Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/17/186
(L to R) Military Cross; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
William was born in around June 1890 in Portsmouth, Hampshire. He was named after his father and his mother was Elizabeth. He was their eldest child; Maud, Eva, Hubert, Daisy and Arnley were all younger. They were members of the Wesleyan Church.
In 1901 the family lived in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, at 18 Hillcrest Road. William senior was an Officer, or preacher, in the Salvation Army. Judging from all the different places his children were born the family moved around the country a great deal.
Ten years later William had left home and moved to Manchester. He had found work as a salesman in a drapery shop, although we don't know which. He lived with many other men and women in this trade at Ardwick Hall, a residence for shop assistants, on Hyde Road in Ardwick, Manchester.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and William joined the Army on the 8th September. He left his job as a warehouseman at Oxendale and Company and enlisted into the 4th City Battalion, being formed by the men of Manchester so that they could serve together. Later this would become the 19th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and William would be given the service number 12091. He became a member of IX Platoon in C Company.
When he enlisted William was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, 'blue hazel' eyes and brown hair. At the time his parents lived at 33 Field Grove in Reading, Berkshire.
The 19th Battalion trained at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915 when it moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. It moved again to Larkhill in Wiltshire during September, and then sailed to France on the 8th November 1915.
Shortly before he left Manchester William married Azora Miller on the 3rd April at Prestwich Registry Office.
In France the 19th Battalion trained until January 1916 when they took their place at the front near Carnoy. They stayed there until May when they moved to the Maricourt area to train to take part in the attack on the first day of the Somme Offensive.
This attack took place on the 1st July 1916. William and the 19th Battalion attacked a German position called the Glatz Redoubt that protected the village of Montauban. They successfully captured the position, although C Company took around 40 casualties during the advance. They were relieved on the 3rd.
After more fighting the 19th Battalion took part in an attack on the village of Guillemont on the 23rd. We have no evidence to suggest that John was not with them. This means he was fortunate to survive unharmed. At the end of the day over 500 men, well over half the battalion, had been killed, wounded or were missing. The missing were mostly either dead or had been captured.
William was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 5th August. He was promoted again to Corporal on the 20th September. During this period William was serving in the front lines, but he did not take part in any major operations.
On the 9th October William was with a group of men who had assembled in a trench to be instructed in the use of smoke flares. The trench contained many unexploded German mortar bombs. Suddenly there was an explosion. It killed or wounded 21 men, including William. Just before the explosion several men had smelt burning and William reported that he had seen Corporal 1273 Adam Guy throw one of the bombs out of the trench. Adam was killed, and it is likely that many more men, including William, would have died if it was not for his bravery.
William's wound was not serious enough for him to leave the battalion for treatment. The next day he was promoted to Acting Sergeant.
On the 26th November William reported to the 96th Field Ambulance suffering from diarrhoea. He did not return to the 19th Battalion until the 4th December. Two days later William left them for the final time and returned to the UK.
On the 9th November William had applied to be commissioned as an officer. This was the reason he left France. On the 3rd January 1917 he reported to Number 1 Officer Cadet Battalion at Newton Ferrers in Devon to begin his training. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on the 14th May.
William returned to France in June and joined the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This had served alongside the 19th Battalion throughout the war, so William is likely to have known many of its soldiers.
William led his men during the Passchendaele Offensive, fought around Ypres in Belgium during autumn 1917. It began on the 31st July. At some point during the early part of the offensive William carried out an act of great bravery and was awarded the Military Cross. Unfortunately we don't know exactly when this happened or where he was. The award was published in the London Gazette on the 26th September 1917 with this citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Coming under very heavy machine gun fire just before reaching their objective his platoon hesitated to advance. At this critical moment he pushed forward with splendid disregard of personal danger, rallied his men and gained the objective, which he promptly and skilfully consolidated.
After this fighting William was able to go on leave to the UK. He was away from the 16th Battalion between the 6th and the 20th October. He left them again on the 22nd November, but for a different reason; he was suffering from colic. He was in hospital until the 2nd December.
By mid March 1918 the British were expecting a German attack. The 16th Battalion was ordered to defend a position called Manchester Hill near St Quentin (it had been named the previous year after its capture by the 2nd Battalion). The battalion was commanded by Wilfrith Elstob, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. He made clear to the battalion that they would be resisting a large attack and that they must defend the position 'to the last round and to the last man'.
The attack came at around 6:30am on the 21st March. The Germans heavily shelled the Hill and then launched an infantry attack that was hidden by thick fog. By 11:30am the Germans had broken through and the Hill was surrounded. Many of the 16th Battalion were killed or captured. Wilfrith was killed and later awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership.
Some members of the 16th Battalion had been stationed nearby and bypassed by the German advance. They made their way back to the British lines over the next few days. It would appear that William was one of these men. He had been reported missing on the 21st and did not rejoin the 16th Battalion until the 10th April. He had spent some of this time in a Compound Battalion formed from members of many different units who had been separated from their comrades.
William was wounded on the 25th April and went into hospital. By the time he was fit enough to return to duty the 16th Battalion had been reduced to a small cadre and withdrawn from the front lines. He was sent to the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 9th July.
They did not see action between then and the start of the Allied Hundred Days Offensive on the 8th August. This drove the Germans back, but at a heavy cost. William was shot in the head during operations on or around the 19th August near Harbonniere. He was treated at the 4th Australian Field Ambulance, the 8th General Hospital in Rouen and the 74th General Hospital at Trouville.
In early September William returned to duty at the Reinforcement camp in Etaples. He was still unfit though, so he was returned to the UK on the 10th. He went home to Azora at 188 Shrewsbury Street in Brooksbar, Manchester.
After a medical board on the 30th September William was classed as unfit. He was sent to a convalescent hospital to recover and did not return to France before the war ended on the 11th November. He was however promoted to Lieutenant on the 26th October.
William was released from the Army on the 6th February 1919 and relinquished his commission on the 1st September 1921.
We don't know much about the rest of William's life. He and Azora had a daughter named Betty Eva between October and December 1919. He found work as a shoe buyer until he retired.
Azora died between April and June 1945 aged 60. William and Betty lived at 49 Circular Road in Prestwich, Lancashire until his death on the 8th February 1958. He was 67 years old.