In the early 1880s, James Swindells and Isabella Coope married at St Mary’s Church, Cheadle. They would have six children together who were surviving when the 1901 Census was taken. They were then living at 19 Newtown Street, Hazel Grove. James was a felt hat finisher but when William left school, he went to work in Stockport’s other main industry earning his living as a cotton spinner.
Just over 12 months before he was killed, William will have learned that his younger brother, James, had been killed in action serving with the Manchester Regiment.
After fighting in Belgium for most of 1917, the 10th Battalion of the Fusiliers was transferred to the Italian front, where it faced the Austrian army, in support of the all but defeated Italians.
On 23 October 1918, British troops started to cross the River Piave in what would prove to be the start of the final battles in this theatre of the War. In the first two days, they cleared the islands that lie in the way of reaching the eastern bank. The final assault on the Austrians’ positions on the eastern bank was scheduled for 6.45am on the 27th and the Fusiliers would be heavily involved.
“A” and “B” Companies were on the islands, with “C” and “D” being held in reserve on the west bank. As the main assault was to go in, “A” and “B” were to form a defensive flank to protect the main attack force. However, seeing the 11th Battalion held up by enemy barbed wire which had not been destroyed by the preliminary British bombardment, “A” Company rushed forward to help cut it by hand. As they were doing so, enemy machine guns opened up from close range and there were a number of casualties.
Shortly after, the Austrian artillery found its range and intense shelling of the attackers started. The main body of the attack was still going well and the men of “A” Company had continued to press forward with them. “B” Company, holding the flank, was ordered to also push forward and, later, “C” Company, was sent into the attack.
The attack had taken almost as long as it will have taken to read this account and the east bank of the river was substantially in British hands by 7am. Many Austrians hurriedly retreated or surrendered. The attack had been a success but at a high cost. Two local men, Bryan Smither and , Herbert Downs, were amongst the 50 dead (almost all having fallen victim to the early machine gun fire).
On the 28th, the attack resumed with the British troops crossing the River Monticarno. There was again considerable resistance by the enemy which had machine guns emplaced in ditches and houses. During the attack another Hazel Grove man serving in the same Battalion won the Victoria Cross. Wilfred Wood was one of the Battalion’s Lewis gunners (a light machine gun). On his own initiative worked forward with his gun, enfiladed the enemy machine-gun nest and caused 140 men to surrender. Later, when one of the concealed machine-guns opened fire at point-blank range, he charged the gun, firing his Lewis gun from the hip at the same time. He killed the machine-gun crew and, without further orders, pushed on and enfiladed a ditch from which three officers and 160 men subsequently surrendered.
Sometime over these days, William was badly wounded. He was not killed outright but died shortly afterwards, probably before he could even reach a field hospital.
Further information about William can be found in the book “Hazel Grove to Armageddon” by John Eaton.