William George Griffiths, DCM, MM & Bar

Ormskirk's Most Decorated Soldier of the Great War

William George Griffiths was born in Ormskirk in 1884 the son of Ellen Griffiths, and at the outbreak of the war she lived at 9, Knowsley Rd, Ormskirk.

William was a former pupil of the Ormskirk Boys School which was on the corner of Park Road and Aughton Street. He and his family were parishioners of the Ormskirk Parish Church.

Prior to the outbreak of the Great War, William was on the committee of Ormskirk Working Mens' Conservative Club.

He enlisted into the local Territorials, the 9th Battalion, The King's Liverpool Regiment, in September 1914, a month after the war broke out, becoming 2508 Private W.G. Griffiths. He was 30 years old.

Like many of his Ormskirk friends, he was in the original contingent of his battalion to embark for France on 12th March 1915.

It was probably due partly to the fact that he was older than many of his colleagues and no doubt that his abilities were recognised by his senior officers, that William was quickly promoted and by 1916 he was a Sergeant with his battalion on the Western Front.

He was also remarkably brave and provided great inspiration to those around him, even under the greatest pressure.

He was with his battalion during the Battle of the Somme and it was during a major attack by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division near to the village of Flers, that he was wounded on 25th September, 1916. Almost fifty of his friends and colleagues were killed that day, including John Gaffney of Ormskirk and George Nixon, of Aughton. Many others were wounded along with Bob, amongst them his good friend Bob Grayson, of Knowsley Road. William Griffiths' wounds were serious enough for him to be evacuated to England for treatment and he spent some time in hospital in the Newcastle area.

He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry on the Somme.

It was 1917 before he was fit to return to front-line duty.

In July 1917 the 9th King's took part in the major battle of the year, achieving remarkable success in spite of the horrendous conditions of mud in the Ypres area and the ferocious defence put up by the Germans. The world would come to know this battle by the name of the tiny, destroyed village that was the eventual target - Passchaendaele. Once again, William Griffiths displayed his tremendous ability to control his own fears and provide leadership to his men in circumstances that we can barely imagine. More than seventy men of his battalion were killed in those few days and over two hundred wounded out of a total of five hundred and eighty men. His contribution to the success of the opening days of the battle, 31st July to 4th August, was recognised by his second award of the Military Medal for gallantry. There were only four men in the battalion to be awarded the Military Medal twice in the whole of the war.

William Griffiths' courage was becoming legendary within his battalion and there is no doubt that his men took great inspiration from his leadership and confidence from being led by a man of his experience and military ability.

Six weeks after the opening of the battle, having been taken out of the line to rest and rebuild their shattered ranks, the 9th King's were back in the front line and launched another attack on the strongly defended German positions. It was now 20th September 1917 and again William Griffiths, now the Company Sergeant-Major of 'A' Company, was at the head of his men.

This was often described as the worst fighting of the war as men dragged themselves through deep mud and many drowned in the shellholes filled with water in the ravaged landscape. The Germans had created concrete defences in all of the farms dotted around the low-lying Ypres fields and each one had to be taken to allow the line to be pushed forward.

'A' Company were tasked with assaulting and taking a position known as Bank Farm. It was defended by machine-guns and riflemen and was surrounded by dense lines of barbed wire.

The official record of William Griffiths' part in the attack reads:

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when acting as Company Sergeant-Major during an attack. Seeing the attack held up, he led a party of twelve men in a flank attack on the enemy's position. With great skill and in the face of heavy machine-gun fire he advanced his men to within assaulting distance, timing his assault to conform with other attacks made on the position. He was responsible for the capture and consolidation of the strong point. His courage and contempt of danger had a marked influence on his men".

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this remarkable bravery, an award second only to the Victoria Cross.

William Griffiths therefore became Ormskirk's (and his battalion's) most decorated soldier.

If only the story of this remarkable man ended there. He continued to serve throughout 1917 and on into 1918, the final year of the war.

On 28th August 1918, the 9th King's were involved in an attack on the German line near to the village of Hendicourt. The enemy were now fighting a desperate rearguard action as they retreated. They were giving up ground reluctantly and every yard gained by the British and their allies was paid for in brave lives.

During the attack, forty men were killed, amongst them William Griffiths.

His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois memorial to the missing.

He was truly an inspirational hero and another very sad loss to his home town.

Ormskirk Advertiser - 5th September, 1918

Ormskirk Advertiser - 12th September, 1918