William Manning was born on 13th January 1896, one of seventeen children to Michael and Annie, both of whom had settled in the town from Ireland some twenty years earlier. They, like many from Ireland in the post-famine years, came and found work in what were busy, labour intensive, local industries.
At the time of William’s birth the family lived in South Street and over a twenty year period or so, lived in at least 3 different houses in that street. They attended St James the Less church, where William, on 24th January was baptised and, like all of the children, later went to the church school. One can only wonder at the number of pews they would occupy when they all attended mass together.
This was a working family as well and, it would seem from that once the children made 12 to 14 years, they were at work in the cotton mills. William was no exception and in census of 1911, at which time they were living at 31, Alexandria Street, just across Burnley Road from the church and school, was shown as being employed ‘cotton spinning’. He later worked at Holme Bleach Works, long since demolished next to St James the Less church.
In January 1915, William enlisted with the East Lancashire Regiment and after training, embarked for France, never to return home. His military record shows him entering the France and Flanders Theatre of War, on 9th May 1915 as a ‘Lewis Gunner’ in his battalion.
William fought and survived – despite being wounded twice – until July 1917 when his battalion was deployed to what was to be the Third Battle of Ypres. In the very early hours of 31st July, the 2nd battalion was part of then first attack at Pilckem Ridge. William was killed on that first day of a battle which resulted in the immense loss of over 200,000 men. Bombardments were so heavy and conditions so bad that both men and horses literally disappeared in swamp-like fields and William’s body, like so many, was never recovered.
The Rossendale Free Press of 8th September 1917 carried a report on William’s death and the part publication of a letter sent to Mrs Manning from William’s company Sergeant Major. What seems apparent from the article is that William’s mother had written to him, believing him to be alive, only to be told a mistake had been made. It can also be seen that the family were then living at no 13 Alexandria Street and that a service in his memory was held at the church on Sunday 9th September.
On 1st December 1917 William’s only remaining effects – cash totalling £5.0s.1d – was handed to his mother Annie, at Preston Barracks and on 8th December 1919, a war gratuity in the sum of £11.10s.0d was paid and received by his sister Maria.
Along with more than 54,000 other soldiers, whose bodies were never recovered from Flanders Fields, William’s name is now commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres.