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William Arthur Witherington (1880-1917)

Spennymoor clerk promoted to sergeant in Canadian Army awarded DCM and killed in action

William was the younger of two sons of ironmonger William Beaty Witherington from Bowness and his Sunderland born wife, Sarah Jane Rea. Born in Spennymoor on New Year’s Day 1880, (not 1883 as he claimed on his enlistment papers) by the time of the 1891 census, the family were living in Elswick, Newcastle with his grandmother and ten years later had moved to Gateshead.

In April 1903 William and a friend sailed to Canada from Glasgow on board the SS Pomeranian, making for Winnipeg, Manitoba and life as farmers. He returned to England twice to visit his parents. The first time, in 1905, he was listed as a farmer on the ship’s manifest. On his second visit, in 1910, his occupation had changed to clerk. William was also a member, at this time, of the 105th Saskatoon Fusiliers with whom he was mobilised on 12 August 1914. He formally enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) at the camp at Valcartier, Quebec on 24 September when, having given his father in Whitley Bay as his next of kin, he became Private 22101 posted to the 11th Battalion.

Just five days later, the battalion boarded the SS Royal Edward in Quebec and made for Avonmouth, Bristol and a posting to Sling Plantation on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. January 1915 saw the 11th Battalion absorbed into the newly formed Canadian Training Depot at Tidworth Barracks. On 26 April 1915 William was posted to the 1st Battalion and he proceeded to France where he was transferred to the 7th Battalion at Breilen.

Absent from evening roll call at Givenchy on 1 June 1915, William was given 2 days’ punishment and forfeited one day’s pay. Just two weeks later in billets at Oblinghem, he was awarded 28 days punishment for while on active service being “1 Drunk; 2 Disorderly in public; 3 Overstaying night pass”, a sentence that was later remitted. Mid July saw William wounded in the left hip whilst on a working party neat the Messines Road. After treatment and a stay at a rest camp, he rejoined his unit a month later and was awarded 21 days punishment the same day for being found drunk in an out of bounds area.

On his return after some pre-Christmas 1915 leave, Private 22101 found himself attached to the Canadian Composite Company and assigned to the Railway Construction Corps at Wippenhoek, Belgium where he remained until mid April. Returning to the 7th Battalion Private Witherington was promoted to lance corporal in October 1916, corporal in February 1917 and sergeant on 22 April 1917.

15 August 1917 saw the battalion fighting at Hill 70 near Lens and Sergeant 22101 was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his actions on this date. The citation reads: “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in command of his platoon, leading them to their objective and connecting up with the troops on his flank. Later he was wounded.” Initially reported as wounded, this was later changed to killed in action. Although there are reports that his remains were recovered and buried, there is no known grave and he is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. The award of a DCM to Sergeant William Witherington was announced on 19 November 1917.

Civil Parish: Low Spennymoor

Birth date: 01-Jan-1880

Death date: 07-Sep-1917

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Spennymoor (1880 birthplace)
185 Beaconsfield Street, Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland (1891 census)
5 Hardwick Terrace, Gateshead (1901 census)

Religion: Church of England

Employment: Engineers clerk (1901 census)
Farmer (1905 shipping manifest)
Clerk (1914 enlistment papers)

Family: Parents: William Beaty Witherington, Sarah Jane Witherington nee Rea
Siblings: Richard Witherington

Military service:

105th Saskatoon Fusiliers (pre-war militia)
11th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force
7th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force

Medal(s): Distinguished Conduct Medal
1914-15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal

Memorial(s): Vimy Memorial to the Missing, France

Gender: Male

Contributed by Jean Longstaff, Durham | Jim Busby, Canada

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