Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

William Hoatson - Private S/20757

This page is dedicated to the memory of William Hoatson who died on 28th March 1918 in France.

William Hoatson was born in 1899 in Edinburgh and he died on 28th March 1918 in France, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 19.

William Hoatson was born on 11th January 1899 at No 21 Murieston Crescent, Edinburgh. He was the only son of James Hoatson and his wife Elizabeth Belford; he had an older sister Agnes and a younger one Elizabeth. James Hoatson was a mason who had moved to Edinburgh from his native Lanarkshire. He had married Elizabeth Belford, a local girl in 1898 in Edinburgh. The 1901 census shows the young couple with their first two children, living with Elizabeth's mother Agnes Belford in the Morningside area of Edinburgh. Their third child, Elizabeth was born later that year.

James Hoatson seems to have left his family and gone to South Africa fairly soon after this. His departure must have put strain on the marriage and the family broke up. James Hoatson filed for a divorce, which was granted in 1907.

The newspaper reports suggest James Hoatson got custody of his three children, but it's not clear whether he ever actually took them. By 1911 the three Hoatson children plus another child are living with their maternal grandmother Agnes Belford in Oxfordshire. I've not been able to find Elizabeth the mother in 1911. I've also not managed to find any mention of the father James Hoatson after the divorce case in 1907. Did he return to Johannesburg? If anyone knows what happened to him, I'd love to find out.

So that's all I've been able to find out about William's early life. Not much to go on. When war broke out in 1914 he would only have been 15, so presumably unable to enlist. It seems likely therefore that he joined in 1917. By then conscription had been introduced and William would have been 18. Unfortunately his service records don't seem to have survived (Most of the British Army World War One Service Records were destroyed when the War Office was bombed in London in 1940), so we may never be sure when he joined the army. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he was a Private in D Company of the 6th Battalion of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), his service number was S/20757 and that he was commemorated at Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery in France. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here

You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it. His card suggests that initially he joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers before being transferred to the Royal Highlanders.

NameCorpsRankRegtl No.
HoustonK.O.S.B.Pte29451
WilliamR. Highrs S/20757
Medal.RollPageRemarks
VICTORYG/102 B13912 
BRITISHdittoditto 
STAR   
    
Theatre of War first served in  
Date of entry therein  

As is so often the case with these medal cards, not all of the information has been filled in, but it does indicate that he would have been entitled to two medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame.

In the absence of any service records for William, I've looked at the War Diaries for the 6th Battalion of the Black Watch. War Diaries were kept as a daily record of operations, intelligence reports and anything else that was going on for a given battalion. I've transcribed the relevant war diary for the days leading up to William's death below, to give a feel for what he must have been doing in his final days. The diary starts with relatively peaceful entries about drills and laying cables, before the bombardment of 21st March began.

6th Battalion The Black Watch

WAR DIARY

FOR

March - 1918

WAR DIARY
or
INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and Information
Trenches6/3/18 

Very quiet: Working parties supplied in conjunction with organisation of sector: General Trench Maintenance. Active patrolling.

"7/3/18 

Bttn relieved by 7th GORDON HGRS; marched to billets and huts at BEUGNY.

