William’s story is a classic case of “you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers”. Reporting his death in its edition of 6 December 1917, the Stockport Express said that he had died of gas poisoning. In fact, he never served abroad and died of natural causes.
He had been born in Stockport in 1871, the son of Joseph, a joiner, and Elizabeth Fantom of 3 Lord Street. In 1889, he married Mary E Brookes in a civil ceremony registered in Stockport. They lived locally for most for most of the 1890s and had three children – Alfred, Ethel and William. William had served an apprenticeship as a house painter and continued to earn his living at it. By 1901, when a national census was taken, the family had moved to Staffordshire and was living at 161 Thornley Street, Horninglow.
Shortly after arriving in Staffordshire, he joined the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment, the forerunner of the 6th Territorial Battalion which was formed in 1908. Still a member, then, he was given the service number of 591 and, when War was declared on 4 August 1914, William was mobilised the same day. At that time, the Territorial Force was intended for home defence duties only, but men were invited to volunteer for overseas service and William agreed to do this on 3 May 1915. However, he was not called on to do and, with his health deteriorating, he was discharged from the army on 3 April 1916 and returned to his home, now at 30 Sydney Street, Burton on Trent.
The cause of William’s death was nephritis – usually indicating some serious inflammation of the kidneys.