William Thomas DATLEN Eric Audrey DATLEN Dorothy HOPPER George Frederick DATLEN Louise DATLEN Robert Russell DATLEN Reginald Walter DATLEN Marjorie Russell DATLEN Peter DATLEN Ellen RUSSELL Mini tree diagram

William Evan DATLEN1

2nd Mar 18991 -


Life History

2nd Mar 1899

Born in Hampstead, London, England.1


Resident in 20 Harlesden Road, Willisden, Middlesex, England.1


Resident in 25a Southfield Road, Bedford Park, London, England


Physical description Height 5ft 8in; Weight 125 pounds; Chest 34 in; Scar on right kneecap;Wore glasses


Occupation Confectioner

16th Oct 1920

Emigrated from Sailed from London to Cape Town, South Africa on the "Grantully Castle"


Occupation Baker

12th Aug 1926

Note in Sailed from London to Cape Town, South Africa on the "Glengorm Castle"


Married Dorothy HOPPER


Occupation Confectioner

25th Apr 1950

Note in Sailed from London to Cape Town, S.Africa on the LLandovery Castle

25th Apr 1950

Resident in Stayed at Brook Cottage, Weavers Hill, Wisborough Grn, Sussex, England while on holiday

20th Aug 1959

Note in Sailed from Southampton to Cape, South Africa on the Athlone Castle

20th Aug 1959

Resident in Stayed at Brook Cottage, Weavers Hill, Wisborough Grn, Sussex, England while on holiday


  • William Evan Datlen - Private G/19444 - 7th Royal Sussex Regiment

    In his autobiography William Evan Datlen writes about his experiencesof his time in the Army. His official Army records, however, are verysparse and do not reveal much about his Army career. They only tell usthe bare, hard facts of events as they were reported and can leave uswith an account far less colourful than the actual true-to-life storythat only the man himself can tell.  This account, therefore is drawnfrom both sources, the Army documents give us the skeleton with knowndates and facts and William's Auto-biographpy adds the very meat tothose bones.

    William was 18 years old when he enlisted at Whitehall in London on9th April 1917.  His papers state that he was born in Kilburn, Londonand that he was a baker by trade. He was 5 foot 8 inches tall weighing125 pounds, his chest measurement was 34 inches with a range ofexpansion of 2 inches. He has three vaccination marks on his left armand a scar on his right kneecap. His eyesight was tested as 6/36 inhis right eye and 6/18 in his left eye. He wore glasses to correctthis.

    William was taken to Aldershot for training where he was posted withthe Royal Sussex Regiment at first he was with 253rd InfantryBattalion then 51st Battalion, then to the 3rd Battalion. During histraining he was made to work in the cookhouse, a position which hedidn't particularly enjoy and so in a fashion typical of William hemanaged to wrangle his way out of this responsibility. William choseBoxing and Diving as his training sports proving to be particularlyadept at both.

    After months of hard training William's battalion was sent to France,crossing from Folkestone on the "Ville de Liege" and disembarking atBoulogne. From here they marched on cobbled roads to the station wherethey travelled to Etaples. He was posted to the 7th Royal SussexRegiment and that same night travelled to the front line.

    I wonder if William knew his third cousin George Edward Datlen, whoover a year ago had made the very same journey across the channel toEtaples; who was also posted with the Royal Sussex Regiment and whomet a very violent death in the trenches of the Somme.

    William writes of the days he spent in the trenches and the conditionshe had to ordeal. Intermittent gunfire from insatiable guns,continuous rain which not only soaked the soldiers but would leavethem having to slush through the mud in the trenches often more thanknee deep. Working during the night under the blanket of darkness,repairing trenches, fixing barbed wire, and going out to patrol in 'noman's land' and then having to try and catch some shut eye during theday, sleeping on shelves cut into the trench wall. The men would beinfested with lice and fleas and despite the infrequent washing theycould not be gotten rid off until the men returned to England. Thedays became weeks, and the weeks became months and William soon becameused to this living hell.

    During May 1918, William recalls one major engagement "two otherregiments and ours, each eight hundred and fifty strong, went over tostraighten the line. Zero hour was five a.m. We chased Jerry out, hecountered and drove us out.  This went on for three days and nights.Due to serious losses we were back in the trenches from which we hadstarted. Casualties were heavy. We, the Sussex, came out best; theroll call one hundred and eighty-six.

    For three nights we tied up the dead in the waterproof sheets, usingtheir bootlaces, and stacked them in rows five or six high.  Mulelimbers (wagons) were brought up as near the line as possible.  Intothese we carried and dumped the corpses.It may seem callous now, butwe got a good measure of amusement out of this final operation.Emotions can hardly exist in an atmosphere of death."

    During the first week of August, the Royal Sussex were out of thefront line, camped in Round Wood just east of Behencourt. The soldierswere occupied with bomb proofing tents, training and general cleaningup the area. On the 7th August 1918 the Battalion was moved to theirassembly position South West of Morlancourt in preparation of what wasto become the battle of Amiens. En-Route they were shelled resultingin the loss of several officers.

    The objective of the Battle of Amiens was to clear three railwayswhich were vital to lateral troop movements across the western front.The operation would be undertaken by the British Fourth Army and theFrench First Army, the latter coming under British command. They facedthe German Second Army under General von der Marwitz.

