Private 27685 William Birch

Birch William 96 413x600
Note: The incorrect spelling of Birch (as Pirch) has been reported to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and that fine organistion has agreed to correct it.

Killed in Action on Tuesday, 9th October 1917, age 21.
Buried in Grave VII. C. 16. at Cement House Cemetery, Langemark-Poelkapelle, West-V., Belgium.

9th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own). 32nd Brigade of 11th Division.
Formerly 31740 King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Born: Toll End, Enlisted: Walsall, Resident: Unknown.

First landed France & Flanders, post 31st December 1915.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/97382/

Genealogical Data

Birth of William Birch registered September quarter 1896 in Dudley.

1901 Census
14 Wesley Place, Toll End, Tipton, Staffs.
Harry Birch (33, General Labourer, born Tipton), his wife Elizabeth (29, born Hartlepool), and their 2 children: Alice (10, born Tipton), and William (4, born Tipton).

1911 Census
14 Wesley Place, Toll End, Tipton, Staffs.
Harry Birch (43, Bolier Stoker, born Tipton), his wife Elizabeth (39, born Hartlepool), and their 3 surviving children of 4: Alice (20, Sausage Filler, born Tipton), William (14, Apprentice Boot Maker, born Tipton), and Laura (2, born Tipton).

Personal Data

After William's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £3/9/3d (3 pound, 9 shillings and 3 pence); this was paid to his father, Harry, in February 1918. His War Gratuity was £5/10/0d (5 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his father in November 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that WIlliam had enlisted in July 1916.

Action resulting in his death

After the successes in September and October 1917 at the Battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, and Broodseinde, a breakthrough was thought possible. However, after Broodseinde on 4th October, the weather changed and heavy rain made the ground conditions appalling, to the advantage of the defenders.

On the 9th October, the Battle of Poelcapelle fared badly, due to the atrocious ground conditions and supply issues.

The 9th West Yorkshires were in action to the south east of the village of Poelcapelle. The general tone of the day can be seen from the 1969 writings of 2nd Lieut. Harry Oldham who was badly wounded on that day serving with the 9th battalion.

Harry describes a dawn attack prompted by a break in the weather:
'All was mud and desolation, and there the depths of human misery, suicidal futility, and despair were surely plumbed. The casualties were frightful; indeed the dead seemed better off than the living. Oh what a lovely war.'
Ordered to attack in 'vile and impossible conditions... up to our knees and backsides in mud,' he describes the assault as a ghastly failure.

Of the 13 officers who went over the top, nine were killed in that attack and four were badly injured – including Oldham, who received serious wounds to the abdomen. He spent a day-and-a-half lying in a mud-filled shell hole with five of his men, all of whom died.

At one point, a group of German soldiers stumbled across the British officer. One was about to bayonet Oldham when he was stopped by a superior, ’probably thinking it was unnecessary, as I imagine I wasn’t looking all that good.'

Stretcher bearers with white flags eventually brought him in with other survivors of the battle.

Over 80 Other Ranks of the 9th West Yorkshires were killed on that day, amongst them William Birch. Most of the men have no known grave but William is buried in Cement House Cemetery. However, his burial was not until 6th September 1919 after his body had been recovered from its initial burial place 500 yards south-east of Poelcapelle.

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