Gilbert William STANTON
Rank: Sergeant
Number: 11164
Date of Death: 16 may 1915
Age: 28
Cemetery: Le Touret Memorial, Somme, France

James Stanton and Harriett Tottle had married in the early 1880s at St Paul's Church, Portwood. They would have at least five children - George, Mary, Alice, Florence and William. James died and Harriett remarried at some point to William Ball, a silk weaver. When the Census was taken, they were living at 62 Glebe Street, Stockport. George was not there and is thought to have been serving as a regular soldier.

William was educated at St Thomas' Day School and then also joined the army as a regular, enlisting into the Cheshire Regiment at Chester. He served with the Regiment in India (service number 8401) but, for reasons unknown, transferred to the Fusiliers a short while before War was declared in 1914. He had time for four days leave at home before going overseas.

The Battle of Festubert would be fought on the basis of the old adage that attack is the best form of defence. The British artillery opened its barrage on the German positions on 13 May. In the sector to be attacked by the 1st Battalion, the plan was to penetrate some 450 yards into the enemy lines and then change direction to the right to take a communication trench and hold it as a defensive position on the flank of the whole attack. "A" Company would lead the assault, followed by the other three Companies.

Captain Stockwell was commanding "A" Company and his account was published in the Regimental History:

"The Battalion moved into the line on the night of 15th/16th, through Indian Village, and assembled in lines immediately behind the front parapet, and proceeded to dig themselves such cover as they could from the enemy's counter-bombardment. I sent out patrols to cover the putting out of the trench boards and to report on the wire and enemy parapet. The patrols reported that the wire was well cut but, as far as they could see, the front trench was not much damaged. As a matter of fact, practically no damage was done by our guns to the front system: the high-explosive fire was so limited by shortage of shell that even if accurate it would not have accomplished a great deal and it mostly went over the enemy line.

At 2.45am our intense bombardment began. We suffered a fair amount of loss through our own shorts, which kept catching the top of the high breastwork. The enemy's guns opened at 3.05am. At 3.15 I gave the word to "Go" and the first line went over, followed by the second line twenty seconds later. It was extremely dark and the enemy were shelling No Man's Land heavily. We got across the Riviere des Layes all right, but then came under intense machine-gun fire from our right and were opposed by rifle fire from the trenches we were assaulting. The men of my company whom I could see seemed to thin out rapidly, but the remainder went straight on to the enemy trenches, where half an hour's strenuous hand-to-hand fighting took place in a frightful tangled system of trenches." 

No Man's Land was 120 yards wide and the following three companies caught the full force of the German artillery shelling as they tried to cross. Few made it.  Only three officers of the last two companies got across. Success or failure now depended on the few men of "A" Company engaged in the tough fight in the trenches. Company Sergeant Major Barter collected a few men and they began to work their way down the trenches throwing grenades to clear the way. He would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

Stockwell, now the only officer left in the Company, was also gathering men - about 80 in total and they moved on towards their final objective. As they did so, they realised that they were unsupported so dug in and consolidated. They held this position until relieved at about 7.30pm.

The Battalion had suffered 578 casualties - killed, wounded or missing. William was amongst the dead, as were two other local men -George Beech and John Pickford.

Lance Corporal Cabman (or Cadman) wrote to the family to tell them about William. "Just a few lines to let you know that Sergeant Stanton got killed while in action. We were making a charge on the German trench and he was shot through the head. He was our leader. We miss him very much as he was so well liked in the company. You will have read it in the papers about the work we have been doing: advancing under great difficulties for about three miles and making the Germans run. We don't give them much mercy for we remember what we have suffered at their hands. I hope you will let his friends know as he wish that to be done if anything happened."

William's mother had died by the time the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information in the early 1920s. He had listed his next of kin as his sister Mrs Florence Mottershead, 1 Harrop Street. Further information about William, including a photograph, can be found in the book "Hazel Grove to Armageddon" by John Eaton.

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