Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Roberts

William Roberts : Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR3/17/185

Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/17/185

William Roberts : (L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

William was born in 1886 in Tyldsley, near Wigan in Lancashire. He later moved to Irlam o'th' Height in Salford, and grew up there. We don't know anything else about his early life or family.

The First World War broke out in August 1914. William left his job as a miner at Agecroft Colliery and joined the Army on the 8th March 1915. William joined the 3rd Battalion of Salford Pals, which was formed by the men of this town so that they could serve together. It became the 19th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and William was given the service number 17734.

The 19th Battalion trained at Conwy in North Wales until June when it moved to Catterick in Yorkshire. After training here the battalion was sent to France on the 21st November.

William was promoted to Lance Corporal on or around the 20th December. They spent the first half of 1916 in the area around Albert. The Somme Offensive began on the 1st July, and William took part in it. He attacked Thiepval village with the rest of the 19th Battalion. The attack was a costly failure.

On the 2nd July William was admitted to the 92nd Field Ambulance for medical treatment. This suggests that he may have been wounded during the fighting on the 1st July. He was sent to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station on the 3rd. His wounds must not have been serious, as he was discharged on the 8th.

William spent 4 days at the 23rd Infantry Base Depot before rejoining a front line unit. This was the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. We don't know why William was attached to this unit. They were also involved in the Somme Offensive. William's first operation with them is likely to have been the attack on Guillemont on the 26th.

At some point William was promoted to Acting Corporal. This rank was made permanent on the 30th September. The battalion spent October in the front line and took part in an unsuccessful attack on the villages of Ligny-Thilloy, Thilloy and Le Sars on the 12th October. William was promoted to Acting Sergeant on the 18th.

On the 24th William was officially transferred from the Lancashire Fusiliers to the Manchester Regiment. He stayed with the 18th Battalion, and was given a Manchester Regiment service number: 44668.

Between the 15th and the 25th December William was able to go on leave, most likely back to the UK. He found himself in trouble on the 2nd January 1917. He had 'absented himself without leave' and had been found drunk. He was convicted and sentenced to be reduced to the rank of Private.

William was 'accidentally wounded' on the 29th January. He didn't need medical treatment. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 23rd February. During April the battalion took part in the Battle of Arras. William was promoted to Corporal on the 25th June, and then became an Unpaid Lance Sergeant again on the 13th July.

During June the 18th Battalion had moved north into the Ypres area of Belgium. They took part in the Passchendaele Offensive, which began in this area on the 31st July. They fought at Sanctuary Wood on the first day and then took turns in the front lines and in the rear until the end of 1917.

William began to be paid as a Lance Sergeant on the 6th October and was promoted to Sergeant on the 15th November. He was able to go on leave between the 2nd and the 16th January 1918.

William did not return to the 18th Battalion when he was supposed to. Instead he arrived at 7pm on the 19th. As punishment he forfeited 2 days pay.

Just 2 days later William left the battalion again. He reported sick to the 98th Field Ambulance. We don't know what was wrong with him. He was not well enough to return to duty until the 9th February.

Ten days after this the 18th Battalion was disbanded. This was because of a reorganisation of the Army that aimed to have more soldiers in fewer battalions, rather than fewer soldiers in more battalions. William joined the 17th Entrenching Battalion until he could be assigned to an infantry unit.

Entrenching Battalions were used as a source of labour for jobs such as digging trenches. William was a member of the 17th until the 7th April, when he joined the 1/6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

William joined them just days after they had played their part in defeating the German Spring Offensive. They had been forced to retreat and were now holding the line around the villages of Bucquoy and Hebuterne. This lasted until August.

On the 22nd June William fell sick again. He was suffering from scabies. He was admitted to the 1/3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance for treatment, and didn't return to the 1/6th Battalion until the 2nd August.

The Allies began a major offensive of their own on the 8th August. The 1/6th Battalion first joined it on the 14th when they went into the front lines around Colincamps. The Germans had begun to retreat, so the battalion moved forwards, trying to keep in contact with the Germans so they could not rest and build defences. They were relieved on the 17th.

During this advance William carried out acts of great bravery. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the London Gazette of the 5th December 1918. This is his citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership whilst in charge of fighting patrols to keep in touch with the enemy and advance the line. He led his men to the second objective under very heavy fire, and despite the fact that both his flanks were unprotected, owing to other patrols not being able to advance he held on most determinedly under very difficult circumstances. Later, his platoon officer being wounded, he assumed command and handled the platoon with great skill. He set a very fine example to his men and gained valuable information.

The advance continued, and on the 22nd and 23rd August William was leading one of the battalion's patrols. These were sent out ahead of the front line to try and locate the German positions. William was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions. This is the equivalent to being awarded the medal a second time. It was published in the London Gazette on the 18th February 1919 with this citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and fine patrol leading from 21st to 24th August 1918, east of Colincamps. He went out with a patrol and brought back good information. While out reconnoitring he located a machine gun post, and killed the crew, bringing back the machine gun.

Just days later, on the 2nd September, William was shot in the thigh. This was most likely during the attack on the village of Villers-au-Flos. He had to be evacuated back to the UK for treatment and didn't return to the front before the end of the war on the 11th November.

William was discharged on the 21st March 1919 and returned to his home at 11 Queen Street in Irlam o'th' Height. He lived on this road for the next 40 years.

We know William married and had at least one daughter, but not the names of either. We also don't know whether he was able to return to the coal mines.

William was a familiar sight at the 6th Battalion reunions, and at remembrance services at the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral. Although his health began to fail him in later life, he was still 'always to be seen'.

In 1959 William moved to Keighley in Yorkshire. He died there on the 17th August 1963, exactly 45 years since the week he had won his DCM and Bar. He was 78 years old.

William was buried in his old parish church, St John's in Irlam o'th' Height, on the 23rd. He had decided that his medals should be left to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment, and so they were donated during September.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council