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100 years ago in Salford: Tragic accident ends the life of Weaste soldier William Davenport

Not all deaths in the First World War came on the battlefield, no matter how brutal and inhumane it was.

100 years ago in March 1916 men were been dying in their thousands at huge battles like Verdun on the Western Front.

Sadly this story concerns a death much closer to home.

20-year-old Salford lad William Davenport was a Lance Corporal in the A Company, 10th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, Kings Own Royal Lancasters and had enlisted in December 1915.

Just three short months later he would be dead.

Before joining up he lived at lived at Alpha Street, Seedley, was educated at Langworthy Road Council School where he was a well-liked pupil, and worked for the Great Northern Railway Company as a junior clerk.

In his preparations to go to war William sadly fell prey to a horrible accident that cut his life short before it had truly begun.

While marking out targets for his fellow soldiers at rifle range practice at Wargret Camp barracks in Wareham, Dorset, William died from a single gunshot wound to his temple.

A stray bullet cannonned into a stone and ricocheted off, striking him full in the side of the head.

He sadly passed away the following day.

As if this wasn’t tragic enough it was revealed at inquest that William’s parents had received a letter from him saying that he would be home on leave the following day.

A telegram was received the same evening informing them that William had died from a gunshot wound.

Beleiving that an error had been made Mr Davenport hurriedly sent a telegram back to the camp saying that it must be a mistake because he was on his way home to Pendleton.

He reeived a terse short note which read, “Accidently shot – come down to camp”.

Mr Davenport, no doubt grief-stricken, went to the camp in Wareham to retrieve his son’s body and made arrangements for it to be brought back to Salford for burial in Weaste Cememtery.

The Salford City Reporter newspaper reported that the soldier’s coffin was taken to the nearest railway station one mile away, and the route was lined with soldiers and civilians all paying their last respects.

A Sergeant Roberts was in charge of the body and escorted it back to Pendleton and his loving family.

William’s funeral took place the following Monday with the Reverend T. Faulkner Jeffries, Minister at the Seedley Wesleyan Church, officiating at the funeral ceremony.

It is recorded that blinds were drawn in Davenport’s home street as a mark of respect and on the route to Weaste Cemetery.

William was given a full military cemetery with hundreds of people attending to show their last respects to this young man.

The Davenport family received a letter from William’s Commanding Officer at Wareham, Lieutenant N. Bellairs who said: “As the officer in charge of this firing party last Wednesday and the last to see your son alive I feel it the melancholy privilage to be able to express my very real appreciation of your son’s soldier like qualities and cheerful acceptance of duty.

“Having seen the whole tragedy I am thankful to be able to say that it was due in no way to negligence or carelessness on the part of your son or any other.

“You will have heard that he was superintending the workings of markings from a marker’s pit on a minature range at the time of the tragedy and to me who have lately seen service at the front the flight of this ill-starred bullet – whence and how it found your boy – is an utter mystery.

“Thank God he never regained consciousness and suffered no pain before the end.

“I can only trust that the knowledge that he died the true and loyal soldier for his country’s sake and that he gave his all for England as much as though he had been stricken on the field of battle, may in some measure lighten the load of sorrow which I know you must be bearing.”

Hopefully that letter gave the Davenport family some comfort in their hour of need in what was such a tragic waste of a young man’s life.

Main image © IWM (Q 53552)

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.