William was born in the late spring of 1895 in the parish of St John’s Church, Crewe. Nearly six years later, the family was living at 136 Cobden Street, Manchester, where 36 year old Herbert Beswick worked as a boiler stoker. It’s not known to how many children his wife Frances had given birth, but three survived to be recorded on the 1901 Census – Nellie (then aged 15), William (5) and Florence (1).
Nothing else is really known about the remainder of William’s life. He was living in the Heaton Norris area of Stockport when he enlisted into the army in the town. The German Army launched a massive attack on British positions on 21 March 1918, overrunning their defences on a forty mile wide front. The British troops would be in retreat until the end of the month, losing all the ground captured in the previous two years and more. Thousands were killed; many more were wounded or taken prisoner.
It is no surprise, therefore, that in the chaos, units failed to keep proper records of each day’s events and this is certainly the case for the Hussars. The Regiment was 200 strong with 12 officers and is thought to have been fighting as dismounted infantry at Villecholles, east of Vermand. There is an undated and uncorroborated internet account that under the German onslaught an order to retire was given and this caused panic amongst the men. A Major from a neighbouring Battalion of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders steadied them and the retreat became more orderly, with the men returning fire to cover their withdrawal.
William’s body was never recovered and identified. It will, almost certainly, have been given a dignified burial by the German Army, but not unnaturally, they didn’t keep detailed records of locations and personal belongings that might later identify the soldier.