William Henry Noel Marples


This biography was written by Victoria Doran.

Noel Marples was an Old Caldeian who died, along with 18 comrades, marching towards the German line in perfect formation under heavy machine gun and rifle fire.

Marples W H N grave 915.jpg

Marples family grave in St Bridget’s church yard, West Kirby

William Henry Noel Marples was known as Noel, so that is how he will be called in this biography. He was born early in 1898 in West Kirby, the only child of his father, Edward Morris Marples (1831-1900) and his third wife Louisa Ball (1860-1943).

Edward Morris Marples was the eldest surviving child of the large family of David Marples (1797-1881) and Anne Morris (1805-1868). David Marples came from Baslow, Derbyshire and Anne Morris from Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales. They were Presbyterians and it is not known when or where they married, but their first child was baptised in Liverpool in October 1827. David Marples was a very successful printer and stationer in Liverpool, moving from 65 Lord Street in 1834 to 20 Hope Place in 1860, by which time he had nearly 50 employees. Despite being well off, there seems to have been a strong work ethic in the family as all three of Edward’s sisters worked at some stage as teachers. There was also a somewhat unconventional streak in some members of the family, brother Joseph being a homeopathic chemist, whilst brother James Orr Marples was an artist and designer of some renown. There was also an enthusiasm for foreign parts; brother Samuel went to live in New York, spinster sister Mary eventually moved to Baden Baden, Germany and sister Margaret moved to live in Antwerp, Belgium after her marriage seems to have failed.

However Edward surpassed them all in his spirit of adventure. He went to Singapore as a merchant’s book keeper. There he married his first wife Ellen Rose Warwick (1836-???) in 1857 and they had one child, Anne Francis Marples (1857-1943). By 1861 they had returned to Liverpool, where he worked for a while as a ship’s purser. At some stage they must have returned to the East Indies, as there is no further trace of Edward until 1878. By 1885 Ann was married to Christian Wagner (1848-1924), who became a Deputy Commissioner of Police in Malaya. They had 1 daughter and 4 sons, all of them older than Noel, but his niece and nephews.

By 1878 Ellen must have died as Edward returned to England to marry Mary Barclay (1850-1895) in Birkenhead. They had 5 more children : Alima (1878-1971), Frank (1880-1960), Leslie (1884-1960), Alan (1888-1964) and Idris (1890-1976). All these children were born in what was then known as the Straits Settlements, now Malaysia. They were born at various places in the state of Perak. In 1891 the 3 eldest children were living with their mother’s siblings in West Bank Road, Birkenhead. The rest of the family must have returned by the beginning of 1895 when Mary died.

In the summer of 1896 Edward was married for the third time to Louisa Ball, Noel’s mother. When Edward died in January 1900, Noel was about 2 years old, so he cannot have remembered his father. In 1901 Louisa and Noel were living at 19 Dunraven Road, West Kirby with his 3 youngest half-brothers. Alan and Idris attended Calday Grange Grammar School, where Noel later followed in their footsteps, being a boarder there in 1911. Edward left over £4,000 so Louisa had sufficient to support her family in the middle class lifestyle to which they were accustomed.

Louisa Ball came from a very different background. For generations her family had lived in Southport, Lancashire. Her grandfather Richard Ball (1791-1837) was a weaver whilst her father Joseph (1819-1867) started as a journeyman joiner, but, by the time he died was a builder. Again, the family seem to have been mainly Presbyterians, who had relatively small families for the time. However Louisa was only 6 years old when her father died, and her mother Elizabeth Butterfield (1821-1884) probably struggled to support the family. Louisa became a milliner. Possibly Edward was on holiday to Southport when he met her.

After leaving school, Noel worked for the Northern Insurance Company in Liverpool. On 31 January 1916, as soon as he was 18 years old, Noel went to London and enlisted as Private 6878 in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC).

Noel Marples - HAC record card 2.jpg

Honourable Artillery Company record card

This was the oldest surviving regiment in the British Army with only 2 operational battalions and 1 training battalion. Most of its other ranks seem to have come from middle class families during the First World War. Another local who enlisted in the same regiment in early 1916 was ‘Paco’ Kniveton, brother of John Kenneth Kniveton.  Paco and Noel doubtless trained together.

Honourable Artillery Company cap badge.jpg

Honourable Artillery Company cap badge

He trained with the 3rd Battalion until September 1916 when he was posted to the 2nd Battalion. In June 1916 he had suffered from German Measles. On 3 October 1916 the 2nd Battalion, HAC landed at Le Havre, France and were at the front within days. Noel did not fare too well as on 22 October he was admitted to the 21st Field Ambulance suffering from shell shock. However it cannot have been severe as he was back with his unit 3 days later. He was not the perfect soldier as on 28 December he was admonished for being absent from a parade.

