William Robert Couzens came to Essex from London with his widowed mother after his father’s early death. He joined the army in 1905, was one of the first to go to France after the outbreak of war. He married his cousin in 1916 and had a son. In 1916 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. He was killed in August 1918. A brother also lost his life in the war. His widow lived in Victoria Road.
William was born at Battersea, London in 1887, the son of Robert Deane Couzens and Alice Annie Couzens (nee Giggins). His father had been born in Westminster, London in 1860; his mother in Rayleigh in 1858. The couple had married in Kent in 1880.
William’s siblings included Beatrice Annie Couzens (1882-1974), Hilda Maud Couzens (1886-1903), and John Couzens (born in 1890). Beatrice Annie was born in Chelsea, London, and the others at Battersea. He also had a brother Bert Couzens, details of whom have yet to be traced.
The 1891 census recorded three year-old William living with his family at 2 Bullen Street in Battersea, London. His father was a whitesmith. His father died the following year in London, and the widowed Annie returned to Rayleigh. There she bore a son, Arthur Couzens, in 1894.
William’s mother married William Arthur King (born c1861 in Ipswich) in the Rochford District in 1898. They had a daughter Alice M. King, born at Rayleigh in 1901.
The 1901 census found William, then 13 years old, living at High Street, Rayleigh with his mother, step-father (a brick-maker) and siblings. He was a draper’s shop boy.
On 24th October 1905, when aged 18 years and two months William attested to join the Essex Regiment as a private soldier. At the time he was employed as a cucumber grower and lived in Rayleigh where his mother was his next of kin. He was five feet four and three-quarters tall, weighed 116 pounds, had afresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.
As a regular soldier he landed in France on 22nd August 1914. On 1st January 1916 the Supplement to the London Gazette reported that William and his late brother John had been mentioned in dispatches. A 1914 newspaper report mentioned Corporal Couzens of the Essex Regiment - it could refer either to William or his brother John.
COUZENS, WILLIAM ROBERT,
Company Sergeant Major, 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment
On 17th June 1918 the Supplement to the London Gazette reported that William had been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. He was killed in action on 31st August 1918 while serving as Company Serjeant Major 8474 in the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment. He is buried at Feuchy Chapel British Cemetery, Wancourt, Pas de Calais, France (grave: I. F. 7).
News of his death appeared in the Essex Weekly News on 6th September 1918:
“C.S.-M. William Couzens, Essex Regt., an old Rayleigh lad. was killed by a shell in France on Saturday. He was one of the original Expeditionary Force who went out in the first days of 1914, and he has been continuously in France since. He had been up and down the line many of the great battles, but until Saturday came through unscathed. He was 31 years of age. Deceased joined the Army at the time of the Boer War, but was not sent out there. He leaves a widow and child now live in Chelmsford. Sergt. John Couzens, also Essex Regt., his brother, was killed three years ago when trying to save a wounded comrade; and another brother, Bert Couzens, is in France.”
A week later the Essex County Chronicle reported:
“Co.-Sergt.-Major. Wm. Couzens, Essex Regt., killed by a shell in France, was one of the original Expeditionary Force, and had until this had come through unscathed. He was 31, and a Rayleigh man, his widow and child now live in Chelmsford. Sgt. John Couzens, Essex Regt., his brother, was killed three years ago, and another brother, Bert Couzens, is in France.”
That day’s Essex Weekly News carried the following family announcement which mis-spelled his surname:
“Cousens. - On August 31st, killed in action, C.S.-M. William R. Cousens, Essex Regt., dearly-beloved husband of Helen Cousens, Victoria-road, Chelmsford, aged 31. - He died that others might live.”
The edition also reported:
“C.S.-M. William R. Couzens, Essex Regt., of Victoria-rd., Chelmsford, has been killed by the bursting of a shell. He was 31 years of age and went out to France with the first Expeditionary Force. Lieut.-Col. A. E. Maitland, writing to the widow, said: ‘I knew your husband well, and I, too, and an old Pompadour, and I can say that of all the warrant officers and N.C.O.’s that I have known in the battalion I esteemed your husband as among the best. He was a man in whom not only I but all the officers with whom he served always placed the utmost confidence and trust - a confidence and trust which have always been justified.’ Capt. C. D. Randall, deceased’s company officer, wrote that he felt that he had not only lost a splendid soldier, but also a good friend.”
William is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
William’s brother was killed in action with the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment on 13th May 1915 and is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford. Their cousin (also William’s brother-in-law) was killed near Ypres in 1917.
William’s widow did not remarry and eventually died in the Chelmsford district in 1960, aged 70. Their son died eight years later.
In May 1916 William married his first cousin Helena Kate Wallis at Chelmsford Cathedral. He was aged 28 and a soldier. She was two years his junior, the daughter of William Wallis and lived at 13 Victoria Road in Chelmsford. Like William she had been born in Battersea - her mother, Kate Lucy Giggins, was a younger sister of William’s mother. Later that year William and Helena’s child, John Wallis Couzens was born in the Chelmsford district.