The following article appeared in a Leigh newspaper on the 3 August 1917 and contains details of a very personal letter from the soldier’s commanding major. It is quickly apparent that the loss Sergeant William Bolton was a blow to his regiment.
‘Mr and Mrs Bolton of 224 Manchester Road, Walkden, received news on Tuesday morning that their son Sergeant William Bolton of the Royal Engineers, has been killed in action. His major writing on July 27th says – “your son was killed last night by a shell. He, with his officer and some men of his regiment, were meeting a working party about 10pm on a main road, when suddenly it was shelled. By that stroke of fate, which no one understands, your son was hit, as well as the officer with him. His end was painless, he passed away in a few minutes. I am hoping to bury him tomorrow in a little soldiers’ cemetery well behind the line, so that his grave will be undisturbed. Words cannot express the gloom which has been cast over us. His section this morning seemed to be like children without their mother. His section officer appeared as if his right hand had gone. The sergeants have lost one of their best friends and I, as his commanding officer, have lost my best section sergeant, a fine soldier and a true friend. Your son was a bit more to me than most of the N.C.O.’s for when I was section officer of No.1 from the early days, Oct 1914 to Oct 1915, he was always one of my best. He was particularly gallant at Loos and shortly after that I got him his first stripe. On coming back to the old company as its commanding officer during 1916, I was delighted to see he was corporal and I only waited for the day when I could make him sergeant, which I was able to do early this year. I was delighted when your son did well – no man ever deserved a medal more than he did. The astonishing thing to me was the way in which he could handle men, they would do anything for him. He did not know what fear was, and it is no exaggeration to say that he was the bravest man in the company…” ‘
Sergeant William Bolton was 25 years old when he was killed on 26 July 1917. Son of James and Mary Ellen Bolton, he joined the Royal Engineers when war broke out. He was involved in several ‘severe engagements’ and around 12 months before he was killed was awarded the Military Medal. Before the war William was an apprentice bricklayer and at the time of enlistment was working for Rathbone and Sons, Atherton. He was a keen runner being a member of Swinton Harriers. In a letter home dated May 26th he wrote about the Division sports day when he won the mile race.
William is buried in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Wigan & Leigh Archives, Leigh Town Hall, Leigh.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/430216/BOLTON,%20WILLIAM
This kind of article in the wartime local press is very familiar to me. It is remarkable that no reports of loved ones’ deaths ever said that they suffered lingering or painful deaths, which we know that many of them did. The letters were also rather formulaic, containing nothing but praise for the fallen soldier and consequently failing to tell us much about what he was really like. However, this one has an air authenticity and I feel that the soldier was truly a very fine young man, making his death all the more tragic. Keep up the good work.
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