Horrocks William Leech


This biography was written by Victoria Doran.

William Leech was one of several members of the Church Lads Brigade who served in the War. He came from a family steeped in domestic service and duty.


Horrocks William Leech appears from most of the references to have been known as William, so that is I will refer to him. I have not been able to find an explanation for his first name.

William was the oldest of the 6 children of William Leech (1871-???) and Emma Sutton (1872-1908). He was born in Caldy in the spring of 1896 and baptised at St Bridget, West Kirby on 4 June of that year. The Leech family were almost all in service in households with many servants for at least 2 generations.

William’s grandfather, Joseph Leech (1839-1916) was born in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire and worked first as a groom and then advanced to coachman. He first came to the Wirral by 1861 when he was a livery groom for a car proprietor in Seacombe. Shortly afterwards he must have gone to the Isle of Man, as on 14 January 1862 he married farmer’s daughter Esther Preston (1840-1930) at Rushen, Isle of Man. Joseph and Esther remained in the Isle of Man until at least 1864 as their first 2 sons, Joseph (1862-1932) and Richard (1864-1944) were born there, with Joseph continuing to be employed as a groom.

There is a gap in their family until 10 Feb 1871 when William senior was born at 24 Vale Road, Much Woolton, Liverpool. Brother Alfred Ernest (1872-1932) was also born in Woolton, but by January 1875 the family had moved once more, this time to Caldy, where they lived at Manor Lodge No.2 and Joseph worked as coachman to Richard Barton at Caldy Manor. The first daughter, Isabella Elizabeth (1875-1963) was born there on 14 January 1875, followed by Emily Etty (1877-1959), Edith Mary (1879-1956) and Mabel (1882-1943).

William senior attended both Caldy and Grange Schools and by 1891 was a farm labourer. On 27 Mar 1895 he married Emma Sutton at St Mary, Kirkdale. 

Emma was born in Everton on 27 August 1872. Nothing is known of her father Robert other than that he worked as a ship’s steward. Her mother, another Emma, was born about 1839 in Kilmersdon, Somerset. In 1881 Emma and her mother and younger brother William Henry were living at 4 Tintern Street, Kirkdale. No trace of either of Emma’s parents has been found after that. By 1891 Emma was working as a housemaid at West Kirby Convalescent Home. Her brother William Henry was a deaf and dumb inmate of Clatterbridge Workhouse, where he died shortly after the census aged just 14 years old. Clearly Emma must have had a difficult childhood.

William junior was followed by John Leslie (1898-1965) and Robert Joseph (1900-1981). In 1901 the family was living at The Shop, Caldy and William senior was working as a gardener – not domestic. This presumably equates to being either a market or nursery gardener. They were employing Silvia Webley as a domestic servant. Silvia was the sister of Eliza Amelia Webley who married JAMES HATTON DAVIES, another local man who died during the war. Dora Emma (1902-1977), Olive Jane (1906-1907) and Ernest Philip (1908-???) then came along. Ernest Philip was born on 28 May 1908 and his mother died on 21 December of the same year. Emma and Olive Jane were buried in the churchyard at St Bridget, and William junior was subsequently commemorated on their gravestone.

March 2013 232.JPG

Leech family grave in St Bridget churchyard

So by the start of 1909 William senior was left alone with 5 children under the age of 13. By 1911 he had moved with his children to Rose Cottage, Caldy Road, West Kirby and was working as a jobbing gardener. He employed an Irish widow to keep house for the family. By now William junior is also employed as a gardener aged 14, and his brother John is working part time as a grocer’s errand boy whilst still attending school.

William and John were members of the Church Lads Brigade and active in the swimming club, which merged with West Kirby Swimming Club in 1913. The following letter from them was published 0n  7 August 1915.  Herbert Spencer, (1894-1916) was also a member of the Church Lads Brigade and they knew each other both before the war and after enlistment to the Cheshire Regiment. Likewise, Leonard George Emerson (1896-1916) would have been a friend of theirs from the Church Lads, although he joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment

45 1915 Aug 7 WK swimmers in France.jpg

From the collection of Heather Chapman

 R Ryding was Dick Ryding one of 2 brothers who survived.

Early in the war, William and his brother John enlisted in the 9th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, on the same day as their regimental numbers are very close together. John was only 16 years old and William 18. They are both included in the list of local men already serving published in the Deeside Advertiser of 6 November 1914. Clearly several of their friends also enlisted at around the same time. No doubt they all enjoyed their year or so of training as an exciting adventure among friends.

Cheshire cap badge.JPG

Cap badge of the Cheshire Regiment

After training the 9th Cheshires arrived in France on 19 July 1915. Life will soon have become anything but a holiday.

By 16 Nov 1916 William was serving in the machine gun section of his Battalion. They were near the end of the battle to capture the Thiepval Ridge, on a day when no particular action was taking place, when William was hit by a shell and died 10 minutes later aged just 20 years old.

William is buried in Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, France. This is one of the smaller battlefield cemeteries, with only 213 graves.

Stump Road Cemetery JPG.jpg

Before William died, his brother John had been wounded and returned to England. He recovered and was subsequently posted to the South Lancashire Regiment and returned to France. He survived the war to marry and become a successful builder.

In July 1918 William senior decided it was time to ‘do his bit’ and enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was 48 years old and classified as B1. He never went overseas, (so was not awarded any medals) but served in several different units in England before he was discharged in June 1919. It is not known what he did after that. When he enlisted, he left daughter Dora aged only 15 years old in charge of his youngest son Ernest Philip who was only 10 years old. It is not known where Robert Joseph Leech was at this time, but neither he nor John are mentioned on William senior’s attestation papers.

One of William’s cousins, Arthur Leech (1898-1916), son of William senior’s older brother Richard, died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 whilst serving in the 18th (Pals) Battalion, Liverpool Regiment.

Birth: Apr 1896 at Caldy
Death: 16 Nov 1916 at Thiepval, Somme, France; hit by a shell
Addresses: The Shop, Caldy (01); Rose Cottage, Caldy Road, West Kirby (11); White Cottage, Caldy Road, West Kirby (14)
Occupation: gardener
Unit: ‘C’ Company 9th Battalion Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: 12511; Private
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, Somme, France; St Bridget Graveyard, West Kirby
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, Census: 01,11, BR, BN, DA, Probate, SR(father)






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