William Illingworth, MM

The following account was provided by Rodger Stubbings, May 2006

William was born 20th May 1897 in Stalybridge, Cheshire. His father ran the family rope works. Tragedy dogged his early life. When he was two his mother Mary died of typhoid fever.

William and his father and sister Jane lived with his grandparents for a time, but in the year 1903 there were more changes for young William to cope with when his grandfather Robert Kershaw Illingworth was found hanged and his father remarried.

Another tragic death occurred in 1912 when his sister Jane passed away.

William, like many young men enlisted in the army on 14th December 1914. he was 17 years and 210 days old. He joined the 3/6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment.

These pictures show him with other recruits training, I presume in Wales as the photographer’s stamp is of W Jenkins, Aberystwyth. William is wearing a Lance Corporal’s stripe in both pictures.

Through 1915, William seems to have been allocated to guard duties on the ‘Home Front’.

In June 1916 William was preparing for a posting. He was vaccinated on 16th June and was given his Soldier’s Pay book for Active Service, which remarkably has survived and detailed scans can be viewed here.

It tells the story of him leaving Oswestry on 23rd September 1916. On 7th October he received his first pay, In the field and on 8th October he signed his will in the back of his pay book.

The pay book also reveals his transfer from the Cheshire Regt to the 9th Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers soon after he arrived in France. The 9th Battalion were part of 34th Brigade, 11th (Northern) Division, which means he would have been fighting alongside the Sherwood Foresters and involved in many of the actions graphically documented elsewhere on this site.

Also of note in his pay book is the level of pay – 5s per week; his skill as a rope maker being recognised

A fine of 2 days pay for a minor misdemeanour on 17th January 1917.

An allowance of 2d for necessaries on 6th April 1917.

The pay book ends at the point of William being granted leave to England at the end of November 1917.

William appears in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 21st January 1918 as being awarded the Military Medal.  Researching his Battalion’s Diary at the National Archives has revealed that his medal was one of 24 decorations awarded to officers and men of the 9th LF ‘ in connection with operations on 4th October 1917’. This was the Battle of Broodseinde, which is referred to elsewhere on this site and appears to have successfully advanced the line in appalling weather but at huge human cost. 

9th (S) Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers


 Prior to taking part in offensive operations on 4th October 1917, the battalion relieved the 9th West Yorkshire Regt. on night 2/3rd in the right sub-sector of the Divnl. Front. W and X Companies took over the advanced posts and front line. Y Company were in support at MON BULGARE, and Z Coy. Remained west of the CANAL BANK. Battalion HQ were at BULOW FARM.

 The Battalion, with 7th Royal Warwick’s on the right and 11th Manchester Regt. on the left, were ordered to attack a line running, approximately, from GLOSTER FARM to TERRIER FARM. It was decided that the Battalion should form up about 100 yards EAST of the STROOMBEEK and 100 yards in the rear of our line of posts. W and X Companies were detailed to carry out the assault, Y Coy. to be in support and Z Coy. to be in reserve.

 During the night of 2/3rd the lines for forming up on were laid out with string and reconnoitred by O.C. Companies. Shortly after dusk on night 3/4th the forming-up tape was laid by 2/Lt BREWER and the Regtl. Scouts, and patrols sent out by the forward Coys. to prevent the enemy observing that anything unusual was taking place near our front line.

 One line of tape was laid for W and X Coys. to form up on, and one for Y Coy. Z Coy. formed up in the rear of Y Coy. The depth of the Battalion when formed up was about 100 yards. A tape to show the boundary line between W and X Coys. was laid at right angles to the forming-up tapes.

 Shortly before midnight an enemy Patrol was encountered. Three of the patrol were killed and one taken prisoner, but it is not known whether the remaining man succeeded in making his way back to the enemy lines.  

At 3.15am W and X Coys. commenced to evacuate their front line, leaving a small covering party in each post.

 Zero was at 6am. By 4.45am all the battalion were in position. At Zero minus 3 hours Battalion Headquarters moved from BULOW FARM to a small trench about 80 yards west of the STROOMBEEK. About half an hour before Zero, the enemy commenced to put down a light barrage, but, fortunately, all the shells, with the exception of a few, fell in the rear of where the Battalion had formed up.

 W and X Coys. each attacked with one Platoon in one wave of two lines, one Platoon in Support and one Platoon in Reserve. W Coy. was on the left and X Coy. on the right. Prior to the attack beginning, all the sections of the Support and Reserve Platoons of X Coy. had been detailed to deal with known obstacles. Similarly, one Platoon and one Section of  3rd Platoon of W Coy. had been detailed to capture known obstacles. Shortly before Zero Capt PARKE (O.C. Y Coy.) was wounded but was able to carry on until reaching the DOTTED RED LINE, where he was again wounded. The barrage opened well at Zero and, with the exception of a few high bursts and several shells dropping short, was very good.

 On reaching the DOTTED RED LINE, one Platoon of Y Company reinforced X Coy. and remained under the command of O.C. X Coy. until final Objective was captured.

 Before the Battalion advanced from the DOTTED RED LINE, to the RED LINE, Capt PARKE (O.C. Y Coy.), Lt Melling (O.C. W Coy.), and 2/Lt HARPER had become casualties, the first two being wounded and the latter killed.

 About this time, Major MILNES C.O. was hit whilst going out to meet a wounded officer to obtain some information as to how the attack was progressing. He remained at Battalion H.Q. untl the RED LINE had been captured. After Major MILNES had been evacuated, Lt PEMBERTON took command of the Battalion.

