William Henry Phillips – death of a hero

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Private 15/1466 1st Leeds Pals

1887: In Dewsbury, in September, George William Phillips, a rag grinder in the mungo trade, married Lucy Jackson, a rag sorter, and they went to live in Ossett. Mungo, like shoddy, was cloth made from reclaimed woollen rags, and at this time was Ossett’s principal industry. (Find My Past 2015) (Free BMD 2015) They had six children in all, but two did not survive infancy.

1893: William Henry, the third child, was born in this year. He had two older sisters, Mary Anne, also known as Polly, and Charlotte, or Lottie, and a younger brother Ernest.

1899: George William probably died in this year, at the age of 39. Certainly he was dead before the 1901 census. William would ultimately follow him into the mungo trade. But in

1901: William was only eight and, like the other three children, still too young to work, so Lucy had to support the family. But by

1911: William was a scribbler feeder, part of the carding process by which the fibres were straightened out prior to spinning. He worked for Messrs. Eli Townend Ltd. of Healey, and the two girls were also in the rag trade. Ernest, however, was a leather currier. William was also well-known in sporting circles, being a member of the South Ossett Church Institute Cricket Club and the Healey Lane Albion Football Club. The family lived initially in Healey Lane, and then at 13 Healey Road, Ossett. (Ossett WWI History 2015)

1914: When war broke out William was still 20, but did not volunteer immediately. Perhaps his income was necessary to support the family. He probably joined in

1915: around the middle of the year. He enlisted at Colsterdale and was posted to 11th Battalion, but this is all we know for certain, as his service records are missing. They did not go to Egypt but straight to France. William was not awarded the 1915 Star, but he was certainly in France by

1916: since in September he was in hospital suffering from shell shock, but returned to the trenches on October 3rd, only four days before he was last heard of. He took part in the Battle of Le Transloy, which had begun on 1st October of that year. He was killed four days later. The Battalion War Diary records the following:

On the 5th and 6th October 1916, the battalion were in trenches round and about 26th Avenue. On the 7 October at 2.10 pm the Battalion attacked trenches to the left of Le Sars, objective gained and held, losses heavy with 8 officers and 217 other ranks killed.’

Initially he was posted as missing. He had been helping with the wounded but at the close of the action he was not to be found. The Ossett Observer published the following obituary:

A Missing Ossett Soldier – Officer’s Tribute To His Conduct – Private William Henry Phillips, whose widowed mother lives at 13, Healey-road, Ossett, is now officially reported as missing after an engagement in France on the 7th October. Three or four weeks ago, one of his comrades wrote that he was believed to be killed and that he died a hero’s death, while the casualty list gave his name among the wounded. Now his mother has received the official notification that he is missing.’ (Ossett WWI History 2015)

William’s body was not found, and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission 2015) (Ancestry 2015)

Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.
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