Thornley, William H

William Harold Thornley, Private 191, Army Cyclist Corps, 53rd Welsh Div. 
Killed in action 22nd August 1915 at Gallipoli, Turkey, aged 21



William Harold Thornley was born on 4th May and baptised on 29th July 1894 at St Peter’s Church, Macclesfield, the son of Elizabeth and David Thornley, a power loom weaver of 11 Duke Street, Macclesfield.

In 1901, six year old William was living at 81 Pitt Street with his mother, maternal grandmother and siblings Mary (13), John (12) and Fenton (3); his father was not at home on census night. Ten years later the family had moved to 83 James Street, and William was working as a rope maker.

William was educated at Hurdsfield Infants School and Sutton St George’s (London Road) School, being admitted to the latter on 1st November 1900 after the family moved to 81 Pitt Street. William had attained Standard Grade IV by the time he left school. In September 1907, when living at 80 James Street and employed as an embroiderer, William enrolled at the Macclesfield Technical School to further his education. He re-enrolled in the following two years, when he was employed as a tape weaver.

William was a Scout with the 2nd Macclesfield Troop, and his parents later moved to 162 Bank Street, Macclesfield.



William attested at Stockport on 26th May 1915, joining the 53rd Welsh Division Cyclist Company,  giving his address as 5 Calamine Street, Macclesfield. His army medical record shows him to have been a man of 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a 33 inch chest.

The unit was initially based at Stockport but on 1st July 1915 they received orders to prepare for service with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. As a result, on 3rd July they moved to Bedford on 6th July, and were billeted in Foster Hill Road. The next few days were spent obtaining clothing and equipment, and all men were given musketry practice on a range at Millbrook. It was decided that training in map reading, semaphore, etc would be given during the voyage. Rifles were received only two days before embarkation.

On 16th July, the company left Bedford for Keyham Harbour and embarked on transport ship ‘Wiltshire’; it was too crowded on board for any physical exercises or instruction. They arrived at Alexandria on 29th July and several men were sent to hospital here due to an epidemic of diarrhoea. They sailed on to Lemnos, arriving on 5th August, and two days later continued to Imnos, where they spent a further two days. From Inmos, the fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula could be seen.

The company landed at Suvla Bay on 10th August 1915. On 21st August, some men from the Company were employed digging trenches near Hill 10. Heavy fighting commenced at 2.30pm, compelling them to take cover in old trenches on the east side of Hill 10, close to the battery of the Royal Field Artillery. The Turks shelled this battery for 4¾ hours; this action resulted in two men of the company being killed and three badly wounded.

While most of the 167 men in the company were assisting the Royal Engineers with road making and trench digging, twenty men from the company were acting as orderlies and dispatch riders. It is not known what role William had, but since he was killed near Hill 10 it seems likely that he was involved in digging trenches there. Officially, William was recorded as being killed in action on 22nd August, aged 21 years.

His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 10th September 1915:


Another Macclesfield youth to give his life for King and Country is Private Wm. Harold Thornley, 3 Calamine Street. News of his death was conveyed to his mother in a letter from the Captain of the Company to which the deceased was attached.

Private Thornley, who was 21 years of age, only enlisted in the 53rd Welsh Division Cycle Corps on May 25th last. He went to the Dardanelles on July 16th and was killed on August 21st. His pal, Private Fred Fawkner, of Saville Street, who was in the 1/7th Battalion Cheshire Regiment (T.F.), died suddenly at Bedford a few months ago.

Private Thornley was educated at St George’s School and attended St peter’s Sunday School. Before enlisting he was employed by the Macclesfield Shoe and Slipper Manufacturing Company.

In a letter dated August 22nd, to deceased’s mother, Captain H. L. Moir stated: “I very much regret to inform you that your son, Private Thornley, of the Cyclist Corps, was killed yesterday afternoon and was buried at midnight with another of his comrades. The Company was busy digging trenches when suddenly a heavy artillery duel began and we were obliged to take cover, and were subject to a heavy artillery fire from the Turkish guns for nearly five hours, during which, I am sorry to say, your son was killed. The only consolation I can offer you is to tell you that he was killed instantaneously. Please accept the sincere sympathy of officers, non-commissioned officers and men in your sad loss. Your son died doing his duty.”



Private William Thornley is buried in Grave Ref. V. D. 8 at Hill 10 Cemetery in Turkey. His mother asked for the inscription “AT REST” to be added to his headstone.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private William Thornley, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.

In Macclesfield, Private William Thornley is commemorated on the Park Green, Town HallSt Michael’s Church and St Peter’s Church war memorials.



Brother of Fenton Thornley, who served as Private 491960 in the Labour Corp, and John James Thornley, who served as Private 35221 in the Labour Corp. Both survived the war.

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