17186 PTE. W. H. HILTON. E.LANCS.
(I am grateful to Janet Davis for her detective work in tracing this man’s family history)
William Henry Hilton proved very difficult to track down in the Censuses. We know his name, rank and service number from CWGC, and that he served with 1Bn East Lancashire Regiment. We know from SDGW that he was born in Preston, lived in Bamber Bridge and enlisted at Preston. He was a Roman Catholic, as he is commemorated on Brownedge War Memorial. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects provides some intriguing information about his family and next of kin: he left the sum of 16s 10d to each of four uncles/aunts: Uncle John Hilton, (aunt?) Mrs Elizabeth A Hudders, Uncle James Hilton and Aunt Sarah Ditchfield. And he also left £1 13s 8d to his widow Mary. But in 1919, the sum of £4 (his War Gratuity) was paid to a Mrs Cockroft, the guardian of his children.
Thanks to the efforts of Janet Davis, I can now give some personal information. William Henry was born in the third quarter of 1877 in Coupe Green, Walton Le Dale. His father was Thomas Hilton (b. abt 1844, possibly in Samlesbury), his mother was Sarah Crook (b. 1848 in Brindle). Thomas and Sarah were married in 1869 and had 4 (surviving) children: John (b. 1870), James (b. 1873), Elizabeth Alice (b. 1875), and William Henry. William’s three siblings, then, are three of the uncles and aunts whom he names as legatees (Elizabeth Alice married Peter Hudders in 1900). It seems that both parents died in the 1880s as in 1891, the four siblings were living with their maternal grandparents, still at Coupe Green. But by 1901, William Henry had moved to Blackburn and was lodging with Hannah Pickup at 45 Ivy Street, Blackburn. Hannah was a widow and she had 4 daughters: Elizabeth, Mary, Ruth and Sarah. In 1904, William married Mary Pickup (b. 1870 in West Houghton) and they had 3 children: George (b. 1905), Mary (b. 1906) and Agnes (b. 1909). So Mary’s sister Sarah (who married John William Ditchfield in 1905) is the fourth aunt among William Henry’s legatees – these are not William Henry’s aunts and uncles, but those of his children. Mary died in 1917, so she was an initial legatee but after her death William’s War Gratuity went to the children’s’ guardian Mrs Cockroft (as yet unidentified). In 1911, the Hilton’s were living at 41 Fox Street, Blackburn (William’s brother John was also living with them). William was a cotton weaver. They must have moved to Bamber Bridge between 1911 and 1915 but I have no evidence other than SDGW.
From his Medal Index Card we know that William landed in France on 29 July 1915. He enlisted at Preston with the East Lancashire Regiment, was assigned service number 17186 and posted to 1st Battalion. 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment came under orders of 11th Brigade in 4th Division. In 1915, 4th Division was engaged in the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May) and William was therefore among reinforcements joining them in the field after the battle. His battalion was then in and out of the line for the rest of the year, between billets at Hédauville and the front line at Beaumont Hamel. On 19 December they marched the 5 miles from their billets to the front line and relieved 1Bn Hampshire Regiment in the trenches. The War Diary relates what happened:
“A fine drizzle, fine later. All quiet till 5.15pm. At that hour the Germans suddenly opened fire with whizz bangs on LANCASHIRE POST. Probably attention was drawn to this by noise made by our working party in this place. German fire was very accurate, several shells striking the Post. 1 man killed, 1 man wounded slightly also Lt. Hatfield slightly wounded in the thigh.”
The man killed was William Henry Hilton. He was 38 years old.
Service number: 17186
Date of Death: 20/12/1915
Regiment/Service: East Lancashire Regiment, 1Bn
Cemetery/memorial reference: I. B. 12.
Cemetery: HAMEL MILITARY CEMETERY, BEAUMONT-HAMEL