Main CPGW Record
Forename(s): William Henry
Place of Birth: Gargrave, Yorkshire
Service No: 265402
Regiment / Corps / Service: Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)
Battalion / Unit: 2/6th Battalion
Division: 62nd (2/West Riding) Division
Date of Death: 1917-05-03
CWGC Grave / Memorial Reference: Bay 6.
CWGC Cemetery: ---
CWGC Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL
Non-CWGC Burial: ---
Local War Memorial: GARGRAVE, YORKSHIRE
William Henry Spedding was the son of Frederick Wilson and Maria Spedding, née Taylor. Frederick was born at Austwick and Maria at Niffany near Skipton, Yorkshire.
1901 Gargrave, Yorkshire Census: 32, River Place - William H. Spedding, aged 2 years, born Gargrave, son of Fred and Maria Spedding.
1911 Gargrave, Yorkshire Census: Low Green - William Henry Spedding, aged 12 years, born Gargrave, son of Frederick Wilson and Maria Spedding.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards: Cpl William H. Spedding, 265402, West Riding Regiment.
William is commemorated in the 'Borough of Keighley Roll of Honour'.
A short biography of William is included in: ‘From Mills to Marching and Back Again - A History of Gargrave from 1900 to 1925’ by Sue Lyall and Donavon Slaven with contributions from George Ingle, Ray Jones and Martin Thompson (2019).
Data Source: Local War Memorial
Entry in West Yorkshire Pioneer Illustrated War Record: ---
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Corporal William Henry SPEDDING
Regiment / Corps / Service Badge: Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)
Divisional Sign / Service Insignia: 62nd (2/West Riding) Division
Soldiers Died Data for Soldier Records
Forename(s): William Henry
Born: Gargrave, Yorks
Enlisted: Keighley, Yorks
Regiment: Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
Battalion: 2/6th Battalion
Died Date: 03/05/17
Died How: Killed in action
Theatre of War: France & Flanders
CWGC Data for Soldier Records
Forename(s): William Henry
Country of Service: United Kingdom
Service Number: 265402
Regiment: Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
Unit: 2nd/6th Bn.
Died Date: 03/05/1917
View Additional Text For Soldier Records
THE HISTORY OF THE 62nd (WEST RIDING) DIVISION 1914-1919 Volume 1, by Everard Wyrall (John Lane the Bodley Head Limited Vigo Street, London, W.)
THE BATTLE OF BULLECOURT:
3rd – 17th May, 1917.
During the three weeks following the first attack on Bullecourt on 11th April, the 62nd Division was engaged in trench warfare, and in preparing for another attack on the Hindenburg Line which had been ordered to take place on various successive dates and subsequently postponed, until it was definitely decided that Bullecourt should again be attacked on the 3rd May…
In the centre of the Divisional front, the troops of the 186th Infantry Brigade reached their allotted places by 3-30 a.m., though during the evening of the 2nd, the enemy’s artillery had caused considerable trouble – all forward telephone and telegraph wires having been cut and communication interrupted. The Signallers, however, repaired them and communication was re-established. The 2/5th Duke of Wellington’s (Lieut.-Col. F.W. Best) were on the right, the 2/6th (Lieut.-Col. S.W. Ford) on the left: the 2/7th Battalion (Lieut.-Col. F.G.C. Chamberlin) was in rear of the 2/5th and the 2/4th (Lieut.-Col. H.E. Nash) in the rear of 2/6th.
Three Companies of the 2/8th West Yorks. were formed up in rear of the 2/4th and 2/7th Battalions Duke of Wellington’s Regt., the remaining Company of the 2/8th having been detailed as a carrying party was in rear of the three Companies. The 213th Machine Gun Company supported the 186th Brigade.
On the left of the Divisional front, held by the 187th Infantry Brigade, the 2/4th Battalion York and Lancs. Regt. (Lieut.-Col. F. St. J. Blacker) was on the right, the 2/5th King’s Own Yorks. Light Infantry (Lieut.-Col. W. Watson) with two Companies of the 2/4th Battalion (Lieut.-Col. R.E. Power) of the same Regiment in rear of the two front line battalions, and the remaining two Companies of the 2/4th K.O.Y.L.I. were in rear of the 2/5th Battalion, detailed for ‘carrying’ duties. The 208th Machine Gun Company was in support.
The taping and forming up operations were carried out without serious casualties and were completed by 3-30 a.m., but Lieut.-Col. F. St. J. Balcker, D.S.O., commanding the Hallamshires, was wounded on the forming up line.
Shortly after two o’clock in the morning the moon disappeared and the night turned to inky blackness, but fifteen minutes before Zero all was ready for the attack. At this period the enemy put down a very heavy barrage on the 185th Infantry Brigade, which gradually spread along the whole front.
