Private William Henry STABLEFORD


Regiment/Service:
Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Unit:
11th Battalion
Service Number:
14697
Date of Death:
15 July 1916 - Killed in Action
Age:
26
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
III. J. 17.


Personal History:
William was born in the June quarter 1890, the son of Charles (Railway worker) and Mary Ann (née Knowles) Stableford. Charles had two older sisters, Jessie and Ada, and an older brother, Horace, and a younger brother, Charles. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3270) the family were living at 16 Bridge Street, Buxton.   
In 1911 (Census RG 14/21236) the family were at the same address and Charles was working as a "Newspaper Seller".
In the December quarter 1915 William married Margaret M. Cooper, in the Kings Norton, Warwickshire, District, and they lived at 9A Terrace Road, Buxton. In the September quarter 1916 their son, Charles H., was born - sadly William never saw him.

(N.B. 1901 Census and SDGW database has him listed as StaPleford)

Military History:
William enlisted at Birmingham. Unfortunately, his Service papers have been destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered the War, in France, after the end of 1915 as he was not eligible for the '1914-15 Star' Medal. However, a comparison of his Service Numbers with other records suggests that William enlisted in the first week of September 1915.

His 11th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment had been formed at Warwick in September 1914 as part of K3 (Kitchener's Third New Army) and attached as Army Troops to 24th Division. The Division began to assemble in the area of Shoreham but initially suffered from a lack of equipment and a lack of trained officers and NCOs to command the volunteers.

In April 1915 the Battalion joined 112th Brigade, 37th Division, based at Cholderton on Salisbury Plain, and landed in France on the 30th July 1915, concentrating near Tilques. Clearly William joined the Battalion much later as a replacement/reinforcement, most likely in advance of the Battle of The Somme, which began on the 1st July 1916.

On the first day of the Battle William's Battalion was at Hannescamps and the 37th Division was tasked with providing a defensive flank and fire smoke bombs along the front of 46th Division's attack at Gommecourt. On the 7th the 11th Battalion marched through Albert and occupied a former German section known as Heligoland and moved into forward positions between Contalmaison and La Boiselle the following day. The Battalion suffered 170 casualties from shelling.

On the 13th July the Battalion again moved forward into support trenches and two days later attacked Pozières, advancing east of Contalmaison Wood behind the 8th Battalion, East Lancs Regiment and the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. The Battalion suffered 275 casualties, 41 of which, including William, were killed in action.

The War Diray for this action reads:

"14th July: Intense artillery action throughout the day, we were not worried very much.

15th July: 3 a m.: Operation Orders arrived, that the 112th Brigade would attack Pozières at 9.20 a. m. today. Conference of Commanding Officers at 6.30 a m . The dispositions were that the eighth East Lancs Regiment were to clear that part of the village south of the Albert - Pozières road and the 6th Bedford Regiment the area North of that road. The 11th Royal Warwickshire Regiment to take up tools and assist the two battalions to consolidate the ground gained. The tenth L.N. Lancs regiment was to carry bombs and stores etc.

The order of attack was each battalion with two companies in the front line and two in support, each Battalion to follow the other in the following order: 8th E. Lancs, 6th Beds, 11th Royal Warwickshire Regiment under cover of an intense bombardment. The distance to the objective in view of the enemy was about eleven hundred X (sic). Pozières was reported thinly held and with no wire to contend with. The Brigade advanced according to orders, but was held up quite near to its objective by enemy machine guns which were in great force, also it was found that the wire on the front to be attacked was not cut. The Brigade found itself immobilised in front of the village and with its units more or less intermixed. Captain Brocksopp and Second Lieutenant French of ‘A’ company, Second Lieutenant Stalker of 'C' Company and Second Lieutenant Bowen of 'B' Company were wounded very early in the action. 'A' Company was thus without officers and as Acting Company Sergeant Major Freeman was with Captain Brocksop in an ungetatable position, Sergeant Moon took command.

Battalion Headquarters were caught when issuing from the trenches by an artillery barrage and machine-gun fire and was obliged to take shelter in a shell hole, where it established connection by telephone with Brigade Headquarters. Battalion Headquarters were subsequently moved to a trench of the Contalmaison-Pozières road, whence touch with the Companies was maintained by runners and with Brigade Headquarters by telephone (the latter was cut by shell fire during the day about six times and repaired each time with very little delay). Meanwhile the companies on the left (‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’) had made or found the best cover available and remained in action, but were unable to advance. ‘A’ Company had ensconced itself in shell holes.

The artillery again bombarded the village and the infantry's second assault was timed for 6 p.m., the signal for the second assault being a red rocket. The bombardment became very intense failed to put out the hostile machine-gun. The assault was met with such a fierce fire that it collapsed, though our infantry did not give way, but held their ground with great tenacity. An attempt by the enemy to advance against the flank of ‘A’ Company was caught by the Lewis gun of that company and was easily crushed. Here Lance-Corporal Hitchman behaved with great coolness and bravery and was killed at his gun. Captain Millard of ‘D’ Company was wounded in the latter assault. Under cover of night the Battalion was relieved by the 10th L. N. Lancs Regiment and returned to the second trenches occupied the previous night. Out of eight company officers who went into the action 5 were lost and 270 O.R's out of 580, a percentage of 48.

The casualties since the Battalion arrived in this sector have been 15 officers and 450 Other Ranks.

16th July: 3.15 pm The Batt was relieved by the 11th Batt Northumberland Fusiliers & proceeded to billets in Albert."

William is one of six men from his Battalion buried in Pozières Cemetery; virtually all of the other casualties of that day have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Sources:
· "British Battalions on the Somme" - Ray Westlake [ISBN-10: 0850523745] p. 39 - 40
·  I am grateful to Graeme Clarke for the War Diary extract


Link to CWGC Record
William Stableford's grave
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