William was born in the Edgeley part of Stockport. By the time of the Great War, his father is believed to have died and his mother was living at Fir Street, Heaton Norris. Sisters and a brother were also at the family home. His brother Jack lived at 41 Wyatt Street, Stockport and he had a married younger sister, Lizzie, who lived at Daisy Mount, Wellington Street.
William, himself, was married and still lived in the Edgeley area at 23 Bowden Street. They had one child. He worked for the Cheshire Lines Railway. His original service number, 1773, indicates that, in his spare time, he was a pre-war member of the local Territorial Army Battalion and would have been mobilised when war was declared on 4 August 1914. Click here for details of the Battalion's early months of service.
On 21 June 1917, the Battalion moved from the front line area to billets at Moulle (approximately 25 kilometres south east of Calais). For the next several days, it undertook training exercises. The unit's War Diary records that on 28 June it "engaged in special training for open warfare on training area. Close order drill, bayonet fighting, physical training, range finding and musketry contributed to the programme of training carried out." It notes that one soldier was killed and one was injured and required hospital treatment.
Regimental records suggest that the soldier killed was William. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that both William and Tom Barrett were killed in action that day. William is buried near to where an army medical unit was based in Belgium so may actually be the soldier recorded as being wounded. However, this Casualty Clearing Station is approximately 50 kilometres away from the training area and there would have been medical facilities much nearer.
Tom Barrett is also buried many kilometres away from the training area and may, in fact have been attached to another unit at the time. With the passage of time, it is impossible to be sure what happened to him or William Ratcliffe.