(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Elandslaagte', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
William was born in around 1881 in Glasgow, Scotland. We don't know anything about his early life or family.
William joined the Manchester Regiment in early September 1897. He was given the service number 5244. We don't know anything about his service until mid 1899, when he was a member of the 1st Battalion based in Gibraltar.
Tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and in August 1899 the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. William sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.
William was present at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October. This was the first battle of the war in which the Manchesters took part. Although a victory it had no strategic or tactical importance and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.
William and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relieved Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.
After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. William took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so William stayed in South Africa.
There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. William served with the 1st Battalion in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
The 1st Battalion left South Africa for Singapore (known at the time as the Straits Settlements) on the 11th March 1903. We know William was still serving with it on the 30th June. They moved to Secunderabad in central India on the 13th December 1904.
Most men enlisted in the Regular Army for 7 years to be followed by 5 years in the Army Reserve, although this could be changed to 8 followed by 4 if the man was overseas when his service was supposed to end. This suggests William's time in the Army most likely ended during late 1904 or early 1905.
As a Reservist William could find a home and a job, but he could be called back to the Army in an emergency until the end of his Reserve service in around 1909.
Between October and December 1906 William married Elizabeth Hannah Barber in Salford, Lancashire. They had 2 children that we know of: Andrew in around 1909 and Elsie in around October 1910. In April 1911 the family lived at 7 Phillips Street in Pendleton, Salford. William worked as a general labourer in the locomotive department of a railway company.
We don't know anything about William's life between then and the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. He rejoined the Manchester Regiment between the 12th and the 14th December and was given the service number 15846. The Army was increasing in size during this period, and most of its new recruits had no military experience. Veterans such as William were invaluable; by the time he went overseas he had been promoted twice and held the rank of Corporal, although he was serving one rank higher as an Acting Sergeant.
We don't know which battalion William joined, but he first arrived in France on the 7th September 1915. The 13th Battalion was sent overseas on this date.
If William was a member of the 13th Battalion then he will have left France for Salonika in Greece during mid October and arrived there in early November 1915. If not then it is most likely that he served on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
Wherever William was serving, he had been promoted to Sergeant by December 1917. Around the beginning of 1918 he was transferred to the Labour Corps and given the service number 487662. This tells us he was no longer fit or healthy enough to serve as an infantryman in the front lines. The Labour Corps carried out a wide variety of unglamorous but essential jobs, including construction, trench digging, moving supplies and guarding Prisoners of War. We don't know which of these jobs William had.
William was transferred to the Class Z Reserve on the 15th June 1919. This meant he could have been called back to the Army if the Armistice with Germany had broken down; but it never did.
The rest of William's life is also a mystery. Towards the end of his life William and Elizabeth lived at 'Belmont', 407 Bury New Road in Salford.
William died between July and September 1954, aged 73. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in June 1958.