Born in the Higher Hillgate area of Stockport in about 1891, William had become a professional soldier when he was 18. When War was declared on 4 August 1914, the 2nd Battalion was in Ireland and was immediately mobilised. William's wife lived at 33 Union Street, Stockport but it's doubtful if the men had any chance for home leave and a chance to say goodbye before they left for France on the 13th. William will have taken part in the Battle of Mons, the subsequent retreat and the majority of the main engagements of the first weeks of war. As far as is known, he came through unscathed.
1 July 1916 would later become known as the first day of the Battle of the Somme. There had been weeks of preparation and training for the "big push". During 30 June, William and his comrades made their way forward from Senlis Camp to assembly positions in Authuille Wood, almost in the centre of the area that would form the attack sector. The Battalion would not be part of the initial attack, timed to go in at 7.30am, but would be held in reserve ready to re-enforce the attackers and to exploit any advantages that became apparent.
During the morning it became apparent that the attack had not gone at well. There were many dead and many more wounded. The second wave of attackers had moved forward from their support positions but were still in the British front line, thinking it was the enemy's . The trenches had been so battered by German retaliatory shelling that they now offered minimal protection.
In front of the Manchesters, troops from the 32nd Division had gained a foothold in a German strongpoint known as the Leipzig Salient. The Manchesters' Colonel later recounted that at about 10.30am, "I was sent for by Brigade HQ and was ordered to take the Battalion to the left and hold the Leipzig Salient, the edge of which had been captured. By this time, our own trenches had been battered, the enemy having brought up their guns again and opened a heavy bombardment."
At first only two platoons were sent over and these found the captured German trenches full of men from several attacking battalions. Only four officers were left among them and the Manchesters' report on the day indicates "the whole were in a complete state of demoralisation". By mid-afternoon, the remainder of the Battalion was sent over (with the exception of "D" Company which was held in reserve). The Colonel's account continues "The Salient was one mass of dead and dying; we had little ammunition and no-one knew when the Boche would counter attack. It was getting dark so that all I could do was get what men I could, relieve the other brigade and hope for the best."
The Manchesters held their position throughout the night and were able to help get the wounded away back to the British lines. They were under heavy machine gun and artillery fire throughout this time and suffered many casualties of their own. The official Battalion report on the day notes "Fourteen more prisoners had by now come through and five more wounded remained in the enemy's trench. Considerable enjoyment was given to our troops by Lieut. Robertson who made the prisoners run across the open through their own artillery barrage, soon reaching our line these men were kept out of our dugouts by the sharp end of a bayonet."
Although many of the Manchesters were wounded, they had come off relatively lightly in terms of those killed. William was one of only 9 from the Battalion. The British Army suffered nearly 20,000 fatalities across the battlefield.