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Walter Billsborough was baptised at the Parish Church of St. John in Preston on the 14th February 1892 the son of William and Mary Billsborough (nee Ashcroft). His parents married on the 1st August 1881 in St. Paul`s Church in Preston. At the time of their marriage William was living in Lancaster and was a tea dealer. Mary Ashcroft was born in Preston and was the daughter of Daniel Ashcroft a prominent and well-known figure in Preston life who was an Auctioneer and also keeper of the Black-a-Moor`s Head Public House on Lancaster Road in Preston.

Walter had one brother and four sisters although one of his sisters died; Fred (1882), Mary (1884), Florence (1886), Lucy (1888-1892) and Annie (1894). In 1901 the family home was at 17 Chaddock Street in Preston where Walter`s father was running a grocer`s shop. Prior to him starting work Walter had been educated at the Grammar School in Hutton near Preston. In 1911 William Billsborough was still a grocer and the family was still resident at the same address in Chaddock Street. Walter`s elder brother Fred was helping their father in the family grocery business while Walter had secured a job as a clerk for a woollen merchant.

Prior to his enlistment Walter had been employed as a clerk at Messrs. Grainger and Smith in Guildhall Street in Preston. He enlisted on the 7th September 1914 at Preston and was issued with the service number 13171. He joined “D” Company (Preston Pals) of the 7th (Service) Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. At his medical inspection the Medical Officer noted that he was five feet ten and a quarter inches tall and weighed 126lbs. Walter had a dark complexion, dark brown eyes and dark brown hair. His physical condition was described as `fair`. He was also unmarried and declared that he had no previous military experience and for official purposes his father William Billsborough was recorded as being his next of kin.

After the 7th Battalion had been formed and all the formalities completed the Battalion left Preston for Tidworth to start their training. The Battalion remained at home training until the 17th July 1915 and then left Tidworth by train for Folkestone and from there made the crossing to Boulogne. The strength of the Battalion at this time consisted of 30 Officers and 900 other ranks coming under the Command of the 56th Brigade of the 19th (Western) Division.

The 7th Battalion was involved in the Battle of the Somme and during the first ten days of July they lost 7 Officers and 164 other ranks. By the middle of July the Battalion was in camp at Henencourt Wood near Albert but on the 19th the 56th Brigade received orders to be ready to move to bivouacs near Fricourt; that evening the Battalion marched off and before dawn on the 20th the Battalion had relieved a unit of the 98th Brigade at Bazentin-le-Petit. Later that same day they took over an advanced and very extended line of over one thousand yards in length for which they had no more than 480 rifles available.

The War Diary tells us on that on the 20th July “at 7pm our Lewis guns brought down a German aeroplane just in front of our front line, which burst into flames and both men were burnt to death”.

Sadly Walter died the following day on the 21st July 1916 after being hit by a sniper.

A few weeks later an extract from a letter written by an unnamed soldier to his mother in Preston appeared in the Daily Post. The letter is an account of some of the events that happened during the 7th Battalion`s involvement on the Somme in July 1916. Mid-way through the letter the writer refers to the aeroplane being shot down and following that a reference is made to one or two men being hit by snipers.

STORY OF THEIR SHARE IN THE BIG PUSH

“One of the members of the original Preston Pals Company, who was a member of the Daily Post Reporting staff when he enlisted, gives and interesting account of his adventures during the `big push` in a long letter to his mother.

Writing from “a quiet little village miles behind the firing line”, he says, we came out of action, Monday, 31st July (1916), after being in the thick of it all the month; a month I shall never forget. In my section (machine guns) we have a lot of extra tackle which we move about with special handcarts. These carts are alright on good roads, but can you picture us shoving them around on the ground captured from the Germans, some three or four miles in depth, which is one mass of shell holes and debris, and through a perfect maze of motor lurries and all sorts of traffic.

The position we had to occupy was a newly captured trench in front of the village which was the scene of our last scrap. The German gunners started bombarding when we neared the position, and we had a pretty hot time. They kept it up all night, but slackened off next morning. Both sides were shelling everlastingly, and the din never ceased. It is not exactly pleasant sitting tight and wondering where the next shell is going to drop. The following afternoon we helped to bring down a German aeroplane. Two of our aeroplanes were chasing it, and it flew pretty low near our trench, trying to dodge them and get back to its own lines. We let fly at it with rifles and machine guns, and suddenly it tilted sideways, burst into flames, and fell with a crash just in front of our trench. The sky is always swarming with aeroplanes but we see very few German aircraft.

The following night we advanced, under the cover of darkness, to a new trench in front of our position. The Germans did not know exactly where we were, and we were not sure of their position. Consequently both sides had scouting parties out, and things were quite exciting. The new trench was quite isolated, and the German snipers got one or two of us in the open ground to the rear, so it was not an easy matter to get food and water up to the men. I tried to keep my thirst down by chewing rubber, but I would have given 20 francs gladly for a pint of water.

The charge did not come off until the following Sunday morning, just after midnight. We intended to surprise the Huns in the dark, but they were ready for us, and met us with machine gun fire and bombs. Our casualties were rather heavy, but I was one of the lucky ones. A few of us got a footing in the German trench, but not enough to hold it. Most of the wounded were able to get back, but a few were forced to lie out in shell holes. We crawled out and dragged some of them in, but the dirty Germans sniped the rescuers.

That afternoon we were relieved, and we occupied a line of support trenches in a wood a little behind the trench we had just left. For two days we had a fairly quiet time, and then the Germans began systematically searching every inch of the wood with shells of all sorts and sizes, including gas and tear shells. Our own shelling was terrific; at least ten times as heavy as theirs; one continuous roar. Naturally we had some casualties, and all of us had narrow shaves. It would take a book to try and describe all that I saw and heard that month, on every day of which the weather was really hot. Every tree in that wood was splintered and scarred with shell fire, and the ground was one mass of shell holes.

It was curious to watch the effect of the bursting shells. A valley to the right, traversed by two roads, got it pretty hot. You could see a wagon or gun team galloping along, with shells dropping all around them. Then one would burst right over them, but the team would unharness a wounded horse or two – like lightning – shoot them – and gallop on.

We came out of the battle area dead beat and dirty, and after a light dinner behind the lines, were taken by motor lurries to a village several miles back. Ordinary trench warfare is child`s play compared to this offensive. An old soldier in our Battalion who has been through most of the big engagements says they were nothing compared to this, and our French comrades say, Verdun is a minor affair compared to this one”.

In the midst of Walter`s service papers can be found a field service post card which was sent back to the HQ in Preston by 12386 C.Q.M.S Frank Eddon , it describes what happened to Walter and two other men; 13175 Private Robert Bennett and 12938 Private Thomas Mansfield.13171 Private Walter Billsborough 1

Walter`s papers indicate that none of his personal effects were returned to his family in Preston.

After his death Walter`s parents notified the Preston Guardian who later published the following article;13171 Private Walter Billsborough 2

Although the Sergeant states that Walter and his two pals were buried and their burial place was marked with a cross, it would appear that over a period of time their graves were lost and so Walter and his two comrades are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.

After the war Walter was awarded the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and his parents would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in honour of his sacrifice for his country.

Walter is also remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Library and Museum and on a Memorial Tablet inside St. John`s Church in his home town of Preston.

Rank: Private
Service No: 13171
Date of Death: 21/07/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 7th Bn.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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