William Duckworth was born on 8 November 1891 in Accrington, Lancashire, the eldest child of John Thomas Duckworth, a butcher, and his wife Margaret Isabella Duckworth, of 1 Russia Street in Accrington. By 1911 the family had moved to Haslingden, Lancashire, John Duckworth having changed his occupation to that of a farmer. The family had grown in size, with six younger children and William’s maternal grandmother, Isabella Clegg, living at home.
William attended Bede College 1910-1912, completing his training in July 1912, when he passed the Certificate Examination (Class III). He joined 16th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers early in the war, was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and entered France with his battalion on 2 December 1915. With this unit he was engaged in various actions on the Western Front, including the Battle of Albert in 1916 where the Division suffered severe casualties and took the rest of the year to rebuild. Duckworth was subsequently gazetted to 20th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. This was also known as the 4th Salford ‘Pals’, raised in Salford on 23 March 1915 as a ‘Bantam’ battalion (i.e. troops who were under the normal regulation minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches). They entered France on 30 January 1916, and fought during the Battles of the Somme at Bazentin Ridge, Arrow Head Copse, Maltz Horn Farm and Falfemont Farm. On 6 July 1916, when deployed between Fricourt and Mametz, William was wounded by flying shrapnel, and wrote a personal account of the circumstances for Bede Magazine.
"To and from the Big Push
… All the time the guns kept thundering, and it was only with difficulty that one could make oneself heard at a distance of ten yards. There were some fine German dug-outs in the communication trench where we were stationed. Consequently, we dug holes in the side of the trench, in which we could sit, and feel a certain sense of safety from the German bombardment. They were shelling us pretty heavily with black shrapnel, high explosives, and lyddite shells. We stuck in that position until mid-night, when an order came down to me to get a party together to go out for rations and water. As the trench we were in was in places knee-deep in thin mud we had been walking along it by getting on the top after dark, for we could then get about much more quickly. I had just got that party together in one end of the trench, and from the top of the trench was showing a corporal the best way to go back to headquarters, when a high explosive shell burst about fifteen yards from us. There was an officer present at the time and the three of us got hit; the poor corporal had his leg blown off at the knee and died later. I got a small piece of shrapnel in the back of my thigh, and the officer got another small piece in his leg. Luckily, there were stretcher-bearers on the spot, and we soon had the corporal bandaged up, but as it proved later it was in vain, the shock had been too great for him. I came out at dawn with the aid of a R.A.M.C. man to one of those German dug-outs, and got properly dressed and despatched by motor ambulance to a clearing station. Eventually, I got to Boulogne and Manchester, and a month after being hit I was at home on sick furlough, almost sound again. My wound never was serious; in fact in ordinary quiet times before the offensive I should not have been sent to England, so I must consider myself as one of the fortunate ones.
W. Duckworth (’12-’14) [recte: 1910-1912]"
The Bede magazine, v. 13, no. 1, December 1916, p.21-22.
In 1917 20th battalion was in action during the pursuit to the Hindenburg Line, at Houthulst Forest and during the Second Battle of Passchendaele. In early 1918, as part of a larger reorganisation of the army, the 4th Salford ‘Pals’ was disbanded in Belgium with the troops transferring to other units. William went to 18th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. During 1918 the battalion saw action in the First Battle of Bapaume, and would go on to fight in the battles of Ypres, Courtrai and at Tieghem.
William, however, was killed in action during the first of these engagements, on 25 March 1918, the first day of the Battle of Bapaume. He is commemorated at the Pozières Memorial. He is further commemorated on the Bede College 1914-1918 cross, plaque, and roll of honour, and also on the war memorial at Huncoat, Lancashire.