
In September 1917 William was promoted to Acting Corporal then in August 1918 he was again admitted to hospital with the same condition as previously; this time the No 14 Canadian General Hospital in Eastbourne, Sussex. As a result, William was discharged on 2 September 1918 to “Cat B II” and at some point transferred to the C. A. M. C. (Canadian Army Medical Corps), by which time he was a Corporal.
After the war was over, William returned to Canada from Glasgow on 12 September 1919; he was demobilised at the Quebec Clearing Services Depot later in September 1919 for reason “medically unfit for general service“.
William settled in Toronto. He died in York, Ontario in Canada in February 1933 and was buried at Prospect Cemetery Toronto, Ontario. The inscription on his gravestone reads “ANSTEY: In Loving Memory of my dear Husband William Phillip died Feb 17 1933 aged 57 yrs. His Loving Wife Emily Ellen died Dec 1966 aged 92 yrs. Gone but not Forgotten“.
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