William Morris is thought to have married Martha Collier during 1875 in the Manchester area. Their first child, Thomas, was born in the city before they moved to Denton where they lived for a number of years and where Ernest and his three brothers, Walter, John and Albert, were born. In the mid 1890s, the family moved to Romiley where they lived at 24 Compstall Road.
Ernest was a regular soldier having joined the army some years before War was declared in August 1914. His unit was then on garrison duty in China (presumably in Hong Kong) and did not join the fighting on the Western Front until the beginning of December 1915.
The Battle of Arras opened on 9 April 1917 and a major objective was to be the capture of Vimy Ridge. Canadian infantry battalions would carry out the assault and would be supported by Canadian and British heavy artillery such as Ernest’s Siege Battery. It was equipped with four 6 inch howitzers which could fire their shells about 9000 yards. They were used to batter the enemy defences and strongpoints.
The attack was a success and over the coming days the front moved forward. As it did so, the heavy artillery, situated well behind the infantry’s front line, also moved forward and, by the 23rd, was in new gun emplacements at the village of Thelus, actually on Vimy Ridge.
Whenever they arrived at new positions they had to fire quite a number of test shots to “register” the range of new targets. They started to do this in the early afternoon and commenced firing at the area in front of the German trenches to batter down their barbed wire before another infantry assault. After about 150 rounds had been fired, the German artillery had identified their position and started to shell them with heavy 8” shells with the intent of destroying the guns.
Orders were received that the men should withdraw from the area, leaving their guns and take cover. The enemy fire became very heavy and the Battery’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, records that shrapnel splinters were being thrown 1000 yards from the point of explosion. Ernest was hit by one of these splinters and died instantly. Battery Sergeant Major Peartree was badly wounded and died later during the evening. Another four of Ernest’s comrades were also wounded but survived.