William's inscription on the Menin Gate
WILLIAM THOMAS WHITWORTH
Date of Death:02/03/1916
Regiment:King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
Panel Ref:Panel 12
William Thomas Whitworth was born in Royton in 1881, the son of John and Hannah.John Whitworth worked as a minder in a cotton mill. Older siblings were Alice, Charles, Fred, Samuel and John. The family lived on Boundary Street.Another brother,Richard, was born in 1883. A series of deaths were to strike the family.First William's father died in 1885 aged only 37, then 13 year old Fred died in 1886 and finally Richard died aged 3 in 1887.
Hannah Whitworth remarried, at St.Paul's in Royton, on Christmas Eve 1887 to James Cooper. Robert was a widower and lived at 29 Orchard Street. Their daughter Martha Alice was born in 1889. The 1891 census finds the Coopers & Whitworths living at 224 Oldham Road.
On February 6th 1901, at St.Paul's,William married Edith Annie Elland. They were both 19 years old. At the time of the census a couple of months later they were living at 355 Rochdale Road with Edith Annie's 74 year old grandfather William Aspin.On April 14th of that year William and Edith's first child, Benjamin, was born. A daugher,Ethel, followed in 1903 and their third child John Robert followed on January 7th 1905, by which time the Whitworths had moved to 224 Oldham Road - the same address William had earlier lived at with his mother and stepfather.Another daughter, Edith, was born in 1907 but sadly died in 1909 aged 1.
William was working as a spinner at the Times Mill at Middleton Junction when war broke out. By then the family had moved again, still on Oldham Road but now at number 354. He enlisted in early May 1915 in Royton and became a member of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. and was sent to join, along with quite a few other Royton men, the 8th Battalion of that regiment. The 8th Battalion had been formed in Lancaster in October 1914. When William joined them they were in training at Boscombe near to Bournemouth and in late September 1915 landed in France. Joining the unit later was fellow Roytoner, John Shirt who was to die of wounds on February 22nd.
In mid February 1916 the Germans had seized a position near to Ypres with commanding views known as The Bluff. In that fighting Royton man George Alfred Smith had been killed. It was decided that not only must the British retake The Bluff but they would further improve the situation by also taking a German trench position known as 'The Bean'. The preparations for the attack were greatly hampered by bitter cold and snowfalls. It was decided that the attack would begin the second morning after the first day fine enough for the artillery to operate.
Around about this time fellow Royton man, Edgar Fitton, wrote home to his sister:
"I am still alive and kicking and in good health. We have been in the trenches and we had some narrow escapes. We are going in again on Thursday. We lost a few men when in the trenches last time. And talk about mud, we have to go up to the waist in it in some places.We are sleeping in a hut, and I have seen better pig cotes"
The bombardment eventually began on March 1st and was a complete success,demolishing the German front line. The guns kept up a slow rate of fire during the night of 1st/2nd March to prevent the enemy repairing the damage. Early in the morning of the 2nd it was decided that the attack would go ahead without the planned twenty minute preliminary bombardment.
By 03:45 the 8th King's Own were in position and at 04:30 the leading infantry - the 8th KORL, 2nd Suffolks and 1st Gordon Highlanders - attacked. The attack achieved complete surprise and by 05:10 the men of the three battalions had captured all of their objectives. The 8th KORL had cleared Germans on one flank with grenades and a group on the other by bayonet.
As daylight came the advanced companies of William Whitworth's battalion were hit by sniper fire from a group of Germans but these eventually surrendered at about 07:00. At 10:00 the Germans opened a heavy artillery bombardment which continued unabated for two hours. Many men became casualties and quite a few of the men lying injured near the battalion's first aid post were killed. Shortly after this bombardment ceased a group of about 80 Germans attempted to advance but were quickly stopped by machine gun fire, the German bombardment then recommenced. In the evening a bombing raid by German troops was also fought off.
Even though the day could be considered by the Army a rousing success the cost to the 8th KORL was considerable. William Thomas Whitworth and two other Royton men were dead - John Walsh & Edgar Fitton. The dead included a further eight men from the Oldham district, three of whom had enlisted in Royton. The casualty list can be seen by looking at Walsh or Fitton's entries on this site.
William was at first listed as missing but then in late April, his wife back in Royton received a letter from a Rev.Leonard, an Army Chaplain:
"Dear Mrs Whitworth - it is in great sorrow and in deep sympathy that I write to you about your husband, Private W.Whitworth, of this battalion. Owing to the incessant fighting which followed our attack on March 2nd, and to the death of so many officers and nco's it was impossible for a long time to discover what had happened to many of the King's Own. It has been established, at last, I am deeply grieved to say, that your husband was killed during the attack or by the shell fire which followed it. His body has been found by the battalion who relieved us, and by them he has been buried near the trenches. When the war is over a monument will be erected to the memory of all our comrades who fell on that glorious but fatal morning. I cannot tell you how much we all feel for you in your bereavement, or how grieved we are at the death of so good a soldier. All who knew his sterling worth had nothing but the highest respect for him. He was a good soldier and a good friend, and one whom we can ill afford to lose. But we must not think his life is wasted, for he has won the victor's crown. He has made the greatest sacrifice which man can make, for he has given his life for the honour of our motherland and the safety of her homes. It is the death of a brave man and a true patriot. Nothing can rob you of the great pride which you will always have that he died so gloriously. I need not assure you that we all share your sorrow to the uttermost, and I send you our very true and sincere sympathy"
On March 2nd 1918 the following appeared in the Oldham Chronicle:
In loving memory of Private W.T Whitworth,KORL,
who was killed in action March 2nd 1916
Days of sadness still come o'er us,
Tears in silence often flow.
Ever will our hearts remember
The dear one we lost two years ago.
From his loving wife and children
Even though his body had been identified in the spring of 1916 his grave was perhaps later lost or destroyed in the subsequent fighting as he is one of the many with no known last resting place and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.
William's widow Edith Annie remarried in 1919, to James Wells at St.Anne's Church in Royton.