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William Ainsworth Major 2/5th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (Territorial). Killed in action 16th April 1917 and buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix, Pas de Calais. Headstone bears inscription “Waiting for the glorious appearance of our saviour. Titus 2/13” The cemetery is 3 miles South West of Armentieres, about 2 miles South of Fleurbaix. Begun in December 1914 and used by fighting units until March 1918. Adjoined Eaton Hall Headquarters and dressing station. Records 1,129 U.K., 291 Aust., 40 Can., 24 N.Z., 2 Guernsey, 12 German burials, and 23 special memorials.

William Ainsworth was born on the 10th September 1877 the youngest child of Richard and Elizabeth Ainsworth. Richard Ainsworth was born in 1822 and on the 2nd April 1871 was unmarried, occupation Grocer Master, living with his sisters Betsy aged 69 and Ann 59 at 49 Chorley New Road, Little Bolton, Lancashire. Later that year Richard Ainsworth married Elizabeth Higson who was born in 1837 in Bolton in Lancashire. The couple had four children, the eldest, Richard, born in 1873, and two daughters Catherine born in 1875 and Jane born in 1877 followed by William in 1877.

Richard Ainsworth died in 1879 in Bolton.

In 1881 the family was still living at 49 Chorley New Road, Little Bolton. Mrs. Elizabeth Ainsworth was the Head of the household and described as an Annuitant. In 1881 Richard, Catherine and Jane were at school.

By 1891 both Richard and William were away at Rossall School in Fleetwood Lancashire founded in 1844 as an Anglican boarding school originally to offer education to the children of the clergy and military.

In 1901 William was living with his mother Elizabeth, of independent means, at Marylands in Heaton in Bolton, he being employed as Secretary to a Cotton Spinning Firm. His sister Catherine was also at home. Elizabeth employed two General Domestic Servants, a Cook and a Gardener.

On the 12th May 1859 the War Office issued a circular giving its sanction for the formation of volunteer corps of infantry. The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was formed out of a number of units within No. 12 Sub-district, being one of 70 infantry sub-districts within the United Kingdom. The 2nd Volunteer Battalion was from Bolton where the 27th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps had been formed in 1859. In 1876 the 27th was amalgamated with the 82nd Corps at Hindley, the number was changed to 14th in 1880 and in 1883 the title 2nd Volunteer Battalion was assumed.

William Ainsworth had been a Captain in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, obtaining a Special Certificate at Chelsea Barracks in June 1899 and then a “Q” Certificate in November 1905.

Captain Ainsworth resigned his commission in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion on the 1st November 1908, albeit the Volunteer Force had ceased to exist on the 31st March 1908, under the provisions of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907. He resigned because of pressure of business. He was a Principal in the firm Joshua Crook & Co. remaining as such probably until the outbreak of the Great War. The Company had at least two cotton mills in Bolton, both built for the Company in 1884, Eagle Mill, Ramsbottom Street and Rumworth Eagle Mill, Rumworth, Bolton.

On the 6th May 1913 William Ainsworth made his last Will and by then he had married his wife Bertha Annie Ainsworth and probably the couple had infant children. He and the family lived at Oakfield, Chorley New Road in the County Borough of Bolton. He appointed Bertha and his elder brother Richard, a Physician in Kirkby, Liverpool, as Executors.

Under the 1907 Act, the existing Yeomanry and Volunteer Forces were combined in a new organisation the Territorial Force which came into existence on the 1st April 1908 consisting of part-time volunteer soldiers, trained and ready to become full-time in the event of war but with a commitment only to serve as part of Britain’s home defence force. They were organised into battalions, brigades and divisions with artillery and other supporting arms with 14 divisions in existence in August 1914 known by the region in which they were formed.

Mobilisation of the regular and territorial troops was ordered on the 3rd August 1914 and the Territorial Force was sent to its wartime home defence stations. Every Territorial soldier was asked if he would be willing to serve overseas and most agreed to do so. Territorial battalions went to key points on sea routes where Regular battalions were being withdrawn to return to Britain, such as Malta and Gibraltar, whilst others went to France and Belgium because of the high level of casualties sustained by the BEF in the battles of 1914, the 1/14th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Scottish) being the first in action at Messines on the 31st October 1914.

Whilst a majority of pre-war Territorials in every unit had volunteered for overseas service some individuals had not and the War Office determined that such men would be classified for Home Service and would remain on duty to start to form a reserve unit to train wartime volunteers joining the Territorial Force. These units became the Second Line Territorials being envisaged as providing reinforcements for the First Line units but in 1915 the War Office allowed the Second Line Territorials to recruit up to full-strength and the process of forming complete Second Line Territorial Divisions began.

The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment’s Regular Battalions, the 1st and 2nd were stationed at Aldershot and Bangalore in India on the 4th August 1914 the Reserve Battalion remaining in Great Britain throughout the war. The Regiment on the 4th August 1914 had two Territorial Battalions the 1/4th stationed at Preston, the 1/5th at Bolton. The Second Line Battalions were formed in October, the 2/4th at Preston and the 2/5th at Bolton.

On the 21st October 1914 William Ainsworth applied for a commission in the Territorial Force seeking to join the 5th (Home Service) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the rank of Major and to be second in command of the Battalion. He gave his height as just over 5 feet 7inches, his address as Oakfield, Heaton, Bolton and his profession or occupation as Cotton Spinner. On the 12th November 1914 he was appointed Adjutant serving as such until the 25th October 1915 when one Captain B. C. Hewitt was gazetted to that position, so that the position had to be rectified retrospectively by the General Officer Commanding authorising Major Ainsworth’s appointment until Captain Hewitt took over!

In the Spring of 1915 the Battalion moved to the Ashford area of Kent in the 170th Brigade as part of the 57th Division moving to the Blackdown area near Camberley in Surrey in October 1916.

Whilst serving with the Battalion as a Major he purchased a copy of the 17th Edition of Lord Ernest Hamilton’s “The First Seven Divisions” published by Hurst and Blackett Ltd. in 1916 and endorsed the front cover “W Ainsworth, Major 2/5 N.Lancs Regt. 10.11.16.”

The Battalion left Blackdown for France on the morning of the 8th February 1917 with the other units of the 57th Division. As well as the 2/5th Loyal North Lancashire, the other units in the 170th Brigade (2nd North Lancashire Brigade) were the 2/5th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), the 2/4th and the 4/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regiments. The Battalion strength was 37 officers and 983 non-commissioned officers and men, with Lieutenant Colonel C F Hitchins in command and Major William Ainsworth second-in-command. The Battalion landed at Havre on the 9th February 1917 and by 1100 on the 12th February 1917 was established in Billets in the outskirts of Outtersteene, a village about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south west of Bailleul a market town in North France. Bailleul was a front-line town.

In the outflanking operations begun in early October 1914 by the Allied and German forces following the First Battle of the Aisne and the move north of the British Expeditionary Force beginning on the night of 1/2nd October 1914, on the 8th October 1914 the advance guards of a German cavalry corps were at Bailleul but the town was then recaptured by the British on the 14th October 1914 being found full of German wounded. The town was seriously damaged by German artillery in July 1917 and almost totally destroyed in the fighting of the Battle of the Lys in the Spring of 1918 when on the 15th April 1918 the Germans captured the town again, the town remaining in enemy hands until the 30th August 1918 when the British 25th Division regained possession of the ruins.

The 57th Division was to take over the Sailly sector from the New Zealand Division. The sector extended for about 6 kilometres south of the Lys River in flat pleasantly wooded country, through the villages of Bois Grenier and Fleurbaix through the Boutillerie and Cordonnerie sub-sectors to the East of Laventie before the German positions at Fromelles and on the northern end of Aubers Ridge, which guarded the south-western approach to Lille. The front area was crossed by a network of several sluggish streams and drains running back among the hedge-rows to the Lys River. The principal of these was the Laies. In the late Autumn rains these became swollen with broad stretches along their banks little better than marshes. Across these streams ran the continuous breastworks of the British front line and the derelict close support line which was maintained in repair and activity carried on to give the enemy the impression of occupation. The real support line lay further back and consisted of a series of small garrison posts connected by a continuous fire trench with further back a series of defended localities, Charred, Windy, Winter’s Night Posts and others that formed a third line of the system again joined by a rudimentary trench in places fire-stepped and revetted. The front line was held by outposts with the support of Lewis guns and machine guns. In the support line there were some deep dug-outs electrically ventilated and lighted each capable of holding a company whilst further back use was made of abandoned farmhouses.

