William Edward SHEPHERDSON
Rank: Corporal
Number: 81789
Unit: 8th Battalion (Manitoba Regiment) CANADIAN FORCES
Date of Death: 14 February 1919
Age: 27
Cemetery: St Mary’s Churchyard, Bramshott, Hampshire

Herbert Shepherdson originated from Driffield, in East Yorkshire. The family were prominent in the area. He married Agnes Ann Veitch in the late summer of 1889 and William was their first child.

In 1901, when the Census was taken, the family was living at Cadge Lane, Emswell (which is a mile away from Driffield). Herbert was not at home that day. The family was recorded as being Agnes (then 37), Annie (6), George (4), Herbert (7), Sissie (2) and William (10). The family owned a cabinet/furniture making business which must have been reasonably successful as they could afford to employ a live-in servant, 18 year-old Alice Bell.

At some point, Herbert moved part of the manufacturing business to Stockport establishing the Driffield Cabinet Works at Carrington Field (now approximately the location of Hillgate Industrial Estate).

Nothing else is known of William's very early life, but he was clearly something of an adventurer. By 1914, he had settled near Winnipeg, Manitoba and was earning a living as a rancher. A couple of years earlier he had been in Mexico, fighting with the rebels led by Emiliano Zapata, in the Liberation Army of the South.

In the autumn of 1914, William enlisted into the army at Winnipeg. His attestation papers indicate he was an imposing figure, standing nearly 6 feet tall (at a time when average heights were much shorter than today), and had a 41 inch chest. He was of dark complexion with brown hair and grey eyes. William had recorded that he worshipped as a Presbyterian. On 1 December, he was promoted to Corporal. On 23 February 1915, he sailed form Halifax aboard the SS Vaderland for the UK where he completed his military training at Shorncliffe. On 24 June, still at Shorncliffe, he requested that he be allowed to revert to the rank of private and it was with this rank that he went on active service on 22 July.

His younger brother, Herbert Medway Shepherdson, had also emigrated but to Australia. He had settled in Perth where he carried on the family craft of cabinet making. Medway enlisted in the 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, a couple of weeks after William, on 11 January 1915.

In early 1917, Herbert Shepherdson wrote to the editor of the Driffield Times with a kind offer:-

Dear Sir

As I reside in a district which provides for more wounded soldiers than any other district in the country, it has struck me that doubtless at times wounded Driffield lads might be in hospital quite near here, and I would esteem it a favour if you would make known through the Driffield Times that if any Driffield people have wounded relatives in the Manchester area (which of course includes Stockport), now or during the period of the war, if they will drop me a line at the above address, either I or some of my family will be most happy to visit them and when they can get out of hospital we shall be very pleased to see them at Carrington Field.

We have on several occasions heard of Driffield boys actually being in Hospital in Stockport. If ever I or my family can do anything to ease the monotony and brighten the lives of the Driffield lads who may be suffering in this district we shall be very pleased to do so. I may say that I have done a lot of Red Cross work, meeting ambulance trains coming in, but have never had the privilege of coming across any of the wounded Driffield lads.

Yours respectfully

H Shepherdson

5th April 1918 was later officially designated as the final day of the Second Battle of the Somme, which had seen massive and successful German attacks along a 40 mile front. On this last day, Medway, now a lieutenant with an Australian Battalion undertook acts of bravery for which he was awarded the Military Cross (having previously won the Military Medal before being commissioned) He  received a congratulatory letter from General Birdwood, Commander-in-Chief of Australian Forces, which was reproduced in the Driffield Times:-

"This is a line to convey to you my heartiest congratulations on the award of the Military Cross in recognition of your conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations at Albert on April 5th. When the enemy attacked in tremendous force, you commanded your platoon in an isolated position with such skill that the enemy were completely repulsed. Although you had sustained a wound in the chest, you most gallantry continued to lead your men and when the enemy attempted to establish a footing, you drove them out with rifle grenades. Notwithstanding your severe wounds, you refused to leave the line until you had evacuated casualties and re-organised for defence. Though I fear you were badly hit, I do hope that your condition is not serious and that you are making satisfactory progress. With kind regards and many thanks for your fine work."

Medway's action' are recorded in the Australian Official History of the War (pages 393 - 402). He recovered form his wound and was discharged from the Army in 1919.

The actions of officers are often recorded but it is rare that one of the "Other Ranks" is referred to by name in official accounts and none has been found of William's service. No doubt, he took part in all the major battles of the war that involved Canadian troops after he joined in 1915. He found himself in trouble in November 1915 when he was fined five days pay for using obscene language. And, in March 1916, he was again fined, this time three days pay, for hesitating to obey an order.

At the end of 1916, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and, on 25 September 1917, he was again transferred. He would now spend several months with the Military Police and was promoted to Corporal. With the War seemingly coming to end, William was posted back to the UK in September 1918 with a view to training for a commission in the Royal Air Force. Clearly this did not work out as he was transferred back to the Depot at Shorncliffe towards the end of October. It is probable that there was a problem with his eye - later diagnosed as iritis - and he was admitted to West Cliff Canadian Eye Hospital at Folkestone on 30 Ocotber.

He was discharged from hospital in the middle of December and returned to Shorncliffe. On 5 February 1919, he was admitted to 12th Canadian General Hospital at Bramshott, where he died at 6pm on the 14th. The cause of death is not known.

(NB: With thanks for the newspaper extracts to Driffield and Wolds Genealogy and for research at the Canadian National Archives to one of the "Pals" at the Great War Forum .)

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