William ACTON
Rank: Private
Number: 307338
Unit: 2/8th Battalion LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS
Date of Death: 9 October 1917
Age: 19 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium

Regimental records published after the War indicate that William had been born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire but this seems to be an error as the 1901 Census shows that he and his two older brothers had been born in the Matlock area. His parents were William and Harriett and they are believed to have married at St Mary's Church, Cheadle in the late 1880s. Their first child, Lilly, was born locally but the family then moved to Derbyshire but they had returned to the Stockport area by the time of the Census and were living at 1 Ash Street, Cheadle Heath.

William's service number, given above, was issued to him some time after the beginning of 1917, when all soldiers in Territorial battalions were given six-digit numbers. His original number, 5198, was issued earlier than this and confirms that he must have originally gone overseas with a different unit as the 2/8th did not on active service until March 1917.

The day that William was killed would be called was later designated as the Battle of Poelcapelle and it would see him and two other local men killed. Samuel Coppock was in the same Battalion and Arthur Henshall was fighting alongside them in the 2/6th Battalion.

Both Battalions were part of 197 Brigade and they would be in support of the attack by the 3/5th Lancashire Fusiliers. The plan was that the 3/5th would capture the German front line and the other two would then leap-frog to take the second objective described only as positions on the map as the "Blue Line".

The Regimental History records "The weather and the shelling had turned the whole area into a sea of mud and, where one track crossed the Zonnebeke stream, mud of a very adhesive kind came well over the knees of the infantry. Men were often up to their waists in water which had collected in shell holes and there seems little doubt that several were actually drowned through sinking down into the water under the weight of their equipment and sheer exhaustion."

At zero hour, 5.20am, neither Battalion had reached their designated positions. The 2/8th was still 400 yards short but advanced just after 6am in an exhausted condition. There had been no time for even a quick break. By 7.20, their objective had been secured. The 2/6th had been even further back and did not reach the start point until 7.30 but immediately pushed on.

The men of the 2/8th and some from the 3/5th had reached the Blue Line by about 9.30. Some managed to push on further to the outskirts of Passchendaele itself, but all were reported to have been killed. Their bodies were not recovered until 6 November. The troops at the Blue Line were heavily shelled and, in a communications error, a move by other units to form a defensive flank was interpreted as a withdrawal and, so, the Fusiliers pulled back to the original German front line.

Later in the afternoon, orders were received to move forward again to attack the Blue Line but, two minutes before they were due to start, the Germans launched a heavy bombardment and their own counter attack. The counter-attack was driven off, but new orders were now issued to consolidate the gains.

William's body was never recovered and identified.  His platoon officer later wrote to Mr & Mrs Acton expressing the platoon's great sympathy. "Your son was killed in a great battle. He was the life and soul of the platoon, always gay and cheery and will be greatly missed. He died as he lived - a gallant British hero, fighting for freedom."

Reporting his death, the local newspaper also mentioned that both of William's brothers were serving in the army - Edwin in East Africa and Fred in Salonika. Both are believed to have survived.

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