William ACTON
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: R/7898
Unit: C Company, 2nd Battalion KINGS ROYAL RIFLE CORPS
Date of Death: 23 July 1916
Age: 20
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

William was the eldest son of Thomas and  Mary. He had an older sister, Decima, who had been born in the Stockport area in 1889 and a number of younger siblings – Joseph, Mary, Edwin and Ada. When the 1901 Census was taken, the family was living at 12 Holmes Street, Cheadle (and, by the time of the War, at 34 Heathside Road, Cheadle Heath).

Nothing is known of William’s early life except that, before he enlisted into the army, he worked for the Post Office Engineering Department as a clerk and was a keen footballer.

He enlisted on 4 Decmeber 1914 in Stockport and his service papers show him to have been just over 5’ 5” tall. He was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Rifles on 24 March 1915 and was wounded at the end of November 1915. After a few weeks at home, he returned to France just before Christmas, being transferred to the 2nd Battalion..

On 20 July 1916, the 2nd Battalion was relieved from its position in the second line of trenches near the village of Mametz. It had been undertaking the burial of the dead from previous engagements from the Battle of the Somme which had started on the 1st of the month. The men had also been improving the trenches.

After a quiet day, orders were received on the 22nd that, the next day, they would attack newly dug German positions a couple of miles away near Pozieres. They were in their assembly positions by 8.45pm. After an intense artillery bombardment, the Battalion attacked at 12.30am. Almost immediately, the Germans, helped by their Very lights, opened up with considerable machine gun fire. “C” Company, along with most of the Battalion, was unable to make progress and had to find whatever cover it could in No Man’s Land. Only “D” company and a few others made it to the German trench. The battalions attacking either side of the KRRC failed to make any progress. The enemy kept up sustained fire from machine guns and grenades and there was no option but to retire. 65 soldiers were dead or missing in an attack that had been a failure

A friend subsequently wrote to William’s parents “We went into action and he was with us then, but none of his section saw him after the charge nor has he been seen since but we know he was not wounded while with his own section.” The friend went on to say that the battlefield had been closely searched the morning following the action but no trace of him had been found.

Like many others, William had simply disappeared – presumably blown to bits by artillery fire.

(Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

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