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Published: 3 September 1917 in Liverpool Echo

Corporal William Ford D.C.M.

William Ford was born into a Roman Catholic family in Walton, Warrington in July 1871. He was the sixth son of Patrick and Winifred (Mullen) who were both born in Galway, Ireland but had been in Warrington since at least 1859. His siblings were;

  • Michael Ford (b. 1859)
  • Peter Ford (b. 1862)
  • John Ford (b. 1865)
  • Thomas Ford (b. 1867)
  • Francis Ford (b. 1869)
  • William Ford (b. 1871)
  • Patrick Ford (b. 1875)
  • James Ford (b. 1877)
  • Mary Ford (b. 1873)
  • Joseph Ford (b. 1881)

Their father, Patrick, died in 1885 and on his enlistment papers later William recorded his father’s name as being ‘John’. His mother may have remarried, or John may be his older brother.

One month before his 19th birthday, 17th June 1890, William enlisted in the Army for a period of 7 years with the Colours and 5 years in the Reserve. He had previously been a member of the Militia with the 3rd Battalion South Lancashire Regiment (number 2404) and now joined the Regulars with the number 3115. The medical officer noted that William stood at 5ft 4.5in, weighed 118lbs with a 33/34in chest. He had dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and was of a sallow complexion. There were four scars on the back of his left arm and he was marked with small pox.

William was posted into the 2nd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment and remained in the UK with them until they took up duties overseas. William saw service in Gibraltar (March – September 1892), Malta (September 1892 – February 1893), Egypt (February 1893 – February 1895) and India (February 1895 – January 1898). On the second anniversary of his service, 17th June 1892, he had been awarded a good conduct badge; and a second badge was presented to him four years later in 1896.

Having completed his time with the Colours, on 23rd January 1898 he returned to the UK and was transferred to the Army Reserve. He returned to civilian life to resume his employment as a labourer and was living at 5, Gardens Row, off exhedge road, Warrington.

As the situation escalated in South Africa, Private Ford was recalled to the Colours in July 1899 and he saw service with the 2nd Battalion in South Africa from 30th November 1899 until 22nd November 1902. For his service during the Boer war he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with five clasps (Orange Free State, Transvaal, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith and Laing’s Nek) and the King’s South Africa medal with two clasps (1901 and 1902).

Private William Ford returned to the UK in December 1902 and was transferred back into the Army Reserve ‘section D’. He was 31 years 4 months old and had served a total of 12 years 161 days and his conduct and character during these years was assessed as being very good. He gave his intended place of residence as being with his father at Adshaw Cottage, Rainhill, Lancashire; and stated he desired to be employed as a railway porter.

William married Mary Amelia Simpson in Liverpool on 6th January 1903 and they had their first son, William George Ford, on 10th December that year.

He attended the compulsory annual training in 1904 (Southport) and 1905 (Altcar) and was discharged on completion of his reserve commitment on 30th November 1906.

In June 1910 William and Mary had their second son, Albert Edward Ford, in West Derby and they set-up home at 16 Dane Street, Walton, Liverpool.

When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, William wasted no time in reenlisting in the Army at Seaforth on 8th September 1914, joining the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 3975. He was now 43 years 80 days old and in the interim had been employed as a general labourer in the engineering department of the Cunard Company.

After a short period of training with the 3rd Battalion he was transferred to the 1st Battalion and sailed to France to join them in the field on 3rd December 1914. In February and March 1915 he was admitted into the hospital at Boulogne suffering from diphtheria and was back in the UK by 25th March 1915.

Having spent a short while convalescing he re-joined the 3rd Battalion on light duties at Felixstowe. Whilst there he incurred his only regiment entry. He forfeited two days pay and was confined to barracks for four days for being found ‘absent off pass’ between 9 p.m. 17th July until 1 p.m. the next day. He had just had one weeks furlough of leave and for whatever reason was late returning to camp.

