b. 17/10/1896 Nunton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire. d. 28/10/1961 Porton Down, Wiltshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 24/09/1921 Nilambur, India.
William George Hand (1896-1961) was born on 17th October 1896 in Nunton, near Saliisbury, Wiltshire, one of six children of William Charles and Charlotte Hand (nee Foyle). Sadly one of his brothers, Jack, died as an infant. His childhood is a little of mystery, as the 1901 Census lists his mother as the head of the family and it is unclear where his father was. One theory was that he was dead, while another thought he may have been fighting in South Africa.
William grew up in Wimborne in Dorset with his childhood friend, Thomas Frank Miller (who was also later awarded the EGM/GC with him). He probably attended the local school before joining up. He attested in the Dorsetshire Regiment on 28th April 1914 at Dorchester, joining the 1st Battalion. At the outbreak of the Great War, he was employed on the Embarkation Staff at Belfast until all the troops had left Ireland, from where he joined the Regiment at Wyke Regis. Later, on 23rd February 1915 he was posted to the 1st Battalion in France, serving with this Battalion until the 13th August 1918. It was while he was in France that he was appointed a King’s Sergeant.
On the 12th August 1918 whilst leading a Platoon into action at Damery Wood he was wounded in the right leg. He continued to lead his Platoon, which was subject to heavy machine gun fire, and he was then severely wounded in the right arm. These injuries were responsible for his evacuation to England the following day. He was awarded the Military Medal for this action. After a period in hospital where he fought with doctors who wanted to amputate his arm, he re-joined the Regiment at the Depot at Dorchester. From there he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion in Londonderry where he was a Drill Instructor.
In 1919 William joined the 2nd Battalion at Portland, serving with them in India in 1921, Khartoum in 1922, Egypt in 1923 and Aldershot and Germany between 1927-1929. He was then promoted to Warrant Officer Class II on 22nd May 1930. It was while in India in 1921 that he was involved in the Malabar Disturbances which led to the award of his Empire Gallantry Medal. On 24th September 1921 near Nilambur, Southern India, Platoon No 6 was on the point of the advance guard moving down a road through thickly wooded country. They were then ambushed by rebels who were well dug in. After exchanging rifle fire it was decided that, as this was to no avail, the Platoon should withdraw to allow fire from an 18 pounder gun to be brought into action. This was done but to no effect. This led Sergeant Hand to ask his Company Commander, Captain Hawkins, for permission to go forward with hand grenades to dislodge the rebels and permission was granted. Private Thomas Miller (Hand’s childhood friend) who was in No 8 Platoon asked to be allowed to advance on the other side to catch the enemy who tried to get away after the grenades had been thrown. The bombing of Hand was a success and Miller was able to get in with his bayonet, destroying those of the enemy that the bombs had not.
Hand, along with Miller, Frederick Chant, Frederick Troake and Assistant Surgeon George Rodrigues was gazetted for the Empire Gallantry Medal on 1st June 1923. William married Mildred Baggs in 1926. She came from Sturminster Marshall and worked in Salisbury as a cook. They had four children, Hazel, twins Ellen and William and Mary. William left the Army on 3rd January 1931 and for a short time, he became a Recruiting Officer based at Dorchester, and lived with his family in a small village called Martinstown. He then joined the War Department Constabulary and moved to Waltham Cross working at Waltham Abbey at the Gunpowder Factory. He was promoted to Sergeant before moving north to Barlow, Yorkshire just before the outbreak of World War II.
In 1940, William’s EGM was exchanged for the new George Cross, and while serving in the War Department Constabulary he was invested at Buckingham Palace by King George VI on 3rd February 1942. William then moved to Derby (Sinfin Lane Ordnance Depot) and later to Nottingham (the Royal Ordnance Factory) where he was promoted to Inspector. He was then moved to Porton Down, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.
William retired from the Constabulary on reaching the age of 65 on 17th October 1961. Tragically, his retirement lasted just ten days, as he passed away on 28th October 1961, and he was buried in the Churchyard of St Nicholas in Porton Down. At his funeral on 30th October, two buglers from the Dorsetshire Regiment played the Last Post and Reveille. William’s medal group including the GC, MM, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, India General Service Medal 1908-35 with clasp “Malabar 1921-1922”, Defence Medal 1939-45, 1953 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal and Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal are held by The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: THE KEEP MILITARY MUSEUM, DORCHESTER, DORSET.
BURIAL PLACE: ST NICHOLAS CHURCHYARD, PORTON, WILTSHIRE.
William George Hand's grave courtesy of Kevin Brazier