Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/23/91/273
(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
William was born on the 14th May 1895 in Prestwich, Lancashire. His father was called Lewis Alfred and his mother was Frances Elizabeth. He was their eldest child and had 4 siblings, Frances Christian (his only sister), Lewis Hadfield, Christopher Wilson and Thomas Christian. The family had lost one other child by 1911, and they were members of the Church of England.
Lewis was a successful solicitor; he was a partner in the firm of Orford and Sons, based on Fountain Street in Manchester. This meant the family were able to live comfortably. In 1901 they lived at Bent House in Prestwich, and employed 3 servants; a cook, a housemaid and a nurse for the children. Frances' widowed mother, also called Frances, lived with them as well.
Ten years later the family had moved to 'Eagle's Nest' on Butterstile Lane in Prestwich. As the children were older they no longer employed a nurse. They still had a cook and a housemaid, although not the same people as in 1901.
William was not living with his family when the 1911 Census was taken in April. We believe this is because he was a pupil at Winchester College in Hampshire. He will have boarded, or lived, there during the term.
During his time at Winchester William joined the Officer Training Corps (OTC). He spent 3 years in this organisation and reached the rank of Lance Corporal. It existed to give schoolboys experience of military life, without a requirement to join the Army afterwards.
In 1913 William left Winchester. He was admitted to Clare College, Cambridge University later that year. We don't know what subject he studied, but he never finished his degree. The First World War broke out in August 1914 and William decided to join the Army.
On the 7th September William joined the 3rd Public Schools Battalion. This was one of 4 battalions raised by the Public Schools and University Men's Force to allow men of a similar background to serve together. The 3rd Battalion became the 20th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. William was given the service number 5410.
When he enlisted William was 6 feet 4 1/4 inches tall and weighed 173 pounds. He had a 'fair' complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He had a 'large scar' on his left axilla, or underarm. When he enlisted his family lived at 5 Wilton Polygon in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.
William travelled to Epsom in Surrey to join the battalion. He arrived on the 18th and joined C Company. He had been promoted to Lance Corporal by the end of the year.
The Public Schools Battalions were filled with public school and university graduates, with the sort of education and background that the Army felt made them better suited as officers than soldiers. Many members of the battalions applied for commissions, including William on the 4th January 1915.
William's application was accepted and he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment on the 11th January 1915. He joined the 17th Battalion at Heaton Park in Manchester and took command of XII Platoon in C Company.
The 17th Battalion was a 'Pals' battalion that had been formed by the men of Manchester so that they could serve together. Most of its officers, though, were not from the city, making William fairly unusual. They trained at Heaton Park until April 1915. In that month they moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. That September the battalion moved again to Larkhill, Wiltshire, and on the 8th November 1915 William sailed to France.
After he arrived in France William was based in the Couin area until the end of 1915. He then moved to Maricourt and Bray in the first half of 1916.
At some point after he arrived in France William left the 17th Battalion and joined the 90th Light Trench Mortar Battery. This unit used the 3" Stokes Mortar to support infantry battalions. The 90th Battery was assigned to support the 90th Brigade, which included William's old comrades in the 17th Battalion, as well as 3 other infantry battalions.
Mortars fire explosive bombs high in the air, so gravity means the bombs drop onto their targets. This allows them to hit targets that flatter-shooting rifles and machine guns cannot. Mortars were essential weapons in the trenches because they could accurately fire into trenches and dugouts, but being a member of the crew could be dangerous.
Mortar units were often kept on the move, after arriving in a front line trench they might fire on a target and then leave the area. If they were spotted mortars would often attract German artillery fire. This could kill or injure the crew, or if they had already left then the infantry battalion holding the trench would be the one to suffer. This meant that mortar crews were not always popular with their own side either!
During June 1916 the 90th Brigade was preparing to take part in the Somme Offensive, which was scheduled to begin on the 1st July. They were assigned to attack German positions around the village of Montauban. William would use his mortars to fire on German machine guns and other strong points that threatened the British advance.
The attack was scheduled for the early morning, and the battery began firing at 7:22am. The mortars were positioned in two pits, or saps, that allowed their crews to fire protected from bullets and artillery near misses. They kept firing until 7:30. As the 90th Battery's War Diary records: 'During this period there was an explosion in one of the gun emplacements, cause unknown, but thought to be a German shell exploding on our ammunition. 1 officer and 13 other ranks were casualties due to this explosion'. The dead officer was William. He was 21 years old.
William's body was never found, so he is now one of 72,203 men whose names are listed on the Thiepval Memorial in France. He is on Pier 4 Face C. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in July 1996.