William Henry Guesford

william guesfordLance Corporal, 1406, 1/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, killed in action, 13th October 1915, aged 21

Born at Luddington in July 1894, William was the oldest of the seven children of William Henry (Snr) and Mary Guesford (nee Brown). His father was from Barrow-on-Humber and his mother was from Luddington and they married at Luddington in 1894.

The family had moved to Allanby Street, Scunthorpe byy 1901, where William Snr worked in the ironstone mines. They were still in Allanby Street in 1911 although had moved to Ravendale Street by 1915.

On leaving school William JnrĀ  became a clerk for the North Lincolnshire Ironworks Company. A member of the local Primitive Methodist Church he played for the Prims Cricket Team.

William enlisted, aged 17, as a territorial soldier in the Lincolnshire Regiment at Scunthorpe on 22nd April 1912. Here he joined the 5th (Territorial) Battalion, nominally the territorial battalion for the north of the county they recruited from Gainsborough, Scunthorpe, Louth and Barton-on-Humber, etc, with their headquarters and base at Grimsby. On the outbreak of war the territorial soldiers force was mobilised and William became a full-time soldier in the Machine Gun Section of the 5th Lincolnshire’s.

The 5th Lincolnshire’s went out to France on 1st March 1915. Once in France they spent a few weeks training before moving on 9th April to the front line trenches near Kemmel. Nothing they had done in their training prepared them for the horror and reality of what they found in the trenches there, disease, vermin and ‘dead bodies are even half exposed in the parados’. Another rude awaking occurred in May when they suffered several casualties when a German mine was detonated under their trenches.

In May 1915 the unit was renamed the 1/5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and served as part of 138th Brigade in 46th (North Midland) Division. On the 29th June they did their first tour in the Ypres area where on the 3rd August, William received a field promotion to Lance Corporal.

On 2nd October, following a few days rest ‘out of the range of shell fire for the first time in months’ in Gonnehem, the 1/5th Lincolnshire’s marched south to join the troops engaged in the Battle of Loos. On arrival at Loos they were given the task of assaulting a heavily fortified position known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and a trench behind it known as ‘Fosse Trench’.

After six months in France this would be William and the Battalion’s first experience of attacking an enemy position, so they spent a few days practicing formations before finally moving into position on the afternoon of 12th October. Even this was not without it’s mishap. The guides sent to lead them to the trenches they were to occupy were not used to the area and got lost. Then too late they discovered that the weapons they had been given for the attack, rifle grenades and mills bombs, were old and useless. A discovery that would have terrible consequences the following day.

William Guesford working his machine-gun somewhere in France

William Guesford working his machine-gun somewhere in France

Following the normal artillery barrage to cut the barbered wire and prepare the way for the advance on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the attack began at 1.45pm with the discharge of a gas cloud towards the enemy. However as the wind was gusty some of the gas blew back into the British trenches, causing a number of casualties. The gas eventually cleared and at 2.00pm William and his colleagues were ready for their first charge ‘over the top’.

The gas had done it’s work and the troops quickly secured their first objective, the Redout itself. However beyond it where the German reserves were situated it was a different matter. Advancing over the open ground in front of the Fosse Trench they came under such heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the front and both flanks, that the lines melted away, and further advance became impossible. Suffering heavy casualties and with no officers left, the remnants of the inexperienced soldiers were eventually forced to withdraw.

The 46th Division suffered a total of 3,643 casualties in the futile attack on Hohenzollern Redoubt. That of the 1/5th Lincolnshire’s was as bad as any and as the author of their Official History wrote the attack ‘practically destroyed it for the time being as a fighting unit’. Of the 23 officers and 1850 men of the who went into their first battle, only 1 officer and 110 men came out uninjured. 12 officers were killed and 11 wounded, 175 other ranks were seriously wounded and 285 were reported killed or missing. One of whom was William Guesford. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

William is mentioned on the Scuthorpe Roll of Honour.