Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange

Biddulph and the Great War

'There Shall Be In That Rich Earth A Richer Dust Concealed'

'We Will Remember Them'

Private William Owen

44395 2nd Bn. Suffolk Regiment killed in action October 23rd 1918 Age 20


William Owen as a Scout aged about 10.

William was born on January 1st 1898, one of the ten children born to John and Hannah Eliza, née Longshaw, who were married in 1883 at St. James’ in Newchapel. Their home at the time of his birth was in the Brewhouse Bank/Whitehill district of Kidsgrove. Enoch Owen and George Longshaw, respective parents of John and Hannah, were two of the original trustees of Balls Bank Primitive Methodist Church when it opened in 1870. In 1901 William and his brothers and sisters, Albert, Moses, Rebecca, Sarah, John, Mark and George, were living with their parents at 141, High Street, Tunstall, next door to the Longshaw’s (probably Hannah’s brother). Two other children, Lorraina (1891-1892) and Enoch (1893-1893), had died. In 1911 William was with his parents, his brother George and his sister Sarah, at 1A, Cartlich Street, Sandyford. John and Mark were living at 20, Samuel Street, Packmoor with their married brother, Moses. Albert and Rebecca had married. It is difficult to establish where William went to school and when he left. The 1911 census shows 13-year-old William working as a tile fixer.

The newspaper report of William’s death shows that prior to enlistment William had been working at Brown Lees Colliery. It appears that he enlisted at Lichfield but apart from Soldiers Died in the Great War no other records appear to exist. He probably enlisted shortly after his 18th birthday in 1916, or maybe even before. Although the details are unknown William initially joined the South Staffordshire Regiment. His number was 49488. Whether or not he served overseas with this unit is not known but at some point he transferred to the 2nd battalion Suffolk Regiment, 76th Brigade, 3rd Division, maybe in the field.

Williams’s medal card does not show a 1915 Star or a date of entry into a theatre of war, so it can be assumed he served overseas from 1916. During the second part of that year the 2nd battalion Suffolks were in action in the Battle of the Somme. The following year found them fighting in the Battle of Arras and in July 1917 in the Second Battle of Ypres, seeing bitter action at the Menin Road Ridge and Polygon Wood in the morass of the Salient. By November the division were ordered south to fight in the Battle of Cambrai.

In the spring of 1918 all along the front the German Spring Offensive commenced on March 21st, overwhelming the British line. At this time William and his mates were fighting in the battles at St. Quentin, then Bapaume. They were then to fight a withdrawal action which brought the division to the Arras area, where many of them were taken prisoner. The battles of 1918, unlike the earlier years, were fast moving and by early August the enemy offensive was halted and the infantry of the 3rd Division began to retake the lost ground, pushing the enemy back to Cambrai and the Hindenburg Line.

In October the British offensive known as The final advance in Picardy, found the 3rd Division bravely fighting in the Battle of Selle which started on the 17th. The infantry, after a bitter struggle, secured the high ground from the enemy and then took a two day pause whilst bringing up their artillery to support their final push. On October 23rd 1918 the 2nd battalion Suffolks renewed their attack and sadly in this action Private William Owen fell on the battlefield. He was 20 years old. It was on October 23rd that Field Marshall Douglas Haig launched a night attack with all three of his British armies, the First, Second and Fourth. The villages of Romeries and Beaudignies were liberated on October 23rd. At the time of his death William’s parents were living at 60, Samuel Street, Packmoor. William now rests in the Romeries Communal Cemetery close to where he fell. He was posthumously awarded the Victory and British medals.

Mr. and Mrs. J. Owen, 60, Samuel street,
Packmoor, have received official intimation
that their son, Pte. William Owen, Suffolk
Regiment, was killed in action on October 23rd.
He was 20 years of age and was formerly em-
ployed at Brown Lees Colliery. A brother has
served four years in the Army.

From a newspaper clipping.

John and Hannah later moved to 42, Thomas Street, Packmoor. William’s father John died in 1936 aged 74, his mother Hannah a year earlier in 1935 aged 69. William is commemorated on his parents’ grave in St. James’ cemetery in Newchapel, on the Memorial Wall in Tunstall Memorial Gardens, and in Romeries.

The family worshipped at Packmoor Methodist Chapel and a memorial service was held for him there on December 1st 1918. The following words are taken from William’s memorial notice:

No more will he answer the roll
Nor start at the bugle sound;
But, Lord, when Thy roll is called,
May his name in Thy book be found.

Some day we hope to meet him,
Some day we know not when,
To clasp his hand in a better land,
Never to part again.

Elaine Bryan and Michael Turnock.

A list of all the medals awarded to the men of the Biddulph area has been compiled and can be viewed here.


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