William Keenor Marcer was born 16 June 1895 in Reading. His father was William Marcer, a cabinet maker and commercial traveller, who had married Jane White Harris in Nottingham in 1872. William and Jane had two daughters, Miriam and Edith Maude. In 1888, William went to Australia with his sister Alice, presumably to visit his bothers Edwin and Walter who had emigrated there. After William returned from Australia, he married Mary Elizabeth Keenor in Exeter on 3rd September 1894. Mary had been born in Winkleigh and came from one of the well established families there, and at some time earlier had married a Rayner who died before 1894. The birth registration for William Keenor Marcer in 1895 shows that his mother was Mary Elizabeth Keenor now Marcer. In 1899, William was again on his way to Australia and New Zealand, but his wife Mary Elizabeth was to die in New Zealand in 1900. During this time, William’s first wife had been living with her two daughters and at every census up to 1901 had stated that she was married. Around 1901, William seems to have returned to England via Australia and went to live in the house occupied by Mary Elizabeth’s older sister Ellen. At the 1911 census, William Marcer is listed as living there in Park Place Winkleigh with head of household Ellen Keenor together with his son. William Keenor Marcer, now aged 15, was a joiner’s apprentice, while his father had returned to cabinet making but currently unemployed. Meanwhile, William’s first wife is still listed as living with her two unmarried daughters in Leicester, now in a 6 roomed house at 12 Chestnut Street Leicester, but now she stated that she was widowed. She died just four years later.
William K Marcer joined the Army on the 11th October 1915 in Reading. It is not certain why he joined in Reading and his father was still resident in 3 Park Place in Winkleigh. It could have been that his father still had contacts in Reading and had obtained employment for his son there, but a more likely explanation is that he had a skill or profession that was in demand be the Army. In this case, people with particular skills or professions that the Army needed were encouraged to join and, provided they were found to be suitable, they would be give a position where they could practice their skill or profession. As William K was a carpenter and joiner by this time, he had a skill much in demand to maintain and repair the increasing numbers of aircraft being acquired by the Army. When someone joined the Army using this procedure, they signed on at a predetermined place and day, and were immediately sent to a place nearby where they would be tested for suitability and then sent on a fast track induction course. As William K was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps, it seems that he had taken advantage of this procedure because the same day he was posted to the No. 2 Aircraft Acceptance Park at Hendon Aerodrome.
The Aircraft Acceptance Park was established by the Royal Navy Air Service to take delivery of aircraft from the many factories in the area, including the Grahame-White works, a private company at Hendon which was now extremely productive, Handley Page and Airco, as well as all the surrounding buildings. In September 1915, William K was promoted and embarked for France on 24 January 1917 after a period of leave, and three months later was assigned to 43 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. 43 Squadron had started in 1916 in Stirling and was equipped with various types, which it used for training until December 1916 when Sopwith 1½ Strutters arrived. These were taken to the Western Front the following month, where it operated as an Army squadron carrying out fighter reconnaissance duties. In September 1917, Sopwith Camels arrived, and ground attack replaced reconnaissance duties and which the squadron continued in this vein until the end of the war. A total of ten aces served with 43 Squadron during the war.
After initial improvements the Sopwith F.1 Camel was one of the most effective fighter aircraft as it was an agile, highly manoeuvrable biplane and accounted for more aerial victories than any other Allied aircraft during World War I. Credited with destroying 1,294 enemy aircraft, it was called the Camel due to the humped fairing over its twin machine guns. Much like a real camel, this aircraft could turn and bite you. Noted for its tendency to kill inexperienced flyers, many pilots feared its vicious spin characteristics. Until sufficient speed was developed during takeoff, Camel pilots maintained full right rudder to counteract the torque the rotary engine. Failure to do so often resulted in a ground loop with the Camel crashing on its starboard wingtip. During World War I, 413 pilots died in combat and 385 pilots died from non-combat related causes while flying the Sopwith Camel.
On 1st April 1918 The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force and William K was also transferred. At the end of the war, William K returned to Blandford to discharged and transferred to the RAF Reserve on 28th March 1919. He was soon to marry Helen Rebecca Parker in Kilburn on 17 November 1920. However it was not until 1939 that his two half sisters wrote to a relation in Australia that their “new” bother William K was of splendid disposition (not at all like their father, whom they seemed to have disliked very much). They also said that their brother ‘Will’ was a good worker - decorator, painter, plumber, joiner, builder. It appears that at the time of the letter, William Keenor Marcer was planning to move near to his half sisters Edith and Miriam who at the time were living at 10 Househall St, Mayfield Road Leicester and intended to start his business up again there. At long last the family was united.
29 October 2013