Especially in the Autumn and Winter No Mans Land became a swamp.

The Germans had wire in front of their front line trench which was in places 8 feet deep again lightly held with sentry posts although at some points the enemy had constructed a tramway. The support trench was usually some 200 yards in the rear and here there were dug-outs some deep with steel doors. This was often well revetted with birch branches, the duckwalks wired and at 20 yard intervals dug-outs some with a porch holding rifle-racks, others of concrete with wooden stairs leading underground, often fitted with iron chimneys for a fire. Further back again were strong points with machine guns. German communication and access to the sector was excellent and with the use of forced labour advantage was taken of the proximity of Lille by improving roads, building light railways and extending electric tram lines with the Germans also connecting into the mains electricity resources of Lille to keep the German trenches and dug-outs dry and comfortable with the use of powered pumping schemes.

On the 14th February 1917 an infantry brigade of the 57th Division began a gradual relief of the New Zealand Division’s Rifle battalions, although from the beginning of the month representatives of the 57th Division had been with the New Zealanders, when the major part of the 57th Division was still in England, in what was described as essentially a quiet area of the Front.

On the 18th February 1917 the Battalion moved from Outtersteene up nearer to the front line relieving the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade in Divisional Reserve.

At 1000 on the 20th February the 2/5th Loyal North Lancashire began the relief of the 2/5th Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in the Fleurbaix sub- Sector, the relief being completed at 1130 on the 25th February.

On the 26th February the Battalion sustained its first casualties, 5 other ranks being killed in action and 3 wounded. The soldiers killed were No.241667 Private George Henry Allen, No. 244762 Private Herbert Frank Close, No. 241583 Private John Gore, No. 241576 Private John Sanderson and No. 244758 Private David John Thomas. All five are buried in Rue Petillon Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix. The cemetery is just under a mile “as the crows flies” from the frontline trenches in front of Aubers Ridge.

The next day, the 27th February, 1 soldier was wounded (shell shock) and on the 28th Second Lieutenant H. L. Bangham 1/7th Welch Regiment attached to the Battalion was wounded.

The Battalion remained in the trenches until the evening of the 2nd March 1917 when it was relieved by the 2/5th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) and went back to billets in the Brigade reserve.

On the same day a patrol from the 4/5th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire went out to enter the German front-line patrolling the trenches for some 150 yards, meeting neither sentries nor patrols and bringing back a number of stick-bombs found lying on the German parapet.

On the 11th March the Battalion returned to the trenches relieving the 2/4th Loyal North Lancashire in the Right part of the Cordonneire Sector. This was a sector in front of Aubers Ridge named after Cordonnerie Ferme (Farm) the remains of which were just behind the support trenches some 500 feet from the front line/firing trenches.

On the 12th, three men were gassed by gas shells: on the 12th No. 242045 Private Stanley Brooks died of wounds and the next day No. 242193 Private Ernest Holt died of wounds and he may have been one of the three gassed on the 12th. He is buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery. It is unlikely that Private Brooks was one of those gassed as he is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Stationary and General Hospitals being based in Boulogne.

Also on the 13th March No. 241700 Private John Hurst was killed in action and is buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery but there were no more casualties until the Battalion was relieved on the 19th March to take over Brigade Reserve. On the 24th March 1917 No. 242195 Private Thomas Birchall Hunt was killed in action whilst the Battalion was in Reserve and is buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery. The Battalion returned to the trenches on the 27th March. On the 1st April 1917 No. 242320 Private Charles Kay and No. 242062 Ernest Pilkington were both killed in action and are buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery. On the 1st April 1917 the Battalion strength was shown as 34 Officers and 930 Other Ranks. On the 3rd April the Battalion was relieved by the 2/4th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment returning to the trenches again on the 12th April.