    Rawlinson, in command of Fourth Army, chose to employ nine Divisionssupported by 400 tanks in the initial assault. The Tank Corps provided342 heavy tanks, 72 whippets and 120 supply tanks. During the nightswhen the attacking units assembled, German gas shelling waspersistent, and on 7th August 25 tanks were destroyed by a heavy enemybombardment. Soon after dawn on 6th August, a heavy raid on units ofthe 58th and 18th Divisions near Morlancourt led to a loss of ground800 yards deep, with some 236 men being taken prisoner. None gaveanything away about the imminent attack. Zero hour was fixed for4.20am on 8th August. William recalls:-

    "The front was covered with thick mist, zero hour was four a.m. - onlyofficers and a few N.C.O.s knew the exact time. While we were waitingin small groups, chatting, a single high explosive shell bursts,shattering the stillness.  One man older than I, was wounded.  I stuckmy finger in his groin, hooked out a jagged piece of shrapnel, thenall hell was let loose and I left him, to move forward with the rest.Tanks were to lead the way but due to mist they were unable to give usany assistance until some hours later.  The drivers couldn't see wherethey were going. The barrage was one of the heaviest of the war, mistand dense smoke from shells looked like smoke mixed with blood.  Wecould not hear speech, only the language of steel."

    William was hit in the leg by the nose-cap of a shell. He was helpedback to a dressing station by four German prisoners. Amazingly herecognised one of them. "He had, before the war worked in a sausageand mash shop; one of those numerous eating houses I went to whileworking at Isaake's. An odd meeting! We talked of London."

    "After five days I went back to the line, leading a pack mule.  Ienjoyed his company and his intelligence.  He saw barbed wire andshell holes in the dark long before I did.  He smelled poison gas andmade a detour, with me hanging on. "

    The Battle of Amiens was a great success with most of the objectivesmet. The total British casualties amounted to just over 22,200 of allranks, killed, wounded and missing. Cavalry Corps losses were 887 (ofwhich 101 died); III Corps 6,250 (4,012); Canadian Corps 9,074(2,266), and Australian Corps 5,991 (850). German losses wereapproximately 74,000.

    On the 13th August the Royal Sussex were holding the front line. Atnight they pushed up an enemy trench and managed to capture 12prisoners and 2 machine guns, destroying 6 more. Owing to a counterattack and lack of support they were forced back to their originalline. They were relieved that night by 5th Royal Berks.

    The next few days were spent at Mericourt, bathing in the river,cleaning up the sector and collecting salvage. On the 21st they movedup to their assembly position in preparation for a further attack.There was heavy gas shelling from midnight onwards. Their own barrageopened at 4.45 am with no enemy resistance. The official documentationrecords that "All objectives were gained with 60 prisoners taken." ButWilliam's first hand account reveals a different perspective - "On the21 August we went over on another big 'do'. It was fairly easy going,very few casualties. Collected fifteen wrist watches and threeautomatics from dead Jerries."  One small victory for the BritishArmy, one giant victory for the English Soldier!

    On the 24th August at 1am the Royal Sussex were engaged in anotherattack. Again, all objectives were gained with 26 Prisoners captured.Another small victory in the context of the Great War, but thisencounter had a far greater significance in the context of William'slife:-

    "On the 24th I went over for the last time at one in the morning,nasty 'do' this one! Jerry had got word that we were coming. We weremet by such a hail of machine gun fire that it seemed as if one wassilhouetted in lead.  We were told to dig in, using a small pick; theground was hard and stony."

    "Light, during night actions was always much too good, Very lights andthe flashes of guns did their best to make you feel naked.  I spunround twice and sat down, Lieut. Swift ran to me, with a knife heripped off the sleeve of my tunic, felt for the wound, told me to getback, then dashed off to the men going down like ninepins all alongthe line."

    William had been shot in his left arm, his memoirs tell of his longwalk back to the casualty clearing station, his realisation that hecould get back home. He stumbled across a wounded soldier who had laidimmobilised for three days on the bank of a road. William carried himon his back for the many miles and many hours that it took to reachthe station.  He was taken to the Third Australian General Hospital atAbbeville then on to Boulogne and finally to a hospital in EghamSurrey, just 22 miles from his home.

    "On the following Sunday Mother and Dad came to see me. My joy waslike a river that had broken its banks and flooded the world."

    William was sent to a hospital camp in Eastbourne. Here he remainedreceiving massage treatment and remedial exercise until 16th November1918. "I was sent to a hospital camp at Eastbourne where over fivethousand wounded were accommodated in huts.  Reeds Hall was the name.It was a complete township, shops, cinemas, concert halls and playingfields. I have often said that I wouldn't mind being shot once a yearif I could spend another twelve weeks there, which goes to prove howmuch I enjoyed being there."

    While at Eastbourne William would have heard of the Alliedbreakthrough of the German lines forcing the enemy back beyond theHindenburg Line freeing much of occupied France and Belgium signallingthe end of the Great War. The signing of the Armistice on November11th 1918 would have provoked emotions and energies that we can onlyimagine. William wrote:- "We commandeered lorries, removed pianos fromhotels and drove around the town singing and playing.  One piano wasleft on the golf links some two mile out of town at the end of asing-song which lasted till three in the morning.  We ran riot forthree days.  Good fun!"

    In January at Newhaven, William filled a disability form and gave hispermanent address as 39 Shepherds Bush Road, Hammersmith.  He wasposted to a dispersal station at Crystal Palace and discharged on 24thFebruary 1919. He was transferred to class 'Z' army reserves of 3rdBattalion Royal Sussex Regiment.

    I cannot leave this account of William's war service without one lastrecollection from his memoirs. While he was serving with the reservesat Newhaven, December 1918, sitting in the canteen a soldierapproached him - "he was about forty, very excited.  He told me thathe was the chap that whom I had hooked the piece of shrapnel from hisgroin a few minutes before zero hour on the 8th August.  As I was indoubt, he insisted that I go with him to the lavatory so that he couldshow me.  Over a cup of tea, I discovered his joy; he was the fatherof six… The Shrapnel probably saved his life."

    William was awarded the following medals:-

    British War Medal
    Victory Medal


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