William Firth (1884-1917)
William Firth was born in Saddleworth, which was then in West Yorkshire and part of the Colne Valley parliamentary division, on 27 May 1884, the son of John, who worked as a bill poster, and his wife Caroline, who was originally from Longwood.
The Firths had two children — James, born in 1879, and Thomas, born 1880 — when William was born, and would have another, Albert, in 1887, before John died in 1889 at the age of only 37.
Caroline stayed over in Saddleworth where she worked as a "shawl fringe twister" to support the family but she moved back over to Huddersfield, possibly to re-join her family, and William eventually attended St. Andrew's School on Leeds Road. He must have received a good education because he eventually was able to work as a compositor for Messrs Netherwood, Dalton and Co. at Folly Hall.
In Halifax, in the late spring of 1909, William married Mary Ellen Smith, from Ainley Top, and by 1911 the couple were living in a three-room cottage, 9 Burn Road, Birchencliffe, and attending the local church, St. Philip's.
The couple had a son, Bob, in the late summer of 1912 but sadly the child died in early 1913. They may have had a second child, Edward, in 1916 but this has proved difficult to substantiate. Mary's brother, Jack, was later killed serving with the Duke of Wellington's.
William was not one of those who rushed to enlist as soon as the war began. An older, married man, possibly with one son, he did not join the army until 24 February 1917 when he was conscripted. He received initial training in the Leicestershire Regiment but was transferred into the Lincolnshire Regiment presumably as a replacement and served in the Ypres area.
William was killed only five months later on the 31 July 1917. He was thirty-three years old. In his will he left Mary just over £161.
William has no known grave but is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres and on the memorial at St. Philip's, his parish church.
It seems that Mary, a widow possibly with a young child, may have re-married. A Mary Ellen Firth, a widow aged 34, married Willie Brook, a painter, of Myrtle Road, Elland, at Halifax Parish Church on 8 October 1921. All the details and the address she gives – Brooks Buildings, Lindley Moor Road – make it likely that this is William's widow.
Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922
The following extract is from Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922 (2014) by J. Margaret Stansfield:
- FIRTH, WILLIAM. Private. No 41605. 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. Formerly No 34334 Leicestershire Regiment. Born Diggle 27.5.1884. Educated St. Andrew's School, Leeds Road, Huddersfield. Employed as a compositor by Messrs Netherwood, Dalton and Company, Folly Hall. Attended St. Philip's Church, Birchencliffe. Husband of Mary Ellen Firth, 9 Burn Road, Birchencliffe. Enlisted 24.2.1917. Killed in action, 31.7.1917, aged 33 years. Has no known grave. Commemorated MENIN GATE MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING.
- ROH:- St. Philip's Church, Birchencliffe.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Private WILLIAM FIRTH
- regiment: Lincolnshire Regiment
- died: Tuesday, July 31, 1917
- record ID: 1612381
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission (ID #1612381)
- Imperial War Museums: Lives of the First World War (ID #1240578)