William LESTER
Rank: Private
Number: 29105
Unit: 14th Battalion HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY
Date of Death: 28 November 1916
Age: 23
Cemetery: Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, Pas de Calais, France

Little is known about William's early life, except that he had been born in Ashton under Lyne. It has not been possible to find anyone of the right age on the 1901 Census living in either Ashton or the Stockport areas. When the local newspaper reported his death, it mentioned his two grandmothers, but not his parents - perhaps suggesting they had already died. Mrs Lester was reported as living at 48 Love Lane, Heaton Norris and was late of the Coach & Horses Hotel, Portwood. His maternal grandparents also seem to have been in the licensed trade as there was also an "in memoriam" notice from his unnamed other grandmother, Willie, Harriett and Sid of the Queens Arms, Princes Street, Stockport.

By the middle of November 1916, the Battle of the Somme had drawn to a close. William and his comrades had not been involved, as they spent the whole of the summer and early autumn, further north around the French town of Loos. They arrived on the Somme in early November and, on the 16th, were working to improve the defences in the trench system at Hebuterne. This village is in the north of the battlefield, about 12 miles from the town of Albert. They stayed in this sector for three days, before being relieved to billets for the remainder of the month.

The Battalion's War Diary makes no specific mention of any casualties during this period, so it is not possible to know how William received his fatal injuries, although it was, almost certainly, as a result of shrapnel from shellfire. He will have been evacuated from where they were working to either 20th or 43rd Casualty Clearing Station (field hospitals) based at Saulty (a journey on today's road of 14 kilometres). The hospital matron later wrote to William's family:-

"Your dear boy was brought to us on November 18th/19th, suffering from severe wounds. He was very ill all the time he was with us, but we always hoped he would pull through. An operation was performed in the hope of saving him, but it all proved too much for his strength and he died on 28th November. Our chaplain attended to him while he was ill and he buried him in our little cemetery adjoining the hospital. Please accept our sincere sympathy with you in your sad loss."

It is most unusual for a casualty to spend more than a couple of days at a field hospital. They were either stabilised and moved to a more permanent facility or they died. It is likely that once the surgeons had operated on William, they concluded there was no hope for him and he would have been made as comfortable as possible until he died. His will to live must have been very strong to have survived another 10 days.

The "little" cemetery referred to by the matron now contains nearly 1300 burials.

   
           
   
     
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