Remembering Private Herbert Williamson

On Sunday 16th December 2018 we rang the bells in memory of a bell ringer from Norbury who passed away weeks after the Armistice, on 15th December 1918.

The story of Herbert Williamson is very tragic and gives a glimpse into the horrors that he, and others must have faced during the Great War. The following information has been taken from the Stockport 1914-1918 project with additional information from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.

Private Herbert Williamson, Norbury, Chester Diocesan. Died 15/12/1918 age 38. Depot Unit, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Service No.42024. Commemorated at Norbury (St Thomas) Churchyard, England, Grave New 189.

Born 1880. Son of Samuel Williamson and Clara Williamson of Hazel Grove. Husband of Lydia Williamson (née Willets) of Hazel Street, Hazel Grove. He worked as a house painter before enlistment.

He rang his first peal, ringing the treble to a peal of 4 Minor methods, at Norbury on 30/11/1907, conducted by Rev. A. T. Beeson. He rang several others peals at Norbury, ringing a number of different minor methods, including peals of 14 minor methods on 27/04/1911, conducted by James Fernley, and  19 minor methods on 12/07/1913, conducted by Rev. A. T. Beeson.

During his military service, he was transferred to the Manchester Regiment during 1917, and later to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Whilst with the Loyal North Lancashire’s, he was severely wounded and had to have a leg amputated whilst in a military hospital in France. Returning to “Blighty”, he spent time in Stepping Hill Hospital, Hazel Grove, and was later transferred to the Victoria Hospital, Sheffield.

In the normal course of events, Herbert would be discharged from the army once he had recovered physically, but, in the meantime, he had been removed from the fighting strength of his Battalion and transferred to the Regimental Depot unit.

Not surprisingly, Herbert was depressed about his condition and, no doubt, his prospects for the future. To try and help his recovery, he was given a day’s leave from hospital and he returned home on Sunday 15 December. In the late afternoon, the family was having tea. Herbert seemed to be restless and eventually got up from the table and went out to the back yard. A little later, they heard a noise and, thinking he might be ill, his brother-in-law, David Brunt, went to see if he was alright. Mr Brunt found Herbert lying with his throat cut and a razor by his side. He was dead.

An inquest on Tuesday the 17th recorded a verdict of “suicide whilst of unsound mind”.

Herbert’s grave is maintained by the War Graves Commission and his name is, rightly, included in its Debt of Honour register. Lydia died in 1958 and is buried with him.

Born: Hazel Grove. Enlisted: Early after the outbreak of war, initially in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, Service No.7516. Resided: Hazel Street, Hazel Grove.

Whilst following up on the research, I realised that Herbert Williamson’s last peal on the bells at Norbury has been recorded on one of peal boards displayed in the ringing chamber:

Herbert Williamson's final peal at Norbury
Herbert Williamson’s final peal at Norbury