Willie Swann (1891-1916)

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This page is part of a project by David Verguson to research the lives of those who appear on war memorials and rolls of honour in the Lindley area.

Biography

Willie Swann was the son of Albert William and Mary Hannah Swann.

He was born in Rastrick in 1892 but the family moved to Lindley and were living at 38 Cowrakes Road when in May 1896 just three days before his fifth birthday, Willie was enrolled in the Zion Chapel Sunday School on Lidget Street. A daughter, Edith, was born in 1896 and a son Harry, in 1898.

In all, Albert and Mary Swann had 13 children, of whom ten survived.

In 1901 the family were living in Haigh House Hill, off Lindley Moor Road. Harry was taken off the Sunday School roll when they changed to Kew Hill Chapel in 1898, so they had moved earlier. The family of two adults and seven children lived in three rooms.

By 1911 they had moved to 80 Cowrakes Road, a four-room cottage on the outskirts of Lindley.

In addition to Albert and Mary there was a daughter of 24, a son of 19 and five girls and two sons aged between 17 and five years of age. It is difficult even to imagine the sleeping arrangements in a tow-up, two-down cottage. The first son, Frank, had married and moved out in the summer of 1910. Things would get a little easier when the oldest daughter, Beatrice, married in early 1914 and moved out to Union Street, and of course, when Willie enlisted. By 1915 the family had move again, to 18 Union Street.

The fact that all the children over twelve were in work must have at least made the finances easier if not the accommodation.

Willie Swann was, like his father, a "wire drawer" at the Sykes card clothing company on Acre Street. Harry, at 13 not long out of school, was a weaver like all his sisters.

Albert Swann died in late 1913 which left Mary with three children still of school age. Some time during the war, the family moved to 18 Union Street not far from Beatrice at number 6 and Frank who lived in George Street, in the centre of the village.

We cannot know what motivated Willie, at the age of 23 to join the army so early in the War: it may have been patriotism, a belief in the justice of Allied cause or a sense of adventure and the fact that so many young man in the area where he lived were enlisting; more likely, all played apart.

Willie joined the 5th (Territorial) Battalion, the West Riding Regiment on 3 September 1914 at Huddersfield, a day when across the country a record number of over 32,200 other men enlisted, including many from the Huddersfield area, and agreed to serve overseas. At his medical, which was conducted on the same day by Dr. Demetriadi, the Territorial Force's medical officer, Willie was said to be just under 5' 6" tall with a chest measurement of 35½ inches and of good physical development.

After a period of training and on coastal defence in north of England, the 1/5th Battalion transferred from Doncaster to Folkestone in early April 1915, to sail to Boulogne, arriving late on the 14th.

A few days later the battalion had its first experience of the firing line. The Battalion's first casualties were four dead and four wounded on 9 May.

In early July they were shelled every day, often with gas. On 14 July, Willie was hit in the face with a piece of shell which took off the end his nose and gave him "two thick lips" as he put it in a letter to his mother that was reported in the Huddersfield Examiner. He remained on duty.

Early in the New Year, Willie was attached to the 147th Brigade Machine Gun Company. Machine gunners were particular targets for the enemy so Willie's was a dangerous role

In April 1916 Willie contracted scabies and had some time in the 2nd West Riding Field Ambulance. A month later, on 16 May, Willie was promoted Lance Corporal and on 16 June he was made acting corporal.

On the second day of the Battle of the Somme, Willie Swann was wounded and died. The village of Forceville, where he is buried, was where Field Ambulances were stationed until July 1916 and the extension to the cemetery contains many who died in the battle. Mary received a letter from Army Records in York on 18 July.

Among her son's possessions returned to Mary in October 1916, were some postcards and photographs, a bible, a wallet and a broken watch. Willie is remembered in St. Stephen's church and on the memorial of Kew Hill Chapel, now kept at the East Street church.

Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922

The following extract is from Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922 (2014) by J. Margaret Stansfield:

SWANN, WILLIE. Corporal. No 2959. Machine Gun Corps (Motors). Born Lindley, Huddersfield. Son of Albert William and Mary Hannah Swann, 18 Union Street, Lindley. Employed by Messrs Joseph Sykes Brothers Limited, Acre Mills, Lindley. Died of wounds, 2.7.1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was 25 years of age. Buried FORCEVILLE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION. Grave location:- Plot 2, Row B, Grave 12.
ROH:- St. Stephen's Church, Lindley; Huddersfield Drill Hall.

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