William Ernest Marshall, born at Haltwhistle on 20 July 1893, was the eldest of four sons of Arthur and Margaret Marshall of Lambley, a small village in Northumberland. Arthur Marshall was a foreman at a nearby whinstone quarry, but sometime before 1911 the family had moved to Carlisle, where he was then a colliery labourer above ground.
From 1911 to 1913 William Marshall attended Bede College. There he was a prefect, and in July 1913 he completed his teacher training. He passed English with distinction, passing Botany as an optional subject, and overall he achieved a first class qualification. Marshall went on to become a teacher at Hirst East Council School in Ashington, living in lodgings there, before volunteering after the outbreak of war on 21 September 1914 with the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry.
The battalion embarked on foreign service in December 1915, first serving in Egypt before moving to France on 5 March 1916. He was promoted to lance corporal in August 1916, being confirmed (and paid) in that rank the following month. In November, Marshall wrote a lengthy and interesting article for The Bede magazine entitled ‘Bede Abroad II: Record of the Pals’, continuing a narrative broken off when an earlier correspondent had been wounded. This piece described the battalion’s summer and autumn in France, including casualties, heroic deeds and amusing anecdotes. The article was not published until the December issue of the magazine, but shortly after it had been written, on 7 November, Marshall suffered shell shock and contusions when a shell hit the dugout in which he was resting and partially buried him. He was sent back to England on 12 November to recover over the winter of 1916, before returning to France on 2 January 1917.
The 18th Battalion took part in the Third Battle of the Scarpe, part of the Battle of Arras, on the 3-4 May 1917. Marshall was killed on the first day, aged 23, when a shell hit the trench in which he was sheltering and he and others “were not seen again”, as reported by Major Lowe. Another report of his death, printed in the August 1917 issue of The Bede magazine and following immediately upon a short article contributed by Marshall himself, states that his death occurred in an open position, when his platoon formed a linking line across several shell holes in front of a wood “which has so far defied our army” – probably Oppy Wood. “But evidently the enemy’s observers had spotted us, for in the evening (May 3rd) we were suddenly shelled, the shells being so well on the mark that several of us received showers of earth, while the smoke was also overpowering. Our officer at once gave the order to make for a line of shell-holes about two hundred yards to the rear, and it was after re-organising on this new position that we discovered some men were missing”.
Marshall was described as a “great loss to our platoon, because he was such a keen and capable scout”. He has no grave, being ‘presumed dead’, but his name is included on the Arras Memorial. Marshall is also commemorated on the Lambley war memorial, the National Union of Teachers War Record 1914-1919 (1920), and the Bede College 1914-18 Plaque, Cross and Roll of Honour. He kept in touch with Bede College through letters and articles right up until his death.