Little is known about William’s early life. He was born in the Hulme district of Manchester but it is thought he had lived in Stockport for some considerable time. He worked in the local hatmaking industry for Christy & Co at their premises on Higher Hillgate. William is known to have been married and was probably the man of this name who, in 1906, married Florence Heywood at St Thomas’ Church.
They lived at 29 Higher Hillgate and had a daughter together. At the time of the Great War, William’s mother in law was also living with them. His brother, Jim, would also serve in the War – fighting in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
William’s service number is one issued to a Territorial soldier at the beginning of 1917 but his original number, 596, almost certainly indicates that he was a pre-War member of the Territorial Force and will have been mobilised when War was declared in August 1914. The numbers also indicate that his original unit was a Divisional Ammunition Column – one of the units of the Artillery responsible for moving shells from the reserve areas upto the gun positions near the front line .
At some point, William was transferred to 17th Brigade – originally a pre-War unit of the regular army. He is recorded as having died of wounds he’d received, rather than being killed outright. However, his burial at Sint Jan, reasonably close to the front line, suggests that he didn’t live long after he was wounded and there was no time to evacuate him to a field hospital.
After a period in reserve, the Brigade took over new gun positions on 20 January, relieving the 33rd Brigade. The Brigade’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, notes that “The relief was slightly impeded by heavy hostile shelling. Relief completed by 2pm.” They were now 4000 yards in front of the village of Wieltje, just outside Ypres.
The nest day, the Diary entry notes that they were in a “very hot position” but it was a “much quieter day which is a great relief after having such an inauspicious entry yesterday.” William had almost certainly become a victim of the German shelling.