When the 1901 Census was taken, 44 year old Margaret Davies was a widow. She was living at 200 Gorton Road, Reddish trying to provide for her five children and 70 year old father on her earnings as a washerwoman. It cannot have been an easy childhood for her eldest son,10 year old William.
Nothing is known of his early life but, by the time of the Great War, he was living at 9 Prenton View, Reddish. It's not known if this was the family home at the time or if it was his own accommodation. He was working for the local engineering company of R Hornsby & Sons which had its premises at Reddish Road.
William enlisted into the army at Ashton under Lyne on 5 September 1914 and his medal entitlement records at the National Archives show that he joined the 11th Battalion of the Regiment. This was a new unit formed for the duration of the War only. His original service number was 4383. At some point, probably after recovering from a wound, he was transferred to the 9th Battalion.
William died in a military hospital from wounds he had received in action. As such it cannot be said with certainty when he was injured but the battalion had been in almost constant action for the 9 days before his death.
On 21 March, the long awaited German attack was delivered with overwhelming force. Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are sparse details of the day recorded in the Battalion's War Diary. It records, however, that at 4.30am, they were ordered to "battle stations". They had to move into their designated position through a heavy gas bombardment which caused about 30 casualties. It then says, simply, "the battalion went into action and continued in action till April 1st."
In fact, although the 9th Battalion was kept in reserve, there was desperate fighting and, by the end of the day, the Battalion had been forced to retreat to avoid being cut-off. Nearly 70 men were dead.
The next day, after regrouping, it moved forward again to fight off another enemy attack. By now, the battalion had become very scattered and proper command was impossible. It was, therefore, withdrawn and the men were ordered to make their way, as best they could, to Beaumetz.
On the 23rd, the Battalion took up a defensive position on the banks of the River Somme at Eterpigny, where it covered the withdrawal of other units, before blowing up a bridge and withdrawing. On the morning of the 24th, the enemy had worked its way round the right flank of the Batatlion and there was no option but to retreat further, fighting its way out of the encircling German infantry. On the 25th, the men found themselves fighting a rear guard action astride the Amiens - Peronne road.
Further engagements and further withdrawals took place on the following two days. On the evening of the 28th the War Diary records "the enemy attacked and forced the Battalion to Aubercourt where a stand was made in the evening and the enemy beaten off." A further withdrawal was made the next day, followed by yet another engagement which held off the German attack for a while and the yet another orderly retreat was made.
Sometime during this period, William was badly wounded. He will have received treatment from the Battalion's own medical officer just behind the front line but this will have been little more than first aid. He will then have been evacuated to a field hospital some miles behind the front where his condition would have been sufficiently stabilised to allow his transfer to the full hospital facilities at Rouen where, unfortunately, he died.