William Henry WHITE
Rank: Private
Number: 3/8993
Unit: B Company, 5th Battalion DORSETSHIRE Regiment
Date of Death: 26 September 1916
Age: 18
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

It will have been no surprise to his parents that William wanted to join up just as soon as he was old enough. His father, Charles, had been a regular soldier with the Hampshire Regiment, fighting in the Boer War and earning the King's and Queen's South African Medals for his service.

When the 1901 Census was taken, Charles will have been in South Africa. The rest of the family were living at 25 Colebrook Place, Winchester. Emily Lydia White was then 29 and was the mother of five children - Emily (10), Charles (8), Elizabeth (6), William (3) and Florence Ellen (1).

By the time of the Great War, the family was living at 5 Edge Court, Edgeley, Stockport. It is possible that Charles originated from the town (Emily, though, had been born in Maidstone). William enlisted at Dorchester - he may have been working in the area or had travelled especially to enlist in the Dorsets.

It is understood that William's service number is one of a batch that was split. The first group of soldiers were probably ex-regulars recalled to service in August 1914. The remaining numbers were allocated around March 1915 and this is when William is presumed to have joined. After training, his first overseas theatre of war when , on 22 September 1915, he was one of a party of reinforcements who joined the Battalion at Gallipoli, in Turkey. They were withdrawn in Decmeber 1915 and moved to Egypt and, in July 1916 arrived on the Western Front, via Marseilles.

The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July 1916 and some of the objectives scheduled to be captured that day were still in German hands at the end of September. A series of attacks had, however, pushed the British line forward and another attack was scheduled for the 26th. This was intended to complete the capture of the Thiepval ridge running along the middle of the battle area. The British 11th Division, of which the 5th Dorsets was part, had as it's objectives, a number of German strongpoints, including Zollern and Stuff Redoubts and Mouquet Farm (unsurprisingly known as "Mucky Farm" by the Tommies).

The plan was that the Dorsets would be in support of the attacking battalions and once they had captured the first objective and moved on, the Dorsets would advance and consolidate the captured trenches. At their "zero hour", 12.35pm, they advanced. William, with "B" Company was on the right of the attack with "D" Company on the left and "A" and "C" behind. As they moved up to the British front line trench, they suffered a few casualties as the German artillery opened fire but they pushed on until they were about halfway across No Man's Land. Here the German artillery had found their range again and a tremendous barrage of shells fell on them. Before they even reached their first objective, all four company commanders had become casualties; dozens of men were down, dead or wounded, and the rest of the troops had become completely mixed up. Small parties managed to push on, but the attack had lost all sense of cohesion.

As these small groups reached the German trench, they came under fire. The leading battalions had obviously pushed on before they had finished securing the first objective. As the Battalion's official history put it "the 5th, instead of starting at once to consolidate, had to fight hard to complete the capture of High Trench and the whole carefully arranged programme went completely to pieces."

By evening, the situation was still chaotic. The commanding officer of the 5th Dorsets, Colonel Hannay, received orders to move his Battalion HQ forward to High Trench; collect those Dorsets he could find and move them up to consolidate the second objective. As the HQ party moved off, they came under another tremendous barrage which, fortunately, caused few casualties but considerably delayed the move up. It was not until 11pm that Hannay and his small group was able to move to High Trench, where he found only handfuls of men. Further forward, he collected another 50. The objectives of the enemy redoubts were still one hundred yards away and heavily defended by machine guns. The Dorsets dug in for the night. They would hold the position all the following day before being relieved.

600 men had gone into action. 225 had been wounded. William was one of 128 killed. It was, no doubt, much too dangerous to collect the bodies for, possibly, several weeks. The area where they fell would be subjected to constant shelling and bodies were buried by the falling earth. Many of those, like William, were never recovered and identified. Their names are amongst the 73000 inscribed on the nearby Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, commemorating those who died during the Battle of the Somme and have no known grave.

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