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William Swift was born in Longridge near Preston on the 29th March 1889 to James and Elizabeth Swift (nee Bolton). His parents married in the church of Longridge St. Lawrence on the 20th November 1880 and they had four sons and three daughters; John (1881), Ada Elizabeth (1883), James Henry (1885), Mary Jane (1887), William* 1889, Major (1894) and Margaret Ann (1896).

In 1901 the family home was at 43 Fell Brow in Longridge and William`s father was employed as a quarryman at one of the local stone quarries in Longridge. Sadly, William`s mother Elizabeth died in 1910 and the census of the following year shows William and his younger sister Margaret Ann living with their married sister Ada and her husband Samuel Smith at 159 Preston Road in Longridge. On the census form William`s occupation is recorded as a “professional boxer”, his boxing career apparently began about 1908 and lasted until 1913 during which time he had in the region of 15 professional fights and from 1908-1910 he was the Welter Weight Champion of East Lancashire.

William had also spent two years with the Territorial Force (1908-1910) at Preston and while he was serving he also took part in boxing competitions.

The Lancashire Evening Post reported on a competition that William took part in at the Drill Hall in Wilfred Street in Preston; the article is dated 28th December 1909.Swift 1

On the 26th October 1910 the Burnley Gazette also reported another win for William at Blackburn.Swift 2

On the 10th April 1913 he married Agnes Gornall in St. Wilfred`s RC Church in Longridge and in the March quarter of 1914 a son James was born but sadly he died not long afterwards.

After his boxing career came to an end William found work as a blacksmith`s striker at the waterworks in Longridge and worked there until he enlisted into the Army on the 3rd September 1914. He joined the 4th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and was allocated the service number 2309 which changed to 200578 in January 1917.

William`s three brothers also enlisted and photographs of the four brothers appeared in the Preston Guardian in July 1915.Swift 3

The couple had another son who was born in 1915 and they named him James. Agnes was expecting their third child when William sailed for France with the 2/4th Battalion on the 7th February 1917.

The 2/4th Battalion came under the command of the 170th Brigade of the 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division. The strength of the Battalion was 32 Officers and 926 non-commissioned officers and men and William was part of “B” Company.

Just over two weeks after the Battalion had landed in France he spent almost a month in hospital suffering from dermatitis and boils before finally returning to duty on the 20th March 1917.

It would seem that at some point prior to April 1917 he had been made a Lance Corporal but on the 13th April 1917 he was deprived of his Lance stripe and had to forfeit one good conduct badge for; “irregular conduct when on active service” (no further information).

Sadly, William was killed in action on the 9th June 1917.

A summary of events at that time;

“Towards the end of May, to relieve the Second Army and II Anzac Corps of the responsibilities outside of the active area, the 57th Division sector right up to the Lys was transferred to the XI Corps of the First Army. The defensive front of the Corps, as contrasted with the offensive front on which the three divisions were preparing their spring on Messines, was restricted from the short sector from the Lys to St. Ives, held by the 3rd Australian Division. To relieve it`s garrison a separate force of 2 Battalions of the already extended 57th Division was brought up on the 3rd June north of the Lys and attached for tactical purposes to the 3rd Australians”

The 2/4th and the 2/5th Battalions of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were the two battalions mentioned as being detached from the 57th Division. They were tasked “to hold the front from the River Lys to St. Ives as a defensive front on which other operations will pivot”.

The Battalion remained with this small detached force for ten days sharing duties with the Australian battalions. For almost the whole of this time they were subjected to heavy bombardments from all types of “heavy stuff”.

Casualties were heavy, 2nd Lt W H Dickson and 14 other ranks were killed. Lieutenant and Adjutant J S Kay and 100 non-commissioned officers and men were wounded before they were eventually recalled to billets in Estaires on the 11th June.

Agnes gave birth to their third child on the 11th July 1917 just a month after William was killed and she named him William after his father.

William was buried in Tancrez Farm Cemetery in Belgium; the CWGC information also notes his boxing achievement.Swift 4

His widow Agnes later took receipt of her husband`s medal entitlement to the British War and Victory Medals.

William`s name is also recorded on the War Memorial outside St. Wilfred`s Roman Catholic Church in Longridge.ST WILFRED`S RC CHURCH LONGRIDGEST WILFRED`S RC CHURCH MEMORIAL NAME PANEL

Rank: Private
Service No: 200578
Date of Death: 09/06/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, “B” Coy. 2nd/4th Bn.
Cemetery: TANCREZ FARM 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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