The 1901 Census suggests that three men, named Austin, who had been born in the Bury area and were possibly brothers, came to live in Marple. This was some time before 1890. One of these men, Charles Austin, married Mary, a young woman from the village. In 1890, they had a son, William. In 1896, another son, Holden, was born and two years later, Leonard. They also had a daughter – 13 year old Ada.
At the time of the Census, Charles Austin was 36 and was working as a cotton weaver. Mary was 38. Their three sons all enlisted in the army. William attested at Hyde, joining the Cheshires. His brother, Leonard joined the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and was killed in 1915. Holden also joined the Cheshires , but he was subsequently discharged after receiving serious shrapnel wounds.
It’s not known what William did for a living before he joined the army but, in his spare time, he was secretary of Marple Football Club. On the night of 21/22 October, the Cheshires moved forward ready for an attack described here. 2nd Lieutenant Sidebottom later wrote to William’s parents describing that he was killed before the attack started:-
“He was a “runner” in Battalion headquarter. The Battalion was coming up to the attack and I was marching the signallers and runners when a shell burst in the middle of us. Unfortunately, your son was badly hit in both legs. We got him on a stretcher and he was carried to the dressing station where, I afterwards heard, he died. Previous to being hit, he had done simply invaluable work in carrying important messages from place to place under shell fire and through country which, in parts, was over knee deep in mud and water.”
Two of his mates, H Bond and H Houghton, also wrote “Our Battalion was moving up to the front line on the night of 21st of October, as we were going over the top the following morning. Will was hit by a bursting shell on the way up. We thought at first that he had a nice wound that would carry him back to England, but I heard later he was dead.”
Lt Sidebottom mentions that William was taken to a dressing station. This would be just behind the front line and would have been expected to do no more than dress the wounds and, occasionally, carry out emergency surgery (most surgery would be carried out at a Casualty Clearing Station some miles away). William is recorded as having been “killed in action” rather than “died of wounds”. This suggests that he died before a doctor had chance to attend to him. He will have been buried near to the dressing station. However, the location of many of these small front line burial areas were not properly recorded or, in many cases, they were simple destroyed by artillery fire later in the war. In any event, William’s final resting place is no longer known and he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing.
Further information about William, including a photograph, can be found in the book “Remembered” by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.