Very little is known about William’s civilian life. He had been born in Stockport and was working as an apprentice at a cotton mill when he joined the army on 27 January 1904, aged 18 years and 7 months. His service papers still exist at the National Archives and they show him to have been 5’ 7” tall and weighting 137 pounds. He had a fresh complexion with brown hair and eyes. The doctor examining him noted that he had a series of dots tattooed on each arm. William had given his religious denomination as Church of England.
He had signed up to be a regular soldier and would serve for 8 years before returning to Stockport as a reservist on 27 January 1912. On 6 August 1914, with the War two days old, he was mobilised and returned to the colours to be posted to 43rd Brigade. Transfers over the next few weeks brought him to an assignment with 118th Brigade, still in the UK. On 20 September, he was promoted to Acting Bombardier (the artillery equivalent of a infantry corporal) but on 1 December was reduced in rank to Gunner for an offence of “neglect of duty”. His service record indicates that he continued in the UK until posted aboard for the last 5 months of 1916.
He then returned to postings in the UK before going overseas again later in 1917 and, after a further return to the UK, from 3 March 1918. In July, he started a specialist signallers course which lasted for six weeks.
Hostilities ended in November 1918 but, of course, it would be many months before the troops started to be demobilised. William’s service file contains the details of a court of inquiry into his death. The documents are badly damaged (during a fire in the 1940s) and sections of it are missing. However, it appears that, on the day before he died, he was aboard a train which was carrying men to Calais to return to the UK for leave. It’s thought William was actually on his way home to be demobilised.
The train had stopped for about 20 minutes while a set of points were repaired. William was climbing on or off when the train moved off again and he slipped under its wheels. His right leg and foot were badly crushed and he was taken to 14th Stationery Hospital at Wimille where he died. The surgeon who had operated on him gave evidence to the inquiry stating that he had come through the operation to amputate the leg successfully and regained consciousness. The doctor had left him about 23.30 on the 12th. About 30 minutes later, he had been summoned back as William had slipped into a state of post-operative shock from which he died within the hour.
In July 1919, the London Gazette published one of the last lists of bravery medals awarded during the War. Amongst the awards was a Military Medal for William. His act of bravery during the closing months of the War are not known.
In August 1919, his wife wrote to the War Office saying that he wore two rings and these had not been returned, nor had his wrist watch or cigarette case. She wanted to know what had happened to them. All his effect, including these items, were eventually returned in the October.