This is a tragic and complicated story of bravery and enormous fortitude.
William Joseph Workman was born in Slimbridge on 23 April 1896 the son of Henry William and Ellen Workman. He appears in the 1901 census as ‘William J. Workman aged 4, born Slimbridge’
In the 1911 census, aged 15. his name has been changed to ‘Joseph William’ and as Joseph William Workman aged 19yrs 6mths he joined the 3rd. Batt. Gloucester Regiment, Private 10883 on 27 August 1914. His previous occupation being ship’s steward. His Army service record, up to and including his discharge in 1918, is available and shows him to be 5ft 11ins tall, fair haired with blue eyes, and states he has been working as a ship’s steward prior to joining the army.
The doctor’s report on his discharge from the Army tells the story of Joseph’s war:
He saw service in the Dardanelles from June to December 1915, then in hospital in Malta and England suffering from trench foot and paratyphoid A+B until September 1916. He was then sent to Salonica in Greece in February 1917. In April he was blown up and buried and was put in the Canadian General Hospital. Then sent to a convalescent camp but broke down again owing to a bombing practice and an Air Raid. In hospital again from August 1917 to February 1918 then sent to Malta where he remained until August 1918. He returned to England and was in Bath War Hospital 16.09.18 to 01.11.18 and then Seale Hayne for three weeks where soldiers with shell shock or with neurasthenia were treated.
Comment from a doctor at Seale Hayne: In view of the fact that he wishes to return at once to work in the Merchant Navy – recommend a gratuity in lieu of pension
Joseph’s war was over. His first merchant seaman record card after WWI, which is undated and includes the photograph above, shows service from 8 March 1919 to 13 July 1921. He worked for the same shipping company until 1940, rising to the rank of Chief Steward. We believe he served on two convoys aboard the San Delfino in September and December 1939.
He then joined the San Ubaldo on 27 February 1940. The ship left Halifax on 10 April 1940 as part of convoy HX 34, most of which arrived in Liverpool on April 26. She was reported as a straggler, subsequently arrived in Boulogne on 27 April and Dunkirk on May 7. She left Dunkirk on May 9 and Joseph William was listed as missing. Sailing with out him, she survived the war to be scrapped in 1955.
We can only postulate on what Joseph’s frame of mind was when he found himself on board a bulk fuel ship moored off Dunkirk as the evacuation was underway. As far as we know no trace of him was ever found and the ship’s log simply records that Chief Steward Workman was not on board when the ship sailed and, as the convoy was under Navy command, he was listed as a deserter.
Joseph never married and probate was granted to his mother on 9 August 1946. Inquest records for 1946 are not yet publicly available so we cannot be sure on what basis probate was granted.
He is rightly included on our War Memorial along with all the men who fell in World War 2 and his name is recorded on the family headstone in the graveyard.
It simply says: Joseph William, beloved son Ellen and Henry William. Missing at Dunkirk May 9th 1940
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