(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
William was born between April and June 1893 in Millom in what was then Cumberland and is now Cumbria. He was named after his father and his mother was called Clara. He had an older brother called Thomas Atkinson and 3 younger siblings: Francis Reuben, Frances Mary and Leonard. The family had one other child who had died by 1911. We don't know their name.
Thomas and William had been born in Cumberland, but Francis, who was 2 years younger than William, had been born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. The family still lived in this town in 1901, at 30 Rutland Street. William senior worked as a domestic carpenter and joiner. Ten years earlier he had also been an undertaker and wheelwright. William went to school at the Albion Day School.
By 1911 the family had moved to 12 Edward Street in the Hurst Bank area of Ashton. William senior now did carpentry and joinery for a cotton spinning firm. William junior had followed in his father's footsteps, and was a carpenter and joiner for a 'builder and contractor'.
We know that William worked as a joiner for Messrs E. Marshall and Sons of Ashton before he joined the Army. We don't know whether they were his employers in 1911. Outside of work, William appears to have been quite religious. He was 'associated with the St Gabriels Sunday School at Cockbrook' and 'a regular attender of the Sunday Morning Bible Class' held by the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Brotherhood, a Christian temperance organisation.
Later in 1911 William began his military career. He joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 1188. This was a unit of the Territorial Force (TF) based in Ashton. William kept his home and job, and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends. The battalion would also go on an annual training camp during the summer, lasting around 2 weeks.
Soon after the 1914 camp the First World War broke out. The Territorial Force was called into service in early August, and the 9th Battalion was sent overseas on the 10th September. They arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, on the 25th. By this time William had been promoted to Corporal.
In Egypt the battalion's main roles were to guard the Suez Canal, and to train. A large number of new recruits had enlisted after the outbreak of war and then gone straight overseas, so there were many inexperienced soldiers for Non Commissioned Officers like William to train.
In early May 1915 the battalion went to war. They landed in Gallipoli on the 9th and found themselves in the front line after a few days. We believe William served with the battalion throughout the campaign in Gallipoli.
The battalion took part in heavy fighting around the village of Krithia during June, July and August. They took heavy casualties, but there is nothing to suggest that William was wounded or taken ill at any point. In December 1916 an article in the Ashton Reporter newspaper stated that William was able to return home 'on a short furlough in August last'. We believe this refers to August 1915.
The 9th Battalion continued to take its turns in the front lines and in the rear in Gallipoli until the theatre was evacuated in late December. They had to contend with Turkish snipers and artillery, disease and poor hygiene, and towards the end of the year, cold weather.
We don't know for certain what happened to William after this. He had left the 9th Battalion by mid 1916. He had been assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and sent to France by the end of September.
The 2nd Battalion was not a unit of the TF, so William was given a new service number, 41493, when he joined them. At this stage in the war it was quite unusual for members of TF units to be sent to units that were not a part of the TF. We don't know for certain why this happened to William. One possibility is that he had in fact left the Army and then reenlisted.
Territorial Force soldiers enlisted for 4 years at a time, and during the early part of the war they were allowed to leave the Army and return home once this period ended. William could then have re-enlisted, or been conscripted back into the Army.
However he got there, William found himself involved in the Somme Offensive. The 2nd Battalion was stationed in Bazincourt from the end of October. In mid November they took part in the Battle of the Ancre. This was the final large British attack of the offensive. He had been promoted to Sergeant by this time.
William was killed in action on the 17th November. He was 23 years old. The 2nd Battalion was at the front on this day, trying to link up with other units and establish a continuous line of trenches in the confusion of the front line. Perhaps because of this, William's body was never found.
William senior and Clara lived at 13 Sutherland Street in Ashton when they heard about William's death. A short article about him was printed in the Ashton Reporter on the 16th December. From this we know that Francis, or Frank, also joined the 9th Battalion, with the service number 3045. He also served in Gallipoli and Egypt, and was later transferred to the Labour Corps. He survived the war.
As he has no known grave, William is one of the 72,203 names listed on the Thiepval Memorial in France. William's name is on Pier 13 Face A or Pier 14 Face C. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in October 1957.