William Ernest Bruton was born in Gloucestershire and came to Chelmsford when his army unit was billeted in the town in the early weeks of the war. He was one of at least ten soldiers who lost their lives there in early 1915 as a result of a meningitis outbreak in Chelmsford.
BRUTON, WILLIAM ERNEST*,
Private, "A" Company, 1st/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment
authority of the Sanitary Committee and the Medical Officer of Health that the exact number of cases of this disease existing at present in the Borough at the present time is 11. Since the original outbreak some few weeks ago the total number of cases in Chelmsford including those mentioned above, has been 17 - 13 military and 4 civil - and the total number of deaths which have occurred is six (a seventh was to occur later in the week of the statement).
The matter is receiving the careful attention of the Local Government Board, the Town Council, and the Military Authorities, and every possible precaution is being taken to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Local Government Board state that the fever is not of a rare occurrence in the United Kingdom, and in the last forty years the malady has been known to be present in a considerable number of different localities in England and Wales, several of the outbreaks having taken place in recent years. The Board also state - Whether cerebrospinal fever is spread by direct infection from person to person is a matter of uncertainty; indeed, there is as yet no definite knowledge as to the war or ways in which the transmission may take place. Since, however,, the possibility of direct personal infection cannot, on the evidence available, be excluded, it will be wise to endeavour to secure, as far as practicable, the isolation of the sick from the healthy. It will also be advisable to apply suitable measures if disinfection to premises that have been occupied by the sick and to articles that may been in relation with them."
William was buried with full military honours in grave 189 at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery on 20th February 1915. The service was conducted by Rev, W, J, Selby, Senior Chaplain in the South Midland Division. The coffin, covered with the Union Flag, was brought to the cemetery on a gun carriage and six members of the Army Service Corps acted as bearers. A military band headed the procession and the service ended with the customary three volleys over the grave and sounding of the 'Last Post'.
The grave already contained the remains of Amy James who had died in 1892 aged 87.
The military victims of the 1915 outbreak of cerebro-spinal meningitis in Chelmsford included:
- 24th January 1915
- 25th January 1915
- 8th February 1915
- 11th February 1915
- 17th February 1915
- 17th February 1915
- 19th February 1915
- 20th February 1915
- 26th February 1916
- 4th March 1915
- 22nd March 1915
- 25th March 1915
WIlliam was born in Worcester, Worcestershire in 1898, one of nine children of the tailor William Bruton (1861-1915) and Susan Bruton (nee Jones) (1857-1914).
In 1902 William was recorded by the census, aged two, with his parents and three siblings in Worcester. A decade later the census found 12 year-old William living with his parents and three surviving siblings in Worcester.
During the First World War William joined the army at Worcester and served as Private 2934 in "A" Company, 1st/8th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.
In the early months of the war the battalion as part of the army's South Midland Division was billeted in the Chelmsford area.
William died from meningitis at Chelmsford & Essex Hospital on 17th February 1915, aged 17, but recorded as 19.
His was one of a number of deaths caused by a meningitis outbreak in Chelmsford in the early months of 1915. Such was the local anxiety about the event that the Chelmsford Borough Council's Town Clerk, George Melvin issued an official statement on the matter on 18th February 1915:
"Some cases of cerebrospinal fever having recently occurred in the Borough of Chelmsford, and exaggerated statements as to the extent of the outbreak having gained currency, it is officially stated on the