William Darling

kings royal rifle corps badgePrivate, C/12467, 21st Battalion (Yeoman Rifles), King’s Royal Rifle Corps, killed in action, 17th September, 1916, aged 26

Born at Wakefield in late1890, William was the only son of John Richard and Emily Darling. Shortly after William’s birth the family moved from Wakefield to Featherstone where his father was a police constable. By 1901 he had become a boiler chargehand at a brickyard in Featherstone.

William moved to Keadby in the 1900’s. In 1911 he was working as a hairdresser and boarding at No 2 Brooklyn Terrace, Chapel Lane with William Cooper and his wife. However when he attested for the army in 1915 he situation must have changed as gave his occupation as farmer?

William enlisted with the 21st (Service) Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps at Goole on 24th November 1915. Only a few days after their commanding officer, the Earl of Feversham placed a letter in the Epworth Bells asking for more local recruits to join him. Better known as the Yeoman Rifles, the 21st Battalion, were formed in September 1915 from volunteers from the farming communities of Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham and were the only ‘Pals’ Battalion to be formed from farmers. According to their records the men chosen to serve with the Yeoman Rifles were ‘of a very high standard physically educationally and socially, the battalion priding itself on having less crime than any other in the service’. William would have served with other Lincolnshire men in D Company.

For their initial training the Yeoman Rifles were based at Duncombe Park, Helmsley, the ancestral home of the Earl of Feversham. A story, possibly not apocryphal, tells of the Earl asking his recruits to practice ‘open order advance’ against a herd of deer on the estate. The deer did not take kindly to this and prepared their own counter attack which routed the fledgling recruits!

William had been promoted to Lance Corporal on 4th April 1916 but reverted back to Rifleman, at his own request, on 13th May 1916 shortly after the Rifles had arrived in France.

Initially stationed at Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) in the Ypres area, they moved to the Somme in August. On 15th September they were tasked with the capture of the three trench lines to the east of Flers. Reports from members of the battalion who survived the action say the first problem they faced was their artillery support falling short. Along with endangering them, this meant that when the barrage ceased the German lines were all but intact and the resistance fierce. However their tank support did work well and despite severe losses to machine gun fire, the Yeoman Rifles did manage to capture their objectives.

Unfortunately they then came under a heavy German counterattack and were pinned down in ‘no man’s land’ under heavy artillery fire. Losing colleagues all the while they held on for as long as possible but with no hope of reinforcements the survivors were eventually forced to retire back to their lines. When the remains of the Battalion were paraded the next day a roll call was taken. It was found that 57 men, including William Crackle and the Earl of Feversham had been killed, 266 were wounded and a further 70 were missing.

William is reported to have been buried in a mass grave in Les Boeufs Guards Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

William is remembered on the War Memorial Plaque in St Oswald’s Church , Althorpe but is not on the Althorpe village memorial.