William enlisted during 1915, and as a volunteer for The Royal Engineers. With better and increased technology being used by the British Army, the need for engineers became a priority. William was already working in railway engine production.
Preparation for the Battle of Arras 1917.
From October 1916, the Royal Engineers had been working underground, constructing tunnels for the troops in preparation for the Battle of Arras in 1917. Beneath Arras itself there is a vast network of caverns called the boves, consisting of underground quarries and sewage tunnels. The engineers came up with a plan to add new tunnels to this network so that troops could arrive at the battlefield in secrecy and in safety. The size of the excavation was immense. In one sector alone four Tunnel Companies of 500 men each worked around the clock in 18-hour shifts for two months.
We just don't know
how William died, but the date of death 26th April is right in the
middle of the Battle of Arras where casualties were over 158,000.
William was 31 years of age when he was killed.
A Sapper was involved
with construction ranging from mining, laying of railway lines, to
William's important enlistment war records are
missing, believed to be part of those destroyed during the 1940 Blitz of
London. He was awarded the British Service (1914/1915) The Victory, and the British Star medals.
Williams father Leonard Hesketh had also died, and it was
left to his mother Elizabeth to receive his War Gratuity, which was for 1917 unusually high at about £3500. Normally this cash payment was between
£200 and £350. Still, not much for a life.
William is buried at Feuchy
British Cemetery, Feuchy, France and is one of 211 burials that have
been identified. William was never married.
By 1917, William's mother Elizabeth Hesketh, now a widow, was living in Middlewich Road, Rudheath, Northwich, and the house was named 'Feuchy', clearly named after the cemetery in France where her son William is buried.
I wrote earlier on this page that the Hesketh cousins both had a son named William, and both William's served in the First World War. This other William 'Dodson' Hesketh served in The Cheshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and was killed just six weeks after Sapper William Hesketh on the 9th June 1917. He was killed at Vimy Ridge, which was also part of the same Arras battle.
In 1920, William's grieving mother Mary Hesketh made the long and difficult journey to France to visit her sons grave for the first time. This was no easy task in 1920. Her state of mind clearly not in a good place. After visiting Bailleul Cemetery and her sons grave, she threw herself into a deep canal. Shocked witnesses who tried to help her said it was not an accident; she appeared to jump into the deep freezing water. By the time she was pulled out of the water, Mary Hesketh was dead. The First World War had claimed another victim.