Royton Roll of Honour

Men of the Lancashire Fusiliers (very possibly the 1st/6th) coming ashore at Gallipoli,May 1915. © IWM

William Thomas Nelson was born in Shaw in 1880. His parents James and Sarah both worked in the cotton industry, James being from the Shaw area while Sarah hailed from Barnsley. William was their fourth of five children, his siblings being Sam,Mary,Charlotte and Ethel.
William, like most others in the area, worked in the cotton industry - as did his parents before him. In 1902 he married Elizabeth Booth and at first they lived together somewhere in Oldham.William & Elizabeth had two children together - William (born 1902) and Bertha (1903). The young couple moved back to William's native Shaw and it was there in 1905 that Elizabeth died aged only 27. Elizabeth Nelson was buried at Crompton Cemetery and William's father,James,was buried with her when he himself died in 1907.
In 1908 William remarried at Thornham St.John's to Mary Ann Wallwork. They set up home together at Mary's father's house at 10 Cemetery Road,Royton. Mary's father,Edwin Wallwork was a retired coal miner. Just up the road from William's new home was the Roy Mill and it was here that he was working at the outbreak of war as a bobbin carrier. Before then,William & Mary had had two children of their own. These were Platt (born 1910) and Edwin (1914).
In his spare time William had become a Territorial soldier in Rochdale's local unit of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Judging from his service number, this was probably in 1908, the same year that he had remarried. The 6th Lancashire Fusiliers, were the territorial unit for Rochdale, Middleton and Todmorden with around about half the men from Rochdale and 25% each from the other towns. Upon outbreak of war William would have been summoned up the road to Rochdale as the battalion was brought together and put on a war footing.
After some time billeted in Rochdale the battalion moved off to Turton up in the hills above Bolton for some initial organisation and training. In September 1914 they were travelled by train down to Southampton and then sailed for Alexandria in Egypt onboard the SS Saturnia. The battalion then moved onto Cairo were they were stationed until May 1st 1915. That day they marched from their barracks to Cairo railway station, boarded trains and reached Alexandria early the following morning. They then boarded the SS Nile and on the evening of May 2nd set sail for Gallipoli. There were around 1000 officers and men of the battalion, by the time they were evacuated from Gallipoli in December later that year the unit would have suffered over 200 deaths and an estimated 700-800 further casualties. Obviously these figures would include drafts to replace initial casualties but it's clear the men setting off from Alexandria did not face favourable odds of getting back to Lancashire unscathed.

Date of Death:c.05/05/1915
Service No:7273
Regiment:Lancashire Fusiliers
Unit:1st/6th Bn
Cemetery:Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery
Grave Ref:Sp.Mem.C.161

There is great confusion as to William Thomas Nelson's date of death but we have eye witness testimony that it was on May 5th, and not May 15th as recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Writing home to his wife, Sergeant Moss of B Company,6th Lancashire Fusiliers stated that:

"I saw Sergeant Nelson of D Company killed. He was killed on board ship before we landed in Gallipoli by the land batteries of the enemy. We had counted on the Greeks helping us but they were not there. The Turks opened fire on us from an unexpected position, and amidst a hail of shot Sergeant Nelson, who was next to me, fell like a log, shot and killed immediately. My haversack was riddled with bullets. I am also amongst the wounded..."

This firmly places Sergeant Nelson's death on May 5th, the evening the battalion landed at Gallipoli. Other reports have him being killed as the raw territorial battalion, almost unbelievably, was thrown straight at the Turkish lines on May 6th. The ledger that recorded the value of William's pay and effects to be sent to his widow back in Royton says he died on May 7th. The 'Soldiers that Died in the Great War' database states he died on May 15th of wounds. This date is agreed upon by the CWGC but their own records also show him being listed as 'killed in action' and a date crossed out and replaced with May 15th. All is now a matter of conjecture but there seems to be little reason to doubt Sergeant Moss as to who he saw killed right alongside him that night.
News of his death travelled back to Royton relatively quickly and the Oldham Chronicle of May 22nd reported his passing. The great sense of loss felt by his wife and children can be felt by the annual memorial notices left in the Chronicle (note also here the confusion as to when he had died).

In the bloom of life, death claimed him
In the pride of his manhood days;
None knew him but to love him,
None mentioned his name but with praise
From his loving wife and family

In loving memory of Sergeant W.T Nelson
killed in action May 6th 1915
Worth of an everlasting love
From those he's left behind;
A better father never lived,
Nor one more good and kind.
From his loving wife and family
10 Cemetery Road, Royton

In loving memory of Sergt.W.T Nelson,
killed in action May 15th 1915,aged 35 years
A loving father, so good and kind
A beautiful memory left behind
From his loving wife and family

Mary Ann Nelson later moved to New Brighton on the Wirral. She never remarried and died in Coventry aged 76 in 1956. Her body was brought back to Royton and she is buried a stone's throw away from where she had lived with William Thomas Nelson all those years before.