Burial: Douai Communal Cemetery Grave: D.1. Died of wounds (p.o.w.): 9 December 1914 Age: 35 Awards: Twice Mentioned in Despatches
Personal: William was the son of William Morton Rich, of Mount Victoria, New South Wales, Australia, and Maria Jane (née Suttor), one of the 5 daughters of Australian politician, Sir Francis Bathurst Suttor.
William was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on the 3rd August 1879, and educated at “The School,” Mount Victoria, New South Wales. He had one younger sister, Elsie Annie Ethel, also born in Geneva, in 1881.
However, after his death it is apparent their were no obvious heirs, as in wife or children, as the following notice appeared in the London Gazette (Issue 28912 22 September 1914. p.3):
“Captain WILLIAM SUTTOR RICH, Deceased.
Pursuant to the Statute 22 and 23 Victoria, c. 35.
ALL persons having any claims against the estate of William Suttor Rich, a Captain in the Cheshire Regiment, late of 115, Jermyn-street, London, W., and of the King’s West Africa Regiment, Sierra Leone, West Africa (who died on the 9th November, 1914, at Douai, France), are hereby required to send particulars, in writing, of such claims to the undersigned, on or before the 25th day ,of June, 1915, after which date the executor of the estate of the said deceased will proceed to distribute such estate, having regard only to the claims of which he shall then have said notice -Dated this 14th day of May, 1915.
BULL and BULL, 3, Stone-buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, Solicitors for the Executor, Sir William Bull, M.P.”
In February 1920 William’s War Gratuity of £45 [about £2700 equivalent today – 2023] was also paid to his Executor, Sir William Bull, M.P. for Hammersmith, underlining the lack of descendants.
Probate Records dated 24th April 1915 give William residence at the time of his death as 115 Jermyn Street, London. His estate was valued at £538 8s 8d [£538.43 – equivalent in value to about £71,000 today] was also left in the hands of Sir William Bull.
Military History: Currently his Army records are unavailable. From the above notice he seems to have originally been in the King’s West Africa Regiment.
Lt. Col. P.L. Murray’s “Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa“, pp. 61 – 69, lists William as Private 392 in the 1st NSW Mounted Rifles serving during the Boer War in South Africa. At some point he was appointed “Galloper” to Colonel G. C. Knight (Commanding 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles). For some months, whilst with the Australians, he was Orderly to 2 General Officers.
William served with the Cheshire Mounted Infantry in that War, during which he was wounded. He took part in operations in the Orange Free State, Poplar Grove, Karee Siding, the Vet and Zand Rivers. Also in the Transvaal, east of Pretoria, he took part in actions near Johannesburg, Pretoria and Diamond Hill.
Also in the Transvaal he took part in operations at Riet Vlei and Belfast, and was present at later operations at Orange River Colony and Cape Colony. For his service he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal (QSA), with 5 clasps, and the King’s South Africa Medal (KSA), with 2 clasps (left)
According to Hart’s Army List for 1908 (which has him in the “N. Nigeria Regt.“) William was promoted “… from Ranks, local Mil. Forces, N.S. Wales” to 2/Lieutenant on 19th May 1900; Lieutenant on 1st February 1902, and Captain on 2nd November 1907.
From South Africa William was posted to India, stationed at Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan, with the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, for 6 months. He was appointed Sectional Officer at Mount Abu, Punjab, and afterwards came to England with his Battalion.
Between 1905 – 1909 William was employed with the West African Frontier Force, and for a time was Commandant at Katsena, Northern Nigeria, and later served at Sierra Leone.
His career after that is not known until the London Gazette Issue 28912 published on the 22 September 1914. Page 7573 states: “The Cheshire Regiment, Supernumerary Captain William S. Rich is restored to the establishment. Dated 14th September, 1914“, so presumably he was at that time not a serving Officer.
At the outbreak of War he sailed for France as second in command of ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion, under Captain Jones. The Battalion marched into the line south of Mons and first saw action at:
“The Rearguard Action at Elouges”
The 15th Brigade, consisting of 1st Norfolk, 1st Bedford, 1st Cheshire, and 1st Dorset, were ordered to prepare a position in rear and in reserve around Dour.
The Cheshire’s War Diary shows they had initially been placed in a defensive position with ‘A’ & ‘B’ Companies entrenched in position 1½ miles East of Bois de Boussu facing North & North West under Lt Col D.C. Boger, but on the morning of the 24th August the order came to send them into action to hold up the enemy advance whilst the remainder of 5th Division withdrew.
Both Battalions, 1/Norfolk and 1/Cheshire, marched from Dour to Audregnies and at about 11.00 a.m. Colonel Ballard (C.O. 1st Norfolks) began to place his Battalion along a line from 800 yards. North of Elouges along a track parallel to the main road between Elouges and Audregnies.
Colonel Boger deployed his Cheshire companies to extend the Norfolk lines westwards for about a mile to the outskirts of Audregnies and ‘D’ Company, under Captain Ernest Rae Jones were positioned on the right straddling the railway line.
The Battalion’s Companies’ positions were as shown on the Map (right), with half of ‘D’ Company, under Captain Rich, deployed further forward, near to the old colliery.
The War Diary for 24th August reads (in part): “2.30 p.m. I am informed Col Ballard gave orders for all troops to retire in an Easterly direction – these orders never reached the 2 front platoons of ‘D’ Coy under command of Capt W S Rich, who held on to the position he had reached in front of the line till 4 p.m. by which hour all troops had retired.”
‘Shortly before ‘C’ Company started to move, Rich, with his two platoons near the colliery, had been forced to retire. Pressed in front and outflanked, he withdrew his men yard by yard, disputing every inch of ground. This grim struggle left an indelible mark on the minds of those of ‘C’ Coy who witnessed it.‘
Captain W.E.L.R. Dugmore (O/C ‘C’ Company) linked up with Lt. E.J. Groves (‘C’ Coy.) and Captain Rich with their men awaiting him. Captain Rich has squeezed 2 platoons of ‘D’ Coy. between the vanguards of the German 66th and 93rd Regiments. These two officers, who had shown extraordinary courage and leadership, then took their men off South East to joined up with the brigade. (Crookenden, pps. 12-13)
Having survived Audregnies it is likely that William assumed command of ‘D’ Company and moved with them to their action at La Bassée.
During the Battle of Le Cateau the depleted 1st Battalion were in reserve, however, Captain Rich, with a Subaltern, a Sergeant, and seven men, held a shallow trench on the left; and with another small party posted on a ridge to the right and succeeded in holding up some hundreds of the enemy, and so secured the retirement of the troops, who passed between the parties. It was for this fine piece of work that Captain Rich was first Mentioned in Despatches.
A newspaper report of June 1915 describes what happened: “At Le Cateau the Battalion was put in reserve, but seeing the tight corner 2 Regiments were in, 2 detachments of the Cheshires went out, the one under the late Captain Rich, the other under Company Sergt-Major J.W.T. Francis. The former held a trench on the left, and the latter a small ridge on the right., and thus held up some hundreds of the enemy, while the Bedfords and the K.O.S. Borderers retired safely between them.”
The men of the Battalion used to speak of Captain Rich as a fatalist, for when spoken to about exposing himself he laughingly said, “I know I was never born to be shot,” and he appeared, for a time, to have such a charmed life that the men of his company began to believe there was something in his confidence in his future.
The enemy launched a huge offensive on the 20th October. It reached from Arras to the sea and it included a heavy assault upon the 1st Battalion at Violaines. William received a wound in the jaw on the 20th October. Although it prevented him from eating he was still as cheerful as ever, and the life and soul of his battalion.
Two days later, while acting as Second in Command of his Battalion and defending his trenches at Violaines, near La Bassée, he received his fatal wound during a sudden onslaught by the enemy. Captain Rich was listed as a ‘wounded‘ in the War Diary on 22nd October. [N.B. Four Officers and 53 other ranks were killed in action on the 22nd.]
With several other wounded officers he was taken prisoner, and removed to a hospital at Namur, and later to the Military Hospital, 4th Army Corps, Douai, France, where he died in the Lycée Hospital on 9th December 1914.
He was twice Mentioned in Despatches, for his gallantry in Sir John French’s Despatches of the 8th October 1914, and of the 14th January 1915, where he appears as “Rich, Captain W. S. (died of wounds received in action)“.
Captain William Suttor Rich, a lifetime soldier and a very brave man, was buried in the local (Communal) Cemetery in the town where he died.