b. 20/04/1890 Barrow in Furness, Cumbria. d. 26/05/1943 Holyport, Berkshire.
William Thomas Forshaw (1890-1943) was born on 20th April 1890, the eldest of two sons to Thomas Forshaw, of Fairfield Lane, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria. His father was a head foreman at Vickers Shipyard. William was educated at Dalton Road Wesleyan School, Holker Street Boys School and Barrow’s Higher Grade School, before leaving school at 18 to train as a teacher at Westminster College. After completing the course, he returned home to study for his intermediate exam. He helped pay his way by taking evening classes at his old senior school and Barrow Technical School, where his students included six Turks stationed in the town while a ship was being built for their government.
In the years leading up to the First World War, he taught at the Dallas Road School, Lancaster, and the North Manchester (prep) Grammar School. He was a fine athlete, played football and rugby, and later became an accomplished golfer and tennis player.
His connection with Ashton grew out of friendship with another teacher. As a fine bass singer, he joined the Ashton Operatic Society, and also enlisted in the Ashton Territorial Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Commissioned second lieutenant in May 1914, Forshaw was promoted to lieutenant on the outbreak of war.
The beginning of the hostilities interrupted his studies; he had been due to take his final exam in September. Instead, he found himself sailing for Egypt with the 42nd East Lancashire Division, where for the remainder of 1914 and the early part of 1915, the Lancashire Territorials continued their training.
Following the landings in Gallipoli in April 1915, William was heavily involved in fighting on the peninsula, and would be awarded the VC for his actions between the 7th and 9th August 1915. When holding the north-west corner of "The Vineyard" against heavy attacks by the Turks, Lieutenant Forshaw not only directed his men but personally threw bombs continuously for over 40 hours. When his detachment was relieved, he volunteered to continue directing the defence. Later, when the Turks captured a portion of the trench, he shot three of them and recaptured it. It was due to his fine example and magnificent courage that this very important position was held.
Following his exploits at “The Vineyard”, his promotion to Captain was confirmed. A year later, Captain Forshaw VC married a nurse in Ashton under Lyne, whilst on leave. Transferring into the 76th Punjabis, Indian Army in 1917, Forshaw took part in four frontier campaigns before retiring from the Army in November 1922. Teaching jobs, however, were hard to come by, even for a schoolmaster with a VC. He therefore decided to take a two year appointment in the RAF Educational Service, Egypt.
After leaving the RAF, he returned to England in 1925. He settled at Rushmere St Andrew, near Ipswich, and then Martlesham Hall. At each place he started a preparatory school for boys, but bankrupted himself in the process. Compelled to take a teaching job in an Ipswich Council School, he drifted from job to job before deciding on a new career.
Joining Gaumont British, he went on to specialise in the company’s Industrial Film Production Department. His interest in film and photography dated back to before the First World War. As a subaltern in Egypt and on the Gallipoli peninsula, he was noted as an enthusiastic photographer, several of his off-duty pictures appearing in the Ashton newspapers. After the war he branched out into writing and produced a number of commercial films.
During the Second World War, he was a Major in the 11th City of London (Dagenham) Battalion of the Home Guard, later serving as a staff officer. In 1941 he and his wife moved to Holyport, in Berkshire, as evacuees. It was there, at his home, Foxearth Cottage, that he died on 26th May 1943. He had apparently suffered a heart attack while cutting a hedge in the garden. Unusually for an officer recipient of the VC, he was buried in an unmarked grave at Touchen End, near Maidenhead. There it was forgotten until October 1994, when efforts to trace his last resting place culminated in the dedication of a headstone provided by his old regiment. Two years later, a blue plaque was placed in his memory at Ladysmith Barracks, Ashton under Lyne.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, India General Service Medal with clasps for Mahsud 1919-20, and Waziristan 1919-21 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, 1939-45 Defence Medal, and the George VI Coronation Medal 1937. His medals are held by the Manchester Regiment Museum, Ashton under Lyne.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MANCHESTER REGIMENT MUSEUM, ASHTON UNDER LYNE.
BURIAL PLACE: TOUCHEN END CEMETERY, BRAY, BERKSHIRE.
"BURIED IN THIS CHURCHYARD" ON HEADSTONE
William Forshaw's medals including VC on display at the Manchester Regiment Museum (on their website).
Manchester Regiment Museum Plaque
War Illustrated, 2nd October 1915
Manchester Regiment Museum