2nd Lieutenant, 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment.
Killed in action 3rd July 1916, age 20.
Remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, France.
Student of mathematics.
Born in Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent on 1st January 1896, William attended Hanley Secondary School, where he shone academically. Awarded both a Hulme Hall Scholarship and William Swifton Exhibition, William entered Hulme Hall in October 1913 having accepted a place at the University to study for an honours degree in Mathematics. Although quiet and unassuming in manner, he was noted in amongst his peers at Hulme Hall for his soundness and unswerving loyalty.
William was still 18 years of age at the outbreak of the war and had just completed the first year of his Mathematics degree. Not having joined the University Officer Training Corps in his first year, William was quick to sign up on his return to Manchester in October 1914. Five months later he was awarded a commission with the North Staffordshire Regiment, leaving for training in Oxford in February 1915. Finishing training in November 1915, William received orders to proceed to France to join the 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment near Armentieres. For the next eight months, William rotated in and out of the front line with the Battalion. As plans were mounted for the allied offensive on the Somme in the summer of 1916, the Battalion were transferred to the area in preparation.
On the night of 30th June the Battalion moved up to the reserve lines at Tyler’s Redoubt to the North of the village of Millencourt. Here they were issued rations and kit for the forthcoming attacks: an activity that didn’t finish until 4.30am on the morning on 1st July. At 7.30am, over 20,000 men lost their lives going ‘over the top’ into a hail of bullets, shells and uncut wire. Back at Tyler’s Redoubt, William and his colleagues could not see or hear the murderous fire. At 8pm, they received orders to launch a night time bombing attack on the village of La Boisselle. William and A Company were left behind as B, C and D company following on the heels of the Battalion bombing unit. However, on their way up to the front, they found the communication trenches blocked with wounded men mainly from the Tyneside Scottish regiments who had been part of the attacks in the morning. As a result, the bombing raid had to be postponed.
The Battalion were ordered to retry the attack the next evening. This time A Company, including William, were to be involved. Staff at Headquarters had agreed to ensure the communication trenches were clear but the Battalion encountered a number of wounded men on stretchers which again caused delays. The attack could not be postponed a second time: arriving at the front line at 4am, there was no time to brief the men on the plan of attack as dawn was approaching. The leading men from D Company launched the attack at 4.30am, with 24 separate bombing parties entering the village in front of the infantry troops. During the course of the attack, William was killed by a shell whilst leading his men forward.
Private Arthur Meakin wrote to William’s father: “He was my Platoon Commander and a real gentleman too. I was with him up to the time when I got hit, and shells were bursting all around us and machine guns played upon us. He kept us together as if on parade. I don’t think there was a cooler-headed man, nor a better leader in the British Army.” A Captain Pearson also wrote: “Your brother was a subaltern in the Company under my command and was killed in action on the morning of July 3 when we were storming La Boisselle. He was killed while leading his men in the village itself, being hit on the head. No one regrets his death more than I do myself as we can ill afford to lose such officers. May I offer on behalf of my Company our deepest sympathy at your great loss. Our casualties were heavy on that day but they were not in vain for we won and kept La Boisselle – one of the finest achievements of the big push.”