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201744 Private William Atherton 1William Atherton was born in 1893 in Preston to John and Jane Atherton (nee Green). John Atherton a joiner`s labourer married Jane Green in Preston in 1891 and they went on to have ten children five of whom survived. William was their eldest surviving child, his four other siblings being; Ann (1895), Thomas (1897), Agnes (1904) and Robert (1907).

The family home in 1911 was at 24 Pleasant Street in Preston where John Atherton was still working as a joiner`s labourer. William had gone to work for Messrs Fryer & Hancock as a French polisher, his younger sister Ann was a weaver and his thirteen year old brother Thomas was a grocer`s errand boy.

On the 1st November 1915 aged 22 years and 6 months William left his job as a French polisher and went to the recruiting office in Preston to enlist for four years with the Territorial Force. His home address by this time was at 1 Bostock Street in Preston He was initially given the service number 4483 which in January 1917 would be changed to 201744 and he was posted to the 4th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. William confirmed his intention to serve overseas and duly signed his agreement to that effect on the same day. He named his father John Atherton of the same address as his next of kin.

William embarked at Southampton to sail to France with a batch of reinforcements on the 10th February 1916. After spending a couple of weeks at the base depot he joined the 1/4th Battalion in the field on the 2nd March 1916 and became a member of “B” Company. He had only been with the Battalion for a couple of months before reporting sick with scabies on the 24th May 1916 only returning to his Battalion a month later on the 23rd June 1916.

On the 9th September 1916 the 1/4th Battalion was involved in an attack between Ginchy and Delville Wood and unfortunately William was slightly wounded in the action but was able to return to duty the following day. On the 5th June 1917 he managed to secure two weeks home leave in England before returning to France on the 19th June.

In November of 1917 the Battalion became involved in operations during the Battle of Cambrai and according to William`s service papers he was admitted to a field ambulance after receiving a shrapnel wound to his back on the 21st November 1917. The next entry in his papers reveal that on the 30th November 1917 he was admitted to a field ambulance again, this time with a gun-shot wound to his chest and from the field ambulance he was taken to 55 Casualty Clearing Station.

Extract from the Battalion War Diary for the 30th November 1917

30th – November 7:40am “Stand to order received” from the 166th Infantry Brigade. Intelligence Officer and scouts sent forward to reconnoitre.

9am – Our infantry and artillery observed retiring on our left in the direction of HEUDECOURT. Artillery reported they had abandoned guns at VILLERS GUISLAIN. Battalion H.Q. under R.S.M. sent forward to form line on north-east side of VAUCELLETTE FARM where they immediately came under machine-gun fire from the enemy advancing from VILLERS GUISLAIN.

A Company were ordered up on their left, and had to fight hard to reach their position: the enemy had already seized Chapel Crossing. All the Officers of this Company eventually became casualties.

B and D Companies were ordered to continue the line on the right of HQ on the east side of VAUCELLETTE FARM. All Companies were quickly in position: fire was opened and the enemy ceased to advance and took up a position on a line running from the BEET FACTORY to CHAPEL CROSSING. At the time there were no troops in position on our right or left flanks. This state of things prevailed until dusk, when the Canadian Mounted Brigade arrived.

11am – Orders were received from the 166th Infantry Brigade to clear enemy from VILLERS GUISLAIN. Battalion ordered to advance in extended order to clear enemy from VILLERS HILL. This they proceeded to do, led by Lieutenant Colonel R. Hindle D.S.O.

The men were firing from the hip as they advanced, and the foremost line of the enemy began to retire. The advance was successful until the centre of the line reached a point about 200 yards from the crest of the hill, when ammunition ran short. At this time fresh enemy troops advanced over the hill in considerable strength.

The Colonel was killed, and all three Company Commanders became casualties. The Adjutant took command of the Battalion and ordered a withdrawal to VAUCELLETTE FARM. This was carried out slowly, under covering fire from the left flank.

Total casualties were; Killed – Lieutenant Colonel R. Hindle D.S.O., Second Lieutenant J.S. Livesey, Captain R.N.L. Buckmaster, 7 other Officers were wounded. Other ranks – 11 were killed, 84 wounded and 15 missing.

Sadly, William did not survive, eventually succumbing to his wounds on the 3rd December 1917 at number 55 Casualty Clearing Station. He was later buried in Tincourt New British Cemetery.

After his death the following article appeared in the Preston Guardian newspaper.201744 Private William Atherton 2(*Note: the article states that William was wounded on the 30th September when it should read the 30th November).

After the war William was awarded the British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his service and sacrifice for his country.

His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in his home town of Preston.harris roh A

Rank: Private
Service No: 201744
Date of Death: 03/12/1917
Age: 24
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn.

Janet Davis
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