Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Upton

William Upton :

William Upton : Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Defence of Ladysmith'

Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Defence of Ladysmith'

William was born in around 1867 in Hulme, Manchester. His father was called Thomas and his mother was Clara. He was their oldest child, and had 3 younger siblings that we know of; Thomas, John and Clara. The family were Roman Catholics.

We don't know anything about William's early life. In 1881 the family lived at 2 Tranmere Street in Hulme. Clara worked as a seamstress. Thomas wasn't at home the night the Census was taken in early April.

Ten years later in 1891 they had moved to 16 Buxton Street in the nearby All Saints area. William had found work as a moulder.

By mid 1894 William worked as a labourer for David Moseley and Sons, who made waterproof clothing at their factory on Chapel Field Lane in the Ardwick area of Manchester. He lived with his mother, and possibly other family members, at 85 Welbeck Street in Greenheys.

On the 28th May William joined the 4th Battalion of the Royal Lancaster Regiment in Manchester. This was a unit of the Militia so he would keep his civilian home and job and train as a soldier for a short period every year. His service number was 4148.

When he enlisted William was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 116 pounds. He had a 'sallow' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He told the Army he had been born in early 1873.

William began his service with 76 days of drill and training. This was long enough for him to decide that Army life suited him, and on the 29th August he joined the Regular Army. He transferred to the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 4290. He had gained 10 pounds during his Militia training.

After training at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, William was posted to the 1st Battalion in mid November, shortly before or shortly after they moved from Preston in Lancashire to Aldershot in Hampshire. He joined A Company of the battalion.

William was based here until the end of February 1896. He then left both the 1st Battalion and the UK. He was sent to Dinapore, now Danapur, in eastern India to join the 2nd Battalion. On the 26th September William obtained the 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education.

The 2nd Battalion stayed in Dinapore until November 1897. It then sailed to Aden, now in Yemen. William left them there and continued on to Gibraltar to rejoin the 1st Battalion.

During 1899 tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and that August the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. William sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October. The war began badly for the British and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.

William and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relief force reached Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.

We don't know why, but William left South Africa on the 4th April 1900 and returned to the UK. We believe he joined the new 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Aldershot. He began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 11th August 1901, but forfeited it a month later. We don't know what William did to lose this extra pay.

The Boer War ended on the 31st May 1902. William had originally enlisted for 7 years as a Regular soldier to be followed by 5 in the Army Reserve. This period had come to an end so he was transferred to the Reserve on the 8th July 1902.

Reservists were free to find civilian homes and jobs, but could be called back to the Army in an emergency. We don't know how William began his civilian life, but it must not have suited him because after less than 6 months, on the 29th December he rejoined the Regular Army.

William seems to have spent the next year at the Regimental Depot. In December 1903 he was sent to Singapore to rejoin the 1st Battalion. Here, on the 13th June 1904, William was found to be drunk on duty. He was placed in confinement until his Court Martial on the 21st. The Court Martial found him guilty and sentenced him to 42 days imprisonment with hard labour.

The 1st Battalion left Singapore in September 1904. It moved to Secunderabad in India. It would spend the next 10 years in this country, and William would be with it for the entire time.

William was drunk on duty again on the 7th January 1906. He was again found guilty by a Court Martial. This time he was fined 10 shillings and given 28 days imprisonment with hard labour.

On the 10th September William was allowed to re-engage, or extend his Army service. He was willing to serve for a total of 21 years. His mother Clara died before the end of this year.

During October 1908 the 1st Battalion moved south to Kamptee. They were based here until November 1911. In this month they moved to Delhi to take part in the Durbar celebrating the Coronation of King George V as Emperor of India. The battalion took part in the Durbar itself on the 12th December, and the spectacular military parade on the 14th. It also provided many guards of honour for dignitaries. A total of 100 Delhi Durbar 1911 Medals were allocated to the 1st Battalion, William did not receive one.

After the Durbar the battalion moved to Jullundur in the modern Indian Punjab. Here, during the summer of 1912, William sustained a 'serious injury to right knee'. The Army held a Court of Inquiry. It reported on the 27th August that William had not been on duty at the time. We don't know what he had been doing, or how long he took to recover.

The First World War broke out in early August 1914. The 1st Battalion quickly mobilised and set sail for Europe on the 27th August. They arrived in France on the 26th September and after another month they were in combat around Festubert.

Conditions on the front line during the early part of the war were bad. It was wet, cold and dangerous, and for soldiers used to the heat of India things must have been even worse.

As in South Africa, William left the 1st Battalion after just a few months. He was returned to the UK on the 3rd November. Again, we don't know why. After a month he was posted to the 3rd Battalion at Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. This was not a front line unit; its job was to train new recruits.

By mid 1916 William's 21 years of service were over. On the 2nd May he agreed to stay in the Army until the end of the war, and continued to serve with the 3rd Battalion. We don't know his exact job.

Although William was willing to continue, the Army had other ideas. They decided William was 'no longer physically fit for war service' and discharged him on the 25th October 1917. He was awarded a Silver War Badge with serial number 258595 to show that his discharge was honourable.

The rest of William's life remains a mystery. As well as his Queen's South Africa Medal, he was also awarded the 1914 Star with '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914' clasp, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his Army service.

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
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Tameside Metropolitan Borough logo
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council