Discovering the background of William Barnett has proved difficult. Although William is remembered on the Biddulph Memorials and by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission as William Barnett, technically his surname was ‘Barnett-Baddiley’. It is this surname that is used frequently in census returns and also on the family grave in St. Lawrence’s churchyard. As there was another William Barnett in Biddulph at that time, it has been important to identify the correct young man.
William Barnett-Baddeley’s birth was registered in 1893 at Norton. He was the son of John Baddeley and Emily (née Leighton). In 1881 John was living with his widowed grandmother, Lois Barnett, at Knowle Stile. The following year he married the girl who lived next-door-but-one in a civil ceremony at Congleton. Emily was the daughter of Benjamin and Hannah; her father in the 1881 census was described as a ‘tea-dealer’. By 1891 John and Emily were living with her parents at Knowle Stile along with their three children: Benjamin, Lois and George. Ten years later the family had increased to include William (aged seven) and Selina (aged two). However, this census (1901) creates many questions. To begin with the head of the family is named as William Barnett (not John Baddeley) and it is tempting to think that maybe John had died and Emily had remarried. This is not the case as by 1911 William Barnett now becomes known as William Barnett-Baddeley and indeed signs the document with the initial ‘J’ before the William. So perhaps although he was called ‘John’ - he was known as ‘William’. Whatever the whys and wherefores of this family and their inexplicable interchange of Christian and surnames, it is in the 1911 census entry that we have further evidence of our fallen soldier, William. He is recorded as an 18 year old miner sharing the family home of ‘Holly Mount’, Knowle Stile, with his siblings, Lois, George and Selina.
The most crucial piece of evidence as to the family background of Lance Corporal William Barnett comes from the inscription on the family gravestone which is transcribed in full: “In loving memory of John, beloved husband of Emily Baddiley of Knowle Style died July 9th 1926 aged 70 years. Also the above Emily Baddiley, died April 27th 1944 aged 90 years. Also Benjamin Leighton died December 6th 1892 aged 69 years. Also Hannah, his beloved wife died August 16th 1899 aged 76 years. Also L. Copl. Wm. Barnett Baddiley their beloved son who gave his life for his Country July 1st 1917 aged 23 years. Also John William, Jonah & Thomas died in infancy.”
One of Biddulph’s early recruits, William, or Will as he was called, enlisted in September 1914 at Biddulph, joining the North Staffordshire Regiment. William’s medal card refers to number 3314 so it appears he may have served in the 2/5th battalion before being transferred to the 1/5th North Staffordshire battalion.
This battalion’s basic training commenced at Butterton Hall camp and after six weeks the new recruits were ready for further instruction. Headed by a pipe and drums band the men proudly marched from Butterton to Newcastle railway station to begin their journey to Luton.
The more intensive training was carried out at Luton and Bishop’s Stortford; it is believed Will trained in the Machine Gun Section of the battalion. On completing their training the soldiers of the 1/5th North Staffords prepared to embark on crossing the English Channel. However Will’s medal card states this was on June 28th 1915. This almost certainly means that he was in a replacement draft as the main body went to war in March.
Arriving at Le Havre the troops travelled inland for assembly with the 137th Brigade 46th North Midlands Division. This division served in the Ypres and Hooge area until October, when they were ordered to the Loos area of the Western Front. The Battle of Loos was being fought north of the mining town of Lens. On the afternoon of October 13th battalions of the 137th Brigade 46 Division were to retake at the Hohenzollern Redoubt the trenches of Big Willie and Fosse Alley. It was disastrous. Exposed to machine gun fire and shelling from the redoubt many of William’s pals soon fell. This was indeed a black day for Biddulph and Staffordshire.
Although wounded in this attack Will survived, but sadly eight of his Biddulph pals were lost that day. The division was soon to be withdrawn from the Loos battlefield to recover. Mid-December saw unusual orders issued to the 46th Division that they were to entrain for a long and slow journey south through the whole of France. Their destination was Marseilles docks. Christmas dinner may have been taken on the French Railway, sharing it with Charles Pointon and John Bowers from Biddulph. At least it was warm and dry without any shelling.
Arriving at Marseilles on January 5th 1916 the soldiers boarded a troopship. Our Biddulph lads were to sail through the Mediterranean to Egypt. They’d had a rough time recently and deserved a pleasant change. Arriving at Alexandria on January 12th 1916 they hardly had time to settle for within a month their orders were changed and the division was to return to France.
So with the journey in reverse the 1/5th North Staffords were going back to the mud and trenches of Flanders. At some point William gained a stripe becoming Lance Corporal Barnett. Twelve months previous Will had been wounded and he was wounded again in June 1916 whilst preparing for the Battle of the Somme when the division were used in a diversionary attack at Gommercourt. A pal from Biddulph, John Bowers, fell in this action.
From March 1917 the battalion bravely fought through actions at Ancre, Rehemoy Graban and the Hindenburg Line, losing many men and sadly on July 1st 1917 Lance Corporal William Barnett was to fall on the battlefield in the Lieven sector. His medal card states “Pres. Dead”. William died at the age of twenty three and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
At home at Holly Mount, Tunstall Road, Williams’s father had often invited the Biddulph Band to come to their home to play and provided a barrel of beer afterwards. The Chronicle reports “Sadly postcards lay unsent in the house after the family heard the news of William’s death.” One said “No doubt you will know where this is too.” A message only understood by the family.
William is remembered on all of the Biddulph memorials.
Michael Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.