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200877-private-william-highamWilliam Higham was born in Preston in the second quarter of 1897, the third child to John and Mary Higham (nee Roughley). John, a carriage builder had been born in Salford and he eventually found himself in Southport where he met Mary Marie Roughley, a native of Upholland, near Wigan. They married on 12th April 1890 at Southport Parish Church and set up home in St. Luke`s Road, Southport. Whilst living in Southport they had their first son Thomas (1892), followed by a daughter Ellen (1895).

By the 1901 Census the family had moved to Preston and to live at number 15 Arthur Street (behind Christ Church on Bow Lane). They increased their family by two more sons, William (1898)* and then Arthur (1899), the brothers were baptised at the same ceremony at Christ Church in March 1899. William`s father John was now working as a labourer in the timber yard on Preston Dock, within easy walking distance of his home. In 1902 John and Mary had a daughter, Hilda and then three years later in 1905 another son James was added to the family.

When the 1911 Census was recorded John and Mary along with William and their other five children had now moved to 6 Robinson Street, located between Christchurch Street and Marsh Lane, the area was demolished in the 1960`s to make way for a wholesale fruit and veg market. William`s father was still working at Preston Docks and William was now an apprentice spindle maker at a local textile machinery works. His sister Ellen was a weaver and his brother Thomas was described as a horse driver carrying out furniture removals.

By the time WW1 was underway, William and his family had moved yet again, this time to 97 Old Lancaster Lane adjacent to Aqueduct Street. William who was now 16 was working at Leigh`s Brookhouse Mill on Old Lancaster Lane, one of the larger cotton mills in Preston.

William enlisted into the 4th Battalion LNL on the 26th October 1914 for a period of 4 years and was initially allocated the service number 3050 which would later be changed to 200877 when the new style TF numbers came into being in January 1917. At his first medical inspection William`s `apparent age` was noted as 19 years and 6 months old which was actually 2 years older than he actually was. His height was recorded as 5`5” and he was said to be in good physical condition and therefore fit for deployment on Imperial Service. A second medical inspection took place at Blackpool in March 1915 and his age was given as 19 years and 11 months but he was still one month short of his eighteenth birthday.

He sailed to France on the 8th August 1915 with a group of reinforcements and was with a batch of 101 other ranks joining the 1/4th Battalion in the field at Aveluy on the 22nd August, William was posted into “B” Coy. Three months later on the 11th November 1915 William reported sick, re-joining his Battalion on the 25th November. Not long after he re-joined he was awarded 28 days Field Punishment No.1 for “neglect of duty on sentry”. From the 29/3/16 until 18/4/16 he was away from the Battalion again after reporting sick, this time suffering from scabies, William`s return to the Battalion coinciding with their relief of the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers in the trenches at Monchiet.

In late July 1916 William started to suffer with boils on his back, the condition eventually seeing him being admitted to 6 Stationary Hospital in Le Havre and he didn`t return to the Battalion until 6th November that year. A few days later he was sent to 164th Brigade Signal School, only returning to the 1/4th on the 9th January 1917. By the time he arrived the Battalion was in the trenches around Ypres but by early April he was back in a field ambulance again and was out of action for another two weeks with the recurring problem of boils.

On the 31st July there was a planned assault, 3rd Battle of Ypres (known as Passchendaele) on the German lines which was to be carried out by the 55th Division. At zero hour the 1/4th Battalion of the 165th Infantry Brigade along with the 166th Brigade went on the attack. Initially the attack went well, but by 14:30hrs the attack was beginning to falter with the enemy successfully counter-attacking. By mid-evening some of the gained ground had been lost, although not all of it but it was becoming bogged down.

The cost to the Battalion was heavy with total casualties of 51 of all ranks being killed or dying of wounds, 192 men wounded and 77 posted missing. Sadly, William was one of the men later reported as wounded and missing. He was still just nineteen and a half years old. Although his family was informed it wasn`t until April 1918 that for official purposes it was finally confirmed William was presumed to have died on or since 31st July 1917. His family posted the following announcement in the Preston Guardian on the 1st May 1918;200877-private-william-higham-2

After the war William`s mother Mary signed for her sons` 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and she would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

As William`s body was never recovered from the battlefield, his name was later inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres (pictured below). His name was also included on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum in Preston, the original submission form being shown below.


The form submitted by William’s family to include his name on the Harris Museum Roll of Honour


menin-gate higham-menin-gate

Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

Rank: Private
Service No: 200877
Date of Death: 31/07/1917
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, B Coy, 1st/4th Bn.

Ron Crowe
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