William Belfield was born at Hurdsfield in 1882. He was baptised at Hurdsfield Holy Trinity Church and spent the majority of his formative years living in a two bedroom terraced cottage on Daybrook Street, Hurdsfield, together with his parents, Joseph Belfield and Martha (formerly Wright) and ten brothers and sisters.
By the time of the 1901 Census, William was working as a cotton spinner.
On 10th April 1909, aged 27, he married Harriet Slater at St. Paul’s in Macclesfield, and children soon followed – the 1911 Census shows William, Harriet and their children William and Amelia, residing at 23 Green Street, Macclesfield.
On 10th August 1914 William and Harriet, now living at 207 Black Road, celebrated the birth of their fourth child, James Henry, but the storm clouds of war had already gathered over Europe, and in October William enlisted for general service. His attestation papers record that he was 30 years and 103 days old when he volunteered. He was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 118lbs. Before the war William had already received military training as a member of the local Cheshire Rifle Volunteers (5 years) and a further 2 years with the 7th Cheshire’s (Territorial Force).
On 2nd November 1914 William was posted to the newly formed 9th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (service no. 17615) and reported to the regimental depot at Chester. He was discharged just four days later as medically unfit for further service…
William was not to be thwarted however – his service record shows that on 12th December 1914, he subsequently re-enlisted with the 7th Cheshire’s as 3040 Pte. W. Belfield. He was posted to the Battalion Reserve on 5th January and then to the 1/7th Battalion on 13th April 1915, where he joined his younger brother John Belfield.
On 17th July, the Battalion was deployed overseas, embarking at Devonport in great secrecy and eventually arriving off a shingle beach known as Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They landed on the 8th August 1915 and proceeded inland with vague orders to “attack the Turk”. Within a fortnight, William had been wounded in action and following treatment at No.19 General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, was evacuated to England aboard the hospital ship HMHS Braemar Castle on 23rd August 1915.
After recovering from his wounds, William was posted to the 3/7th Battalion (the Regimental Reserve), before rejoining the 1/7th Cheshire’s at Wardan, Egypt in July 1916.
Unfortunately, he soon became ill and returned to England in November 1916. He was discharged on medical grounds on 12th April 1917 and was awarded a Silver War Badge. Despite returning home to his family (now residing at 67 Saville St, Macclesfield), William’s health continued to deteriorate and he died on Sunday 22 July 1917. His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 27 July 1917:
DISCHARGED SOLDIER’S DEATH – MILITARY FUNERAL AT MACCLESFIELD
The death occurred on Sunday of Private William Belfield, Cheshire Regt, whose wife and five children reside at 67 Saville St, Macclesfield. Private Belfield was a native of Macclesfield, and his parents formerly lived in Daybrook St. He was thirty-six years of age and received his education at Daybrook Street Day School. For twenty years he was employed as a cotton spinner at the Lower Heys Mill, and was also a regular attendant at Mill Street Mission.
Private Belfield answered his country’s call on December 12, 1914, being drafted out to Suvla Bay with the local Territorials in August, 1915. While in Gallipoli, the deceased soldier was wounded in the jaw and neck, and after being invalided home was transferred to Egypt from Oswestry. He contracted double pneumonia and bronchitis in Egypt and was invalided to England about twelve months ago. Private Belfield underwent treatment in hospital at Manchester for six months, until he obtained his discharge four months ago as unfit for further service. The Major described him as “a sober, honest, reliable and intelligent man.”
A week last Thursday, Private Belfield went before a Medical Board at Manchester for his pension to be fixed, and unfortunately took cold. He returned home and went to bed. He gradually became worse and passed away on Sunday. The cause of death was bronchitis, pneumonia and heart failure. The eldest of the five fatherless children is only seven years old.
Private Belfield has three brothers serving with the Colours, namely: Private Joseph Belfield, Royal Army Medical Corps (in France); Private John Belfield, in Egypt with the Cheshire Regt; and Private Thomas Belfield, stationed at Northumberland with the Shropshire Light Infantry.
The interment took place at the Macclesfield Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon with military honours. The coffin was covered with the Union Jack, and on it were placed the cap and belt of the deceased soldier. The cortege was headed by a combined local band under the conductorship of Mr J Pedley, and en route to the cemetery Beethoven’s Funeral March and the Dead March in “Saul” were played. The last rites were performed by Mr N B Storey, of Mill Street Mission, and at the close of the committal service Scout Albert Parker, of the Christ Church Troop, sounded the Last Post.
Private William Belfield was buried at Macclesfield Cemetery on 25 July 1917 and the grave (plot ref. X.15108) is marked with a CWGC headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private William Belfield, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
In Macclesfield, Private William Belfield is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church, St Peter’s Church and the Mill Street Mission war memorials.
At the time of writing, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has incorrectly recorded William Belfield’s date of death as 25 July 1917, but this was the date of burial. The correct date of death was Sunday 22 July 1917, according to the Macclesfield Times.
Brother of Private Joseph Belfield, who served in France with the Royal Army Medical Corps; Private John Belfield, who served in Egypt with the Cheshire Regt and died of wounds on 5 October 1918; and Private Thomas Belfield, who served with the Shropshire Light Infantry.
Brother-in-Law of James Ernest Corke, who was killed in action on 18th October 1918.