It is often suggested that there were many soldiers who enlisted underage during the War. In fact, research for this project reveals very few. But William was one of them. He enlisted in June 1915 when he was 16 and must have lied about his age.
His parents, William Henry Bates and Margaret Ann Bates (nee Sharples) had married in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport in the early 1890s. They lived at 47 Great Egerton Street. Before he enlisted into the army, William worked for the Squirrel Confectionery Works in Stockport.
The 21st Battalion was the sixth of the Pals Battalions formed in the autumn of 1914 by the Manchester Regiment. At the beginning, it had four companies but, in the early part of 1915, a fifth company "E" was formed and William was assigned to its No. 18 Platoon. Some details of the recruitment and training of the Pals is here. Before the men went overseas, he was reassigned to "C" Company.
There is some confusion over the actual date of William's death. Available records differ. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records it as 29 August, the local press as 31 August and Regimental records published after the War as 5 September. What seems to have happened at the time is that rather than submit daily casualty reports, the Battalion has only submitted two reports in the period. One records the deaths of two men on 5 September; the other 46 deaths on 29 August. The following account of the period, taken from the Regimental History clearly shows that casualties occurred on days other than these two and it is, therefore, now impossible to know exactly under what circumstances William was killed.
On the 29th, they moved from camp near the Somme village of Montauban, relieving the 20th Manchesters in the front line near Delville Wood. "A" and "B" Companies occupied the front line, with "C" and "D" in support. Over the next couple of days, the trenches were deepened and improved and the men also started to dig a new front line trench. There was enemy shelling at intervals throughout this time. On 1 September, they were relieved by the 22nd Battalion and withdrew to reserve positions in Pommiers Trench.
The next day, 250 men formed a carrying party, bring up trench mortar ammunition. The History records "This party suffered 20 casualties through the bursting of an aerial torpedo." On the 3rd, they were back in the forward area at Montauban Alley. "During the afternoon, a bomb store in Bernafray Wood was blown up by a shell whilst "C" Company was drawing bombs which resulted in several casualties."
During the afternoon of the 4th, the Battalion's specialist grenade throwers attempted a small scale attack on the German positions in Ale Alley. This was supported by fire from "A" and "C" Companies. The History reports this was a failure and that there were, again, several casualties.
The Battalion was relieved back to camp at 2.40am on the 5th.
William's Captain wrote to his family "Private Bates is a sadly mourned by his comrades and the officers who knew him and I beg to assure you of my sincere sympathy."