William GORTON
Rank: Private
Number: 60233
Unit: 27th Company MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 9 April 1917
Age: 20
Cemetery: Bailleul Road West Cemetery, St Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France

In the latter part of 1884, Albert Gorton, a cotton dyer, married Sarah Lowe in a civil ceremony in the Stockport area. By 1901, they had eight children and were living at 31 Syme Street, Heaton Mersey. William was then four. His siblings were Helena (14), Abram (13), John (11), Louis (9), Edith (6), Leonard (3) and Hilda (2).

When William joined the army, he originally enlisted into the Cheshire Regiment and was given 45478 as his service number. The number is consistent with him joining up around the spring of 1916. Almost certainly whilst he was still in training, William will have heard the news that John had been killed in action on 9 July, whilst serving with the Manchester Regiment on the ninth day of the Battle of the Somme. His medal entitlement records, at the National Archives, confirm that William never served abroad with the Cheshires and was, no doubt, transferred to the Machine Gun Corps when he had finished his training.

The Companies of the Machine Gun Corps operated 16 heavy guns, each with a team of seven men. They had two main roles to fulfil. If attacked by the enemy, the guns would be used as devastating weapons to cut down the infantry crossing No Man's Land.  William would be killed on the opening day of the Allied offensive that would be designated as the Battle of Arras. In offence, the machine gunners generally supported the infantry attack, firing on the German positions in attempt to keep the enemy from manning its own guns.

For several days in early April, British artillery had shelled the German positions, paying particular attention to trying to smash down the barbed wire that would impede the attack. The Company's War Diary noted that, by 8 April, this had been successful and there were no large gaps in the wire. Their guns were brought to bear on these gaps to ensure that the Germans did not come out of their trenches in the night to repair it.

The British went "over the top" at 5.30 on a wet and cold morning. Eight of the guns were carried forward to accompany the two attacking battalions in this sector - 6th King's own Scottish Borderers and 12th Royal Fusiliers. The remaining eight -  the Company's No. 3 and 4 sections -followed behind  ready to cover the support battalions who would overlap to capture the second objective. The Diary records that there were several casualties crossing No Man's Land.

The first objective, Obermeyer Trench, was captured and the troops started to consolidate the gains. 3 & 4 sections set up their guns here and fired a protective barrage over the heads of the troops still going forward, whilst 1 & 2 sections also continued to advance. Later in the day, the whole Company took up positions forward of the second objective (described only as the railway) to defend against any possible counter-attack. William was one of ten men to have been killed during the day.

In the early 1920s, when the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information, Albert and Sarah were living at 96 Didsbury Road, Heaton Norris.

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