William Mellor died as a prisoner of war in Germany. No records of him have been discovered in the Stockport area and the following information is taken from his service papers which still exist at the archives of the South African Department of Defence.
His mother was Alice Mellor who lived at 18 St Thomas Place, Stockport. It's not known when William emigrated to South Africa to work as a storeman but, during his earlier life in England, he had been a territorial soldier, serving for four years with the Cheshire Regiment.
He joined up on 28 August 1915 at Potchefstroom (now only an hour's drive from Johannesburg). His enlistment papers show he was 5' 8" tall and weighted 129 pounds. He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair. William gave his religious denomination as Wesleyan. His address was 117 Victoria Street, Dundee, Natal.
After leaving South Africa, he and his comrades came to England and, on 29 December 1915, embarked on the SS "Saxonia" for Alexandria in Egypt, arriving there on 12 January. Over the coming five months, he was admitted to military hospitals on three occasions suffering from rheumatism, rheumatic fever and dysentery. On 29 May, the battalion left Egypt and arrived at Marseilles on 9 June, proceeding to the front line on the 18th.
On 1 July 1916, British troops launched the attack that would become known as the Battle of the Somme. The first day's attack generally failed to make progress, except in the south of the battlefield. Here, the objectives had been captured and, over the coming days, further slow progress was made against determined German resistance. By the 14th, attention had been turned to Delville Wood. The initial attack to capture the Wood failed, but the next day, the South African Brigade was ordered to take it at all costs. They attacked and quickly captured almost all of the Wood, but now found themselves enveloped on three sides by German infantry, supported by artillery. It was reported that, for some time, the Germans were firing 400 shells a minute into the wood. Casualties were mounting dramatically. Because of the shelling, it became impossible for the South Africans to be supplied with reinforcements or to withdraw. They had no option but to try to dig in - a process hampered by tree roots.
Some time during this day, William is thought to have been wounded and was listed as being "missing". On 31 August, news came via the Red Cross that he had, in fact, been captured by the Germans and was now a prisoner of war. Later notes on his service record show he was originally detained at Dolinea (barely legible in record) and, from December 1916, at Lager No. 1, Munster. He died there of pneumonia whilst in a German military hospital at Witten
In 1922, the South African government wrote to Mrs Mellor saying that the small cemetery where William had been buried was being closed and his body was to be re-interred nearby at Witten Protestant Cemetery, Westphalia (about 8 miles south west of Dortmund). His remains must have been subsequently moved again in the 1920s to the new War Graves Commission Cemetery at Cologne which now has over 3000 graves.