Palmer, The Hon. William Matthew


‘Bill’ Palmer was the eldest son of the Right Honourable Roundell Cecil Palmer, 3rd Earl of Selborne, PC, MP (Viscount Wolmer, F1900-03). His mother was born the Hon. Grace Ridley, third daughter of 1st Viscount Ridley.  His uncle, Captain the Hon. Robert Stafford Arthur Palmer (C1902-1907, 1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment), had died of wounds in Iraq on January 21st 1916 (see individual entry). His brothers were also Wykehamists: the Hon. Robert Jocelyn Palmer (F1932-1937) and the Hon. Edward Roundell Palmer (F1939-1943).

He came to Mr. Quirk’s House in 1925, was a prefect in his last year, and, keenly interested in history and politics, he won a Vere Herbert Smith prize, also in his last year.

In 1930 he moved on to Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a Second Class in History in 1933. He then had some years’ experience of business life, working for the Boots Pure Drug Co., Ltd., in Nottingham, but left this to take up farming and the care of an estate.

On July 16th 1936 he married Priscilla, the younger daughter of Captain John Egerton-Warburton, of Arley Hall, Cheshire.   The couple had four children: the Hon. Rosemary Laura Palmer (born May 1937, died April 1938); the Hon. Katherine Elizabeth Palmer (born July 1938); John Roundell Palmer, 4th Earl of Selborne (born March 1940); and Henry William Palmer (born July 1941).

He had joined 4th (Territorial) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment in 1938, and became a Captain in 1941.   In 1940 they were in Hitchen, forming part of a reserve in case of a German invasion.  Toward the end of the year they moved to the Kent coast, responsible for the defence of the coastal area around Margate.  They then moved to Shorncliffe and Folkestone, and at the start of October 1942 carried out a divisional field-firing exercise on the South Downs near Lewes which was supposed to mark the culmination of three years of training.

It was during this exercise that Palmer was killed, as the result of a gunnery accident which occurred on October 2nd 1942, at Westmeston in Sussex. It appears that whilst he and his men were engaged in a field training exercise a live shell fell short, killing him and Private John McKinley (aged thirty-six, of Pinewood Road, Ash, Surrey). At the inquest, which was held in Lewes, “Sergeant William Tinckler stated that he and other men of the regiment were waiting on the Downs for an artillery barrage to lift, when a shell pitched in the middle of his platoon. Captain Lord Wolmer, who was kneeling on his right, suddenly fell forward on his face. A piece of shell had struck him in the back of the head and he was killed instantly.

Major Robert Thomas Vernon Hay, Royal Artillery, said that he could not account for the fact that this shell fell among the men. The accident might have been caused by them not moving forward exactly as arranged, or by some fault on the part of the gunner.”  (The Times).

Palmer was thirty years old when he died. He is buried in a grave on the east side of St. Matthew’s Church, Blackmoor, Liss, Hampshire.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Wolmer, Viscount
  • Forenames or initials: The Hon. William Matthew Palmer
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1925-1930
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: Hampshire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 27th May 1912
  • Date of Death: 2nd October 1942
  • How Died: Killed on Active Service
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner F1
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: St Matthew's Church, Blackmoor, Liss, Hampshire