The Battle of the Somme had ended in November 1916 with the Battle of the Ancre. The front line conditions were dreadful and the Germans were exhausted. The Germans constructed a new line of defence some way behind the front, The Hindenburg Line. From February 1917 they commenced withdrawing to the Hindenburg Line under Operation Alberich, retreating several miles at a time and razing the ground they left to make the Allied advance as difficult as possible. A further German withdrawal took place on 11 March, during bombardment prior to a planned attack. This was not noticed until the night of 12 March when British Patrols found the line empty between Bapaume and Achiet le Petit but strongly defended on the flanks. On the night of 13/14 March an attack was ordered on Bucquoy. The 2nd Battalion HAC was involved on the 15th March when they  advanced in perfect order to be mown down by machine gun and rifle fire. Noel was one of 16 Privates and 3 Lance Corporals from the Honourable Artillery Company to die in this incident. He was just 19 years old.

Marples DA 1 Apr 1917 snip jpg.jpg

Deeside Advertiser 1 April 1917

18 of the comrades were subsequently reburied in Gommecourt British cemetery No.2. One Private’s body was never recovered.

Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 jpg.jpg

Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2

Noel is also commemorated on his parents’ grave in St Bridget Church Yard,, the Roll of Honour at Calday Grange Grammar School, the United Reform Church, Grange Hill War Memorial, and the plaques at both St Bridget and St Andrew churches, all in  West Kirby.

Of his half brothers, Frank does not seem to have served in the war. He became a very successful rubber planter in Malaya. Leslie emigrated to Canada before the war. He joined the Canadian Army, but seems to have served in the Forestry Company just in Canada.

Alan served in the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, rising to Regimental Sergeant Major and earning a Military Cross.

Alan Marples citation for MC jpg.jpg

From the Calday Grange Grammar School details of all old boys who served.

It is not known what he did after the war.

Idris had moved to Leeds, Yorkshire after leaving school. He joined the Yorkshire Hussars in the Territorials in 1907 and served until early 1914 in that capacity. He went through the war mainly in the West Yorkshire Regiment before being invalided out in May 1918 due to a gunshot wound in the hand and trench foot. He finished as a Corporal, though he had reverted to Private earlier in the war. After the war he emigrated to Australia.

Of course Noel’s nephews, sons of his half sister Anne, were also of an age to fight as Anne was 39 years older than Noel.

Nothing is known of Edgar A Wagner (1886-???) after the age of 15. Hereward Marples Stockwell Wagner (1888-1950) does not seem to have served in any armed force. He became a rubber planter in Malaya, before retiring to Western Australia.

Alwyn Warwick Stockwell Wagner (1891-1961) served as a Lieutenant in the Shropshire Light Infantry and the King’s Liverpool Regiment, serving in France. He was discharged due to wounds in July 1918, but in 1919 joined the Royal Air Force for 3 years. After trying life in the cotton plantations of Sudan, he eventually settled as a farmer in Western Australia.

Ethelbert Godwin Stockwell Wagner (1893-1917) was the first member of the family to be killed. At the outbreak of war he was a medical student at Birmingham University. He must have joined up immediately as he landed in France on 22 August 1914 as a motorcycle despatch rider in the Royal Engineers. On 24 September 1916 he obtained a flying certificate from the Royal Aero Club, and when he died in France on 7 January 1917 he was attached to the 32nd Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.

The descendants of Edward Morris Marples were an adventurous lot who gave of their best to the war.

Birth: Jan 1898 at West Kirby, Cheshire
Death: 15 Mar 1917 at Bucquoy, France; killed in action
Addresses: 19 Dunraven Road, West Kirby (01); Calday Grange Grammar School, West Kirby (11); Kinfauns, 19 Riversdale Road, West Kirby (16)
Occupation: worked for Northern Insurance Company, Liverpool
Units: 3rd and 2nd Battalions, Honourable Artillery Company
Number and Rank: 6878 Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated: Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2, Hetuberne, Pas de Calais, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Andrew & St Bridget churches, West Kirby; St Bridget church yard, West Kirby, Calday Grange Grammar School Roll of Honour; United Reform Church, West Kirby
Sources: CWGC, MC, SR, Census: 01, 11, PR, BR, DA, WK, GH, CG, CGB, LG, Prob, passenger lists, Royal Aero Club records


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