4408 CPL. W. G. BIRD. R.F.A.
William George Bird was born in the final quarter of 1899 in Bourn, Cambridgeshire. His father was Alfred Augustus Bird (b. 1846 in Stoke Ferry, Norfolk). Augustus Bird had an interesting life: he was born and grew up in Norfolk and in the 1870s he joined the army and served with the Coldstream Guards. In 1880, he married Hannah Smith (1850-1885) in Knowsley and they had a son Fred (b.1882). Hannah died in 1895 and Augustus married again the following year; his second wife was Sarah Thompson (b. 1863 in Knowsley). They married in 1886 and immediately moved to Bourn in Cambridgeshire where Augustus took up a post, first as kennel man then as gamekeeper, at Bourn Hall, a country house near Cambridge. He and Sarah had six children: Mary Ellen (b. 1887), Ethel Maud (b. 1888), then William George, Alfred Augustus (b. 1891), Albert James (1892-1907), and finally Harold Rishton (b. 1895). Augustus died of a heart attack whilst chasing some boys off the estate in 1894. It seems Sarah was evicted from the estate although she had a young family and (although she probably didn’t know it at the time) she was pregnant with Harold. Sarah went initially to live with her sister, Cecilia, in Rawtenstall. Cecilia was married to John Rishton and when Harold was born nine months later he was given Rishton as his middle name in recognition of their hospitality. By 1901, Sarah had moved to Little Hoole where she worked as a winder in a cotton mill and by 1911 she and her family had settled in Lostock Hall. They were living at 56 Ward Street. Sarah was no longer working but her adult children were all weavers in the cotton mill. As well as her 5 surviving children (Albert James had died in 1907), they shared the house with Maud’s husband, John Ball, and their newborn son Harold.
The picture (probably taken in early 1915) shows Sarah Bird, seated right. Her three sons William George, Alfred Augustus and Henry Rishton are standing. Her daughters Mary Ellen and Ethel Maud are seated either side of John Ball, Maud’s husband.
William enlisted in the Territorial Force on 29 March 1910. He signed up for four years with the 2nd West Lancashire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He was assigned service number 779. He was 5’ 10” tall and ‘well made’ according to the medical inspector – tall and well built for the times (as we can see from the photo). He trained as a gunner and went on annual training trips each summer for the next four years and completed his four years’ service on 28 March 1914. He re-enlisted at the outbreak of War and was given a new service number – 4408. He was posted to “D” Bty, 75th Brigade as Bombardier and was later designated Corporal (the ranks are equivalent). He landed in France on 22 August 1915.
75th Brigade RFA originally formed part of 16th (Irish) Division but when they landed in France on 3 September 1915 they were immediately placed under orders of the Guards Division and they remained in that Division for the rest of the War. Originally, the Brigade operated four four-gun batteries but in November 1916 the batteries were reorganised to become six-gun units. “D” battery was a howitzer battery. From September 1915, the Guards Division took part in the following operations:
The Battle of Loos (from 26 September)
The Battles of the Somme 1916
– The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
– The Battle of Morval
German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14 Mar – 5 Apr)
The Third Battles of Ypres
– Battle of Pilkem (31 Jul – 2 Aug)
– The Battle of the Menin Road (20 – 25 Sep)
– The Battle of Poelcapelle (9 Oct)
– The First Battle of Passchendaele (12 Oct)
The Battle of Cambrai (20 Nov – 3 Dec)
The division was forced to restructure in February 1918 (in which the infantry brigades were reduced from four battalions down to three).
The First Battles of the Somme, 1918
– The Battle of St Quentin (21 – 23 Mar)
– The Battle of Bapaume (24 – 25 Mar)
– The First Battle of Arras 1918 (28 Mar)
The Second Battles of the Somme 1918
– The Battle of Albert (21-23 Aug)
– The Second Battle of Bapaume (31 Aug – 3 Sept)
The Battles of the Hindenburg Line
– The Battle of Havrincourt (12 Sep)
– The Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 Sep – 1 Oct)
– The Battle of Cambrai 1918 (8 – 9 Oct)
The pursuit to the Selle (9 – 12 Oct)
The Battle of the Selle (17 – 25 Oct)
The Battle of the Sambre (4 Nov)
So William fought with the Guards Division throughout the War and participated in all the major battles of the Western Front – Loos, the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai, the German Spring Offensive and the 100 Days – only to be wounded in the very last operation on the Sambre and to die of his wounds at 45th Casualty Clearing Station on 5 November 1918. He was 29 years old.
Awoingt British Cemetery was begun in the latter half of October 1918 and used until the middle of December; the village had been captured on 9/10 October. By 28 October, the 38th, 45th and 59th Casualty Clearing Stations were posted in the neighbourhood and the great majority of the burials were made from those hospitals.
Service No: 4408
Date of Death: 05/11/1918
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, "D" Bty. 75th Bde.
Grave Reference: III. E. 5.
Cemetery: AWOINGT BRITISH CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of Mrs. S. Bird, of 10 Princess Street, Lostock Hall, Preston.
We can see from the photo that William’s brothers had also signed up. On the right is Harold Rishton Bird. He served with the British Red Cross and St. John of Jerusalem. The Red Cross worked both at home and abroad during the War. It is not known where Harold served.
Alfred Augustus, in the middle, is wearing the same uniform as William, with the distinctive 5-pocket bandolier of the Artillery. According to the Medal Index Cards, there were four Alfred Bird’s who served in the Royal Artillery, one of whom also appears in the Silver Badge lists: 1021 (later 785169) Gunner Alfred Bird. This Alfred Bird enlisted on 11 February 1913, was posted to France on 16 April 1915 and was discharged due to sickness on 2 February 1917. We know that ‘our’ Alfred was in uniform in England in early 1915 and that he survived the War so all the dates fit. This Alfred’s service number fits in the range associated with the West Riding Brigade:
785001-790000 247 BDE, RFA TF/ 1/3 W RIDING BDE
785001-790000 312 BDE, RFA TF/ 2/3 W RIDING
If it’s the right man, he would more likely have been in 247 Brigade as they were recruited earlier.
Sarah Bird moved to Much Hoole after her husband died in 1894. About the same time, her sister Mary Ann also moved to the same area. She was married to Alexander Barnish. The Barnishes moved to Lostock Hall about the same time as the Birds, the two families were obviously very close. Mary Ann and Alexander had a son, John Edward Barnish (so William Bird’s cousin), who served with 7th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (Preston Pals) and died of wounds on 5 December 1915.
Probably more by accident than design, it nevertheless seems fitting that William Bird ended up in the Guards Division, given that his father had previously served in the Coldstream Guards. It’s also the case that many men from Lostock Hall enlisted with the Scots Guards and again would have fought together in the same Guards Division.
I am grateful to Dave Moseley, great nephew of William George Bird and John Edward Barnish, for the family portrait and fascinating family information.