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William Hulme was born in Bolton on 19th May 1861 and prior to WW1 had some military service, possibly having been in the Lancashire Fusiliers.

He had married Elizabeth Ann Ryder (a widow) in Wigan on 3rd November 1900 but they had no children together. By 1914 they lived at 34 Charles Street, Bolton and William worked as a collier.

William re-enlisted in the Army as a Special Reservist on 8th September 1914. He stated he was 44 years old and joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 4096. He was actually 53 years old and shouldn’t have been eligible.

At his enlistment medical he was described as being 5ft 4in tall and weighing 112lbs. He had grey eyes and black hair

After little training at Felixstowe, William was transferred to the 1st (Service) Battalion and in early December 1914 sailed to France to join them in the field as part of B Coy.

He had not yet arrived with the battalion on the 3rd December 1914 when H.M The King visited the Brigade at Hazebrouck. It is noted in the War Diary that the battalion was formed up on either side of the street and gave three cheers for the King as he passed by.

On 4th December William Hulme, along with 457 other N.C.Os under the command of 2/Lieut. Horace Gray Gilliland joined the 1st battalion at Hazebrouck. 2/Lieut. Gilliland was also posted into B Coy.

The 5th and 6th December 1914 were spent at Hazebrouck refitting. At about 09:00 a.m. on the 6th, three bombs were dropped by a German aeroplane, hitting a house within C Company’s billets. This resulted in ten soldiers being killed and a further eight wounded. There were also eight civilians, two of which were children killed in this bombing, and several others wounded. The Prince of Wales who was visiting the battalion billets that day expressed his sympathy with the Regiment.

The battalion remained at Hazebrouck until 21st December. During this time they were issued their winter clothing, continued their training, had rifle and grenade demonstrations, made practice attacks and conducted several route marches. On the 12th December they were ordered at 07:00 a.m. to be ready to move at two hours notice, but nothing transpired on this occasion.
On 20th December at 16:25 hrs. the battalion was ordered to stand by and be ready to move at once.

21st – 22nd December 1914 – Givenchy.
On 21st December at 07:00 hrs the battalion, with 2nd Brigade moved by motorbuses to Zelobes (1/2 mile west of Vieille Chapelle). From Zelobes they marched to Le Touret, arriving about 12:45 hrs.

Orders were received that the battalion, along with the Northamptons, should make a night attack in order to regain some trenches that had been taken by the Germans on the night of 19th – 20th December near an orchard by LA QUINQUE RUE. It was noted in the War Diary that the information of the enemy’s disposition was somewhat vague.

The battalion left Le Touret at 15:30 hrs followed by the Northamptons and were led by a guide (an officer of 2nd Gurkhas) to a spot from which it was decided the attack should commence. The men carried 170 rounds of ammunition each.

By 18:45 hrs the two battalions were deployed ready to advance. A and D Coys in the front line, supported by C and B Coys at 100 yards distance. The Loyal North Lancashires took the right of the line and the Northamptons the left. The whole frontage covered about 300 yards.

At 19:00 hrs the order to advance was given by Major Powell and the whole line moved forward with fixed bayonets, the companies now being closed up and in two ranks.

After crossing two lines of trenches occupied by the 58th Infantry, with heavy rifle fire they charged and occupied the front line of the enemy’s trenches. After a short halt the attack was continued and another trench about 100 yards further on was captured. The battalion advanced further and was reorganised on a road by the orchard. During the advance 2nd Lieut Ellis was seriously wounded and about 20 men killed and wounded.

A line was occupied, and a reconnaissance conducted about 20 yards to the rear of the orchard. Tools were sent up to the newly held trench an hour or so later. It is written that the night was very wet and cold and the men only had minimum rations.

The line was held throughout the night, but they did suffer some casualties from bombs that were thrown from a German trench running obliquely to their right flank. At 07:00 hrs on the 22nd December a Company was withdrawn from the Northamptons line due to the trenches being over-crowded.

Shortly after day break a very strong German attack developed from the direction of LA QUINQUE RUE and by 10:00 hrs the line became untenable chiefly owing to the enfilade fire (flanking fire) from the right flank which was very exposed.

After suffering very heavy losses and putting up a very stubborn defence, the retirement of the line commenced from the left and about 300 men succeeded in reaching the Rue de Bois.

The Battalion was collected and reformed on Rue de L’Epinette, the Machine Gun detachment cooperating with the Northamptons went up in support and a line was held by them roughly on the line when the attack had started on the night before. At about 15:00 hrs the battalion was withdrawn and went into billets at La Couture.

The battalion loses from this action were heavy. Captains Smart and Graham killed. Captains (De Cantect), Lieutenant Batty-Smith, 2nd Lieutenant Gilliland were all missing. Captain Hay was slightly wounded. There were 408 other ranks killed, wounded or missing, including Private William Hulme.

