Service Number 42305
Battalion 6th Battalion
Regiment Leicestershire Regiment
|Army Service Corps
William Fletcher was born in Collingham in 1891, the son of George (a farm labourer) and his wife Sarah Fletcher. In 1911, George, Sarah and William were still living in Collingham and William was also a farm labourer.
William Fletcher was probably called up for service in early 1916 but he made an appeal to the Local Tribunal for exemption, probably on the grounds of local need in the farming sector. However Tribunals at that time were short of men and it seems he was called up. However he made an application for his case to be further considered by the Area Tribunal. On the 8th September 1916 the Wetherby News briefly reported on the outcome of that appeal:
Thus William Fletcher's appeal was dismissed and he was called up for service. By 1918 the Collingham electoral roll showed he was absent due to his Military or Naval Service, but we were uncertain what that service was, as his service records did not survive the second World War. Our first clues to his service came from a Wetherby News article in 1918:
William was therefore in the Leicestershire Regiment in 1918, but to trace further his movements during the war we need to know his battalion and his service number.
Four men named William Fletcher were awarded medals for service in the Leicestershire Regiment. One of these men, Lance Sergeant William Fletcher, with a service number 7598, was Killed in Action in the war, so cannot be the Collingham man we are searching. It is likely that 'our' man is either Private 8486 William Fletcher, Private 42305 William Fletcher (previously Private R/236244 in the Army Service Corps) or Private 58802 William Fletcher. Both of the latter two men served in the 6th Battalion Leicesterhsire Regiment.
The recent (and on-going) digitisation of the surviving medical records from the Great War shows that Private 42305 William Fletcher of the 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was admitted to No. 34 Casualty Clearing Station on 26/8/1918 with a "Gunshot Wound IX.1". This was a gunshot wound of lower extremities - a simple flesh contusion or wound. The record shows he had been brought from 1/2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance and No 16 Ambulance Train. The date of this wounding (26th August) ties in well with the Wetherby News report date on the 6th September, and strongly suggested that William Fletcher from Collingham served as Private 42305 William Fletcher of the 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. William's medal entitlement also shows he had previously served as Private R/236244 in the Army Service Corps and the medal roll for the Leicestershire Regiment shows that William was one of a consignment of ASC other ranks who were transferred at the same time to the Leicestershire Regiment.
By August 1918 the early successes of the great German advances of March 1918, where the Allies were beaten back many miles, had been reversed and the British front line was once again passing over the Somme Battlefields of 1916. The 1st August saw the 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment in Brigade Reserve near Englebelmer. The battalion were engaged in forming working parties to improve the trench system, to construct dugouts and one company was in training for patrol work. This company formed fighting and reconnaissance patrols each night in the vicinity of Hamel.
At 10pm on the 5th August the battalion relieved the 1st Wiltshire Battalion as the left front line battalion in the Hamel sector, extending from ETON LANE to CHARLES AVENUE. They stayed in the same area and the same trench system through the nights and days until the 14th August when, at night, the line was advanced to the river Ancre through old enemy lines. These advanced positions were held on the 15th and at night further new posts were established. On the 16th AUgust the battalion was holding the line of the river Ancre from STATION ROAD (South East of Beaumont Hamel) to Hamel itself. One the night of the 16th patrols attempted to cross the river, but the endeavour failed.
17th August saw the battalion relieved and fall back to battalion reserve where they stayed until the 20th when the prepared to move up to assembly positions for an attack on THEIPVAL RIDGE (North of Thiepval) and at 4am on the 21st August they were in their assembly positions on the river Ancre. Two companies advanced across the river at dawn but were compelled to withdraw due to strong hostile opposition and by 4pm both companies had re-established themselves on the west side of the river, according to the war diary having "been badly shaken". Later these two companies were withdrawn to the old front line, while the remaining two companies remained in the assembly positions during the night sending out fighting patrols.
At 6am these latter two companies advanced over the river and, overcoming enemy resistance, established themselves in the first objective - a trench system running north east along a ridge about 800 yards from the river. Having fought their way through to this objective, the 6th Leicestershire Battalion was relieved by the 6th Dorset Regiment and moved back and then marched via Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt to LITTLE TRENCH about 1000 yards southwest of Beaucourt and east of Ancre. There, on the 24th August, they attacked and took BATTERY VALLEY and BOOM RAVINE, southwest and east of Grandcourt. At night that day they advanced to PYS. Their advance continued the following day when they followed through LE SARS to EAUCOURT L'ABBAYE. About 2pm a hostile counterattack was repulsed near EAUCOURT L'ABBAYE, after which a defensive flank was formed facing south.
On the 26th August, the day William Fletcher was brought into the casualty clearing station, the battalion moved to WARLENCOURT and formed the Divisional Reserve. We guess therefore that William was wounded in the fighting perhaps on the 25th August. The post-war publication, Soldiers Died in the Great War, lists one Officer (2/Lt Robert Miles Jalland) and 11 other ranks as being killed on the 25th and 26th August 1918. Overall the Battalion war diary recorded that in the whole of August 1918 two officers were killed and five were wounded along with 24 other ranks killed, 6 missing and 174 wounded.
The medical record for William Fletcher is not clear about how long his injury took to heal, or where he was treated in France, but if the Wetherby News article referred to above is correct, William came back to England and was in hospital in Liverpool. We do not know if he returned to front line service before the Armistice and his eventual release from the army.
After the war, William returned to West Yorkshire and by 1939 William was living with Priscilla and their two children, George E Fletcher and Reginald Fletcher at 12 Brookside, Collingham. In 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1961 William and Priscilla were on the electoral roll at Main Street, Collingham. We think William may have died in 1964.
Biography last updated 25 August 2021 00:33:12.
1911 Census. The National Archives. Class RG14 Piece 25962
The Wetherby News 6/9/1918
First World War Medal Index Cards. The National Archives (WO372).
First World War Medal Index Rolls. The National Archives (WO329).
War Diary of 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment (WO95/2164/1) The National Archives.
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