WILLIAM GERALD FORESTER RENTON was born on the 7th September 1881 at the family home, ‘Hedgecocks’ in Rowhook, near Rudgwick. He was the first son of William and Mabel Renton (nee Drury) who had married the previous year.
William’s mother, Mabel, was the daughter of Rev Benjamin Joseph Drury, the vicar of Rudgwick for 42 years from 1866 to 1908. He had a younger brother John Drury Renton (born 1882) and sister Elizabeth Mabel Renton (born 1886). After 1882 the family moved to Clare House, Tiverton, North Devon.
William was educated at Charterhouse, leaving in 1898. On the 9th August 1899 William was commissioned to be a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (London Gazette 4899 8th August 1899). The following year he joined the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards (1/KDG), with whom he served in South Africa in the Boer War (1900-1902).
SERVICE IN THE BOER WAR
William and the men of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons left Aldershot for Albert Docks and boarded the steam ship ‘Maplemore’ on 8 h January 1901. The regiment arrived in Capetown on 1st February 1901. During his service in South Africa William was Mentioned in Depatches (London Gazette 29th July 1902). The regiment arrived back in the UK on 1st November 1903.
The Colonel in Chief of the 1/KDG was His Imperial Majesty Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, an appointment granted by Queen Victoria in 1896. The regiment had adopted the Habsburg coat of arms, the double headed eagle, as its cap badge.
On 31st October 1906, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Austria, Colonel in Chief received Lt Colonel Fergusson, and Lieutenant and Adjutant William Renton in Private Audience at the Hofburg Vienna. His Majesty wore the uniform of the Regiment and decorated Lt Colonel Fergusson with the 2nd Class Order of the Iron Cross, and Lt & Adjutant Renton with The Knights Cross of the Franz Joseph Order.
SERVICE IN INDIA
Further service overseas beckoned and on 6th November 1907 William, now a Captain, and the men of 1/KDG embarked for India onboard H.M.Transport ‘Assage’, departing from Southampton. The regiment arrived in Bombay on 27th November 1907, departing for Karachi the following day. They were to remain in India until 1914.
In Europe Emperor Franz Joseph’s only son had committed suicide in 1889, meaning that the future of the Austro-Hungarian Empire lay with Franz Joseph’s nephew, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination at the hands of Serbian revolutionaries in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 led to the political decline of the major powers of Europe into the First World War.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
With the start of hostilities 1/KDG returned to Europe, departing Bombay on 16th October and landing in Marseilles on 12th November 1914 as an element of the 1st Indian Cavalry Division. The regiment went into the trenches as dismounted troops on 9th January 1915 in the area of Festubert village. It appears that William did not travel with the regiment as he was on leave in India at the time of mobilization.
On 9th March 1915 William rejoined the regiment and took command of ‘C’ Squadron. On 31st May 1915 1/KDG received orders at 5.15pm to take over the trenches in the Hooge area, east of the Belgian town of Ypres, from were they were to attack and hold Hooge Chateau. It was discovered that the Chateau was not held by the Germans, and the regiment moved into the buildings and grounds unopposed. The Dragoons then proceeded to improve the position.
On 2nd June the Germans began a heavy artillery bombardment of the chateau area, which was followed at 5pm from attacks from the north and the east. The Germans succeeded in pushing 1/KDG out of the shattered remains of the Chateau buildings. On relief, they withdrew to Zouave Wood, and then returned via Ypres to billets in Vlamertinghe.
In the period 31st May to 3rd June the regiment suffered 86 casualties: 1 officer and 23 men killed in action, 6 officers and 44 men wounded in action, 4 men died of wounds and 6 men missing believed killed. The officer killed was Captain William Renton.
Subsequently, a colleague wrote of his death:
“About Renton. Ward was about the last officer to speak to him, and the Cherub was in command of the party at Hooge Chateau. A rapid rifle and machine-gun fire was opened on the working parties, and Ward went to him to ask if they should retire to cover for a bit, but Renton, who was walking up and down very coolly in front of the Chateau right out in the open all by himself between the Germans and ourselves, told him to carry on. We did not get his body back for two days, but the infantry recovered it for us at a second attempt. As far as I can make out he had only one wound - slick through the heart. The regiment paraded about midnight, and he was buried in Vlamertinghe Churchyard, by a Chaplin, in sacred ground, and a cross placed over the grave. The shelling was apparently appalling and the dugouts were deathtraps.”
William’s name was omitted from the Rudgwick War Memorial Plaque but his life is commemorated on an individual memorial plaque on the south wall of the church.
Memorial Plaque to Capt William G F Renton in the Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick