William parents, Ellen (nee Derbyshire) and William, married between January and March 1876 at St Thomas Church, Heaton Norris. They would have several children together over the years. In 1901, when the national Census was taken, the family was living in a four roomed house at 1 Cromford Court, Brook Street West, Stockport. William, senior, was then aged 47 and was working as a labourer. Ellen was 45. Young William was already working as a bobbin sorter in a cotton mill at the age of 12. His brother and sisters were Frank (21), Harriett (19), David (17), Annie (15), Louisa (9), Mary (8) and Margaret (4).
At some point, William decided to emigrate to make a better life for himself. He settled in Fall River, Massachusetts where he earned a living as an operator in a cotton mill. The United States declared war on Germany on 4 April 1917. William did not join the American forces but travelled north to Toronto to enlist in the forces of the British Empire. He attested on 10 July 1917, giving his address as 221 Healey Street in Fall River, He requested that his mother be regarded as his next of kin. The Orr family home had now moved to 12 Port Street, in the Princes Street area of Stockport.
William's enlistment papers can be viewed on-line at the Canadian National Archives and these show him to be a small man, even for those days, standing at just over 5 feet 3 inches, with a 33 inch chest. He was of a medium complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. The examining doctor recorded his tattoos as distinguishing marks - a ship on his left arm and an eagle on the right. William had noted that his religious denomination was Church of England.
After training, William will have joined the 116th Battalion as part of a draft of troops replacing casualties. This will probably have been in very early 1918. By late August, the Allied troops were advancing on an almost daily basis. On the 27th, the Canadian 3rd Division, which included William's Battalion, was ordered to make an attack on the German defences known as the Marcoing Line, near the village of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, to the west of the French town of Cambrai.
The troops attacking on the left of the line had success and captured Fontaine but, on the right, 9th Brigade, including the 116th Battalion, was held up by strong resistance from the Marcoing Line. A renewed attack was postponed from 3pm until 7pm, to allow for further ammunition supplies to be brought up and artillery support arranged. The attack went ahead with considerable losses in other units, but the 116th was relatively unscathed and, late at night, was close to its objective - the village of Ste. Olle, a kilometre west of Cambrai. The next day, the 116th held its position, whilst other neighbouring areas were secured.
The Canadian Official History notes "The 29th was another day of hard fighting which gained little ground........The 116th Battalion fought all morning to get into Ste. Olle. With the help of a bombardment from a supporting field company, the 116th captured the troublesome suburb about noon and pushed a company forward to the junction of the Arras and Bapaume roads."
The actions of the Allied troops between 27 September and 1 October would later have the official designation as the Battle of the Canal du Nord. William was of 2089 Canadian casualties during the fighting (killed, wounded or missing). He is buried in a small Cemetery at Ste. Olle. Almost all of the 96 graves are those of Canadian soldiers killed on the 29th.