William Hulme had been taken as a Prisoner of War.  National Archives record WO 161/99/50 (Interviews and reports about the treatment of British Prisoners of War) tells the story in William’s words;

Hulme, William, No. 4096, Private, Loyal North Lancs.
34, Charles Street, Bolton, Lancs.
Captured at La Bassee, France, 21st December 1914.
Age, 56. Occupation, collier.

JOURNEY. Dec. 21, 1914. LILLE Dec. 21-24. 1914.
When captured I was taken to Lille Fort. I had a train journey of six or seven hours, and the sentries knocked myself and others about with their fists and spat at us. The journey through the streets from the station to the fort occupied two hours and the civilians were allowed to kick and whip the prisoners. At the fort the sentries treated us better. We spent two nights in the fort and were given bread and coffee.

JOURNEY. Dec. 24 – 26, 1914.
On 24th December we left the fort for Wittenberg, arriving on the 26th December. Only once on this journey, on 25th December, we were given bread and coffee.

WITTENBERG. Dec. 26, 1914 – June 23, 1916.
After our arrival at Wittenberg we were left to ourselves until the latter end of July 1915. Our food was thrown down a shoot into the road and our soup was left outside the cook-house about 100 yards away and we went and fetched it. During this time we had no medical attendance and prisoners were dying every day from typhus. A man name Lovibond was, we understood, a chemist, and he did the best he could for all the sick. In the camp there were as many as 10,000 to 14,000 prisoners, English, French, Belgian, Russian. Up to July 1915 I did not have a change of clothing.

Our food consisted of the following;
6 a.m. – Tea or coffee
8 a.m. – Bread
11 a.m. – Soup.
6 p.m. – Soup (usually water).

In July 1915 tea and coffee was knocked off and soup was supplied, the same quality as served at 6 p.m.

For the first nine months no prisoner received any parcels and no prisoner was allowed to write home. My first letter home was sent about September 1915. Up to October 1915 I suffered from the want of food and weakness. I could not walk across the square without resting.

I think in August 1915 Captain Vidal and Major Priestley arrived and took over the medical work of the camp. From this time the general condition of the camp greatly improved. Towards the end of July the German officers and men arrived and inspected the men, to arrange for work for the prisoners. I commenced work in September 1915, my hours being 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and every other Sunday 24 hours. For this work I received 65 pfennigs per day. I worked for a contractor, not the Government, and the 1st April 1916 I finished working and stayed in camp.

Up to July 1915 I had no soap, neither a bath, but just washed under a tap of running water. I had no clothes given to me by the Germans until September 1915, then the first issue was one pair of trousers, one shirt, one drawers, and in November 1915 I received an overcoat. Clothes were continually asked for but always refused. I had two blankets and a mattress, the blankets were never changed.

I received no tobacco for over six months. Up to October 1915 we had no outdoor games. We had no religious services. I was in camp nine months before I received a parcel from England, and letters afterwards.

The officer in charge stabbed all tins of food. When the parcels were opened one parcel contained a bottle of lime-juice. The German officer said it was whiskey and kept the parcel, and in exchange for the parcel I received 20 pfennigs.

Several times I saw Russian prisoners tied up with ropes to railings. I do not know what for, for two hours at the time. Their hands were tied behind them to the railings, and their legs also. I also saw some English prisoners tied-up, but do not know what for.

I remember the American Ambassador visited our camp twice, the first time the beginning of 1915. The labour contractor was present, he made us all go to work. The Ambassador advised us all to work and that he would see the men again. The second visit, I do not remember the date, but the Ambassador saw and spoke to many prisoners and some improvements were made.

CONSTANCE. June 23-27, 1916.
At Constance, 23rd to 27th June 1916. Treatment here was good.

MANNHEIM. June 27 – Aug. 12, 1916.
At Mannheim, 27th June to 12th August 1916. Treatment was good.

Private W. HULME. 4096,
Loyal North Lancs.

Private W. Hulme is not very intelligent, and for this reason I was very careful in getting his replies to my questions repeated, and I do not doubt at all that this statement is correct.

Private W. Hulme was examined by me at Manor Farm, Interlaken on 31st May 1917. A. E. STICKINGS, Captain. 1st Wiltshire Regiment.

Elizabeth had written to the Army in January 1915 asking for news about William. She hadn’t heard from him since he went to Felixstowe 6 weeks earlier.

On 12th August 1916 William arrived at Hotel Regina, Murren, Switzerland and here complained of illness due to lack of food and ill treatment. He was repatriated and back in the UK by August 1917 and at 1st Western General Hospital in Fazackerley, Liverpool. He was finally discharged as being no longer physically fit for War Service in November 1917 and was issued Silver War Badge Number 257091.

In regards to his ‘general debility’, William was awarded a pension of 27/6 for four weeks which would reduce to 13/9. This would be reviewed after 52 weeks.

William later received the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory medal in recognition of his service.

Paul McCormick
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