In 1901 the Morris family resided at ‘The Huts’, Brown Lees. George Morris was a coal miner and he and his wife, Hannah, had five young children. William, at the age of 10, was their eldest. The family were not local and like many of the families in this part of Biddulph, they had arrived from South Staffordshire to work in the iron industry. William had been born in Great Bridge circa 1890. It would seem that the family were happy to move again as there is no trace of them in the 1911 census. George and his son William appear to have crossed the Atlantic to a place called Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia. They must have done this prior to December 1906 as on the 6th of that month, Hannah and the rest of the family, left Liverpool on the ‘Silvia’ to join them in Nova Scotia. What a journey that must have been for Hannah and her now increased family of seven children, including baby Lucy.
The family appear on the 1911 Canadian census residing at Annapolis, Nova Scotia. They seem to have made a number of return trips to Biddulph. In October 1913, Hannah is recorded on a passenger list returning to Nova Scotia. Perhaps she and William had returned to Biddulph for a visit and William had decided to remain, as on September 12th 1914 he enlisted at Biddulph, giving his address as 6, Newpool Terrace and his occupation as a miner for R. Heath and Son.
An article in the Staffordshire Sentinel of January 9th 1915 reports that “Mr. George Morris, formerly a local preacher of the Bradley Green Circuit, who used to work at the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Fegg Hayes, but emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada, nine years ago, has four sons who have joined the colours.”
William joined the 1/5th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment and basic training began at Butterton Hall camp near Newcastle-under-Lyme. William would have then transferred to the Luton and Bishops Stortford areas for more intensive training. His service records are available and tell us his battalion went to France on March 5th 1915 soon after his division, the 46th, had been inspected by King George V on February 19th. Orders were received to prepare for war and with kit bags bulging William and his mates would soon have their first experience of war and foreign parts.
Landing at Le Havre they first saw action in the Ypres salient where the battalion fought until October when they were ordered to fight in the Battle of Loos, a battlefield in the mining area of northern France. Their target the Hohenzollern Redoubt was to become ignominious with the army top brass. October 13th 1915 was to bring a terrible toll on the 1/5th North Staffords, now attached to 137 Brigade 46th North Midland Division. They were ordered, along with other battalions, to retake this redoubt and the fortified enemy trench systems of Big Willie and Fosse Alley.
This attack across no man’s land at once ran into terrible shell and machine gun fire resulting in the loss of eight Biddulph soldiers. The battalion as a whole suffered losses of over 200 dead and with many more wounded. Twenty five year old William Morris was sadly one of these casualties. What had been a beautiful autumn day now became a black day for Staffordshire; the villages of Brown Lees, Brindley Ford and Bradley Green were in deep mourning that October.
William was unmarried according to his enlistment form, but surviving pension records mention his widow Annie and two children, Ellis (born 1911) and Edna (born 1913) – all residing in 1919 at Guy Street, Sydney Mines. His parents, George and Hannah along with his siblings are all named on the same form and residing at Main Street, Sydney Mines.
Private William Morris is one of six local men without known graves and now remembered on the battlefield at the Loos Memorial. He is also remembered on the Brown Lees memorial board and also on all of the Biddulph memorials.
Mike Turnock and Elaine Heathcote