Today marks the 97th anniversary of the end of the Somme offensive and I thought it fitting to post a story about William Harrison Liddell. In a previous article I related the story of Matt Liddell, William’s younger brother and the man behind the “Mysterious Uncle Mat“.
William was born on Dec. 12, 1893 in Belmont, a small parish just outside Durham. As a teenager he worked as a coal mine putter alongside his younger brother Matt, a pony driver. He emigrated to Canada with his family in late 1911 where he was briefly employed as a Blacksmith’s helper. On March 9, 1915 William became the first Liddell brother to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force when he joined the 42nd Battalion, The Black Watch (The Royal Highlanders of Canada).
The 42nd arrived in England in June 1915 and sailed to France on October 9th. They spent the remainder of the month just inside the Belgian border, near Armentieres, where they trained with seasoned troops of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. Much of November and December was spent assisting the Canadian Engineers in constructing and repairing trenches. These working parties were often exposed to shelling and rifle fire and it was here the Battalion received it’s first casualties. Training was provided whenever possible and William attended grenade school on Dec. 14th. Less than a week later the Battalion learned that it would become one of four battalions in the newly formed 7th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division.
The 42nd spent the first five months of 1916 rotating through front-line trenches in and around the Ypres Salient. The Battalion’s first major encounter took place on June 2nd during the Battle of Mount Sorrel. The German offensive began with a ferocious bombardment and was followed by the advance of 11 German battalions. William’s ‘A’ Company took up positions in Maple Copse where they helped the 5th CMR resist an attack from Sanctuary Wood. The German gains of June 2nd were finally reversed on June 13th but at the cost of over 8000 casualties.
The Battalion left the Salient on Aug. 21st and spent two weeks preparing for their move to the Somme. It was during this time that William was promoted to Lance-Corporal. His first stripe was followed quickly by a second when on Sept. 8th he was promoted to Corporal. Five days later the Battalion arrived on the Somme.
Corporal Liddell and the rest of the 42nd Battalion did not have to wait long to see action. On Sept. 15th the Canadian 2nd Division attacked Courcelette while the 3rd Division protected its left flank. Closest to the 2nd Division were the PPCLI but immediately next to them was William’s ‘A’ Company. It was during this attack that William suffered a serious shrapnel wound to his right ankle. Over the next 48 hours he passed through an advanced dressing station, a mobile Field Ambulance, a Casualty Clearing Station and finally to the No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Boulogne where the shrapnel was removed.
William’s ‘blighty’ ensured he was evacuated to England where he spent over six months at the New End Military Hospital in Hampstead. Despite a second operation and other treatments he was unable to walk without the aid of crutches. He spent a further two months at Hillingdon House, a Canadian Convalescent Hospital in Uxbridge, before returning to Canada aboard HS Araguaya on June 11, 1917.
On March 18, 1918 the medical board ruled that William was permanently disabled and rated the “extent of the disability in earning a livelihood…” as 50%. He was likely entitled to a small disability pension although he did eventually find work as a machinist. He married in 1922 and became a father two years later. William died in Windsor Ontario on April 18, 1955. Unfortunately I have no photo of William Harrison Liddell but perhaps someday someone may stumble upon this article and can provide one.
Categories: Researching, Soldier-related Posts, William Harrison Liddell
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