Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Emmott

William Emmott :

William Emmott : Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Natal', 'Belfast', 'South Africa 1901'

Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Natal', 'Belfast', 'South Africa 1901'

William was born in January 1877 in Oldham, Lancashire. He was named after his father and his mother was Alice. He had an older sister called Edith and 5 younger siblings: Frank H., Alice M., Harold, Ethel and Fred A. Two other children had died by 1911.

William senior was a butcher and his family grew up at 334 Manchester Street in Oldham. He also served as a Councillor at some point before 1900. William junior was educated at Hulme Grammar School in the town and then followed his father into the butchery trade.

At some point William joined the 6th Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, based in Oldham. As a Volunteer he continued to live his civilian life and trained as a soldier during the evening and at weekends.

Towards the end of the 19th Century tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising. The Boers attacked on the 11th October 1899, starting the Boer War.

The British Army suffered some serious defeats during the early months of the war and began to send reinforcements to the country. The Volunteer Force was not organised or trained to fight abroad, but units were asked to form Volunteer Service Companies that could be sent to South Africa and attached to Regular Army battalions.

William was one of the first men to volunteer to join the Manchester Regiment Company. He enlisted in the Regular Army for 1 year on the 10th March 1900 and was given the service number 7197. At the time he was 5 feet 11 1/2 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.

The 1st Volunteer Service Company was assembled in early May. Oldham's Volunteers were given a rousing send-off by the town on the 11th. They arrived in South Africa on the 11th June and were attached to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

William served in Natal, taking part in small scale operations. The vast distances to be covered sometimes led to long, uncomfortable train journeys, such as one between Elandslaagte and Zandspruit on the 20th July. William wrote many letters home and described this journey as 'alright during the daytime whilst it was warm, but it was very uncomfortable during the night, as it was very cold... I can't say that I enjoyed the journey very much. Nineteen and a half hours in a coal wagon is rather too long to be comfortable'.

William saw his first action the next day. The Company was ordered to occupy 2 hills that were supposed to be unoccupied. They were not, however: 'about 200 yards from the foot we got a warm reception. The bullets fell about us like hail... I was just behind [Lieutenant Percy Bamford] and bullets fell all around him. One hit the ground between his feet... We immediately rushed up the hills and drove them off... so ended our first experience of being under fire. I felt decidedly uncomfortable the first few minutes, and had a strong inclination to duck my head when I heard the bullets whistling over me: I soon got used to it however'.

William's skill as a butcher meant that a few days later he was removed from the Company and attached to the 5th Divisional Supply Column, part of the Army Service Corps. The soldiers needed huge amounts of meat, so William often slaughtered 6 beasts such as cattle or oxen and 50 sheep every day. Even in the rear areas he was not away from the war; at one point 'a shell which burst over a wagon on which 2 of us were sitting beside a goat. The smaller bullet just touched my companion on the tip of his nose then buried itself in a bag of oats. The larger bullet killed the goat'. William sent the two bullets home to his father, along with the cartridge case from the first bullet he fired at the Boers.

The British Army kept trying to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. William took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so William stayed in South Africa.

There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. William returned to the Volunteer Service Company in around October and served with them for the rest of his time in South Africa. The Company left the country on the 26th April 1901. Three other Volunteer Service Companies of the Manchester Regiment would serve there during the war.

On their return to Oldham on the 23rd May the Volunteers were greeted by a crowd of around 30,000 people. They marched through the town to the steps of the Town Hall, where dignitaries were waiting to formally welcome them home. William senior was one of these men.

William was discharged from the Army on the 29th May 1901, after 1 year and 81 days. We don't know whether he continued to serve in the 6th Volunteer Battalion.

After his return from South Africa, William married Sarah Parkin in Oldham between January and March 1902. By 1911 they had a butcher's shop at 55 Oxford Street in the town, where they also lived. We believe William and Sarah had at 4 children: William, Alice Mary, Edith and Harry.

We don't know whether William fought in the First World War that broke out in 1914. By the end of his life he lived at 92 Grange Avenue in Oldham, where he died on the 30th January 1949. He was 72 years old. His medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in January 1962.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council