b. 05/10/1895 Gresley, Derbyshire. d. 23/09/1966 Abergavenny, Wales.
William Beesley (1895-1966) was born on 5th October 1895 in Church Gresley, near Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, later moving to Nuneaton, Warwickshire. After leaving school he worked as a miner at Haunchwood and Tunnel Colleries. Towards the end of 1914 he enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, accompanying the 9th K.R.R.C. to France in May 1915. He was soon in action near Ypres and was wounded twice during the year. On recovery he was posted to a machine gun section in the 13th Rifle Brigade.
On 8th May 1918 at Bucquoy, France, when Private Beesley’s platoon sergeant and all the section commanders were killed he took command. Single-handed he rushed a post, shot four of the enemy, took six prisoners and sent them back to his lines. He and a comrade then brought his Lewis gun into action, inflicting many casualties and holding their position for four hours until the second private was wounded. Private Beesley, by himself, maintained his position until nightfall, when he returned to the original line with the wounded man and the Lewis gun which he kept in action until things had quietened down.
In the same action, William Gregg would also be awarded the VC. He was promoted Corporal on 28th June 1918, the day that the award of his VC was announced in the London Gazette. He was subsequently invited to tea in the trenches with his Commanding Officer and to lunch with his Divisional Commander who also gave him a box of chocolates. On 9th August 1918 he and Sergeant Gregg received their V.C.’s together from King George V at a field investiture at HQ Third Army at Frohen-le-Grand, France.
On 15th July 1919 he was awrded the French Medaille Militaire for an earlier undocumented action during the war. He was demobilized in the same year and returned to work in the mines. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Artillery but was discharged in 1941 due to his age. After the war he worked for a manufacturing company at Coventry as a commissionaire before retiring in 1960. In 1954, William Beesley attended the funeral of Arthur Hutt VC in Coventry. He was part of the cortege that formed up at the Canley railway crossing and followed Hutt’s coffin on foot to Canley crematorium. Notably , he refused to wear his own medals at the funeral out of respect for his fellow VC recipient.
William Beesley fell ill on a holiday in Abergavenny, Wales and died in the local hospital on 23rd September 1966, aged 70. His body was returned to Coventry, where he was buried in St Paul’s Cemetery. His second wife, Elizabeth Ann, was buried with him after her death in 1975. His medals including his VC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the Medaille Militaire (France). The medals are held by the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: ST PAUL’S CEMETERY, COVENTRY, WARWICKSHIRE.
Thomas Stewart – Medal Group at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester
Brian Drummond – VC Stone in Church Gresley, Derbyshire.