On 22nd September 1915 he was posted into the 6th (Service) Battalion, sailing overseas to join them in Gallipoli. He was appointed paid Lance Corporal that November and moved to Mesopotamia with the Battalion in early 1916. He was appointed acting Corporal in April 1916 and was promoted substantive Corporal on Christmas day that year.

William Ford was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his part during the Dialah River Crossing on 9th March 1917. The war diary for this period reads;

7th March 1917

6 a.m. The Battalion left BUSTAN as rear Battalion in the Brigade which acted as advance guard to the Division, reaching 709 central at about 10 a.m. Corps Cavalry and two batteries R.F.A. went forward to make a reconnaissance towards DIALAH. This Battalion was sent through the vanguard (South Lancs) to support the cavalry and artillery at about 11 a.m.

The situation at 2.30 p.m. was as follows;-

The two batteries – C66 on right and H66 on left were in position about 703 d.8/3. ‘A’ Coy was in position on a mound about 500 yards in front of the guns. ‘D’ Coy was 400 yards to the left of ‘A’ Coy and the two remaining Coys were in reserve about 1000 yards behind. All were dug in as the Turks were sending over a few shells. Later ‘D’ Coy was moved forward to a large mound about 704 e.4/6; ‘C’ Coy taking up the position vacated by ‘D’ Coy. At dusk the Battalion, less ‘A’ Coy, formed up on ‘C’ Coy and moved at 8 p.m. to observation post on the mounds where ‘A’ Coy was situated. The Battalion moved off at 10 p.m. to take up a position on the river bank, with the object of preventing an enfilade fire being directed on the Kings Own (R. L.) Rgt at the DIALAH bridge, where it was intended to throw a pontoon bridge across. The attempt failed owing to machine-gun fire, and pontoons were sunk by bombs. A second attempt met with no success and the project was abandoned. Kings Own (R.L.) and East Lancs. who had failed to launch their pontoons owing to ramping difficulties and machine-gun fire, dug in on the bank. The Battalion was withdrawn to the Brigade Area reaching camp about 5 a.m. No casualties.

8th March 1917

The Battalion remained in camp during the morning, but in the afternoon received orders to the effect that they would be required to undertake the operation of forcing the passage of the DIALAH RIVER that night. Consequently four columns were formed, composed of one Company each with the addition of rowers and carriers from the Royal Engineers and Welch Pioneers. They proceeded in this formation towards the river, where each column was led to a position of readiness, opposite the place where each crossing was to be made.

9th March 1917

Only one pontoon was available for each column. On arrival at the bend of the river each column prepared positions from which they could cover the launching of the pontoons. At midnight, under cover of an intense artillery barrage, pontoons were launched. ‘A’ Columns pontoon reached the opposite shore with 2nd Lt. J. H. W. Collins and nine men, but as it was being ferried back again it was sunk by machine gun fire, and the rowers and Second Lieutenant E. T. Covington (East Surrey Regt.) and Lieutenant Mason (R.E.) killed and the operations for the being of this column were delayed.

‘B’ Column’s first pontoon reached the opposite shore with Lieutenant H. Beaumont and 12 men. After the second journey the rowers were all hit and the pontoon lost. Subsequently by the aid of two pontoons from upstream ‘B’ Column were able to get across four more boat loads. During the operation Second Lieutenant John James Wilder Lassetter was killed.

‘C’ Column’s pontoon owing to the steepness of the bank was not launched. Heavy shell, rifle and machine gun fire by the Turks at this juncture sunk the remaining two pontoons and the situation was that about 4 officers and 100 men had reached the opposite bank and were endeavoring to consolidate the further edge. An urgent request had already been made for more pontoons and the reply received to the effect that six more were on their way.

An hour and a half elapsed however before these were seen approaching. Star shells were sent up by the Turks and the pontoons came under a very heavy shrapnel fire. So intense was this bombardment that it was only possible to unload the pontoons and get them near the bank, two being riddled with bullets and unfit for use. Dawn was now approaching and further attempts to cross were abandoned.

