Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William H. Saunders

William H. Saunders  :

William H. Saunders  : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

We don't know anything about William's early life or family.

In late February or early March 1913 William joined the Army. He enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based on Burlington Street in Manchester. William kept his civilian home and job and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends, as well as an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. His service number was 1635.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 the 7th Battalion was called up for full time service. They were sent overseas on the 10th September and arrived in Egypt on the 25th. Half of B Company did not land in Egypt and were sent to Cyprus; the rest of the battalion sailed down the Suez Canal to Khartoum in Sudan. We don't know which unit William was with.

The battalion was based here until April 1915. They had a number of jobs, mainly based around guarding important points such as the Governor-General's Palace and railway lines.

In April the renamed 1/7th Battalion returned to Egypt and joined their comrades preparing for the invasion of Gallipoli. They landed on this Turkish territory on the 7th May.

Within days the battalion was in the front line and taking casualties from the Turkish defenders. On the 4th June the British launched a large attack on the village of Krithia. William and the 1/7th Battalion advanced further than most British units, but this meant when the Turks counter attacked they were cut off and forced to withdraw without capturing the village. The 1/7th Battalion lost many men killed and wounded during this fighting. Their next large operation took place on the 6th and 7th August, again in the Krithia area, and again unsuccessfully.

From then on life in Gallipoli was quieter, but no less dangerous. The 1/7th Battalion took its turn in the front line and in the rear; it took casualties from Turkish snipers and artillery as well as losing men to diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery.

The battalion left Gallipoli on the 21st January 1916 and returned to Egypt. They moved into the Sinai Desert and began preparing defences to protect the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack.

In March 1917 William and the 1/7th Battalion was sent to the Western Front in France and Belgium. At around the same time soldiers serving in Territorial units were given new service numbers: William's became 277761.

On the Western Front the 1/7th Battalion fought at Havrincourt during April 1917 before moving north to take part in the Passchendaele Offensive around the Belgian city of Ypres (now Ieper). They fought at Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort) on the Channel coast. In November they returned to France and by the end of the year they were stationed near Givenchy.

On the 21st March 1918 the Germans launched a major offensive aimed at defeating the Allies before large number of American soldiers could enter the war against them. The 1/7th Battalion did their best to slow down the attack as they retreated through Bucquoy and Gommecourt. They were relieved in early April.

By the summer of 1918 the Allies had defeated the German offensive and on the 8th August they began their own attack. This would become known as the Hundred Days Offensive and it led to the end of the war in November 1918.

There is nothing to suggest that William ever left the 1/7th Battalion. We don't know if he was ever wounded or taken ill during the war. He was demobilised and returned home on the 2nd March 1919.

The rest of William's life remains a mystery. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 1990.

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