b. 19/06/1884 Copdock, Suffolk. d. 07/12/1966 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
William Henry Hewitt (1884-1966) was born on 19th June 1884 at Copdock, near Ipswich, Suffolk. His father, also William Henry Hewitt, was born in London, and was a farmer of 80 acres at Preston Farm, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex. He is believed to have married Mary Shipman in Northampton in 1868. By 1871, he had become a butcher, and he had married Mary Elizabeth Marsh in 1881 in Kensington, London. William had six siblings, including a brother George, who was killed serving in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900.
William was educated at Framlingham College, Woodbridge, Suffolk from 1894-1900. Two other pupils of the College would be awarded the VC – Gordon Flowerdew and Augustus Agar. William emigrated to South Africa in 1905 and served in the South Africa Constabulary and later the Natal Police, including during the Zulu Rebellion in 1906. He later became a farmer in Natal.
William enlisted on 24th November 1915 and posted to the Depot. He went to France on 12th July 1916 and as taken on strength of 2nd South African Infantry on 15th July. He fought at Delville Wood and later at the Butte de Warlencourt as a Lewis Gunner in 2 Platoon, B Company. Having been wounded in the leg on 12th October, he was evacuated to England on 24th October, where he was treated at Tooting Military Hospital. He returned to France in April 1917 and was promoted to Lance Corporal the following month.
On 20th September 1917 east of Ypres, Belgium, Lance-Corporal Hewitt attacked a pill-box with his section and tried to rush the doorway. The garrison, however, proved very stubborn and in the attempt the lance-corporal received a severe wound. Nevertheless, he proceeded to the loophole of the pill-box where, in his attempts to put a bomb in it, he was again wounded in the arm. Undeterred, he finally managed to get the bomb inside where it dislodged the occupants and they were successfully dealt with by the rest of the section.
He was evacuated due to his wounds on 1st October, and was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 16th January 1918 and was appointed Acting Sergeant on 1st April. William married Lily Ollett in October 1918. She was a shorthand typist. They had met when he was a patient at Tooting Military Hospital in October 1916. William returned to South Africa on RMS Durham Castle on 22nd April 1919 and was discharged the following day. He continued farming until 1925, when they moved to East Africa. He ran a coffee farm there until he sold it in 1939. William and Lily had four daughters, though one died as an infant.
During World War II, William served as a Major in Mombasa, East Africa as a liaison officer and later as an assistant provost marshal. William and Lily were living in Nairobi in 1952. When his health started to fail in 1950, he retired to Hermanus on the Cape Coast and became a South African citizen in 1955. He returned to Britain to attend the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park, London. In the late 1950s, he had been diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had to have his larynx removed in Cape Town. In the operation, they found shrapnel embedded there. Shortly after the operation, he developed Parkinson’s Disease.
Lily brought him to Britain in 1961 in an attempt to find a cure with a Parkinson’s specialist in Edinburgh. He fell badly twice in his later years and had two severe bouts of pneumonia. Although crippled, unable to speak and almost helpless, he continued the best he could. He died at Delancey Hospital, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 7th December 1966. He was cremated at Cheltenham Crematorium on 10th December and his ashes were returned to South Africa where they were scattered at sea off the Hermanus Cliffs on 2nd January 1974.
In addition to his VC, he was also awarded the Natal Rebellion Medal 1906, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The VC was presented to Framlingham College by his widow in May 1967. It was held in the Chapel until the College loaned it indefinitely to the Imperial War Museum on 23rd April 2004. It is displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery. The Castle Military Museum in Cape Town owns four of his campaign medals. The other medals’ location are unknown.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FRAMLINGHAM COLLEGE, SUFFOLK. *
(*presently on loan in Imperial War Museum).
BURIAL PLACE: CHELTENHAM CEMETERY, CHELTENHAM, GLOUCESTERSHIRE. (ASHES SCATTERED AT SEA OFF HERMANUS CLIFFs, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA.
William Hewitt's VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Framlingham College, Suffolk
Record Card courtesy of Derek Walker
War Illustrated, 5th January 1918