He was not killed in action, but died as a prisoner of war at Hamelin in Germany on 2 August, 1918. Billy had been an outside-right who played twice for Leicester Fosse in 1910/11.
Two other players on Leicester Fosse’s books that season, Tommy Benfield and Robert Messer, were to die on the Western Front only a few weeks after Billy died.
With the help of research commissioned by Paul and conducted by Charles Reid at the Gordon Highlanders Museum, we can piece together the circumstances surrounding Billy’s wartime experiences.
Billy was born at Longton, Staffordshire, the son of a china manufacturer. Judging by his service number, he enlisted into the Gordon Highlanders at Stoke-on-Trent, probably in September 1912, for a period of 12 years. Nine years were to be spent with the Colours and three years with the Reserves.
He did 14 weeks of basic training at the regimental depot at Castlehill Barracks, Aberdeen. Charles' research has unearthed a group photograph of a draft of named young soldiers, including Billy, (below, first right, back row) who, after completing their basic training, were to be sent to join the 1st Battalion at Colchester, with a view to being posted to the 2nd Battalion in Egypt.
Shortly after arriving at Colchester, Billy’s unit moved to Plymouth. We know that Billy was in Egypt before the outbreak of the First World War. The 2nd Battalion was stationed in Cairo as part of the British garrison, whose main function was to safeguard the Suez Canal.
At the end of September 1914, the 2nd Battalion returned to the UK and, after refitting at Lyndhurst near Southampton, landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 7 October as part of 20th Brigade, 7th Division, composed mostly of units stationed overseas.
The 2nd Battalion took part in the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914 where, on either 29 October or 1 November 1914, Billy was wounded in his left knee and left hand and then captured.
At some point in 1916 he was in a camp in Krefeld. From an account of a fellow member of his unit, who was also a prisoner of war, we can discern that Billy would have been reasonably well treated.
Comparatively, few Gordon Highlanders died in captivity. Most of the deaths which did occur were in 1918 when the Allied shipping blockade had its effect on the food supply to the German population.
These shortages affected the well-being of the PoWs. In addition the Spanish Flu pandemic was beginning to appear. Billy died at Hamelin Prisoner of War camp on 2 August, 1918.
Billy’s place of burial was not recorded. His name is one of 25 British servicemen who died in Germany, 19 of whom had been prisoners of war. These are commemorated on a plaque at the Cologne Memorial. Billy’s next of kin received his 1914 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
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