238231 Private William J. Polkinghorn 23rd Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers was killed in action 27 September 1918 and is buried at Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck.[1]  He was 27 years old and is commemorated on West Auckland War Memorial.

Family Details

William James was born 1890[2] at Hunwick, the son of William and Hannah Polkinghorn.  There were 9 children:[3]

  • Herbert Henry bc.1881 at Buckfastleigh, Devonshire
  • Florence bc.1882 at Dalton-in-Furnace, Lancashire
  • Eliza Ann bc.1884 at Dalton-in-Furnace, Lancashire
  • Annie Mary bc.1886 at Dalton-in-Furnace, Lancashire
  • Mary Jane bc.1888 at Hurst, Yorkshire
  • William James born 1890 at Hunwick, County Durham
  • Mabel bc.1893 at Bishop Auckland
  • Edith bc.1899 at Bishop Auckland
  • Caroline bc.1902 at St. Helen’s Auckland

In 1891, 35 year old William born in Cornwall and his 36 year old wife Hannah born in Devon lived at the Batts, Bishop Auckland where William worked as a coal miner.[4]  By 1901, the family lived at the Square, St. Helen’s Auckland where 43 year old William worked as a coal miner (hewer).[5]  By 1911, the family lived at Whitwell Terrace, St. Helen’s.  Only Eliza, Edith and Caroline were at home.  William James aged 21 was a visitor to James and Isabel Morris, Cross Street, Scotswood, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  He is recorded ad a coal miner (putter).[6]  Isabel’s sister 19 year old Margaret Ellen Foster also lived there.  In 1911, William J. Polkinghorn married Margaret E.  Foster at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[7] At a later date, Margaret Polkinghorn lived at 8 Staith Terrace, Derwenthaugh, Swalwell.[8]

Military Details

William James Polkinghorn enlisted into his local Territorial Force, the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry being given the regimental number 2142.   The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was then joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916

Other units joined in 1918:

  • 1/5th Battalion, D.L.I. joined February 1918
  • 6th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers joined July 1918
  • 1st Battalion, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, joined July 1918
  • 4th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps joined July 1918

Following the German Spring Offensive it was reduced to cadre strength in July 1918 and transferred to Lines of Communication.

The Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • 24 April – 25 May 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres
  • 15 – 22 September 1916: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette(6th phase of the Battle of the Somme)
  • 25 – 28 September 1916: The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • 1 – 18 October 1916: The Battle of Le Transloy (8th  phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)      
  • 9 – 14 April 1917: The First Battle of the Scarpe (1st phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 23 & 24 April 1917: The Second Battle of the Scarpe (2nd phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 26 October – 10 November 1917: The Second Battle of Passchendaele (8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres)

The following 3 battles are also known as the First Battles of the Somme, part of the German offensive in Picardy, France.

  • The Battle of St. Quentin (first phase, 21 – 23 March 1918)
  • The Actions at the Somme Crossing (first phase, 25 & 25 March 1918)
  • The Battle of Rosieres (first phase, 26 & 27 March 1918)

The following 2 battles are known as the Battle of the Lys.

  • The Battle of Estaires (the first phase, 9-11 April 1918)
  • The Battle of Hazelbrouck (the third phase, 12 -15 April 1918)

Following a most trying time on the Somme and the Lys battlefields, the Division was withdrawn and sent to IX Corps then on the Aisne, believed to be a much quieter area.  Unfortunately this was not the case and the Division was hit hard by another German attack.

  • The Battle of the Aisne (27 May – 6 June 1918)

After suffering particularly heavy casualties while on the Aisne, the Division was substantially reorganised. [9]

The service details of Private W.J. Polkinghorn have not been traced.  He entered France 19 April 1915[10] therefore it seems that he went with 6/DLI and the 50th Division.  Private W.J. Polkinghorn was transferred to 1/5th DLI (service number 7402), 1/7th DLI (7402) the Labour corps (409042) and finally to the 23rd Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers, regimental number 238231.[11]  However, the dates he was transferred are unknown.  He was killed in action 27 September 1918.

The 23rd (Service) Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers was formed in France in May 1918 as 4th Provisional Garrison and came under the orders of 176th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.  It was transferred to 121st Brigade, 40th Division 19 June 1918.[12] In September 1918, the 121st Brigade comprised:

  • 18th, the Sherwood Foresters & 13th Bn., the Yorkshire Regiment merged in April 1916
  • 8th, the Royal Irish Regiment
  • 23rd Cheshire Regiment
  • 23rd, the Lancashire Fusiliers
  • 9th, the Worcester Regiment
  • 121st Trench Mortar Battery

Following heavy losses during the Battles of the Lys and the Division was reduced to cadre.  A number of Garrison Guard Battalions joined during June and were converted to fighting units.  From mid July 1918, the Division once again took part in active operations. [13]

The Final Advance in Flanders commenced 28 September 1918 with the Battle of Ypres.  The 40th Division was part of the XV Corps, Second Army.  British infantry assembled in heavy rain on 27 September and attacked behind a fierce protective artillery barrage before light at 5.20am, the following morning.  Despite the difficult ground rapid progress was made.[14]

The 23/Lancashire Fusiliers War Diary for the month of September 1918 and the Regimental History have not been researched therefore the circumstances of his death remain unknown.

Later research records that 27 September 1918 23/Lancashire Fusiliers lost 17 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds including Private W.J. Polkinghorn.  Between 27 and 30 September 1918, 22 Other Ranks were lost. [15]


 Private W.J. Polkinghorn is buried at grave reference II.Q.4 Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck.  After the Armistice, over 700 graves were brought into it from the battlefields of Steenwerck, Nieppe, Bailleul and Neuve-Eglise.  There are now 1,704 Commonwealth servicemen of WW1 buried or commemorated in the cemetery.[16]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission Note: CWGC records the date of death as 27/09/1917 but the Grave Registration Form has 27/09/18 typed and 17 hand-written in ink over it.  SDGW records his death as 27/09/18.

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.201Auckland 1890 Q1

[3] 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census Note: Whitwell Terrace was part of the Square

[7] England and Wales 1837-1915 Marriage Index Vol.10b p.9 Newcastle upon Tyne 1911 Q2

[8] CWGC

[9] www.1914-1918.net/dli & http://www.1914-1918.net/50div

[10] Medal Roll

[11] Medal Roll for Victory & British War medals

[12] http://www.1914-1918.net/lancsfus.htm

[13] http://www.1914-1918.net/40div.htm

[14] http://www.cwgc.org/victory1918/content.asp

[15] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War.  Note: there were no deaths between 27 & 30 September 1917

[16] CWGC



Medal Roll

Possibly 6/DLI at Bensham, November 1914 – April 1915 possibly Pte. W.J. POLKINGHORN front left