21899 PTE. W. TURNER. K.O.R.L.R.
William Turner was born in the final quarter of 1894 in Ashton, Preston. His father was George Turner (b. 1863 in Walton Le Dale), an overlooker in a cotton mill. His mother was Elizabeth Woodruff (b. 1861 in Walton Le Dale). George and Elizabeth were married in 1886 and they had 6 children: John (b. 1887), Ann (b. 1889), George (b. 1890), Mary Ann (b. 1893), then William and finally Martha (b. 1897). The family lived in Preston only briefly (from about 1891 to 1895) and by 1897 they had moved to Brandiforth Street, School Lane, Bamber Bridge. Sadly, that year, Elizabeth died, possibly in childbirth, and the following year, George re-married. His second wife was Elizabeth Waterhouse (b. 1870 in Walton Le Dale), and she and George had four more children: Elizabeth (b. 1898), Agnes (b. 1901), Joseph (b. 1904) and Wilfred (b. 1910). George died in 1911, just after the Census; Elizabeth died in 1915. In 1911, the family was living at 6 Duddle Lane – George and Elizabeth with 4 of ‘his’ children and 4 of ‘their’ children. William was a cotton weaver.
William probably enlisted in 1915. He joined the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) and was assigned service number 21899 and posted to 8th Battalion. 8th (Service) Battalion was formed at Lancaster in October 1914 as part of K3 and came under command of 76th Brigade, in 25th Division. They landed in France on 27 September 1915, though William did not join them until later. On 15 October 1915, 75th Brigade moved to 3rd Division.
We don’t know exactly when William joined his Battalion in the field, but 3rd Division was engaged in the Battle of the Somme (at Albert, Bazentin – including the capture of Longueval, Delville Wood and the Ancre). In 1917, they fought in several phases of the Battle of Arras, and later in the year in the Third Battle of Ypres, at Menin Road and Polygon Wood. At the end of the year, they also fought at Cambrai. So by the end of 1917, William had been through, and survived, some of the fiercest fighting of the War.
At the beginning of 1918, the Battalion was in camp at Hendecourt, mid-way between Cambrai and Arras. They spent the whole month there, practising trench attacks, until 27 January when they went into trenches in the Wancourt sector of the line. There is regular shelling but on the whole, the front is quiet. They spent February in and out of the trenches between Wancourt and Guémappe. After a month in the front line, they were withdrawn in early March to camp at Beaurains, on the outskirts of Arras. On 12 March, they went back to the front at Guémappe, where they had information from a German (Alsatian) deserter, that an attack was imminent. They were then in the trenches from 13 March, nervously awaiting the threatened attack. This would be the start of the German Spring Offensive – Operation Michael, or the Battle of St Quentin. The attack finally began at 5.00am on the morning of 21 March, all along the front near Wancourt. The attack included gas and the men had to wear gas masks almost all day. Heavy shelling continued through the day on 22 March and on 23 March, the Battalion was forced to evacuate their trenches at Guémappe – they had been in the trenches for 10 days without a break. The Germans soon occupied the abandoned trenches although they suffered heavy losses from Lewis Guns and snipers. On 24-25 March, the Battalion established a new defensive line at Wancourt and despite heavy shelling there was no infantry attack. The German attacks continued until 28 March, by which time the Battalion had been forced back to Neuville Vitasse, but the Germans got no further and failed to take Arras.
William Turner was killed on 23 March, near Wancourt. He was 23 years old.
(Coincidentally, one of the officers in 8Bn, was a 20-year old 2nd Lt. Vincent Brierley. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Wancourt, but would be killed in action on 23 August 1918).
Service Number: 21899
Date of Death: 23/03/1918
Regiment/Service: King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), 8th Bn.
Cemetery/memorial reference: Bay 2.
Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL