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Wilmcote: William Bonehill & his family

Following on from yesterday’s post, looking at Lewis Washburn and his family, today we focus on another of the men who died in the 1922 Wilmcote accident: William Bonehill, and his family.

Grainy photo of William Bonehill in his military uniform, c.1916.
William Bonehill, seen c.1916 in the only currently available photograph, taken from the press of the time.
Birmingham Daily Gazette, 25 March 1922, p.5.
Courtesy TrinityMirror.


William was the youngest of the men to die, aged 27. He was born in January 1894 in Wilmcote, to Edward and Elizabeth Bonehill. Edward was employed in a stone quarry – again, like Lewis Washburn, there was no pre-existing connection to the railway industry. In 1911, age 17, William was living with his parents and three of his five siblings in Wilmcote. At this point he was employed as a carter for a coal merchant.

1911 census return for William Bonehill and his family.
1911 census record featuring William Bonehill, at this point living with his parents in Wilmcote.


By the time he enlisted for the First World War in October 1916, he was a packer on the GWR, working out of Stratford. He served as a private in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He served in Mesopotamia and Russia; during the war he contracted malaria. He was discharged in November 1919, presumably resuming his pre-war role with the GWR.

At the inquest William’s father made the identification and testified that William was ‘a healthy, active and steady man’.[1] This might have been a coded way of saying that William was not under the influence of alcohol, as we have seen this question being put directly to witnesses in other cases.

At the time of his death, William had only recently married, to Winifred Smith (born 1900), in November 1921. The impact on William’s new family was to be one of the saddest aspects of the Wilmcote accident and his death. The press coverage of the time noted that ‘the greatest sympathy is expressed for his young widow, who is in a very delicate state of health.’[2] This turn of phrase struck us as significant: none of the other, older, widows were described in the same way. Was Winifred more emotionally affected than the others? Or was it – as we suspected – that she was pregnant?

The answer came (of course) in the records. The birth of Winifred Joan Bonehill was registered in Alcester district, which included Wilmcote, in the 2nd quarter of 1922, (possibly in April), to a mother with the maiden name of Smith. We are confident that this is William’s daughter, born after his death – possibly prematurely.

This was another sad echo of the September 1921 Stapleton Road accident, as one of the men who died in that accident also had a pregnant wife who gave birth to a child after the father’s death. In both cases, this must have been exceptionally difficult for the mother, and a hard start to life for the children.

Winifred remarried in November 1929, to Oliver Thorn, in Stratford-upon-Avon. A press report of the time set the scene: ‘The bride […] widow of Mr WT Bonehill […] was given away by her brother, Mr F Smith, [and] wore a dress of Wedgewood blue silk, with beige hat, shoes and stockings, and carried a bouquet of bronze chrysanthemums. There were two bridesmaids … little Joan Bonehill (the bride’s daughter) in a peach-coloured dress with matching veil.’ The family was to live at Snitterfield.[3]

Page from the 1939 Register, including Winifred Bonehill in her re-married name, Winifred Thorn.
Page from the 1939 Register, including Winifred Bonehill in her re-married name, Winifred Thorn.
Courtesy The National Archives of the UK/ FindMyPast.


Winifred and Oliver appear together on the 1939 Register; she died in 1985, he in 2006. Also featured on the 1939 Register was another daughter, born in 1930 and two closed entries. Possibly one of these might have been Joan. Interestingly, one of the other names on the same page of the Register – living close by, in the rural district, was Howard G Hawker. Joan Bonehill married him in 1941, and it looks like they had a son, Raymond, in 1947 and a daughter, Susan, in 1957. Beyond this, we haven’t been able to make a direct connection.

However, in the course of our research, we were able to make contact with some of William’s indirect descendants. This included Mike Bonehill, William’s fourth cousin, twice removed, and Denise Collis, connected through her Grandfather Eric, who was brother to William. Sadly the connection was too distant for Mike or Denise to be able to add anything to our knowledge of William and his family. At least we were able to help them find out a bit more about their distant relation, even if it was a very sad story.

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at Edward Sherwood and his family.


[1] Stratford Herald, 30 March 1922, p.2.

[2] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 25 March 1922, p.5.

[3] Leamington Spa Courier, 29 November 1929, p.5.


  1. Pingback:Wilmcote: Lewis Washburn & his family - Railway Work, Life & Death

  2. Pingback:Edward Sherwood & his family - Railway Work, Life & Death

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