Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 52557
Unit: 11th Battalion CHESHIRE Regiment
Date of Death: 6 November 1918
Age: 26
Cemetery: Berlin South Western Cemetery, Germany

William had been born locally, the son of Ellen Mitchell and the late William Mitchell. The family home was at 34 Stanhope Street, Reddish. He worked at the Broadstone Spinning Company until he enlisted into the army as a conscript, probably in late 1916.

On 16 February 1917, William was in the front line trenches at Bizet. This is a small village just across the border into Belgium, north of Armentieres. There had been a long period of frost, but it was now starting to thaw, causing conditions in the trenches to become very bad.

There was a common belief amongst the high command of the opposing armies that the stagnation of trench warfare led to a "laissez faire" attitude amongst the men. In order to maintain an aggressive posture, the trench raid became a regular feature. Small groups of soldiers would be ordered across No Man's Land to the enemy trench with the intent of capturing some prisoners (to gain intelligence) and to kill anyone else they found. Not only was this thought to improve the morale of the raiders, but it also meant the enemy could never completely relax.

At 3am on 16 February, the Germans fired a heavy barrage of trench mortar shells onto the sector occupied by the 11th Cheshires. One of the men injured was Albert Minshall. Under cover of this, the enemy succeeded in raiding the trench. The Battalion's War Diary notes that "they did not remain more than five minutes, but succeeded in capturing three men of a post which was isolated."

William was one of those three men. He later wrote home, via the Red Cross, saying that he had not been wounded and was quite well. However, the following year, and just a few days before the end of the war, William died. Although the details are not known, the annotation in military records suggests that he died from natural causes. Many millions died, worldwide, from a severe flu epidemic in 1918.

(NB: Original research of the February 1917 raid, by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website.)

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