Willie (sometimes 'William') Andrew was born in Wales and later lived in Birmingham where he joined the army. He was billeted in Chelmsford early in the war and was one of at least ten men killed by an outbreak of meningitis in the early months of 1915.
Private, Army Service Corps
"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 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."
Willie was buried with full military honours in grave 188 at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery in the afternoon of 25th 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'.
William's grave contained the remains of 34 year-old Richard Mann and his 3 year-old son who had both died in the summer of 1892.
William's father lived at 31, Muntz Street, Small Heath, in Birmingham.
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
Willie was born in 1893 in Gelligaer, Glamorgan, Wales, the son of John William Andrew (1862-1935) and Ellen Ann Andrew (nee Speed).
Both his parents came from Nottingham, but in 1901 the census recorded Willie, aged seven, with his parents and five siblings at 176 Ombersley Road in Balsall Heath, Worcestershire. HIs father was carpenter and joiner.
During the First World War he joined the army at Witton and served as Private T/2023 in the Mounted Transport Section, Army Service Corps within the South Midland Division. In the early months of the war the Division was billeted in the Chelmsford area. His home before joining up was in Birmingham, Warwickshire. A decade later 18 year-old Willie was boarding at 55 Wenman Street in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, home of Samuel Twigg and his family. Willie was an invoice clerk in a brass foundry. Meanwhile his parents and three siblings were at Holly Mount, Robin Hood Lane, Hall Green in Birmingham. His father was then a joiner and builder.
William died, aged 21, from meningitis in the Special Military Hospital 'Kenilworth' in Chelmsford on 20th February 1915. The hospital, in Moulsham Street, had been established by the military and local authorities in response to the outbreak.
Willie's was one of at least ten 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: