William Henry was born in Biddulph in 1897. He was the eldest son of Jonathan and Mary Nixon who had married on April 20th 1896 at Rushton Parish church. His mother, Mary Bailey, originated from Rushton James and his father could trace his ancestry back to 1743 - with the birth of his great, great, grand-father, William Nixon of Greenway Moor. Jonathan was the relieving officer for Biddulph Moor and was also responsible for the registration of births and deaths.
William Henry Nixon was baptised on January 9th 1898 at Christ Church, Biddulph Moor. An additional note with the entry records that he was born on August 19th 1897.
In 1901 William Henry was 3 years old. His maternal grandmother, Hannah Bailey, lived with the family. She was 71 years of age and described as a retired farmer.
By 1911 the family home was at the Troughstones and comprised of Jonathan, Mary, eldest daughter Florrie, eldest son William Henry (now aged 13), son Jonathan eleven and youngest daughter Elizabeth aged ten.
William’s mother went to the tribunal at Biddulph to appeal against her son being enlisted in the army. However her pleas were in vain. The case was recorded in the Congleton Chronicle.
William Henry went to the barracks at Newcastle-on-Tyne to join the army. Although his service records have not be found this is believed to have been in December 1916 or January 1917. Information has been gleaned from the publication “Soldiers Died”. He joined the Royal Field Artillery; his training was in the Sheffield area and Newcastle-on-Tyne. Coming from country stock William Henry would have been used to handling horses and soon learnt that an artillery man always put the needs of the horses first. Feeding, watering, grooming and bedding down morning and night - stables took priority. The 18-pounder field guns were powerful weapons and took great skill to operate. He would have had to learn the various parts, gun drill, cleaning and firing and was also taught to drive and ride a six horse team and gun limber.
By May 1917 Gunner Nixon was attached to ‘B’ Battery 51st LI Artillery Brigade as part of a replacement draft; with so many fallen in the artillery these reinforcements were ongoing. This brigade as part of the 9th Scottish Division, were now ready to embark for a channel crossing. On arrival in France the men entrained for their journey to the assembly at Arras where the new artillery men met up with the divisional troops who had served on the Western Front since 1915. William Henry had a mate from Biddulph Moor in his Battery who almost certainly joined the RFA at the same time. He was William Bailey who survived the war but was badly wounded; years later he gave his personnel recall of this story.
The new draft, after further preparation, spent a while in the quiet area of the Canal du Nord until orders were received by the division in early September to move north into the Ypres salient. Here the Third Battle of Ypres was being fought. On arrival the battery took up positions on the Frezenburg Ridge between St. Jan and Zonnebecke - this was no quiet area. After setting up they almost immediately went into action. After months of training this was the real thing and they were now to give artillery support to their attacking infantry. After this action the division was withdrawn to Cassel for a short rest.
Rest over and back into line, this time the 51st Artillery Brigade held their positions between Lekkerboterbecke and Adler Farm near Poelkapelle in the most awful conditions. The brave artillery men now made preparations for attacks on Passchendaele. The rain in the summer of 1917 was the worst for forty years making the whole battlefield a morass. The attack on Passchendaele on October 12th was to fail with heavy loses and sadly Gunner Nixon was severely wounded in both arms and legs. Just before being taken to the 18th Corps Advanced Dressing Station at Duhallow he was seen lying in a place “like Stanners (Stanways) Lane Biddulph Moor” as recalled by his pal William Bailey. According to a report of November 10th 1917 in the Biddulph Chronicle “there was very little hope from the outset”. In a letter sent to William Henry’s parents, the Chaplin wrote “The doctors did all they could for him, but held out little hope” adding “He begged for a drink of tea, but could not swallow it”. The letter then went on to say “He then sent his love to all at home, and asked that the blankets might be placed over his head so that he could sleep”.
On the evening of October 13th 1917 Gunner William Henry Nixon sadly passed away. He had only been in Flanders for six months. William now lies in the beautiful Duhallow ADS Cemetery near Ypres, the Commonwealth War Graves record: “In Memory of Gunner WILLIAM HENRY NIXON 204057, ‘B’ Bty. 51st Bde., Royal Field Artillery who died aged 20 on 13 October 1917. Son of Jonathan and Mary Nixon, of Birch Tree’s Farm, Biddulph Moor, Congleton, Cheshire. Remembered with honour DUHALLOW A.D.S. CEMETERY”.
His name is recorded on the memorial inside Christ Church Biddulph Moor and outside in the churchyard on the family memorial: “also William H. Nixon RFA their beloved son died in France Oct 13 1917 aged 20 years”.
He is also remembered on the war memorials at St. Lawrence Church and the town memorial.
Kathleen Walton & Michael Turnock.