Wilfred Phillip Edward Binley

Name Wilfred Philip Edward Binley
Corps Labour Corps, formerly Kings Royal Rifles 4th Battalion
Rank Private, Rifleman
Service No. 659206, 8647
Date/Place of entry 20 December 1914
Date of death

Wilfred Philip Edward Binley was born in Hornsey, London in 1890. He was a great grandson of Thomas Binley and Mary nee Reynolds of Cottingham. His grandfather Albert, Thomas and Mary’s thirteenth child, left Cottingham aged about twenty and moved to London where he set up as a carpenter. In 1871 Albert was settled in Islington with a wife and two children, plus his older brother Henry and a lodger. He was evidently successful as by 1881 he was in business in Kentish Town as a railway wagon builder employing ten men. The household had also acquired a domestic servant. Albert’s brother Henry had died in 1875 but in his place was a boarder, carpenter’s labourer Thomas Carter from Middleton. So Albert kept up his Cottingham links.

So far I’ve been unable to trace the family in 1891 though I came across a carpenter working in the same area of London named Charles Binley, born in Braybrooke.

In 1901 Albert reappeared in Tottenham but this time listed as a dealer in barley. His cousins Harriet and Thomas - another carpenter - Binley from Corby were then living in Islington. Ten years later Albert was listed as a contractor of building materials with his wife, daughter and son in law Frederick Gear. He died the following year.

Albert and Eliza had three children surviving into adulthood. Albert Philip was born in 1863 and married Hannah Emmett while still a teenager. By 1901 he was employed by the Great Northern Railway as a railway carriage examiner (probably not ‘carnage’ though that’s what the word looks like) He and Hannah had four children including Wilfred Philip Edward. Two appear to have died in childhood, and Albert Philip himself died in 1904. Their remaining daughter Daisy married plasterer Jonathan Parry in Hornsey in 1907 and they too had four children. Jonathan joined the Northamptonshire Regiment late in the war when he was thirty eight and served in the Labour Corps.

On 5 March 1908 the eighteen year old Wilfred Philip Binley joined the 4th Battalion King's Royal Rifles and was promptly sent to India. In 1911 he was stationed in Chakrata, a British hill cantonment near the River Yamuna in the state of Uttarakhand. It lies due east of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas. The battalion was still in India in 1914 at Gharrial cantonment, a summer camp for artillery units about four miles from Murree hill station, now near Islamabad in Pakistan. The 3rd and 4th battalions returned to England in November 1914.Wilfred’s sparse surviving records show he re-enlisted into the 4th on 20 December 1914; had he returned to England before the battalion, possibly because of illness? .

The 4th was part of the 80th Brigade in 27th Division which landed at Le Havre between 20th and 23rd of December. It fought in the Second Battle of Ypres, then in November 1915 was ordered to the Greek port of Salonica, remaining in in the area until 1918. Bulgaria had invaded Serbia a month earlier and taken possession of Macedonia. The Allies were initially largely unsuccessful though they did liberate Monastir. After that trench warfare set in and an attack by the Allies in the Spring of 1917 was a failure.

The British and French soldiers suffered in extreme temperatures and malaria was a huge problem. To begin with the most seriously affected men were evacuated but after April 1917 this became impossible because of unrestricted submarine use. Macedonian hospital admissions in 1917 numbered 63,396 out of a strength of about 100,000 men.

Where was Wilfred in all of this? In November 1917 he was getting married at the British Embassy in Lausanne in Switzerland. His service record does not survive in full, but it’s highly likely he was an injured / ill prisoner of war, whether in France or Salonika is anyone’s guess. The warring countries signed an agreement on the treatment of prisoners with the Swiss Government at the start of the war, at the urging of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Captured servicemen who were considered too seriously wounded or sick to fight could be repatriated through Switzerland. There was a further agreement that those PoWs who were less seriously wounded or sick and who might be able to undertake military service away from the front line, would be interned there.

British internees were mostly sent to south-western Switzerland, east of Lake Geneva and not far from Lausanne. By the end of the war around 68,000 men of all nationalities had been interned. IRRC records list a man named Binley, but that is all the information available – there’s no given name.

Wilfred’s bride was a Belgian, Zulma Maria Claeys. She was born in 1892 at Laethen St Martin, a small town south west of Ghent. Was she working in Switzerland, maybe a nurse for the IRRC? Or had they met in Belgium? PoWs were allowed family visits so presumably she could have travelled to Lausanne for the wedding. It would be very interesting to know a bit more about her.

Wilfred was transferred into the Labour Corps for the rest of his army service, which commonly happened to soldiers thought unfit for fighting on the Front Line. Whether he was returned to England before the end of the war is not known. He was discharged on 20 April 1919 because of sickness. 

His marriage to Zulma did not last though there’s no record of a formal divorce, in England at least. In the autumn of 1926 Wilfred married Mary E Kerley in Edmonton and Zulma married Ernest E Evans in Marylebone. Zulma Evans died in 1965. I’ve yet to trace a death for Wilfred.

Other Binley servicemen to whom he was related are Sidney, Percy, Charles, George, and John Binley of Cottingham, John, George and Willis Panter of Cottingham, Albert Gear and Ernest Beeby descended from Cottingham; Bernard, George Frederick and Percy Augustine Binley, William and Herbert Roddis all descended from the Corby Binleys.