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Lawrence Williamson

Lawrence WilliamsonPrivate Lawrence Williamson, 51330, East Yorkshire Regiment, 10th Battalion

Lawrence Williamson was born in 1899, in the Wakefield Registration District, the fifth child and the fourth son of coal hewer, Wallace Aitken Williamson and his wife Annie (nee Fell), who married in Horbury in February 1888. Lawrence was baptised at Alverthorpe St Paul’s Church on the 3rd September 1899.

In 1901, the family were living on Flanshaw Lane, Alverthorpe, the parish of their birth. By 1911, the Williamson family remain living in Alverthorpe, where Wallace and Annie are bringing up ten children aged between one and 22 years. In their 23 years of marriage, the couple had 15 children, but five had died before April 1911.

On a break from the Western Front, on the 20th May 1918, at St. Mark’s Church, Dewsbury, 19 year old soldier Lawrence Williamson married Dewsbury born, 20 year-old spinster, Margaret Vickers, the daughter of miner, John William Allott, who was possibly her stepfather.

Lawrence’s army record has not survived and his medal card records that he was awarded the British and Victory medals indicating that he did not not serve overseas before the 31st December 1915.

The 10th (Service) Battalion (1st Hull) of the East Yorkshire Regiment was formed in Hull on the 29th August 1914 by Lord Nunburnholme and the East Riding TF Association. The battalion was commonly known as the Hull Commercials Battalion. In June 1915, they came under orders of 92nd Brigade, 31st Division. On the 15th December 1915 the battalion moved to Egypt and then went on to France in March 1916.

The 10th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment attacked Ploegsteert Wood in a series of actions between September 28th - October 2nd 1918. The village of Ploegsteert – 'Plugstreet' to the British troops during the Great War was at the southern end of the Ypres battlefields and was dominated by a huge expanse of woodland: Plugstreet Wood. The area saw fighting in the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914, but then settled down to static trench warfare and rapidly became known as a 'nursery sector' where units fresh from England could acclimatise to the conditions of trench warfare. Many famous people served here in WW1: author Henry Williamson in 1914, war poet Roland Leighton in 1915, plus Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden in 1916.

On the right of the main offensive at Ypres, the 11th East Lancashire Regiment (Accrington Pals) and the 10th East Yorkshire Regiment (Hull Commercials) were deployed for attack on Hill 63, north-west of Ploegsteert Wood. The wood was overrun by the Germans in the Battle of the Lys in April 1918 and finally taken by the Hull Pals in September 1918.

On the East Lancashires' right, the East Yorkshires were attempting to work along the north-east edge of Ploegsteert Wood prior to pushing through the wood from north to south. In the event, all three company commanders became casualties in the first few minutes of the attack and, in the face of heavy machine-gun fire from the wood, the battalions made little headway. It was during this fighting that Private Lawrence Williamson was killed.

The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this short obituary for Private Lawrence Williamson:

"Yesterday (Friday) morning, an official notice was received that Private Lawrence Williamson (19), East Yorkshire Regiment, whose wife and child reside at 13, Teall-street, Ossett Common, was killed in action on the western front on September 29th. The deceased hailed from Flanshaw, his father being Mr. Wallace Williamson, formerly of Horbury, and he worked at the Old Roundwood Colliery."

Ploegsteert September 1918

Above: Map of showing the position of the 10th East Yorkshire Regiment (10EY) in the fighting at Ploegsteert Wood in late September 1918.

Private Lawrence Williamson died on the 29th September 1918, aged 19 years. His body was never found and he is remembered on he is remembered on Panel 47 to 48 and 163A of the Tyne Cot Memorial, 2 Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is located 9 kilometres north east of Ieper town centre, on the Tynecotstraat, a road leading from the Zonnebeekseweg (N332).

The names of those from United Kingdom units are inscribed on Panels arranged by Regiment under their respective Ranks. The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September. The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations, except New Zealand, who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Tyne Cot Memorial now bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and F.V. Blundstone, was unveiled by Sir Gilbert Dyett on 20 June 1927. The memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which was established around a captured German blockhouse or pill-box used as an advanced dressing station. The original battlefield cemetery of 343 graves was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds.

It is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. At the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922, the Cross of Sacrifice was placed on the original large pill-box. There are three other pill-boxes in the cemetery.

There are now 11,956 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery, 8,369 of these are unidentified.

References:

1. "Ossett Observer", October 19th 1918

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site