William Mariner VC

b. 29/05/1882 Chorley, Lancashire. d. 01/07/1916 Loos, France.

William Mariner (1882-1916) was born at 12 Wellington Street, Chorley, Lancashire on 29th May 1882. He was registered at birth as John William Mariner. His father’s identity is not known, and his mother was Alice Ann Mariner, who was a cotton weaver. Alice would have a second child illegitimately, Frederick, born in 1884. She did get married to John Wignall in 1888, and they had two children – Mary Elizabeth born in 1889 and Harold born in 1896. John Wignall died in 1899, and Alice had another child illegitimately in 1904, a son called Dennis, but no record has been found of the father.

William Mariner VC

William was educated at St Laurence Parochial School in Chorley, following which he was employed as a weaver by Mr Felder of Chorley and later as a miner. When he enlisted in 3rd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment on 28th February 1899, and was described as 5ft 2 and half inches tall, weighed 108lbs, with fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. Having purchased his discharge on 17th June, he enlisted again on 3rd January 1900 at Gosport, Hampshire, this time in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He gave an occupation as a labourer and was posted to the Depot the same day. He was posted to the 4th Battalion on 30th March and 2nd Battalion on 2nd November, and then served in India from 2nd November 1901 to 27th December 1907. While there he became a lightweight wrestling champion.

Unfortunately, on 6th June 1903, William was sentenced to 84 days imprisonment with hard labour at court martial for using violence and threatening language to a superior officer. He did extend his service to complete eight years on 1st April 1904 and was upgraded to Class 2 the same day. On 9th June 1906, he was in a court martial again for using threatening language to a superior officer and was imprisoned for 56 days with hard labour. He did eventually get upgraded to Class 1 in August 1907, and was transferred to the Army Reserve on 2nd January 1908, from which he was discharged on 2nd January 1912.

He found work as a brick-setter, but was convicted for breaking and entering and served a year in prison in Manchester. He did not marry and is not thought to have had any children. William re-enlisted on 26th August 1914 and went to France on 29th November.

On 22nd May 1915 near Cambrin, France, during a violent thunder storm, Private Mariner left his trench and crept out through German wire entanglements until he reached the emplacement of an enemy gun which had been hindering progress. He climbed on top of a German parapet and threw a bomb under the roof of the emplacement and after 15 minutes he threw another bomb. He then waited while the guns opened fire on the wire entanglements behind him and eventually he was able to return to his own trench. He had been out alone for one and a half hours.

William returned to Salford on leave in August 1915 and left home one day without informing his mother. She suspected he was going to receive his VC and travelled to Windsor with her daughter, but on arrival was told the investiture was in London. The VC was presented by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 12th August 1915. Alice and Mary arrived to join hundreds of spectators and saw William as he left the investiture. The crowd was so large that William and fellow VCs, Henry May and Joseph Tombs, left immediately in a taxi, unaware that his mother and sister were in the crowd. Back in Salford, he received a civic reception from the Mayor and Corporation and was presented with an illuminated address and a gold watch. He was also given a reception in Chorley.

William returned to the Front, where he was wounded, and evacuated back to England on 24th August. He was charged with absence at Clerkenwell on 5th October for being two days overdue from leave. He claimed he had been “messing about with Jack Johnson and doing a bit of recruiting.” He returned to France on 12th October 1915.

On the night of 30th June to 1st July 1916, William took part in a raid at the Railway Triangle near Double Crassier, southest of Loos. A witness, Giles Eyre, recorded what happened next. “As I round the corner and glimpse Mariner in the very act of a bayoneting a prone German – a whistling swish seems to fill the world – Mariner, caught full tilt by a shell, has been blown to fragments.” No remains were recovered and William was commemorated (strangly as he died in Loos) on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme.

In addition to his VC, William was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The whereabouts of William’s VC was unknown for many years until in late 2005 the home of William Wignall (probably the son of William’s half-brother Dennis), near High Peak, Derbyshire, was being cleared after his death. During the clearance the VC was found in a drawer, where it is believed it had been since 1946. The VC was auctioned by Spink’s on 23rd November 2006. Lord Ashcroft learned that the Civic Museum, Astley Hall, Chorley was interested in purchasing the medal, and it is believed did not bid for this reason. Unfortunately, the Civic Museum failed to secure the VC and it was sold to a private collector for the hammer price of £105,000. The location of his campaign medals is not known.





HM Parkhurst – Image of the Mariner VC Memorial.