William Cotterill Young was born in New Bilton, Rugby and baptised at New Bilton Church on 16 Oct 1892. His parents were John and Elizabeth Louisa (nee Cotterill). Both were from Whitnash in Leamington, where they were married on 6th April 1885. John was a platelayer. Their first child, Martha Ellen was born in Long Lawford two years later. A further two daughters were born after the family moved to Pinfold Street, New Bilton. William, named after his maternal grandfather was their final child and only son. By 1911 John was working as a labourer at the cement works, William was aged 18 and a painter.
By the time he enlisted, in March 1916, he was working at the B.T.H Lamp Factory. He joined the 11th Bn, Worcestershire Regiment as a Private (no. 34050).
The 11th Battalion had been in Macedonia since December 1915 and much of the time was spent training in the hills of Salonika. For most of September they were in reserve, returning to the front line on Oct 8th. There were several raids against the enemy resulting in the capture of some Bulgarian trenches. After a week they were in reserve, returning to the front line from 8th-15th November. Bad weather closed down hostilities for the winter and the battalion spent a cheerless Christmas in the trenches and shelters near the Selimli Dere.
“The severity of the Balkan winter kept both sides immobile during the months of January and February. During those months the 11th Worcestershire alternated between the forward trenches near Horseshoe Hill and the reserve trenches near Chuguntsi. There was very little to choose between the two sets of trenches as regards discomfort and but little to choose between them as regards danger. Shell fire was only spasmodic, and patrolling brought little loss.”
In April “..a general Allied offensive astride the River Vardar was planned. Pending the battle, the normal routine of the Division was continued. On April 8th the 11th Worcestershire relieved the 9th Gloucestershire in the front-line trenches and held them till April 13th. As if sensing the coming attack, the enemy’s artillery was now more active, fortunately without serious results (Casualties from 9th to 13th April, 1 man killed). After relief on April 13th the Worcestershire marched back to camp at Pivoines. There six days were spent in strenuous training. Then on April 21st the Battalion moved forward to the line, and was accommodated in shelters prepared in the Senelle and Elbow Ravines, close behind the front trenches. Already the British artillery had begun (April 21st) a systematic bombardment of the enemy’s wire and trenches.
During those days before the battle, “…much good work was done by the Battalion Intelligence Officer, 2/Lt.T. Featherstone; who carried out a daring reconnaissance of the enemy’s position, going out alone by night and remaining all the next day under cover close to the enemy’s line, thereby gaining most valuable information. He was awarded the M.C. for his actions.
On April 23rd came word that the attack would take place on the next night.
The plan of the attack, so far as the 26th Division was concerned, was a direct frontal attack across the Jumeaux Ravine. Further to the left the 22nd Division would advance from” Horseshoe Hill” along the ‘P” Ridge (so called because various tactical points along it had been designated” P.3,” “P.4,” “ P.5,” etc.), of which that height is the southern end.
From Lake Doiran to the Petit Couronné the attack of the 26th Division would be made by three battalions of the 79th Brigade; from the Petit Couronné to the junction with the 22nd Division two battalions of the 78th Brigade would make the attack, these being, from right to lift, the 7th Royal Berkshire and the 11th Worcestershire.
The objective of the 11th Worcestershire was a spur named on the maps “O 6.” On that spur the enemy were strongly entrenched. To reach those trenches the attacking companies would have to rush down the steep slope to the bottom of the ravine and then scale the equally steep slope on the other side. It was not expected that success would easily be won; for the Bulgarian infantry had proved themselves to be good fighters. As to the strength of the enemy’s artillery there was but little information.
The attack was timed for 9.45 p.m. The British heavy artillery, which had kept up a steady fire during the previous three days, continued firing without intermission through the twilight and throughout the first hours of darkness. The boom of the guns and the crash of the bursting shells echoed and re-echoed among the deep ravines.”
After confused and bloody fighting the Worcestershire men took most of the enemy’s front line along the ridge. While attempting to consolidate the captured trench, the enemy counter-attacked but were driven back. A communication trench was taken and the retaken by the enemy. Battle continued under a continual barrage of bombs.
“The defence of the captured trench had been maintained for four hours, under constant fire and against repeated counter-attacks. More than half of the Worcestershire had fallen. Ammunition was almost exhausted. A message was sent for assistance. In response to that call a company of the 7th Oxford & Bucks L.I. were sent forward. Dashing through the barrage, some forty brave men of that regiment reached the position of the Worcestershire and bore a share in the last desperate struggle on the ridge”.
“About 3.0 a.m. came yet another attack. Three successive waves of the enemy came surging over the crest of the spur. In front the attack was stopped dead by the British musketry; but from both flanks the enemy’s bombers came pushing inwards, and no bombs remained with which they could be opposed. Gradually the length of trench held by the Worcestershire grew shorter, as from both flanks the enemy bombers pressed in. Unless help should come the end was only a question of time; but the remnant of the brave Battalion held on, until, about 4.0 a.m., there came a definite order to retire.”
“The order to retire was passed down the line, and, squad after squad, the remnant of the 11th Worcestershire fell back down the slope. Among the last to leave was Corporal A. Radcliffe who, on his own initiative, mounted a Lewis-gun on the parapet of the trench and covered the retreat of his comrades by bursts of rapid fire. Corpl. Radcliffe was awarded the M.M.
Those of the Worcestershire who still could move staggered back down the slope, turning and firing as they retreated. In the hollow below they found the remnant of two companies of the 9th Gloucestershire, who had advanced to their assistance but had been unable to pass the barrage. Still under fire, they hauled themselves up the further slope, through the scrub and rocks, back to their own lines, and reached at last the comparative safety of the British trenches just as dawn began to light up the scene.
The cause of the repulse was undoubtedly the terrific strength of the enemy’s artillery; greater by far than that of our own guns (Vide Divisional Diary—” A marked feature of these operations was the preponderance of the enemy’s heavy artillery over ours, which enabled him to place such a barrage on the Jumeaux Ravine as to upset our plans.”). The result was a mournful tale of casualties in all the attacking battalions. Out of a battle-strength of perhaps 500, the 11th Worcestershire had lost over 350 of all ranks. The losses of the other attacking battalions of the 26th Division were in much the same proportion.”
On 26th April, what remained of the 11th Bn, Worcestershire Regt marched back into reserve. They took part in another unsuccessful attack on 8th May and on the 7th June they were relieved and left the area. The heat of the Macedonian summer caused military activity to die down. The Battle of Doiran was over.
(More about the Worcestershire Regiment’s part in this battle, together with a map, can be found at the excellent Regimental website from which this account has been taken)
Private William Cotterill Young died on 25th April 1917 and is listed on the Doiran Memorial which stands roughly in the centre of the line occupied for two years by the Allies in Macedonia, but close to the western end, which was held by Commonwealth forces. It marks the scene of the fierce fighting of 1917-1918, which caused the majority of the Commonwealth battle casualties.
He is also listed on the Croop Hill and B.T.H. Memorials.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
Research for this article was conducted by Graham Gare who died in October 2015. Graham was a member of RGHG for many years, and as our “Military Expert” he took a large part in researching and writing articles for this site.