Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/331
(L to R) General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Palestine'; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star with clasp '1st Army'; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaf; United States Legion of Merit
William was born on the 25th June 1910 in Brough Park, Catterick, in Yorkshire. His father's name was Robert Willis and his mother was Ethel Annie. He had an older sister, Vera Bland Almond. Robert was a commercial traveller and sold wines, spirits and cigars. William grew up in Darlington; in 1911 the family lived at 45 Clifton Road, and went to Darlington Grammar School. He was a member of the Church of England.
We don't know what first drew William towards the idea of joining the Army, but on the 5th April 1929 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Supplementary Reserve of the Durham Light Infantry. He made the Army his full-time career on the 29th August 1931 when he transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Shorncliffe in Kent. William was a forward for the 1st Battalion rugby team during that winter. In the New Year William attended a course at the Small Arms School in Hythe, Kent
The 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment were based in Sudan during this period, and William joined them on the 23rd October 1932. Most of the battalion was in the capital, Khartoum, but D Company (the specialist Machine Gun Company) was based in Atbara around 200 miles further north. William joined this Company. The Regimental Gazette records that William's attempts to get to know the wildlife were not successful, he was bitten by a crocodile!
After just over a year in the Sudan William was transferred to the 1st Battalion, who were based in the very different location of Jamaica. He arrived there on the 23rd January 1934. His fellow officers described him as 'no mere novice in machine-gunnery', so he had put his time in Atbara to good use.
William was promoted to Lieutenant on the 28th August 1934. Not content to rest at this rank he took and passed an examination that meant he was qualified to be promoted to Captain, although he wouldn't be for some time. During the summer William was on a Platoon Commanders Machine Gun course at the Machine Gun School in Netheravon in Wiltshire. He also attended an Anti-Gas course at Winterbourne Gunner in the same county.
The end of the year took William abroad again. The 1st Battalion was sent to Egypt and William joined them on the 12th December 1935. He still took his rugby very seriously, in one match in 1937 against a unit of the Royal Artillery William got a slight concussion from a 'splendid tackle'.
He was serving in Ismailia when he met Evelyn Louise Burford. They got engaged in 1937 but their wedding plans had to be put on hold when the 1st Battalion was ordered to move from Egypt to Palestine in order to put down the rebellion that had broken out there. They arrived on the 14th January 1938.
We don't know which jobs William held during his time in Palestine. The 1st Battalion moved on to Singapore in September but William went back to the UK and the 2nd Battalion instead.
In January 1939 William began a Russian language course at London University, which he passed in March. At some point during this period he married Evelyn at St Nicholas' Church in Chislehurst, Kent.
William's career took a different turn in June 1939. He was seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as an Air Intelligence Liaison Officer. In this job William would have been assigned to one of the RAF's Army Cooperation Squadrons. These squadrons carried out reconnaissance for the Army by taking photographs and observing enemy forces from the air. William was there to brief and debrief the pilots, and to use his military experience to find enemy forces in photographs they had taken.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 William went to France with his Army Cooperation Squadron. Four of these squadrons went to France, but we don't know which one William was assigned to.
The German invasion of France in May 1940 was a disaster for the Allies, and British forces were evacuated back to the UK. William was amongst them, he went to RAF Odiham in Hampshire until January 1941 when he returned to the Army. He was soon sent to the Staff College at Camberley in Surrey. He took the Army's Staff Course and passed in February 1942.
For the next 9 months William held a number of positions as a Staff Officer. He was not in command of soldiers in these roles; he would be responsible for planning, administration and other vital behind the scenes jobs. He had been promoted to Temporary Major in January 1941.
William was sent overseas in November 1942. He was assigned to General Dwight Eisenhower's Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) which was planning for the invasion of North Africa. William was a key figure in creating the Air Photo Section of AFHQ's Intelligence Branch. Such a huge operation needed a great deal of photographs in order to get up to date intelligence about the enemy's positions, and William was responsible for providing them.
After the invasion, codenamed Operation Torch, William stayed with AFHQ through the rest of the campaign. He held the same job during the invasions of Sicily on the 9th July 1943 and Italy on the 3rd September.
William's work was recognised by both the British and the United States. He was Mentioned in Despatches by the British on the 16th September 1943. This is his citation:
Major Almond has built up the Air Photo section of the Intelligence Branch at Allied Forces Headquarters since the formation of the Headquarters. During the planning stage of the North African Expedition he was responsible for the provision of photographic material on a vast scale to the Task Forces, and it was only by his great energy that deliveries were carried out to time.
Since arrival in North Africa he has done very good work in the provision of photographs for current operations and in planning for their provision for future operations.
The Americans awarded William the Legion of Merit. This is the citation for this award:
For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as co-ordinator of photographic reconnaissance demands in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns from July to December 1943. As Officer in charge of the OI - Photo Office, G2 Section, AFHQ, Lieutenant Colonel Almond was charged with meeting the photographic reconnaissance demands of the Allied naval, air and ground forces operating in the Mediterranean area.
In the execution of this mission, he demonstrated outstanding ability to co-ordinate the requirements of the three services. His skill in the determination of the order of performances of the many missions assigned them has made it possible for the photographic reconnaissance units to meet seemingly impossible schedules. His ability to resolve apparent conflicts between air, ground and naval demands has actually resulted in a saving of thousands of flying hours. These savings have not only speeded up the operational time involved in meeting intelligence support demands, but have also affected great economics in aircraft engines, equipment, supplies and human life.
As important as this job was, William felt that 'it was about time I did some proper soldiering'. He was assigned to the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Italy on the 5th July 1944. By November he had been posted to the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles. He was to spend the rest of the war with this unit.
On the 7th May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, William was appointed second in command of the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Sussex Regiment. This unit was based in Persia, now called Iran. He took over command of this unit on the 26th August and oversaw their move into Egypt.
William held a series of staff jobs in the UK between leaving the 2nd Battalion in November 1945 and returning to the 1st Battalion of The Manchester Regiment in May 1948. The Battalion moved to Germany later that year. He was a member of D Company until December, when he became the Battalion's Training Officer, although by March 1949 he was back with D Company, this time as its commander. William moved again in the autumn, taking over Headquarters Company.
After a training course William left the Manchester Regiment again and returned to Africa. This time he went to Freetown in Sierra Leone to become second in command of the 1st Battalion the Sierra Leone Regiment. He held this job from October 1950 until September 1952 when he moved again, this time being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and taking command of the 3rd Battalion of the Gold Coast Regiment, based in what is now Ghana.
William returned to the UK in June 1953 and held more staff jobs in the UK and in West Germany until on the 2nd February 1955 he decided to retire and go to live with Evelyn at Laverock House in the village of St. Breward in Cornwall.
Ornithology and natural history were subjects that William had always been interested in, and in retirement he was able to devote his time to them. By arrangement with the University of Exeter he was able to lecture on these subjects throughout Cornwall, and he was also Chairman of the Cornwall Naturalist's Trust. By 1966 he was keeping bees. His interest had meant he was nicknamed 'Blossom' by his fellow officers, as well as being known as Bill to his friends.
Evelyn was by William's side when he died in East Cornwall Hospital, Bodmin, on the 7th October 1975. He was 65 years old. Evelyn lived until June 1998, when she was 92 years old.