Britain's Debt of Honour Register, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, records Billie Foden's date of death as 13 June. The dates given in the letter below, published in the Stockport newspapers, indicate this is wrong. However, a copy of his death certificate has been obtained and this also confirms the date as the 13th. With only a newspaper report indicating 30 May and with no official documentation to corroborate it, the Commission could not be expected to amend its records.
In another apparent error, Billie's inscription on the South Reddish War Memorial records him serving with the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. There is nothing to support this and all the evidence collected in the course of this project confirms he only ever served with the 1/9th Battalion.
Nothing is known of his early life. He worked for the local engineering firm of Richard Hornsby & Sons Ltd on Reddish Road. He was a superb all round athlete being a keen swimmer, footballer and sprinter. On the football pitch, he played for the St Mary's Church team and had also had a trial for Stockport County. As a runner, his most notable victory was just after War was declared when he won the Blackpool £100 Sprint on 7 August 1914. He enlisted towards the end of that month and, by the middle of September, was aboard a ship bound for Egypt where he spent the next seven months undergoing his army training "on the job". On Boxing Day, the men held a sports competition and Billie won the 220 yards handicap. He won a silver cup which he sent home to his fiancée, a Miss Burgess of South Reddish. He also came second in the 100 yards Handicap.
At the beginning of May 1915, the time for sports and training was over. The men embarked on the 5th, ready to go into action, and landed at Gallipoli on the 9th. The Battalion's War Diary carries scant detail of the following weeks and there is nothing in this original official document recording casualties on 30 May when it appears William was actually killed or 13 June when the War Graves Commision thinks he died.
However, what appears certain is that his officer, Lieutenant J A Parker wrote to Billie's parents on 1 June. "My task is a very sad one, doubly so as my attachment to your brave boy was very great. He was my friend and confidant from the day he enlisted. He received a bullet wound in the head at 5.30pm on Sunday last, May 30th, from which he never recovered, expiring three hours later. I am glad to say he was never conscious during this time. I will try to send you a photograph of his grave and I shall be only too pleased to do anything for you. Your boy was very popular with his comrades, being generous, light-hearted and dutiful. He was a good soldier and he died as a soldier should, fighting for his King and Country. His comrades miss him very much indeed and their sympathy is with you. I had great faith and trust in him more so because he always spoke with reverence and love of his mother. I mourn him both as a true friend and a fellow soldier. I sympathise deeply with you in your great loss."
After the evacuation of British troops from Gallipoli, many original gravemarkers were lost. When the troops returned, three years later, after the Armistice it was impossible to identify a considerable number of individual graves. William's is understood to be one of those lost although it is believed that he is buried somewhere in the Cemetery. His name is inscribed on a special memorial there.
On 26 June 1915, the Ashton Reporter also noted his death having been told of it by his sweetheart, Lily Burgess of 8 Greg Street, Reddish. She had written "Much as I miss my lad, I would rather know that he lies in a soldier's grave than he should have been a slacker. I have made my sacrifice".