Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Watson

William Watson : Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference:  Acc5110

Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: Acc5110

William Watson : (L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

William was born on the 24th September 1895 in Blackburn, Lancashire. He was baptised on the 26th at St Matthew's Parish Church in the town. His father was called Henry Hargreaves and his mother was Emma. He had 3 older siblings; Alice, Mary and Fred, and a younger sister called Edith.

Henry lived with his family at 116 Riley Street in Blackburn when he married Emma in April 1889. By the time Alice was born in April 1891 they had moved next door to number 114. They would live here for at least the next 20 years.

Henry worked as a cotton weaver, and by 1911 all of his children had followed in his footsteps. A woman named Mary Watson lived with them in this year. She was the right age to be Henry's sister and William's aunt.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and William joined the Army on the 9th December 1915. Conscription would be introduced at the end of the year, so he may have wanted to volunteer, and choose the unit he joined, before this happened.

William enlisted under the Derby Scheme. This meant that he spent one day in the Army, and was then transferred to the Army Reserve and returned home. He would be called into active service when he was needed.

By this time the family had left Riley Street. They now lived at 105 Chester Street. William worked in the warehouse of John Shorrock and Son, Wholesale Grocers and Butter Merchants.

We don't know when William was called up. He spent some time in the East Lancashire Regiment with the service number 22254. In around July 1916 he was assigned to the 20th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and given the service number 40266.

The 20th Battalion took part in the Somme Offensive, which began on the 1st July. They attacked towards Fricourt during the afternoon, unsuccessfully. We don't know whether William had joined the battalion before this attack. He became a member of 2 Platoon in A Company.

The battalion was in action again on the 14th July at Bazentin Wood and on the 3rd September at Ginchy. It took heavy casualties during this period, but we don't know whether William was ever wounded.

After a period out of the line William and the 20th Battalion spent the winter of 1916/17 in the Beaumont Hamel area. This winter was cold and wet. Many of his comrades fell sick or suffered from trench foot due to the muddy ground. They were all infested with lice and fleas. In March 1917 the 20th Battalion moved to Bucqouy, where the Germans had abandoned their trenches.

William wrote two letters home during this period. Unfortunately we don't know exactly when they were sent:

Dear Mother, Father, sis and aunt,

Just a few lines to let you know that I am quite all right. I have not been able to write any for a while we have been so busy on the move after old Fritz but I have sent you a field card. I have just received your letter and parcel dated the 13th, the letter was dated the 17th. I had a letter dated 13th but have got no parcel from the 7th but I suppose it will be coming.

I am glad to hear that you are better but am sorry to hear about father.

I think I just about know who this photo is my word she is got a big girl now well it happens won't be long before I shall be seeing her lets hope not.

From your loving son

Billy.

It is likely that the 'aunt' was Mary. Being 'on the move' suggests this letter was written during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March and April. The British followed them and advanced over abandoned territory. The second letter reads:

Dear Mother, Father, sis and aunt,

Received your letter dated the 25th glad to hear that Father as got back to work also that you are a lot better. We are having nice weather here but it is a bit too hot.

I am very glad to hear that our Fred is still at Barrow hope he keeps there.

Very sorry to hear about
[unclear] but there's a bit of difference between having it taken off and having it blown off.

I have not received the parcel with this letter yet, you see we are expecting moving now so I can't wait whilst it comes that's all this time.

From your loving son,

Billy

On the 9th April William wrote again. At this time he was not serving with the 20th Battalion. He seems to have been working for the Town Major in Couin. Town Majors were responsible for liaising between the Army and the French authorities in their town, and were responsible for soldiers who passed through or spent time there.

Dear Mother, Father, sis and aunt,

Just a few lines to let you know I am still alive and kicking, we are still on that guard I told you about. I haven't had any letter for a while I suppose that is with not being with the Batt. Two of us went to find them the other day but they had moved, someone said they had gone in the line but we don't know where they are for certain, but that is not troubling us the only thing that is troubling us is the post and money but still we keep living that all that is wanted.

You will notice that my address has changed again for the present so when we rejoin the Batt. I will send you a field card and I will leave the word 'Sick' unmarked and then if you send anything after you can send them to the Batt. instead of sending them here. That's all this time.

From your loving son

Billy

William rejoined the 20th Battalion during April. They went into the front lines in early May. They were to take part in the Second Battle of Bullecourt, part of the Battle of Arras.

This battle began on the 3rd May. The battalion supported an attack by other units in the morning, and then attacked Bullecourt itself during the evening. The attacks, in darkness and against heavy German resistance, were not a success. Another attempt, at 3:00am on the 4th, was also unsuccessful.

The 20th Battalion lost 14 men killed, 90 wounded and four missing. William was one of the men killed that day. He was 21 years old.

Henry and Emma were told about their son's death on the 17th. They were sent his personal effects during August. There was a wallet, a letter, photographs and cards, an Army form 'B2512' and a 'Religious Book'.

On the 1st June William's former employer wrote to Henry and Emma. Mr Shorrock was 'very grieved to hear of the loss of your son Will. We shall miss him very much at the warehouse, he was a grand lad, always willing + cheerful + agreeable with everyone'.

William's body was never found, so his name is now commemorated on the Arras Memorial, along with 34,790 other men. William is in Bay 7. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in March 2010.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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