Williams John

JOHN WILLIAMS (1878 – 1918)

48282 Private John Williams, 1/5th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment was killed in action 17 April 1918 and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.[1]  He was 40 year old and is commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial and the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley.

Family Details

John Williams was born 1878[2] at Etherley the son of David and Maria Williams.  There were at least 10 children:[3]

  • Frederick bc.1867 at Witton Park
  • Frances bc.1868 at Toft Hill
  • Edward bc.1870 at Toft Hill
  • Robert bc.1872 at Tow Law
  • Alice bc.1875 at Etherley
  • Llewellyn bc.1877 at Etherley
  • John born 1878 at Etherley
  • Daniel bc.1881 at Etherley
  • Ann bc.1883 at Etherley
  • Mary Maud bc.1886 at Etherley

John’s parents were both born in Wales, David was born at Cowbridge, Glamorgan and Maria was born at Blaenavon, Monmouthshire.  In 1881, the family lived at Bills Gill, Escomb where David worked as a coal miner.[4]  By 1891, they lived at Etherley, David still worked as a coal miner.   By 1901, David had died.  Maria and the family lived at Etherley Lane.  22 year old John worked as a colliery labourer, 28 year old Robert was a coal miner (hewer), Llewellyn was a shoemaker and 20 year old Daniel was an apprentice blacksmith.[5]  By 1911, Maria and 3 sons, Robert, Llewellyn and John lived at home.  32 year old John worked as a colliery banksman. [6]

Service Details

John Williams enlisted at Bishop Auckland.  He joined the 1/5th Battalion, the North Staffordshire (Prince of Wales’s) Regiment and was given the regimental number 48282.[7]  To date, the service record of Private J. Williams has not been traced and the date he enlisted is unknown.  It is likely that it was after 31 December 1915 [8] and it is probable that he was conscripted by virtue of his “advanced years” as the demand for men increased during 1917 and 1918.

The 1/5th Battalion, the North Staffordshire Regiment was part of the Territorial Force and landed in France in March 1915.  It then came under the orders of 137th Brigade, 46th (North Midland) Division and served in Egypt and France.  In January 1918 it was transferred to the 176th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division and absorbed into the 2/5th Battalion.[9]  During March and April 1918, the 176th Brigade consisted of the following units:

  • 2/6th, the South Staffordshire Regiment
  • 2/5th, the North Staffordshire Regiment which became the 5th Bn., when merged with 1/5th Bn., 30 January 1918
  • 2/6th, the North Staffordshire Regiment
  • 174th Machine Gun Company moved to 59th, MGC 7/8 March 1918
  • 176th Trench Mortar Battery [10]

11 February 1918:  The Division took over the front line at Bellecourt and much work was strengthening defences in anticipation of a German attack.

The First Battles of the Somme 1918

21-23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin: After suffering heavy casualties from German shellfire on 21 March, the enemy infantry succeeded in breaking through the Division’s position where it met the 6th Division at the valley of the River Hirondelle.  Fewer than 100 men of the 176th and 178th Brigades which had been holding the line before the attack assembled at roll call.

24-25 March: The Battle of Bapaume:  The next 10 days were chaotic as individuals and parties reassembled going westwards via Bucquoy, Bouzincourt, Contay and Fienvillers to Villers-Chatel.

Later research records that between 21 and 28 March 1918, the 5th 1/5th and 2/5th Battalions, the North Staffordshire Regiment lost 8 Officers and 85 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds. [11]

1 April: the remnants of the Division moved by train to the Poperinge area and new drafts of men arrived.

5 April: The Division took over the front line in the Passchendaele area without having any real opportunity to assimilate the new men let alone train them.

13 April: The Division was ordered to reinforce the Lys area which was under terrific enemy attack.  The 177th Brigade came under the orders of the 19th (Western) Division north of Neuve Eglise and the rest moved to Westouter to hold a 6000 yard long line near Loker.  The line was very thinly held.

The Battle of the Lys 1918

14-15 April: The Battle of Bailleul: Units came under a violent attack and the enemy broke through on the left and the British Line crumbled.  Bailleul fell and the 176th and 177th Brigades fell back in disarray on Mount Noir.  Losses were heavy.[12]

Private J. Williams was killed in action 17 April 1918 and has no known grave.[13]

The War Diaries for the 1/5th 2/5th and 5th Bn., the North Staffordshire Regiments have not been researched.  Later research records that between 14 and 17 April, the following battalions of the 176th Brigade suffered the 152 men killed in action or died of wounds:

  • 5th including 1/5th and 2/5th NSR………33 Other Ranks including Private J. Williams
  • 5th, NSR……………………………………2 Officers
  • 2/6th, NSR…………………………………75 Other Ranks
  • 6th, NSR……………………………………2 Officers
  • 2/6th SSR…………………………………40 Other Ranks[14]

Private J. Williams was awarded the British War and Victory medals. [15]

Commemoration

Private J. Williams is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial which commemorates more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave. The memorial serves the area from the line Caestre-Dranoutre-Warneton to the north, to Haverskerque-Estaires-Fournes to the south, including the towns of Hazebrouck, Merville, Bailleul and Armentieres, the Forest of Nieppe, and Ploegsteert Wood. The original intention had been to erect the memorial in Lille. Those commemorated by the memorial did not die in major offensives, such as those which took place around Ypres to the north or Loos to the south. Most were killed in the course of the day-to-day trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, or in small scale set engagements, usually carried out in support of the major attacks taking place elsewhere.  [16]

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.195 Auckland 1878 Q3

[3] 1881, 1891 & 1901 census

[4] 1881 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[8] Medal Roll: he was not awarded the 1914-1915 Star

[9] http://www.1914-1918.net/nstaffs.htm

[10] http://www.1914-1918.net/59div.htm

[11] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[12] http://www.1914-1918.net/59div.htm

[13] CWGC

[14] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[15] Medal Roll

[16] CWGC

Photographs:

PLOEGSTEERT MEMORIAL

PLOEGSTEERT MEMORIAL

WILLIAMS J. Inscription Ploegsteert Memorial

WILLIAMS J.
Inscription
Ploegsteert Memorial