During the day successive attempts were made, by means of rifle grenades, rockets and lines and rockets procured from the Navy, to throw a line over to the opposite bank in order to replenish the supply of bombs and ammunition to the parties on the opposite bank where they had established themselves in a small ‘cup’ opposite ‘A’ Column. All these attempts however met with no success.

From reports received it would appear that the party that reached the opposite shore from ‘A’ Column had hung on where they had landed, that a party from ‘B’ Column had done the same, and that a party from ‘C’ Column under Captain Oswald Austin Reid (2nd Liverpool attached 6th LNL), reduced by casualties from sixty to fifteen effective, had moved down the bank and met up with ‘B’ party, and calling ‘A’ party to them had gathered together in the cup which they were consolidating.

During the remainder of the night and especially at dawn the Turks continuously attacked them and endeavored to bomb them, from the wood composed of young date trees immediately on their left and from the wood on their right. All these attacks were repulsed with heavy loss to the Turks and during the day our artillery materially assisted by shell fire.

10th March 1917

During the morning the Commanding Officer went to reconnoiter the bank higher up with a view to selecting suitable places where further attempts were to be made that night to cross and also to relieve the beleaguered garrison of the cup.

At a conference at Brigade H.Q. during the afternoon the following arrangements were made;

General Lewin Commanding 40th Brigade, with two Battalions was to proceed in two motor lighters up the TIGRIS past the mouth of the DIALAH RIVER and to land in rear of that portion of the DIALAH VILLAGE which lies on the north bank, thence to work up the bank and attack the Turks who were opposite that portion of the river held by the Loyal North Lancs. Regt. The 1/5th Wilts. of that Brigade were to cross in three columns at the point selected during the reconnaissance. These points were at a slight bend in the river, above the South Lancs. who were lining the bank in continuation of the North Lancs. The East Lancs., covered by the fire of the North Lancs., were to cross at B, C and D crossings.

The operation was timed for 4 a.m. but at midnight the Artillery were to create a barrage in order to deceive the Turks as to the time selected for the crossing, and the actual crossings were to be undertaken without any Artillery barrage.

At 9 p.m. the Turks started an exceedingly heavy bombardment and at this moment a volunteer, Pte. Miller C. of ‘D’ Company had entered the water with a line tied around his shoulders with a view to swimming the river to the place where Captain Reid’s party were. When halfway, however, he was unable, on account of the current, to reach the other side, and returned in an exhausted condition. Lieutenant Leon Asher Soman, who was paying out the line to the swimmer, ran forward to unhitch the line which had caught in a bush and whilst doing so, was shot through the heart by a sniper. Severe casualties occurred during the bombardment but subsequently our Artillery were able to continuously bombard the wood on the left of the ‘cup’ thus preventing the Turks from massing for further bombing attacks.

At 4 a.m. the 5th Wilts. and the East Lancs. crossed at the places selected without opposition, the Turks having retired. They were followed by the South Lancs. and Loyal North Lancs. respectively and subsequently the Kings Own (R.L.) Rgt. A bridge head about a 1000 yards inland was formed, a bridge thrown over the river, and the 13th Division crossed.

The motor lighters took no part in these operations as they had unfortunately stuck on the mud in the Tigris. By 8 p.m. the Division was encamped about DADAWIYAH covered by the 39th Brigade in an outpost line.

11th March 1917

On the morning of the 11th the advance on BAGHDAD was continued….

dialahpontoon

A British artillery battery crossing a pontoon bridge over the River Diyala near Baghdad in March 1917. This bridge was completed by the 71st Field Company, Royal Engineers, at 11am on 10 March. THE MESOPOTAMIAN CAMPAIGN, 1916-1918© IWM (Q 25183)

Upon reaching the beleagured men in the ‘cup’ a machine gunner later recounted “…when we reached them, there were only about 30 survivors. The many dead lying round the parapets of the river-bound defences told their own grim tale”.

smallvcCaptain Oswald Austin Reid, attached to the 6th Loyal North Lancs was awarded the Victoria Cross, his citation reads;

On 8/10 March 1917 at Dialah River, Mesopotamia, Captain Reid consolidated a small post with the advanced troops on the opposite side of the river to the main body, after his lines of communication had been cut by the sinking of the pontoons. He maintained this position for 30 hours against constant attacks by bombs, machine-guns and rifle fire, with the full knowledge that repeated attempts at relief had failed and that his ammunition was all but exhausted. It was greatly due to his tenacity that the crossing of the river was effected the next night. During the operations he was wounded.

smallvcPrivate Jack White, 6th Kings Own, was also awarded the Victoria Cross for this action, his citation reads;

On 7/8 March 1917 on the Dialah River, Mesopotamia, Private White, a signaller, during an attempt to cross the river, saw the two pontoons ahead of him come under very heavy fire with disastrous results. When his own pontoon had reached mid-stream, with every man except himself either dead or wounded, and not being able, by himself, to control the boat the private tied a telephone wire to the pontoon, jumped overboard and towed it to the shore, thereby saving an officer’s life and bringing to land the wounded and also the rifles and equipment of all the men in the boat.

smallmcLieutenant Harry Beaumont was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the action.

According to a diary kept by Lt. Beaumont it is clear he was part of the group that got across the river. Family legend remembers he was recommended for the Victoria Cross.

smalldcmOn the 29th August 1917 the London Gazette published the citation for William Ford’s D.C.M.

“For conspicuous gallantry throughout the operations, especially at the forcing of the passage of the river when he tried to launch a pontoon under a withering machine gun and rifle fire”

Two other Loyal North Lancashire men were also recognised and awarded the D.C.M in the same gazette;

smalldcm31704 C.S.M.  F.G. Spencer;

For gallantry and devotion to duty. He has displayed great coolness and has set a fine example in action. On one occasion he greatly assisted the marooned garrison on the other side of the river by his skillful fire from the left bank.

smalldcm13155 C.S.M. H. T. Bagley;

For conspicuous gallantry in action. During the forcing of the passage of the river he did excellent work in collecting and sending across ammunition and bombs under fire. He has displayed conspicuous gallantry on several occasions.

At least two (probably more) Military Medals were awarded to the Loyal North Lancs; these were announced in the London Gazette dated 18.10.1917

smallmm4098 LCpl James Haslam, 6th Bn. The Bolton Journal & Guardian wrote;

The Military Medal was awarded when the British force drove the Turks over the River Diala. About 60 men of the 6th Battalion held a position over the river for 30 hours. The ammunition was getting very low, being down to about 5 rounds per man, when Lance Corporal Haslam when going for water, found a quantity of ammunition and brought it up. This supplied the little garrison of about 20 men with 120 rounds each, and enabled them to hold on until relieved.

smallmm20770 Cpl John. W. Taylor, 6th Bn.

He received his Military Medal for bravery on the Diala River (Baghdad Mesopotamia) in going out on bombing raids (twice alone) to put out of action an enemy machine gun that was firing on our troops during the crossing of the river.

Corporal William Ford D.C.M. was compulsory transferred ‘in the interests of the service’ to the Royal Engineers on 25th September 1917, joining the Railway Operating Division in Baghdad with the number 315552 and then WR298192. His trade skills as a fitter were assessed as being ‘superior’.

William embarked for the UK in December 1918 and was discharged to class z reserve in April 1919. He was 48 years old and was given a weekly pension for one year on account of rheumatism which had been aggravated by his war service.

There is a death of a William Ford in Liverpool in mid-1948, however the connection has not yet been proved. 

 

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
Paul McCormick
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