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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 85820
9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment)
Who was Killed in Action on Wednesday, 4th September 1918
Age 30

Plot VI Row J Grave 18
Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Vis-en-Artois Cemetery

Vis-en-Artois Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France1

William Wilmott Oldham was born in Borrowash, Derbyshire in 18882, the fourth children of Samuel Wilmott Oldham (b. c1858, Beeston) and his wife Emma (b. c1856, Beeston née Hodgkinson)3, who married in 1883. Samuel worked as a lace maker and lived there all his life - as did his wife - except for a few years around 1890 when he and his family moved to the Borrowash area, corresponding the period after 1886 when the first Anglo-Scotian Mills led to Frank Wilkinson opening a mill there. Back in Beeston by 1894, the family settled at 26 Stoney Street where, by 1901, they were living with their eleven children with William, aged 12 working as a part-time errand boy4. Samuel's early death in 19075, aged only 49, must have been a tragedy but, with the older children now of working age and were able to contribute to the household budget to keep things going. For his part, William took up his father's trade as a lace maker and the eldest of five working children, living with their mother and two school-age children, still in the family home at 26 Stoney Street6.

On 9th November 1912, William married Lily Ann Taylor at Beeston Parish Church. Lily was born in Somercoates, Derbyshire in 1893, a daughter of John Taylor, a coal miner and his wife Sarah Matilda (née Cauldwell) and, it seems, was working as a servant in Nottingham7, probably where she met William. They settled in Somercoates, where William found work as a banksman at a local colliery and set up home at 20 Coupland Place8.

When war came in August 1914, as a newly married man, with their first baby soon to be on the way, it is understandable that William was not amongst the first rush of enthusiastic volunteers. However, by the middle of 1915, the number of volunteers had dropped off and the relentless demand for more and more men at the front was not being met. In a attempt to boost numbers without invoking the unpopular option of conscription, the Government adopted a scheme devised by Lord Derby that became known as the 'Derby Scheme'. It encouraged men to voluntarily attest for service at a later date and, in the mean time, to be placed in an army reserve and released to everyday life until needed. Those in the reserve were categorised by age and marital status to be called on in a structured way. Crucially, the scheme promised that married men would not be called on until the pool of single men was exhausted. It appears that William joined under that scheme when he attested on 10 December 1915. The first of the couple's two daughters had been born in July 1915 and this was followed by the birth of their second, Ruth, in September 1916 and these joyous occasions can only have increased the couple's anxiety about facing what had clearly become the horrors of the Western Front. However, the relentless demand for men continued and William was called for service with The Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment) on 7 August 19179. After training, Private Oldham arrived in France on 7 August 1917 and joined 9th Battalion, part of 11th Division, which was position north of Ypres and was taking part in the 3rs Battle of Ypres which became known as Passchendaele. It was certainly a baptism of fire but, somehow, William managed to survive over the next twelve months, during which the battalion played its part in the front line and faced an enemy during the Spring Offensive, early in 1918, which was determined - but failed - to turn the tide before American forces arrived.

Early in September 1918, 9th Battalion, now part of 30th Division, was near Boiry-Notre-Dame, in Northern France, east of Arras and west of Cambrai, in support of a series of major assaults by Canadian forces in August and September - the 2nd Battle of Arras - which resulted in major enemy losses and major advances. It is seen now as the beginning of the end for an exhausted enemy, now driven back from their vital defensive positions. Now, early September days, 9th Battalion itself experienced a few relatively quite days, improving its defenses while sending out patrols.

The 4th September was one such 'quiet day' but, poignantly. the battalion diary also records '1 O/R Killed'10. Sadly, it seems, Private Oldham was that 'Other Rank' and so he was not to live to see the victory that was just over two months away and the return to normal family life that would have followed.

Private Oldham is buried in the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, situated to the west of Haucourt on the Arras/Cambrai road, about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The cemetery was begun immediately after Vis-En-Artois and Haucourt were taken by the Canadian Corps on 27 August 1918 and was used by fighting units and field ambulances until the middle of October. It consisted originally of 430 graves (in Plots I and II) of which 297 were Canadian and 55 belonged to the 2nd Duke of Wellington's Regiment. It was increased after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields of April-June 1917, August and September 1918, and from the smaller cemeteries in the neighbourhood. It is also the site of The Vis-en-Artois Memorial which bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave11.

Private Oldham was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal12. His financial effects of 11 6s 3d were paid to his widow as his sole legatee, in two payments in November/December 1918 and his War Gratuity was paid to her in December 1919 after she had remarried13. She was also awarded a War Widow's Pension14.

Lily, his widow, went on to marry Isaiah Fantom a widower and a collier with two daughters in 1919. She died in 1940, aged 4615.

It appears that at least one of William's daughters was fostered by Lily's parents following her marriage to Isaiah Fantom in 1919 and that Lily's War Widows pension was partially adjusted to reflect this. Remarkably, both daughters went on to live in Beeston after their respective marriage. Lucy married John William Eric Burnham. a textile engineer, in 1940 and went on to settle at 82 City Road. Beeston, up to her death in April 1985, aged 69. Ruth married William George Betteridge and they made their home at 10 Portland Street, Beeston with both working in a chemicals factory, possibly Boots. She died in March 1964, aged 4716.

1The photograph of the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Shardlow Registration District (of which Borrowash was part) in Q2/1888 (Ref 7b 509).
3Samuel Wilmott Oldham and Elizabeth Hodgkinson were married at Nottingham Register Office on 31 May 1879
Samuel was the son of Emma Oldham and was born in 1858, some four years before she married William Wilmott in November 1862. He was baptised as 'Samuel Oldham, son of Emma Oldham, single woman' on 13 July 1858. He appears to have added 'Wilmott' to his name after she married.
4Beeston, Notts: 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 13
William's siblings were Emma (b. 1883), Sarah (b. 1884), Thomas (b. 1888), Ruth (b. 1889), Ada (b. c1892), James (b. c1894), John (b. c1894). Samuel (b. c1895), Eliza (b. c1898) and Nellie (b. c1900).
5Samuel's death was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q3/1907 (Ref 7b 100)
6Beeston, Notts: 1911 Census, Piece 20426 RD429 SD3 ED177 Sched 104.
7A matching 18-year-old can be found working as a servant at The Cedars Hospital, Woodthorpe in the 1911 Census (Piece 20643 RD430 SD5 ED10 Sched 221). This seems likely to be her.
8Details of their marriage and home address and his occupation are from William's Army Service Record which is available at ancestry.com. 9William's enlistment, his subsequent deployment details and daughter's birth details are recorded in his Army Service Record which is available at ancestry.com
10Details of the battalion's deployment and Private Oldham's apparent death on 4 September 1918 are from the battalion war diary which is available for the whole period of Private Oldham's service at ancestry.com
11This description of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
12Details from Private Oldham's Medal Card and his Medal Roll entry - available on ancestry.com.
13Details from his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929 - available on ancestry.com.
14Lily was award a pension of 20s 3d per week for herself and one child in March 1919 (Letter in Army Service Record). A revised Pension Ledger Index Card mentions Matilda Taylor and a (currently unidentified) Sarah W Cooper as their Guardians.
15Lily's marriage to Isaiah Fantom was registered in Mansfield Registration District (of which Pinxton was part in Q2/1919 (Ref 7b 261). Their Banns had been read on 9, 17 & 23 March 1919 at Pinxton Church (Derbyshire, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1754-1932 - ancestry.com)
Lily's death was registered in Belper Registration District in Q1/1940 (Ref 7b 1805).
16All family details have been gathered from standard genealogical sources.

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