BEUGNY8/3/18 Cleaning up. Kit inspections.
"9/3/18 Baths and clean clothing obtained. Working parties for burying cable.
BEUGNY10/3/18 Coy and platoon drill; Specialist training.
Working parties for burying cable.
"11/3/18 Coy and platoon drill. Specialist training.
Working parties for burying cable. Also large working party burying 60lb bombs in "no man's land" for the destruction of enemy tanks. Lecture by B.O.C Division.
"12/3/18 Training of Coys and platoons
Preparation for proceedure to the line. Expected enemy attack. Bttn "stood to" ready to move at 5am.
Trenches13/3/18 Relieved 7th Black Watch in the Left Bttn front of the Left Bde Sector.
"14/3/18 Enemy very quiet. General trench maintenance. Wiring. Our artillery active.
Mining platoon engaged on dugout at New Bttn H.Q. Active patrolling.
"15/3/18 "
"16/3/18 Artillery (ours) very active.
Active patrolling. General trench maintenance. Wiring and mining continued.
Trenches17/3/18 Our artillery very active. Active patrolling. Wiring platoon and mining platoon continuing work. General trench maintenance etc.
"18/3/18 "
"19/3/18 7th Black Watch relieved 7th Gordon Hgrs on Right Bttn front of Left Bde sector
"20/3/18 Enemy very quiet. Our artillery very active.
"21/3/18 At 5 A.M. on 21st March 1918 the Battalion helbr> Front Line: "C" Coy B Coy
Support Line: "C" Coy B Coy
Reserve Line in ROOK AVENUE & RAVEN TRENCH "C" Coy "A" Coy Wiring Platoon Sappers ?
Intermediate Line ?BHQ "A" Coy less 1 Platoons
Gun Pits in Valley - 1 Platoon of "A" Coy
BEAUMETZ-MORCHIES LINE "D" Coy
Precisely at 5AM our artillery opened heavy fire and almost immediately the enemy put down an intense barrage on Intermediate Line. The morning was dull and a thick ground haze with the smoke and dust from bombardment made visibility very bad and the Support Line could not be seen.
Gas was mixed with H E?
For nearly an hour, communication was maintained forward but then the BHQ were cutt off both to the front and rear, and attempts to repair wires and establish visual all failed.
The last report from Support Line was that gas shelling was in progres. Nothing was known of what was happening in Front Line and so far no enemy had been seen.
About 10am the bombardment lifted? to behind the Intermediate Line and when smoke and mist cleared, enemy were seen moving about our Support Line, crossing towards Intermediate Line and pushing up valley on left.
Enemy snipers worked cut our wire, but were silenced by Lewis Gun fire. Enemy was reported concentrating on Valley/Dead Ground below Posts 27 & 28 Intermediate Line.
7th Black Watch on our right reported enemy as having broken into Post 26 and held by Post 27.
From direction of PRONVILLE enemy had been persistently dribbling up valley on LEFT and soon appeared on opposite ridge and working across to cut our rear.
Our Post on left of BHQ reported enemy pushing up trench and I then threw back a defensive flank with centre on junction of LAGNICOURT Rd and STRAND, ordered all posts to hold and went to confer with CO 7th Black Watch.
Both flanks of Brigade were now in danger and enemy were pushing up STRAND in strength, and without a withdrawal envelopment was certain.
We decided to withdraw to BEAUMETZ-MORCHIES LINE and fell back covered by two half platoons of A Coy. Cross MG fire from LOUVERVAL WOOD and opposite side of valley on left caused casualties and an enemy aeroplane shot down a number of our men. Enemy followed slowly from rear, but tried to outflank our retiral.
Enemy advance was checked by BEAUMETZ-MORCHIES LINE and the afternoon was comparatively quiet.
"D" Coy received ordered to reinforce Post 29 and advanced from BEAUMETZ-MORCHIES LINE but were unable to proceed beyond the Gun Pits 150+ in front of that line owing to the enemy MG fire there they remained for 24 hours breaking up constant attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
The night was misty and quiet.

It wasn't mentioned in the diary for the 6th Battalion, but the War Diary for the 7th Battalion Black Watch describes a small party of the enemy getting into the gun pits about 4pm on the 21st and taking some prisoners of the 6th Black Watch. It seems likely that William Hoatson was one of these prisoners. So William was caught up in one of the bloodiest periods of World War 1 - the German Spring Offensive. The 21st of March 1918 was the second worst day for British Casualties in WW1 and it seems that was the day that William got shot. The International Committee for the Red Cross website holds records for Prisoners of War. This is William's record:

The POW record explains that he was shot in the abdomen on 21st March 1918 and died in the field hospital at Abancourt on 28th March. In all the confusion of the offensive in March, it clearly took a while to work out who was missing or killed. The first newspaper report I can find of William being missing was this one from 14th May. The following images all created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

.

His mother must have been informed around this time that he was missing too. It must have then had an agonising wait for her, hoping he was still alive. His death doesn't seem to have been confirmed until December 1918.

Given the confusion over his death, I think his mother may still have been hoping it was not true. She posted this plea for information in the local paper just a few days later.

Over twenty years after his death, his family had not forgotten him as can be seen by this In Memoriam notice placed in an Edinburgh newspaper by his sister Agnes.

William is buried at the Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery in France. His POW card says that he was initially buried at Abancourt, so his body must have been moved at the end of the war. He is also commemorated back home on the Gorgie War Memorial. If anyone can let me have photos of either memorial to add here, I would love to hear from them.

The final piece of documentation I could find for William Hoatson was his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. It lists the amount of money in his account at the time of his death and the amount, including the War Gratuity, that was eventually paid to his next of kin - in this case to his mother Elizabeth. For William the total amount came to just 8 10s 0d - not much to show for the ultimate sacrifice.

So that's all I've managed to find about the life of William Hoatson. If anyone can add to it, I would love to hear from them. What I would most like to find is a photograph of William - if anyone has one, please feel free to E-mail me.

In researching William's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:

The official Government source of genealogical data for Scotland:

The British Newspaper Archive holds digitised images of newspapers from all over Britain. New pages are added weekly and it can be a great way of adding to your research:


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

Nicky Rowberry 2018

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry