First World War in Headington and Marston, Oxford

(Albert) William WEBB (1879–1916)

(Webb is also remembered on the St Andrew’s Church Roll of Honour and thus appears twice in the “tour”)

William Webb

William Webb (baptised as Albert William Webb) was born in Headington in 1879. He was the son of Thomas Webb (born in Barton in 1849 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 9 December) and Mary Ann Tolley (born in Headington in 1854 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 26 February).

In 1874, about fifteen months before her marriage, William Webb’s mother Mary Ann Tolley gave birth to an illegitimate son, and he was brought up in Old Headington by his grandparents, the shepherd George Tolley and his wife Maria, who was a laundress:

  • Henry Edward Charles Tolley (born in Headington in 1874 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 6 December).

William’s parents were married at St Andrew’s Church on 13 February 1876 and declared in 1913 that they had had thirteen children, so were probably including Henry Tolley above. Their twelve children born after the wedding were as follows:

  • William Thomas Webb (born in Headington in 1876 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 6 August); died aged two months and buried in St Andrew’s churchyard on 10 September 1876.
  • George Thomas Webb (born in Headington in 1877 and privately baptised by St Andrew’s Church on 14 November)
  • (Albert) William Webb (born in Headington on 13 July 1879 and baptised as Albert William at St Andrew’s Church on 31 August)
  • Arthur Ernest Webb (born in Old Headington on 22 July 1881 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 28 August 1881);
    died aged six months and buried in St Andrew’s churchyard on 18 January 1882
  • Mabel Alice Webb (born at Noke on 1 December 1882 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington on 27 May 1883)
  • Walter Raymond Webb (born in Barton, Headington on 10 August 1884 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 16 October)
  • Alfred Edward Webb (born in Headington on 5 November 1886 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 26 December)
  • Thomas Henry Webb (born in Headington on 17 November 1888 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 30 December)
  • Ernest Webb (born in Headington on 26 December 1890 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 8 March 1891)
  • Myra Elsie Webb (born in New Headington on 10 May 1893 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 18 June)
  • Arthur Henry Webb (born in New Headington on 30 May 1895 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 14 July)
  • Percival Charles Webb (born in Highfield on 4 October 1898 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 4 December);
    died at Highfield aged two and buried at Headington Cemetery on 13 April 1901.

William Webb’s father Thomas was variously a builder’s, gardener’s, and general labourer, and neither he nor William’s mother could read or write.

At the time of the 1881 census William was just one year old, living with his parents and older brother George in Old Headington.

The following year the family appears to have been living at Noke, where Mabel was born, and in 1884 at Barton, where Walter was born.

By 1886 the family was back in Headington, possibly in New Headington.

At the time of the 1891 census William (11), who was still at school, was , living in Mattock's Row on the south side of Wilberforce Street (then called William Street, with his parents and his six surviving siblings: George (13), who was now an errand boy; Mabel (8), Walter (6), and Alfred (4), who were at school; and Thomas (2) and Ernest (three months).

By 1901 William (21) had already left home: he had probably already joined the Grenadier Guards (Service No. 3734). His parents had moved to New High Street, and his father was now a gardener and his mother a laundress. Seven of his siblings were at home: Walter (16) and Alfred (14), who were both working as gardener’s labourers; Thomas (12) and Ernest (10); and the three born since the last census: Myra (7), Arthur (5), and Percival (2). Percival, however, died within days of that census.

Mr & Mrs Webb

♥ In the third quarter of 1903 in the Sheppey registration district, (Albert) William Webb married Ethel May Bossom. Ethel was born at the Prince of Wales pub in Walton Street on 12 December 1881 and baptised at St Paul's Church on 23 January 1882, the daughter of the metalworker Edward Bossom and his wife Emily.

Ethel accompanied William on his military posts, and they had the following children:

  • Dorothy Sylvia Webb (born in Rochester, Kent in 1904, reg. third quarter)
  • Myra Emily Webb (born in Aden in Bombay, India on 22 April 1907 and baptised there on 15 May 1907)
  • William Edward Webb (born in Roorkee, Bengal, India on 16 November 1909 and baptised there on 5 December 1909)
  • Vera E. May Webb (born in the Plymouth district in 1911, reg. third quarter)
  • Phyllis Irene Webb (born on 17 November 1914 in Plymouth).


On 1 January 1911 when William was still a Private he was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct (LSGC) Medal.

