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William Henry Fitzsimmons was born in Preston on 2nd March 1887. When he was baptised at St Peter’s church on 25th March 1887 his mother’s name was recorded as Margaret, a weaver living at 61 Victoria Street, Preston. His father’s name was not given.

In 1901, when he was 14 years 9 months old, William enlisted for 12 years Army service and joined the 1st Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment as a ‘boy’ with the number 6593. The medical officer described William as being 4ft 8.75in, weighing 79lbs and had an anchor tattoo on his right arm. He nominated his mother as his legal next of kin.

On his 16th birthday, March 1903, he was appointed Bandsman with the 2nd Battalion.

On 31st January 1908, William was detained by guards having deserted and lost his kit. He was tried by District Court Martial on 2nd March and sentenced to 42 days detention. In December the same year he was tried again for deserting and this time received 112 days detention. For a third time, he deserted between 12th September – 24th October 1909. At this final court martial he was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and was to be discharged from the Army upon his release.

William was discharged from the Army in 1910 and married Ada (nee Ward) during the last quarter of 1913.

When war broke out in 1914 he reenlisted and joined the 6th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 17304. Due to his previous experience he was quickly appointed Lance Corporal.

William sailed to Gallipoli on 5th July 1915* and the following month was killed in action at Chunuk Bair. The official dispatch about this action reads;

“The two battalions of the New Army chosen to hold Chunuk Bair were the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. The first of these arrived in good time and occupied the trenches. Even in the darkness their commanding officer, Lieut-Colonel H.G. Levinge, recognized how dangerously these trenches were sited, and he began at once to dig observation posts on the actual crest and to strengthen the defences where he could; but he had not time given him to do much.

The second battalion, the Wiltshires, were delayed by the intricate country; they did not reach the edge of the entrenchment until 4am, and were then told to lie down in what was believed, erroneously, to be a covered position. At daybreak on Tuesday 10th August, the Turks delivered a grand attack from the Chunuk Bair Hill-Q against these two battalions, already weakened in numbers, though not in spirit, by previous fighting.

First our men were shelled by every enemy gun, and then, at 5.30am, were assaulted by a huge column consisting of no less than a full division, plus a regiment of three battalions.

The Loyal North Lancashire men were simply overwhelmed in their shallow trenches by sheer weight in numbers, whilst the Wiltshires who were caught in the open, were literally almost annihilated. The ponderous mass of enemy swept over the crest, turned the right flank of our line below, swarmed round the Hampshires and General Baldwin’s column, which had to which had to give ground and were only extricated with great difficulty and very heavy losses”.

In the account of Chunuk Bair written by Paul Gaskell he describes the circumstances of William Henry Fitzsimmons death.

… I (Gaskell) endeavoured with a Lance-Corporal (Fitzsimmons) of the Loyal North Lancashires to make a dash to the nearest dressing station. My escort had had a very severe wound in the calf of the leg, therefore making him hop on one leg like myself. The dressing station was about 400 yards away, so off we set, leaving our Gallant comrades still keeping up that hell’s fire.

When we had gone 50 yards, my escort and myself sat down to rest, against a clump of bushes, in the heart of that shell-swept plain. We had not been there for more than five minutes when a hail of bullets attracted our attention to the fact that an enemy machine gun sniper was active nearby.

Being rather a little shy of throwing our lives away we took shelter in a large shell hole. Knowing that we were quite safe from being perforated, the sniper resolved to leave us alone for the time being. My friend and I had been in our shelter for nearly an hour when I suggested that we would make a dash for the dressing station. On leaping out of our hiding place again came a rain of lead. On, on we hopped as we could, expecting any minute or second to fall a victim to this sniper.

Luckily we had gone another 150 yards without being hit, so again took rest, this time quite undisturbed. In my excitement I had practically forgotten the pain in my ankle. After resting for 15 minutes we again set off towards the mouth of the gully leading to the dressing station, and down to the beach. My friend and myself after our trying experiences across that bloody slaughter yard were finally rewarded with the sight of that gully but 50 yards away, where, as we thought, we would be safe from snipers’ observation, but it seemed as yet, we would experience further ordeal, for we could see men dropping like skittles 20 yards down the gully. On coming to the mouth of the gully, I motioned my friend to lie low until this sniper quietened down. In that dusty and blood-bespattered ground, lay dozens of dead and dying comrades, freshly butchered by this inhuman enemy. To pass these men, one would have to walk over them, for this gully was only four yards wide.

As we lay flat on our stomachs, we perceived the bullets burying themselves against the gully sides, evidently trying to find a target for a wounded man who dared to move. By all accounts, we were not as yet out of danger. We had to pass this spot which seemed certain death in doing so.

On seeing the situation which lay before us, we eventually agreed to make a final bid for life, for by now, we did not care which way things went. We stood up ready to make that bid for life, I starting first, my friend following close in the rear. At that moment, an Irish soldier brushed past me with his head bent, and was shot through the head on coming to this fatal spot. By some mistake, one of the Naval ships had got short range, and when I was nearing this fatal spot, suddenly a shrapnel shell from our Navy burst about 20 yards in front of me, and I went to the ground with a thud and a groan, for a shrapnel bullet had shattered my right femur bone of the thigh.

The next that I knew ‘was Fitzsimmons my friend laying on top of me with a large hole in his wind-pipe. Poor fellow! He was delirious and kept saying, “Nellie” – at the same time throwing all of his weight on my body. I could not shake him off, for his strength was far beyond mine. With a great effort I bandaged his wound, to keep away the thousands of flies which were murdering each other to eat his blood, which seemed to be boiling. “Poor old Fits!” I kept saying, as I would look at those ghastly lines of agony as if drawn on his face. It was very shortly afterwards that he died, the blood had choked him. I then rolled his body off mine. I was now very much relieved from his weight, but he had left his mark on me, for my trousers were saturated with his blood.

William’s body was not recovered from the battlefield and as such he is remembered on the Helles memorial.

HELLES MEMORIAL (1)fitzsimmons

Ada remarried in 1917.

Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 17304
Date of Death: 09/08/1915
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 6th Bn.

* Medal Index Card states he sailed on 15th June 1915 however this date was amended on the actual roll.

Paul McCormick
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