William's inscription on the Menin Gate.Courtesy of IWPP
William Holt was born in Royton in 1893, his parents were James and Mary Ann. He was their eldest, younger siblings were Edith and Herbert. The 1901 census found the family living at 9 Downing Street. William's father James died in 1905, with the family at 163 Middleton Road, aged 40. By 1911 William was living at 13 Cotton Street with his mother and a John Cooper. William's two earlier siblings are also present along with a John Cooper Holt who had been born in 1906 - it's hard to ascertain whether he was William's brother or half brother.
William was working a a piecer at the Grape Mill when the war broke out in August 1914. He enlisted just four days later in Oldham. He spent time at first with the 4th Battalion Manchester Regiment, a reserve unit formed upon the outbreak of war and served or some months as part of the Humber garrison. William was sent out to France in January 1915 to join the regiment's 1st Battalion. This old regular army battalion had seen already seen a lot of action in the months it had been at the front ,amongst their many dead were Fred McSweeney & James McGivern and the first couple of months of William's time with the battalion was one of recuperation and reorganisation. Shortly after he arrived in France William wrote home:
"We have landed in France safe and sound, and we have seen some of the nicest sights to be wished for. By the time you receive this letter I shall know what it is like to be in the firing line. You must not fret, because I am all right. We were welcomed in France as though we were their own sons"
Then in March 1915 William and his unit were involved in heavy fighting during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which claimed the life of another Royton regular - Bert Lees.
The Second Battle of Ypres began on April 22 and for a time the Allied position was perilous due to the massive use of chlorine gas by the attacking Germans. On April 26th the 1st Manchesters were called upon to counter attack. They attacked through clouds of gas and in the face of machine gun fire and shelling and took many casualties. William Holt was one of the men killed.Alongside him fell another Royton man, William Henry Roberts and six others from the Oldham district.
Back in Royton his family grew increasingly concerned when all contact with William suddenly ceased. Parcels that they sent were returned with notes to say that he couldn't be located. In September it was reported in the Oldham Chronicle that William's mother still had not heard anything definite. She received a letter to William from a comrade in his battalion, Bob Scarlett, who clearly had no idea as to what had happened to William. He assumed he was recovering in England as he heard William had been gassed. He'd gone up the front line at night with some food for William but was told nobody had seem him which had upset Bob a lot.
Mary Ann Holt continued to make exhaustive inquiries as to what had befallen her son but it wasn't until November 21st 1916 that she received, from the records office in Preston, the official notification of his death some nineteen months previous. The Oldham Chronicle reported that William had been very well known in Royton and that he had taken an active interest in boxing.
Apart from Holt & Roberts the men of the 1st Manchesters killed that day were:
ARLOW PATRICK Private 2619 from Salford
BOYLE WILLIAM 19 Private 2128 from Salford
CLEMENTS HENRY 33 Corporal 23353 from Brixton
CLIFTON HARRY Private 1529 from Gorton,Manchester
CONNOR PATRICK Private 868 from Wigan
CURRAN FRANK Private 1182 from Miles Platting,Manchester
CURRIE JOSEPH DCM Private 1328 from Manchester
DAVIES PETER 34 Private 7792 from Werneth, Oldham
EGERTON GEORGE 29 Private 8910 from Salford
GOODSTEIN LOUIS Private 1229 from Manchester
HARVEY ALBERT 30 Private 2198 from Gorton,Manchester
HINDLE WILLIAM Lance Corporal 6776 from Blackburn
HITCHINS HENRY 49 Lieutenant Colonel from Sussex.Son of a Major General
HOWARTH HERBERT Private 2768 from Halifax
JACKSON ROBERT Private 2388 from Breeze Hill,Oldham
JOHNSON DAVID Private 909 from Manchester
KEARNEY ALFRED Private 1674 born Birmingham,enlisted Manchester
MARKS SAMUEL Private 1429 from Manchester
MASON THOMAS 21 Private 1645 from Manchester
MOORES THOMAS Corporal 1754 from Manchester
MOULE JAMES Private 2367 from Preston
McDONALD JOHN 34 Private 2665 born Mullingar,Westmeath.Lived in Failsworth
PASS THOMAS 19 Private 2816 from Manchester
QUINN PATRICK 20 Private 2697 from Dublin
REDFORD GEORGE 31 Private 5965 from Manchester
ROBINSON ARTHUR 20 Second Lieutenant from Balham,London
ROGERS JOHN Private 2101 from Salford
SHAW HUGH Lance Corporal 9734 from Greenfield
STUBBS WILFRED 19 Private 2722 from Oldham
TAYLOR FREDERICK 21 Private 2106 from Newton Heath,Manchester
WARREN SYDNEY Private 1153 from Walworth, London
WATERHOUSE LOUIS 20 Private 2555 from Levenshulme,Manchester
WEAVER ALBERT 24 Private 1372 from Epsom
WHAITES JOSEPH 35 Private 5321 from Hulme,Manchester
WILCOX RICHARD 19 Private 2240 from Glodwick,Oldham
Corporal Issy Smith won the Victoria Cross during the same action for rescuing many wounded men from no mans land.
Date of Death:26/04/1915
Panel Ref:Addenda Panel 59