William Mills France was born in 1894 on Sandy Lane, Royton to parents John & Sarah. John was a coal miner, originally from Abram near Wigan, and his career took him around various coalfields. He had married Sarah, a Royton girl, but the family spent some time in Yorkshire after that before returning to Royton. William was the youngest of their 5 surviving children (5 had not survived), his elder siblings being Elizabeth, John, Lilly & Herbert. After William's birth the family moved to Oldham and were there for the 1901 and 1911 censuses but had returned to Royton by 1914.
Before he joined the army, William was, like most other young Royton men, a piecer in a cotton mill. It's unclear as to when exactly he joined the army but it would seem it was in early 1914, before the outbreak of war. After completing his training he was sent out to Flanders and reached his unit, the 2nd Manchesters, on December 11th 1914 at the front.He was in a party of 125 reinforcements to arrive that day to a battalion that had already suffered large losses in the first few months of the war. Two Royton men later to die had already been sent home wounded from the unit - John Buckley & John Saxon.
Just three days later during a heavy German artillery bombardment William was killed. The battalion war diary states that five men were killed and eighteen wounded, presumably two of the wounded died later that day as there are six other men listed as dying that day. It is safe to assume William was killed during the actual bombardment as he was listed as being Killed in Action. The six, including two others from the Oldham district, were:
GRAHAM JOHN 30 Private 1321 from Oldham
HAMER JOSEPH Private 8200 from Miles Platting,Manchester
MARSHALL JOSEPH Private 6856 from Manchester
McGOVERN JERVIS Corporal 6490 from Hollinwood
TAYLOR JOSEPH Private 1420 from Bradford,Manchester
WEBB JOSEPH Private 2527 from London
WILLIAM MILLS FRANCE
Date of Death:14/12/1914
Cemetery:Kandahar Farm Cemetery