On the 14th April 1917 Lieutenant E. W. Meadows was wounded and No. 241693 Private Elijah Brandwood and No. 241866 Private William Wright were killed in action and are both buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery.

At 1230 p.m. on the 16th April 1917 Major William Ainsworth was killed. As no one else was killed that day or died from wounds within a few days it is possible that Major Ainsworth was shot by a German sniper but equally he could have been killed by enemy shell fire. He was taken back to presumably the dressing station at Eaton Hall and then buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery.

On the 19th April the Battalion was relieved by the 2/4th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and took over Brigade Reserve. During the tour from the 12th to the 19th April it was noted that the Enemy Artillery was much more active. Two enemy patrols approached the British line but were driven back and on one occasion left two dead but no identification was discovered. It is possible that these two were amongst the 12 German dead buried in Rue Petillon Military Cemetery.

The Battalion was out of the front line until it relieved the 2/4th Loyal North Lancashire on the 27th April 1917 On the 2nd May 1917 No. 245070 Private John Edwards was killed in action and is buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery. The Battalion remained in the trenches until the 5th May when it was relieved until returning to the trenches on the 9th May. On the 11th May 1917 No. 242695 Private Samuel Rollinson was killed in action and is buried in Rue-David Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix. On the 12th May the Battalion was relieved and took over Brigade Reserve and on the 13th May No. 242301 Private Cornelius Fitzsimmons died and is buried in Laventie Military Cemetery, La Gorgue some 2 miles behind the British front line.

On the 18th May the Battalion returned to the front line

At 11 p.m. on the 19th May 1917 a Raiding Party from the Battalion of 3 Officers and 34 Other Ranks left the British trenches but found the German trenches deserted, the occupants having apparently cleared away preparatory to a German trench mortar shoot which commenced shortly after the Raiders left the British lines. No enemy were encountered even though the Raiders stayed in the German trenches for 4 hours, and no prisoners were taken nor were there any British casualties.

At 10 p.m. on the 24th May a smaller Raiding Party from the Battalion, 2 Officers and 15 Other Ranks, left the British lines but approaching the German support line a German patrol was heard. The raiders divided into two parties with “A” party laying up and “B” overran the enemy then ”A” party rushed the German patrol with bayonets, a fight ensued ending in 4 Germans being captured and brought back, 2 of whom wore the ribbon of the Iron Cross and all were described as sturdy and in very good physical condition. Of the raiders Lieutenant P. Crampton was wounded. The success of this raid was due to careful reconnaissance.

The Battalion was relieved on the 28th May 1917 and left this sector on the 1st June 1917 to march to Armentieres and billets for the night to relieve on the 2nd June an Australian Infantry battalion in Ploegsteert Wood to form part of the right flank of the attack on Messines Ridge by the Second Army which began on the 7th June 1917.

On the 15th May 1917 the Widow signed an Undertaking so that Major Ainsworth’s effects should be forwarded to her at Clovelly, 1 Stanley Road, Hastings and the amount of £191 4s and 4 pence being outstanding pay was paid to the Executors of his will Probate of which was granted out of the Principal Probate Registry on the 14th November 1917 to the Executors, the Gross value of his Estate being £5641 2s

Major Ainsworth was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and these were forwarded to the Widow and Mrs Ainsworth returned a copy of a letter dated the 9th May 1919 from the War Office confirming that she was the next-of-kin of an officer who had fallen in the defence of their country to receive a bronze Memoial Plaque and scroll bearing the name and regiment as a memorial of their patriotism and sacrifice.

This article has been reproduced by kind permission of the WW1 War Graves website

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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.
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2 Responses to Major William Ainsworth

  1. Helen Baldwin says:

    My son is a pupil at Rossall School and every year, at Prize Day, the school present the Ainsworth Shooting Prize, in memory of Major William Ainsworth.

    This year my son will receive this prize. I think it’s wonderful that the school still remembers its former pupils in this way.

  2. Sam Ainsworth says:

    Thank you for this. My great grand-uncle. Nice to know what happened to him in the War.

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