William SKARRATT
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 8465
Unit: 11th Battalion LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS
Date of Death: 28 May 1918
Age: 26
Cemetery: Soissons Memorial, Aisne, France

William was one of three brothers who went to War and never came home. John and William would be killed within two months of each other. The middle brother, George, was killed in 1916.

They had been born in Manchester, but were living in Stockport at the time of the 1901 Census. John and Annie Skarratt and their eight children lived in a four roomed house at 39 Lomas Street, Edgeley. The children were Mary (then aged 20), Clara (17), John (15), George (13), William (10), Sarah (8), Gladys (6) and Lucy (5).

William's service number is a low one, indicating he probably enlisted not long after War was declared in 1914. He will have been an original member of the newly formed 11th Battalion and will have gone overseas with it in September 1915.

All of the Battalions of the British 25th Division had suffered many casualties in the German spring offensives of March and April 1918. In order for them to recuperate and to fully train the newly arrived replacement troops, they were sent south from Belgium to the Champagne region of France on 9 May. It was known to be a quiet sector.

It would prove to be a sad irony that this was exactly where the third and final phase of the German assault would be launched on 27 May.  At 1am, the German artillery started a heavy bombardment of the British front line and support areas. High explosive and gas shells were supported by an  intense barrage of trench mortar fire. The Fusiliers were forced to make a withdrawal of about 500 yards to escape this fire. In the evening, the Germans attempted three separate infantry attacks but these were driven off and heavy losses inflicted on the enemy. However, neighbouring units had not fared so well and, to avoid the Fusiliers becoming encircled, the whole front line was ordered to retreat two miles. The Battalion took up a position at Breuil-sur-Vesle where the quartermaster was able to provide very welcome drinks of hot tea. They had escaped lightly - suffering only six killed, but over 80 wounded.

At 5.30 the next morning, they were ordered to fill a gap in the line along the ridge near Huit Voisins, a mile north of Breuil. At 7am, the Germans broke through the British line on the right of the Fusiliers position and orders were given for another large scale withdrawal. The 11th Battalion was ordered to fight a rearguard action to protect the retreat. The Regimental History records that "hard, desperate fighting ensued, with the Commanding Officer leading repeated counter-attacks".

The official War Diary of the 74th Brigade recorded "The last report of the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers was that they were almost surrounded and heavily engaged.......There is little doubt that the CO carried out his orders to the letter in maintaining his position to the last. Nothing further has been heard of the Battalion and it is presumed they have been taken prisoner or killed."  As was customary, a small party of 17 men had been left in reserve and these were all that remained of the Battalion, although a few more lightly wounded men reported back in over the coming day. But over 330 were dead or prisoner.

   
           
   
     
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