Private Willie Giggal, 99059, Durham Light Infantry, 15th Battalion
Willie Giggal was born in Ossett on the 16th September 1899, the son of coal miner Luther Giggal and Elizabeth Ann (nee Smith) who married in 1897 in the Dewsbury registration district. Willie was baptised at Ossett Holy Trinity Church on the 5th February 1902. In 1901, the Giggal family are living on Intake Lane in Ossett and Willie had a sister Irene (3). By 1911, the family have moved to 2, Gunson's Row, Ossett and Willie has another sister, Doris (born 1902). The house has only 2 rooms.
Willie Giggal was keen to fight for his country and as an 18 year-old hurrier, working at Hartley Bank Colliery, Horbury, living at Nettleton Buildings, Intake Lane, Ossett, he he attested on the 26th February 1918. His record reveals that Willie was 5ft 1¾ inches tall, had light brown hair, blue eyes, defective teeth, but it was decided that generally his physical development was good enough, so he was passed fit for service. Consequently, Willie Giggal was appointed to the 4th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.
Luther Giggal would not give his consent for his only son, then aged 18 years, to join the British Army and as a consequence, Willie's Service Record includes the following statement "I Willie Giggal of Nettleton Bdgs, Intake Lane, Ossett am anxious to join the Army forthwith and herewith surrender my CRC Exemption 9/11354." The form is signed by Willie Giggal and witnessed by Percy Holdsworth (Pte). The form is undated.
A further note indicates: "This is to certify that I, Wm Giggal voluntarily offer myself to join the Colours this day and am posted accordingly at my own request to the 4th West Yorks Regt. Dated 27/2/1918."
Because of his occupation as a miner Willie had not been called up and consequently he volunteered to serve his country. A letter dated the 8th March 1918 from his employers at Hartley Bank Colliery to his Commanding Officer, West Yorkshire Regiment, make clear that they are unhappy with Willie’s decision to volunteer. The letter cites the fact that Willie has enlisted voluntarily, but without his father’s consent, which was required "as he is only 18 years and one month old, this was necessary as he was in a trade." Adding that "we would be pleased if you will release him until he is called up under the new scheme." The letter continues "under this scheme, we shall be compelled to find a certain number of men and as those who enlist before will not count towards our quota, it will put us to a disadvantage as regards other collieries, especially as we have a number of lads who have recently enlisted.”
In April 1918 the Army’s Director of Mobilization, War Office, St James’s Park, London declined the colliery manager's request. For a short while Willie was appointed to the 7th Reserve Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and by the 1st of May 1918 he was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry. He proceeded to join the BEF at Colchester on the 10th of August 1918 and embarked from Folkestone to Boulogne, France on the 11th of August 1918. Private Willie Giggal was killed in action less than six weeks later.
The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this report about Willie Giggal's death:
"News of a sad nature has been received respecting Pte. Willie Giggal (19), Durham Light Infantry, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Luther Giggal reside in Intake-lane, Ossett. The young soldier went out to France in August and after he had served on the front for about a month, a letter was received from a comrade, stating that Private Giggal had been killed by a sniper, and that it had fallen to the writer's lot to assist at the funeral. Accompanying the letter were several of Private Giggal's belongings, including his pocket wallet, containing photographs of relatives and friends. Before joining the army, Private Giggal worked at Hartley Bank Colliery."
Willie Giggal was killed by a sniper on the 18th of September 1918 at the age of 19 years. This was most likely during the Battle of Épehy,2 which involved the 64th Brigade of the 21st Division, which the 15th Durham Light Infantry were attached. The British-led assault went ahead on the morning of September 18th, 1918, with a creeping artillery barrage from approximately 1,500 guns, as well as 300 machine guns. Although the Germans held steady on both flanks, they were soundly defeated in the center by the Allied advance, led by two Australian divisions under General John Monash. By the end of the day, the Allies had advanced some three miles, a modest result that nonetheless encouraged Haig and his fellow commanders to proceed with further attacks to capitalize on the emerging German weaknesses. By the end of the month, pressing their advantage and pushing ahead with their so-called "Hundred Days Offensive," the Allies had done the seemingly impossible: broken the formidable Hindenburg Line.
Above: British and German wounded at an advanced dressing station near Épehy share a cigarette, 18th September 1918.
In all cases, where a serving soldier was killed in action, the War Office seek information regarding his closest relatives. Willie was unmarried so his next-of-kin were his parents, Luther and Elizabeth Ann Giggal of Intake Lane, Ossett and his two sisters: Irene (22) of Market Place, Ossett and Doris (17) of Intake Lane, Ossett. On the 9th of January 1922, Luther Giggal signed for the receipt of his son Willie’s British and Victory Medals. The Giggal family were then living at 3, Smith's Yard, Dale St., Ossett, Yorks.
Private Willie Giggal is remembered at the Vis-En-Artous Memorial 3, Pas de Calais, France at Panel 9. Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages on the straight main road from Arras to Cambrai about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Memorial is the back drop to the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, which is west of Haucourt on the north side of the main road.
This Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. They belonged to the forces of Great Britain and Ireland and South Africa; the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces being commemorated on other memorials to the missing.
1. "Ossett Observer", 5th October 1918