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William Henry Douglas was born in Stafford in late 1890 the son of a coal miner William Henry Douglas and Eliza Palmer. His father was originally from Manchester and his mother was from Staffordshire but their marriage was registered in the June quarter of 1888 in Leigh, Lancashire. William was one of fifteen children born to his parents, twelve of whom survived; Ethel (1888), Thomas (1892), Edna (1893), Harry (1895), Lilian (1896), Albert Victor (1897), Arthur (abt. 1901), Gerald Wallace (1903), Nellie (abt. 1905), Stanley (1906) and Elizabeth Irene (1907).

In 1891 the Douglas family residence was at 2 Casson Fold in Westhoughton where William Douglas Snr. was working as a collier (below ground). By 1901 the family had relocated to 26 Wash Lane in nearby Leigh and William`s father was still working below ground as a collier while his eldest sister, twelve year old Ethel was employed as a cotton weaver in one of the local mills.

Ten years on when the 1911 Census was recorded William and the rest of his family had moved house again, this time to 467 Lynton Road, Great Lever, Bolton. William and his younger brother Thomas were both now employed as `piercers` in the one of the mills, his sister Ethel was a `weaver of towels`, Harry was a labourer, Lilian a `tenter` and Albert Victor was an errand boy in an iron foundry, the youngest five siblings are shown as attending school.

At some point after the outbreak of war William volunteered for the Army, signing his papers at Bolton and joining the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the service number 17706. We cannot be sure of the exact date because unfortunately his service papers have not survived. After enlisting and passing his medical inspection William was posted to “D” Coy of the 9th Battalion LNL, the Battalion coming under the command of the 74th Brigade of 25th Division.

William sailed for France with the main body of the Battalion on the 25th September 1915.

Extract from the Battalion War Diary

24/9/15 – The 9th Service Battalion Loyal North Lancs Regiment left Aldershot`s Blenheim Barracks for service in France on the 24th and 25th September 1915. The Transport and Advance Party left under the Command of Major W.A. Jump;

Strength as under; 3 Officers, 109 other ranks (including 6 A.S.C. drivers, attached), 76 horses and mules, 17 Limbered wagons, 4 field kitchens, 4 carts and 9 bicycles for Southampton to cross to France by the Southampton – Havre route. The Battalion (remainder) left Aldershot under Command of Lieutenant-Colonel C.E.M. Pyne, by two trains leaving Farnborough Station (S.E. & Chatham Railway) at 8.20 and 8.50pm respectively for Folkestone. Strength as under; 27 Officers (including Medical Officer, attached) and 889 other ranks (including Armourer attached). Arrived at Folkestone (Harbour Station) at about 11.20 and 11.50pm respectively, and the Battalion embarked on board the `St. Seiriol` for Boulogne. Landed at Boulogne at about 2.30am, the Battalion marched to rest camp about two miles out from the town, for the night”.

Just a couple of weeks after landing in France the Battalion found themselves in the front line trenches in Le Bizet after relieving the 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. Here, they suffered their first casualties of the war, 2 other ranks killed in action and 7 wounded (2 of which later died of wounds).

The 9th Battalion earned the Battle Honours; Aisne, Ypres and Loos before moving on to the Somme in the summer of 1916 where they were involved at Albert, Bazentin, Pozieres and Ancre Heights. It was during the Battle of Ancre Heights (1st October – 11th November 1916) that William Henry Douglas earned the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Extract from the Battalion War Diary

20th October 1916 – Hessian Trench

The Company detailed to stay in Hessian Trench was relieved and went back into the support trenches. The evening of the 20th the Battalion again moved up to Hessian Trench, one Company being in the Assembly Trench, 2nd Lieutenant Henry Lewis being wounded during the relief, he remained on duty in the trenches until the following day. 2nd Lieutenant James Patterson Oliver wounded and evacuated to hospital.

21st October 1916 – Hessian Trench

At 12 – 6pm the artillery barrage opened. The Battalion got out of Hessian Trench in three lines and crossed `no-man`s land` immediately behind the barrage, very few casualties occurring until we reached the enemy`s wire, when a considerable amount of trouble was caused from an enemy machine gun and snipers.

This machine gun was outside a dugout in the sunken road and was put out of action by 2nd Lieutenant Gwynne Mervyn Jones and three bombers, the machine gun being captured. Many prisoners were taken chiefly from the sunken road dugouts, not many of the enemy being in the front line. About 200 prisoners were taken, including one Officer who said he was a Battalion Commander.

2nd Lieutenants George Charles Tiley and John Ernest Motherwell were killed in action.

As soon as they had taken the trench the men did remarkably good work consolidating, and an outpost line was immediately organised and put out by 2nd Lieutenant Gwynne Mervyn Jones.

2nd Lieutenants Henry Dobbyn and William Laban Kirkham (R.W.K. Regiment) wounded by shell and admitted to hospital.

Casualties on 21st October; Officers: 2 killed, 3 wounded. Other Ranks: 20 killed, 57 wounded, 17 missing.

His Distinguished Conduct Medal Citation reads as follows;

For their part in the operations of the 21st October 1916, 2nd Lieutenant Gwynne Mervyn Jones was later awarded the Military Cross whilst 29689 Sergeant. W.E. Morris was also awarded the DCM and 14389 Private William Cunliffe received the Military Medal.

The 9th Battalion was involved in the Messines Battle in June of 1917 and afterwards they went to do some training before later being attached to the C.R.E. II Corps for work on the roads and also helping to dig communication trenches. On the 4th August 1917 the 74th Brigade re-joined it`s Division, which was now holding the Westhoek and Bellewaarde Ridges, the 74th being in the front line, 75th in support in Ypres and the 7th Brigade in reserve west of Ypres. On the 6th August the Battalion relieved the 11th Battalion Cheshire Regiment in the line.

Sadly, four days later on the 10th August 1917 William Henry Douglas was posted missing presumed killed during an attack on Westhoek Ridge, the Soldier`s Register of Effects later noting that he had died of wounds on or since the 10th August 1917.

After the war William`s family would have received his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

William`s body was found and he was originally buried out on the battlefield, his grave being marked with a cross but in 1920 his body was exhumed and he was finally laid to rest in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

His family had the following words inscribed at the foot of his headstone;

“FOR HOME AND ENGLAND”

 

Photo taken, October 2016

Rank: Serjeant
Service No: 17706
Date of Death: 10/08/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment ,”D” Coy. 9th Bn.
Awards: D.C.M.
Cemetery: HOOGE CRATER CEMETERY

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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