William was born 24th March 1882 in Hasketon, Woodbridge, Suffolk. His parents were Bertha and Walter Steele. His father worked as a horseman on a farm.
His siblings were
Frances born 1869
Blanche born 1870
Florence born 1879
Bertha born 1884
His sisters all worked as servants. Frances married in 1890 and emigrated to Canada with her husband Allan Bridges in 1899. He became a farmer there.
William lived with his parents in Church Lane, Hasketon, Suffolk in 1901 and was working as a gardener.
In 1911 William was working as gardener in Saxlingham Nethergate and was a boarder with James Whitham and family. Frederick Whitham the son of the family was a bell ringer at St. Mary’s Church. William was a talented and enthusiastic bell ringer as well and was probably known to the family before he moved to live with them.
He rang bells in both Suffolk and Norfolk. He rang his first peal in Pettistree, Suffolk on 25 October 1902. He rang altogether 142 before the start of the war. He conducted 71 of these peals. As a conductor he was in charge of the ringing of the peals and making sure people were in the correct position in the method being rung. Few ringers are capable of doing this. His last peal was Double Norwich on 30 July 1914 at St. John de Sepulchre in Norwich.
During the time he lived in Saxlingham he was the tower captain and rang 53 peals in the tower.
It is thought that he moved to live in Saxlingham about 1909. In 1908 two new bells were added to the ring in Saxlingham making it a ring of eight. William is not in the group photograph of the ringers and bell hangers taken on that occasion.
The local rector Reverend Pitt was an enthusiastic ringer and encouraged young men in the village to take part. One of his servants was a ringer. It was common for ringers to advertise in the Bell News and Ringing World publications for other ringers to work for them. This may have happened with William and why he came to the village.
He rang his first peal in Saxlingham Nethergate in 1909. He conducted the first peal rung on the new bells by a completely local band on 13 October 1910
William is sitting in the centre of the photograph which was taken on 13th October 1910 after the ringing of the peal
William Steele, October 13th 1910
Through Reverend Pitt’s influence and with William’s experience and ability as a conductor, the local band became outstanding and competent ringers.
William never rang after the war and it is assumed that this is because injuries prevented him from doing so. It is known that he was wounded twice but it is not known what injuries he sustained.
William’s service records have not survived but it is known from medal and ringing records that he enlisted on 5 December 1915. He served with both the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment, service number G/15183 and the 9th Bedfordshire regiment, service number 29000. He became a corporal.
It is known that he was admitted to hospital on 8 November 1916 with haemorrhoids and pyrexia of unknown origin. He was discharged back to duty on 4 January 1917. He however was transferred to furlough.
The entry for admission to hospital says that he had been in the field force for 4 months and that he had been in the army for 1 year and 8 months. This is a different date for enlisting to what has previously been said. It is not known which is correct.
He was awarded two wound stripes during his service. One of these was announced on 27 November 1916 but it is not known when he was wounded as he was in hospital at the time of the announcement. His residence was given as Woodbridge, where his parents lived.
He was discharged from the army on 19 March 1919. He was considered to be no longer fit for war service, probably because of his injuries.
It is not known what he did after the war. He is on Saxlingham Nethergate war memorial and so he may have returned to Saxlingham. It is known that his bell ringing ended and that he never married.
In 1939 he was living at 109 Magpie Road, Norwich. His occupation was given as Army disabled pensioner. He was a lodger with Jessica Jane Daines. She was a spinster and had been a dressmaker.
William died in Norwich in 1954
England & Wales, Birth, marriage, death index 1837-2005
UK Census Collection
British Army Medal Roll Index cards, 1914-1920
1939 Register- www.findmypast.co.uk
1919 Annual Report, Norwich and Ipswich Association of Ringers. Ringers who served in the First World W
Saxlingham Nethergate Bellringers – Jeff Fox, information collected for display in Church and for British Heritage Lottery Funding of new bells in 2014.
Information from Bell News, the Ringing World and Norfolk Diocesan Ringing Society Annual reports.
If anyone has any photographs or information about this person, please contact me. Email firstname.lastname@example.org