In the late summer of 1892, John Toner, a bricklayer's labourer, married Annie Canovan at St Matthew's Church, Stockport. By the time of the 1901 Census, they had four children - Ernest (then 7), John (5), William (3) and Georgina (1). There would be at least two further children - George and Vincent. The family lived at 17 Windsor Street, Cale Green and later at No. 23.
William was born on 2 September 1897. Little is known about his life except that he had furthered his education by attending the Stockport Sunday School. When War was declared in August 1914, William was quite quick to enlist. He joined the local 6th (Territorial) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. His service number, 2661, suggests he enlisted in early 1916. His medal records at National Archives confirm he didn't serve overseas with the Cheshires and was, no doubt, transferred to the Fusiliers when he had finished his training. He will have gone abroad in the late summer or early autumn of 1916.
On 31 July 1917, the British Army would launch the start of the attack that would later be officially designated as the Third Battle of Ypres, but better known as Passchendaele. Within hours, the advance became literally bogged down as heavy rain started to fall. The coming months of the Battle would be characterised by a series of further "bite and hold" advances. One such attack, known as the Battle of Langemarck, was scheduled for 16 August and would involve eight Army Divisions - nearly 150,000 men. The previous day, William and his mates had moved from Vlamertinghe to assembly trenches ready for an attack at 4.45am the following day. They were in position by 11.30pm and were subjected to some enemy shelling throughout the night.
"A" and "B" Companies led the attack with "C" and "D" in support. At 5.40, the Commander of "B" Company sent a message back to Headquarters that the Battalion was held up about 100 yards from a strong point (probably Bremen Redoubt) and that most of the assaulting troops were either dead or wounded. The message, delivered by runner, didn't arrive at HQ until nearly two hours later. The position continued to be confused and, at 9.30, "C" Compnay was sent forward to assist the attack. There was little news for the rest of the morning.
Desperate for news, the Battalion Commander despatched 2nd Lieutenant Jamson to go forward at about 1.30pm to see if he could establish what was happening. It didn't take him too long to report back that he had seen only wounded men who could give very little information. It appeared to him that the assaulting companies had not reached their objective and seemed "cut off".
From about 2pm, there were signs that the enemy was preparing for a counter attack and this was duly delivered at about 3.30pm. Those members of the Battalion who were able to do so were now ordered to withdraw back to their original front line. The attack had failed. Only about 40 fit men had returned by night fall. Many were wounded and were still in No Man's Land. William was among the 56 who had been killed. His body was never recovered and identified.
William is also remembered on the Memorial at St George's Church.