A few months later in the 1911 census, Albert Webb (32) was described as a “Soldier, N.C.O.”, and he and his family were then staying at 27 Hill View Road, Botley with his brother-in-law John Edwin Howkins, who was a coal merchant.



William Webb and his young family were evidently based in the Plymouth area when their two youngest children were born in 1911 and 1914 respectively.


Webb's house


Meanwhile in 1911 William West’s parents and his brothers Walter (27), Thomas (22), Ernest (20), and Arthur (15), who were all labourers, were living at 119 London Road (left). This was then 7 Westbourne Terrace).

His father Thomas was still working as a gardener when he died at this house at the age of 63. He was buried at Headington Cemetery on 3 January 1914.

Webb was still serving in India as a non-commissioned officer when war broke out. He moved his family back to Headington to a house in Lime Walk in All Saints’ parish, probably around the beginning of 1915 when he was sent to serve in France.

In 1916 William Webb’s mother was still living at 119 London Road), which is why Webb is remembered on the St Andrew’s roll of honour as well as the All Saints’ one.


Below: Westbourne Terrace in about 1916, when the present shops were still houses with front gardens

Westbourne Terrace in 1916

Webb was still serving in India as a non-commissioned officer when war broke out. He moved his family back to Headington to a house in Lime Walk in All Saints’ parish, probably around the beginning of 1915 when he was sent to serve in France.

By early 1916 Webb's older brother Henry Tolley and his younger brothers Walter, Alfred, Thomas, and Ernest had also volunteered to serve, and they and their mother were all pictured in the “Patriotic Families” section of the Oxford Journal Illustrated of 23 February 1916. The caption reads:

Mrs Webb, 7, Westbourne-terrace, Headington, and her six sons who are serving. Left to right: Pte. H. Tolley, A.V.C.; Second-Lieutenant A. W. Webb (Siege R.G.A.), awarded D.C.M., and promoted for service in the field; Gunner W. Webb, R.G.A.; Gunner A. Webb, R.G.A.; Pte. T. Webb, 7th Battalion Wilts Regiment (invalided); and Private E. Webb, 8th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.

Patriotic families: Webb

Poppy In the First World War William Webb saw sixteen months of active service in France, first as a Sergeant, and then in December 1915 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant for services in the field. He served in the 109th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and was mentioned in Sir John French’s dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal at Neuve Chapelle.

Webb was killed in action in France at the age of 37 on 24 July 1916. His obituary in the local press simply states that his death was the result of shell-fire, but in fact he and six of his fellow officers were killed by a stray shell (possibly fired by British rather than German artillery) that landed on the officers’ mess.

He and his comrades were originally buried at a cemetery in a clearing at the top of Fricourt Wood, but their remains were moved to the Dantzig Alley British Cemetery in Mametz in 1920. and his war grave there has the added words “FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH”. (Only 40% of war headstones bear an inscription such as this near their base: the main inscription was free, but families had to pay 3½d per letter for a personal message.)

He is remembered on the Roll of Honour of both St Andrew’s Church, Old Headington (the parish where his mother lived) and All Saints’ Church, Highfield (the parish where his wife and five children lived).


All Saints' board

William’s mother
  • Mrs Mary Ann Webb moved to 17 Stapleton Road after the war. She died there at the age of 74 and was buried in Headington Cemetery on 14 January 1929.
William’s widow
  • Ethel May Webb moved to148 London Road after the war (the house now occupied by “Kazan Japanese Cuisine” and then numbered 68). In about 1935 she moved from there to 31 Ramsay Road in Headington, and died around 1955.
William’s daughters
  • Dorothy Sylvia Webb married Reginald G. Whitaker in the Headington registration district in the third quarter of 1932.
  • Vera E Webb married Charles W. Beale in Oxford in the second quarter of 1942.
  • Phyllis Irene Webb married Harold William Osborne in Oxford in 1939 and they lived in Kingston upon Thames.
William’s older stepbrother
  • Henry Edward Charles Tolley married Gertrude Eleanor Morris at St Andrew’s Church on 16 November 1895, and they had seven children. Their youngest son Leslie John Tolley (1913–1995) was the Chairman of Lloyds Bank from 1975 to 1984 (see Who Was Who).

See also

Back to All Saints’ Church, Highfield roll of honour

Back to War Memorials page on Headington Community Website