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William Barker was born on 6 February 1889, in Much Hoole. His parents were George Barker (b. 1856), a market gardener, originally from Manchester, and Matilda Atkinson (b. 1859), originally from Markby in Lincolnshire. George and Matilda were married in Much Hoole in 1883 and had 7 children: Ellen (b. 1884), Ernest (b. 1886), William, Fred (b. 1891), Allan (b. 1894), Georgina (b. 1896) and Elizabeth (b. 1900). It appears most of the family continued to live in Much Hoole, but I have been unable as yet to find them in the 1911 Census. However, from his service records we know that in 1916, William was living on Liverpool Road, Much Hoole, with his wife Alice Ann (née Rhodes, b. 1892 in Much Hoole, married 1913) and their son George (b. 1915). William was a farm labourer.

He enlisted at Seaforth on 31 March 1916 and was called into service on 30 June 1916, initially with the King’s Liverpool Regiment (service number 16/35692). He was 5’4” tall, weighed 130lbs and had a chest of 39”. He began service in the BEF on 15th January 1917, but 5 days later was posted to 8th Bn L.N.LAN.R.

He was among the four small drafts of men who arrived in the Battalion in January 1917, totalling of one officer and 147 other ranks, based initially in France near St Omer. Much of the Spring was spent in training and/or hard labour. In March, for example, the Battalion was called on to supply working parties for road-making, cable-burying and constructing shelters and bomb-proof dugouts in view of the offensive which was expected to open shortly. In April and May they were moved around various locations on the French-Belgian border, ending up in May near Wulverghem where they made ready to play their part in the approaching battle for the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge.

The tactical objective of the attack at Messines was to capture the German defences on the ridge, which ran from Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) Wood in the south, through Messines and Wytschaete to Mt. Sorrel, to deprive the German 4th Army of the high ground south of Ypres. The ridge commanded the British defences and back areas further north, from which the British intended to conduct the “Northern Operation”, to advance to Passchendaele Ridge, then capture the Belgian coast up to the Dutch frontier.

By midnight on 6 June the Battalion was in its assembly position and at 3.10am on 7th June 1917, following the explosion of several mines and under cover of an intensive bombardment, the attack was launched. The initial objectives were soon captured and shortly afterwards the whole Division was able to advance quickly capturing the Ridge and penetrating 6,000 yards into the enemy’s position. The Battalion remained occupying and defending the newly occupied territory until withdrawn on the 11-12 June. During the operation, the Battalion lost 36 men killed, 4 officers and 98 other ranks wounded and 7 missing. Among the missing was William Barker. He was 28 years old.

William’s brother was 25413 PTE. E. A. BARKER. L.N.LAN.R., killed in action on 28th April 1917 – Matilda (their mother) had lost her husband in 1913, then she lost two sons within 6 weeks of each other in 1917.

His brother Allan served in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He signed up in December 1915, served briefly in France in May/June 1916 but was then sent home suffering from chronic nephritis, exacerbated by his service abroad. He was discharged as medically unfit on 24 July 1916.

It’s quite likely that the other brother, Fred, would also have served but I have no records.

Rank: Private
Service No: 36097
Date of Death: 07/06/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, “A” Coy. 8th Bn.
Panel Reference: Panel 41 and 43.

Bill Brierley
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