RIGBY, William Geoffrey Morris Lt.

William Rigby

William Rigby

William Rigby was born in Chorley on the 16th October 1895, the son of Dr. John William Morris Rigby and Maude Gillibrand Rigby.

He graduated from King William’s College on the Isle of Man and was a Dental Student at Victoria University in Manchester when he enlisted in the Army on the 1st September 1914. He applied for and was granted a commission in the Chorley Pals on the 2nd October that year. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 20th June 1915 whilst the Pals were at Penkridge Bank Camp at Rugeley. However, he did not embark to Suez with the Chorley men in December 1915, having been transferred to the recently formed Machine Gun Corps. On the 20th May 1916 he left for France and two days later was posted to the 69th Machine Gun Company, part of the 23rd Division.

William Rigby was to lose his life during the early stages of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. His Division (the 23rd) was held in reserve when the battle opened on 1st July and took over the line in front of La Boisselle from 34th Division over the night of 3rd / 4th July. Although 34th Division’s attack on 1st July had largely been thrown back, footholds in the German lines had been won at considerable cost in the Schwaben Höhe and on the extreme right of the divisional front, where troops had penetrated as far as Scots Redoubt before being cut off. The two positions were flanked by Sausage Redoubt, which was spectacularly captured by two companies of the 7th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment on the afternoon of the 2nd.

The following morning, the East Lancashire’s bombed their way up to Scots Redoubt, finally relieving the troops which had held on there since the morning of the 1st. As the 7th East Lancashire’s handed over to the 9th Yorkshire’s (23rd Division) on the night of 3rd / 4th July, four Vickers guns of 69th Machine Gun Company under the command of Lieutenants Baker and Rigby were sent up to the Scots Redoubt line. On the 4th, the guns provided covering fire for two bombing raids made by the 11th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, the C.O. of whom afterwards reported that both officers “behaved remarkably well and were of great assistance.” Further to the left, the 7th King’s Own bombed their way into La Boisselle. On 5th July, 69th Machine Gun Company was sent forward into the Scots Redoubt line to support an attack against Horseshoe Trench. Most of the ground won early in the day was lost to a strong enemy counter-attack.

The enemy attacked again in the afternoon, drawing nearly the whole of 69th Brigade into the fight. It was into the early evening before 69th Brigade returned to the attack, clearing both Horseshoe Trench and Lincoln Redoubt. The 69th Machine Gun Company then sent two guns into the captured line before being relieved overnight. As the exhausted men left the trenches, they were caught in shellfire, losing one officer, three N.C.O.’s and two other ranks. Almost certainly, the officer was William Rigby who was wounded in the abdomen.

After receiving first aid at 58th Field Ambulance on the 6th, William Rigby died at 36th Casualty Clearing Station, Heilly on the 7th – his parents received news of his death by telegram on the 10th at their home at 18 Halliwell Street in Chorley. William Rigby is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe – on his grave is inscribed the words “Loving, brave and true, He died for his country. Of Chorley, Lancashire”.

In 1920, his parents paid £200 for a clock to be installed in St. George’s Church, Chorley in memory of their son; there are plaques to his memory both in the main body of the church and in the clock tower.

Acknowledgement: The above information was reproduced with permission from the Accrington Pals website at http://www.pals.org.uk.

Other Information: During the attack on Horseshoe Trench on the 5th July 1916, 2nd Lt. Donald Simpson Bell of the 9th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment won a Victoria Cross. A school teacher, he played football for Bradford Park Avenue and is the only professional footballer to win a V.C. in the First World War. He was killed repeating his act of heroism on the 10th July. In the year 2000, the Professional Footballer’s Association erected a memorial to Donald Bell at the spot where he fell – it is known as “Bell’s Redoubt”. Donald Bell is buried behind the lines in Gordon Dump Cemetery at Ovilliers La Boiselle.