 While waiting at the DOTTED RED LINE, the enemy were seen to be massing close to TERRIER FARM, preparatory to making a counter attack. No serious opposition, however, was encountered from them during the Second Stage of the Advance. The Advance from the DOTTED RED LINE to the RED LINE was carried out in perfect order and with little opposition. By the time that the Final Objectives had been captured, Lieut HARRIS (O.C. X Coy.), Capt ROWLERSON (O.C. Z Coy.), Lt FLETCHER (S.O.), and 2/Lt WETHERALL (Y Coy.) had been wounded, and 2/Lt FIELDING (Z Coy.) killed. 2/Lt LEA (X Coy.) was also wounded, but not evacuated. 2/Lt BREWER (Intelligence Officer) left Battalion H.Q. on the STROOMBEEK about 11am to find a place for Battalion H.Q. somewhere W. of DOTTED RED LINE. Nothing has since been heard of what became of him. During the Advance nine Enemy Machine Guns were captured. The number of prisoners is not known, but there were a considerable number of enemy dead on the captured ground.

 The RED LINE was consolidated as follows :-

W and X Coys. each dug in a line of fortified shell holes about 80 yards in front of Objective. These were gradually linked up to form posts. In the rear of this, Y Coy. made a line of posts, and Z Coy. a third line in rear of Y Coy. About 12.45 p.m. Battn. H.Q. moved from the STROOMBEEK to a position about 300 yards in rear of GLOSTER FARM. For the first part of the attack Communication was maintained by Runners and Telephones. After the final Objective had been captured, it was carried out by visual and runners. Captain R.H. SPITTAL (Medical Officer) and Captain The Rev S.F. CLARKE (Chaplain) were killed shortly after Zero. The evacuation of the wounded was carried out as quickly as possible under the circumstances. Two enemy counter-attacks were driven off; one made about 4.30 p.m. against the left and right flanks, and one about 6.30 p.m. against the Battalion on our left and our Left Flank.  

            On the morning of 5th, Capt WARD-MCQUAID, who was at the transport lines, was ordered to come and take over Command of the Battalion. He was slightly wounded in the hand on the 5th but was not evacuated.

             The Battalion was relieved in the Front Line by 5th Dorset’s on night 5/6th, and was put in Bde. Reserve W. of the STEENBEEK. On night 7/8th Battn. proceeded to SIEGE CAMP.

             The total casualties during the Operations were :-

                        KILLED………4 Officers and 15 Other Ranks

                        WOUNDED…..5 Officers and 140  O.R’s

                        MISSING…….1 Officer and 53 O.R’s

 It is believed that a considerable number of the men reported “Missing” have been wounded and are in hospital.

 Signed :  ? Ward-McQuaid     

 Captain, commanding 9th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.                        11th October 1917


 (Transcribed by Rodger Stubbings from the original document – part of 9th Battalion LF diary in National Archives. It should be noted that Capt Ward-McQuaid had only assumed command after others were wounded so presumably his account is somewhat second-hand.)

 Officers & Men who are listed in the 9th LF diary entry for 1st to 7th November 1917 as being decorated as a result of this action :-

 Lieut G H Pemberton           Distinguished Service Order

Capt A Parke                     Military Cross

Lieut H Pollitt                      MC

Sgt J Blackledge                 Bar to Military Medal

Sgt G Stacey                       Bar to MM

Pte F Radford                     Bar to MM

Pte F Rennison                    Military Medal

Pte J Feeney                       MM

Pte F Liddiard                     MM

Pte W Hammond                 MM

Pte H Maralin                     MM

Pte C Tandy                       MM

Sgt J Smithson                    MM

Pte J Worthington               MM

Sgt H Wood                       MM

Lance Sgt G Jeffs                MM

Pte R Ashworth                  MM

Pte J Gardner                      MM

Pte W Illingworth                MM

Pte TH Briggs                     MM

Pte M Lyons                       MM

Corp J Phillingham              MM

Sgt J Sockett                      MM

Pte TA Morgan                   MM                

 William’s Military Medal Card from the National Archives can be seen here.

Another item of interest is this fine embroidered postcard sent by William, home to his mother.  It was passed to me by a cousin in Canada after her mother, a half-sister of William died.

The 9th Battalion LF was disbanded in February 1918 and William is listed as a Lance Corporal and a trained Lewis Gunner. He finished the war in the 15th Battalion, which was part of 96th Brigade , 32nd Division.  He was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

William was discharged from the army from No 73 General Hospital (Trouville) in February 1919.  I am unsure if he was wounded or simply assigned to the hospital in some way.  His Certificate of Disembodiment is reproduced here –

He is picture here with my grandmother Elizabeth (Lizzie) Illingworth nee Roberts whom he married on 23rd December 1923.

William returned home with the Military Medal and pair (Victory and War Medals) of which he was fiercely proud and which he brought out every Remembrance Day.  Although as a wide-eyed and inquisitive little boy I’m sure I asked him many times about what he did in the Great War, I cannot remember him ever talking about it… as many who came through such a traumatic experience I think he just did not want to go there.  He lived all his life in Stalybridge, was a hard worker, loved to spend time with the family, was a leading light in Methodist Church activities and having lived a very full life, died in 1979 aged 82.

I hope this account and the images are of general interest and I would like to express my gratitude to Steve for agreeing to include my grandfather’s story on this site.  In his own modest way William would be “reet chuffed” to have been given a place in history.