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Soldier Billy Box wore brass wound stripes with pride

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 19, 2014

By John Workman

  • (Above) Billy Box in uniform. (Below) Best mates together, Fred Mitchell and Billy Box (seated)

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EVERY photograph from ages past has a story to tell. Behind every view there is a history of change that goes back thousands of years, and behind every face the hopes and dreams, happiness and sorrow of an individual life's journey.

A photograph brought in to Bugle House by Wilf Ellis and published in the January 2nd edition fits this criteria. It showed a football team from the Great Western Railway that may possibly have featured in the very first J. W. Hunt Cup competition in 1926, and has proved both rewarding and thought provoking.

Last week in a follow up story published on the back page we quite rightly called Billy Box, a GWR employee and football team captain who appeared in the team photo, a WW1 hero, and with more information obtained recently from an email sent to us by Dave Hinsley, we have been able to add the following details.

First of all we must apologise to Dave for spelling his surname incorrectly in the previous issue.

It was his grandfather who became best buddies with and brother-in-law to Billy Box, and we are grateful for Dave to carry the story a stage further. "My granddad was Fred Mitchell, not Vic as previously suggested, and moved to Heath Town in 1933 (He is the last player on the right in the back row of the team photo), and became the Labour councillor for that area until his death in 1958.

"The GWR team is definitely from the early 1920's, judging by the age of my granddad, but clarification is still needed as to whether it was a team that appeared in the first J.W. Hunt Cup.

"I have managed to collate a little information together about Billy, some by word of mouth (from 60 years ago via my gran, his sister) and some from a little research.

"According to the 1911 census, Billy Box, born William in 1897 (dad William d.1935 and mom Kate d.1948) was living at No. 13, Union Mill Street, Wolverhampton and his occupation was boot maker.

In 1924 he married Millicent Fletcher and they had a child the same year named Joseph William Box. I have no idea what happened to Billy's son, but if any of his relatives are in the area and read this article, it would be great if they got in touch.

"I have several photographs from his family archives and I can be contacted on 01902 844740 or hinsley149@btinternet.com.

"Billy was indeed a war hero, as was my granddad Fred, his dad and his two brothers, and countless thousands of others who joined the forces never knowing whether they would ever see home again. I have managed to find out two photographs, one of Billy in uniform and one of him and granddad Fred together. Billy was wounded several times and I believe the stripes on his cuff are what are known as wound stripes."

(The British Army began awarding a brass "Wound Stripe" in 1916 with approval by King George V.

The badge was worn on the left forearm, fastened through the uniform cloth, and additional badges were granted for subsequent wounds, suggesting Billy was wounded at least four times).

"As a result of the war Billy suffered from deafness and was tragically killed by a train while working on the track.

"An alarm was sounded but he failed to hear it. I seem to recall the accident occurred in the West Bromwich area, but that isn't definite.

"My granddad Fred had to go and identify the body and was a friend and brother-in-law to Billy right till the end."

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