At Zero the creeping barrage opened on the enemy’s position and the assaulting troops began to move forward immediately. But now an unexpected difficulty presented itself: the warm weather had baked the ground hard and as the shells fell, churning it up, clouds of dust filled the air, and with smoke from the guns, and the smoke bombs, the objectives were hidden from the advancing troops, and there was much loss of direction.
The 2/5th West Yorks. on the left of the 185th Brigade front speedily captured the enemy’s first line trench, the wire entanglements having been well cut. The 2/6th Battalion, however, was not as fortunate: Colonel Hastings’ Battalion had been met by very heavy machine-gun fire which caused many casualties, and in the smoke and confusion sheared off towards the left, overlapping the right of the 2/5th Battalion. Meanwhile the latter had pushed on towards the centre of the village and had established two posts, one at U.27.b.6.8. and the other at U.21.d.5.0. At this point touch was lost with the 2/6th Battalion, though it was eventually established about the church. A pigeon message timed 5-15 a.m. from an officer of the left Company of the third and fourth waves of the 2/5th Battalion which reached Divisional Headquarters stated that the writer was in the communication trench at U.21.d.5.5. with about forty of his men.
On the left of the 185th Infantry Brigade, the 186th had accomplished only part of its task. The 2/5th Duke of Wellington’s found the wire cut and no difficulty was experienced in reaching the second German trench of the first objective. Here touch was obtained with the left of the 185th Brigade, and maintained for several hours until broken by enfilade machine-gun fire from both flanks. But the 2/6th Duke of Wellington’s found the wire uncut and their attack was held up. Hostile shell-fire and the rear waves closing in on the leading waves, added to the confusion and all that could be done was to occupy some shell holes in front of the enemy’s wire. An attempt was then made to cut the second belt of wire, but again machine-gun fire from the north, and the enemy’s activity with bombs frustrated this endeavour and finally the shell-holes were established as posts.
The 2/5th Duke’s had by this time established themselves in the enemy’s front line trench from U.21.d.1.0. to U.20.d.2.4. and had been reinforced by the 2/8th West Yorks.
Similarly on the left of the 186th Brigade, the 187th had met with success – and failure. The 2/5th York and Lancs. Regt. reached its first objective without difficulty, but the 2/4th Battalion was hung up by the thick wire entanglements which were insufficiently cut. In seeking to find a way through the Battalion moved off to its left and became intermingled with the 2/5th Battalion, whose right flank was ‘in the air.’ At about 4-20 a.m. Lieut.-Col. W. Watson, commanding the 2/5th K.O.Y.L.I. was killed as he was gallantly rallying his men and leading them forward.
For a while no reports from the right flank of the attack were received at Divisional Headquarters, and nothing could be ascertained as to what was taking place in the village of Bullecourt. At 6-50 a.m. the situation was so obscure that the protective barrage was ordered to remain on the second objective until a further advance could be organized. A little later (at 7 a.m.) the situation of the 185th Brigade appears to be as follows: Posts had been established at U.21.d.5.5. with a certain number of men further east along the Support line at U.21.d.5.9., U.27.b.6.8. and at the church (U.28.a.0.9.): the whole of the German front line trench as far east as U.27.b. had been occupied. Touch was maintained with the 2/5th Duke of Wellington’s Regt., on the western side of the village and in the trench running south from the Crucifix. But of the 2/6th West Yorks. little was known, and all attempts to communicate with or reach the probable position of the Battalion, failed. Large numbers of men of the Battalion – dead and wounded – were found in front of the German wire. A Company of the 2/7th West Yorks. was sent forward to try to reach their comrades of the 2/6th, but the men were met by a murderous machine-gun fire which swept the line of the advance and after having suffered heavy casualties the Company withdrew to the Railway Embankment.
Repeated attempts by the 186th and 187th Brigades to penetrate the enemy’s positions were frustrated, and at noon the little party of the 2/5th Duke’s and 2/8th West Yorks., were bombed out of their portion of the trench and were forced to take shelter in shell holes south and south-west of Bullecourt. The advance by the 2/5th K.O.Y.L.I., under Major O.C. Watson, at first progressed, but was eventually checked by heavy machine-gun fire and a continuous H.E. barrage.
At mid-day the situation was as follows: about fifty men per battalion of the 186th Infantry Brigade had found shelter on the Railway Line U.26.c. and d., the remainder of the Brigade was in the Sunken Road in U.27.a.5.8. and U.20.d.9.4.: of the 187th Brigade elements were in the Sunken Road in U.20.b. and in shell holes in U.20.c. and d.: the Company of 2/5th West Yorks. (185th Brigade) which had been driven out of the western side of Bullecourt, had also reached the Railway Line, the 2/7th West Yorks. were also at U.27.c. and d., on the Railway Line: but there was still no news of the 2/6th West Yorks.
Just after 5 o’clock in the evening orders from Divisional Headquarters to the three Infantry Brigades contained instructions to the Brigadiers to make every effort to reorganize their battalions on the line of their original fronts, in their own sectors: the 7th Division was to take over the front held by the 185th Infantry Brigade as soon as possible. The same orders stated that the VIIth Corps had taken Chérisy and the 2nd Australian Division (on the right of the 62nd Division) was in occupation of the Hindenburg Line from U.23.c.8.1. to U.22.d.6.3.
The failure of the 62nd Division to capture Bullecourt was due largely to a fault which certainly cannot be charged to the gallant troops who stormed the village and the Hindenburg Line in the vicinity. Neither could the Divisional Staff, which had laboured to make all arrangements as complete as possible, be blamed. It was due principally to an error in tactics which had so often failed in the earlier years of the war – notably at Festubert in 1915. The Australian Division on the right of the 62nd Division did not launch its attack side by side with the 2/6th West Yorks., the flanking battalion of the West Riding Division. There was a gap – a fatal gap – in the line of attack between the Colonials and the Yorkshiremen, the former having decided to attack the first objective frontally, only as far to the left as U.23.d.6.3., and then bomb down the Hindenburg Line westwards to the left boundary where touch was to be gained with the 185th Infantry Brigade. Thus some hundreds of yards of the enemy’s positions (unfortunately that portion which was very strongly defended by machine-guns) was left free to enfilade the 2/6th West Yorks. as that Battalion advanced: which indeed happened. In all justice to the Australian troops it must be noted that they reached their objective, but before they got there the West Yorkshiremen had been cut up and of those brave fellows who had penetrated the village the greater number had either been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, only a hundred survivors getting back to their own trenches.
The inky blackness of the night, which caused much confusion during the forming-up operations, also contributed to the failure of the assault, many of the troops losing themselves and being entirely ignorant of the direction of the enemy’s trenches.
The enemy was in considerable strength, the 49th Reserve Division and the 27th Division was holding the Hindenburg Line between Fontaine and Riencourt (inclusive). The latter had with it the 1st Musketeen (Automatic Rifle) Battalion.
Many deeds of gallantry were witnessed during that attack, and the Division emerged from its first set battle sorely tried and tested and badly mauled, but with many proofs of its fighting qualities… The casualties of the 62nd (W.R.) Division on the 3rd May were: 116 officers and 2,860 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing…
The 62nd had been ‘Blooded’!
At dusk on the 3rd, the 185th Infantry Brigade was relieved by the 22nd Infantry Brigade (7th Division), only the 2/7th West Yorks. remaining in the line under the command of the General Officer Commanding 7th Division.
The remnants of the 2/5th, 2/6th and 2/8th West Yorks. were withdrawn to caves in Ecoust, to reorganize: on the following day they marched to Ervillers. The 186th and 187th Brigades remained in the line, the 62nd Divisional front now extending from the Mory – Ecoust – Bullecourt Road (inclusive) to the left of the Vth Corps boundary, Judas Farm – Sensee River, to along the road at T.24.a.9.4. – U.14.c.2.9…
The final attack on Bullecourt began on the 12th May when the 185th Infantry Brigade assisted the 7th (British) and 5th (Australian) Divisions, by attacking the enemy’s strong point at the Crucifix.
The 2/7th Battalion West Yorks. was detailed for this operation, the 185th Trench Mortar Battery and one Section of the 212th Machine-Gun Company co-operating. Two Companies of the Battalion – B and C – attacked the Crucifix at Zero (3-40 a.m.) pus 26 minutes, but for a while no information of the situation of the attacking troops was obtainable. The 91st Brigade (7th Division) had reached the centre of the village, capturing a few Germans, but here very heavy machine-gun fire held up any further advance. About 6-30 a.m., however, an aeroplane report was received at 62nd Divisional Headquarters which stated that men of the 2/7th could be seen well dug in at the Crucifix. But from this period onwards, throughout the day, nothing could be ascertained, it being impossible to gain touch with the gallant West Yorkshiremen holding the post at the Crucifix. Possibly one of those isolated fights to a finish which were not uncommon in the War, but of which no authentic records are in existence, took place. For at 8 p.m. another aeroplane reported that the Germans once more held the Crucifix. At 10 o’clock that night patrols which attempted to reach the post were driven back, thus confirming the aeroplane report. Subsequently a few odd men returned through the lines of the 1st South Staffords (7th Division), having lost their way, but of the two officers and thirty-one other ranks who were known to be holding the Crucifix none returned nor was any further information gained concerning their fate. Five killed, thirty-one missing and thirty-two wounded were the casualties suffered by the 2/7th West Yorks. in this affair…
‘Keighley News’ (23 February 1918)
(Kindly supplied by Andy Wade of the ‘Men of Worth’ website)
Corporal W. H. Spedding, of 3, Wren Street, Keighley, was reported missing from May 3 last, is now reported killed. He joined the West Riding Regiment in 1914, and went to France in 1917. He was formerly employed by Hall & Stell Ltd., Keighley.
‘Keighley News’ (4 May 1918)
(Kindly supplied by Andy Wade of the ‘Men of Worth’ website)
SPEDDING – in loving memory of our dear son, Cpl. W. H. Spedding, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, killed in action May 3rd, 1917.
Could we have raised his dying head,
And heard his last farewell,
The blow would not have been so hard,
For us who loved him well.
From Father, Mother, Brother, and Sisters, 3, Wren Street.
View Craven Herald Articles
25 May 1917
'ONE OF A DEATHLESS BAND OF HEROES' – CORPORAL FRANCIS A. BARKER, SKIPTON
It is our sad duty this week to record the death in action of another fine young Skipton soldier – Corporal Francis A. Barker, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Barker, 1 Pembroke Street, Skipton. The official intimation of the sad news, received on Friday last, states that Corporal Barker was killed on May 3rd – during an attack in which several of our local lads went under.
Twenty-three years of age, deceased was a young man of much promise, and the following letters show he was held in the highest esteem by his officers and the men with whom he served. He enlisted on September 24th, 1914, and went out to France in February last. Formerly he was a weaver at Firth Shed (Messrs. S. Farey and Son) and was associated with Christ Church, being a member of the Young Men’s Club. Several letters of sympathy from officers and men in deceased’s regiment have been received by the bereaved parents from which we take the following extracts:–
“As the platoon commander of your son’s platoon, let me add my sympathy to that already expressed by fellow ‘A’ Company officers. It was with profound regret that I heard of your son’s death. From what the boys say, it was a painless one and I am glad of that. Needless to say we all thought a great deal of him, his smiling and cheerful disposition making him a great asset to our Company. He did what he could for his country and the sacrifice he made is the greatest of all. We have lost so many good men this last few days, and those who have been out here know how much comradeship there is when one is taken. Several miss him as a friend. With sincere sympathy.
ARTHUR F. MELTON, Second-Lieut.”
“He was a most popular non-commissioned officer and was respected by officers and men alike. We all deeply sympathise with you in your sad loss.
“It is my very painful duty to inform you that your son Francis was killed in action. We were attacking a strong German position and occupying a road when a shell burst, and being struck by a flying bit he was killed instantaneously. He was hit in the back and through the lungs. Alfred Wear (another Skipton lad) got his private belongings, but later Wear got hit and was taken to hospital. The loss of your son is very much felt, his comradeship with every one of us being of the best. Always cheery and happy, he was respected by all who knew him and we all feel a personal loss in his death. He died doing his duty nobly – a good friend and soldier, worthy of the name of a British soldier. Please accept my deepest sympathy.
SERGEANT STEPHEN HODGSON.”
“I need not tell you how much we were to each other, but I would just like to tell you how great was the esteem in which he was held throughout the Company by his comrades and by his officers as well.
SERGEANT MAURICE B. WINDLE” (deceased’s cousin).
“ Francis was a great pal of mine; and both being in the same platoon we had many good times together. Others will have given you particulars of how he fell on the field of honour, and there is nothing that I can add, except to assure you that your son’s many friends in the Battalion join with me in expressing our poignant grief at his death, and in offering you our deep sympathy in your bereavement. He was such a good soldier – fearless as a lion, keen and energetic, and always eager to do his bit for the country which bore him. His officers and comrades all had the greatest admiration and regard for him. Now he has gone to take his place among that deathless band of heroes who have not counted their lives dear unto themselves, and laid them down for King and Country. They have all followed the path of duty and self-sacrifice which our Saviour himself trod, and they have all proved his words, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man shall lay down his life for his friends.’ May God give you strength to bear your grief and to give your boy up as bravely as he gave himself, and may He comfort you with His own sweet consolation. Corporal Spedding is reported missing and Corporal Wear wounded – these two were your son’s oldest chums.
LANCE-CORPORAL FRED CORRY” (a Barnoldswick soldier).
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