In the late spring of 1894, William Archer Bice and Matilda Isabel Hickman married in Richmond, Surrey. Two years later, on 11 September, William was born and his birth was registered at Wandsworth. Nothing is known of his early life or when the family moved to the Stockport area. However, by 1914, they were living at 23 Stanley Road, Heaton Moor and there were now three additional children – Ethel (born about 1900), Charles (about 1905) and Frances (about 1907). They moved shortly after this to 45 Preistnall Road, Heaton Mersey and, later, to 158 Heaton Moor Road.
On 10 December 1915, William applied to become an officer. He was then a cadet with the Manchester University Officer Training Corps. It took only a month for him to become a 2nd Lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment, originally assigned to its 10th (Reserve) Battalion. In due course, it was time for William to go overseas and he was reassigned to the Regiment’s 1st Battalion – one of its two pre-War “regular” units (although he was not a regular soldier).
The Battle of the Somme had opened on 1 July but the Battalion did not arrive in the sector until the middle of the month. It was in action at the end of July and suffered heavy casualties while forming up for an attack on Longueval. “A” Company (which is known to have been William’s) was reduced in strength to just a single platoon. It is not known when he joined the Battalion but it may have been after this if officer casualties had also been heavy.
After the first day, the British advance continued in series of attacks. Some of these would be large scale, perhaps involving a quarter of million men. Others would be much smaller, involving only one or two divisions (each of 18,000 troops). William would be killed leading his men in one of the latter attacks on the German trenches at a position known as Falfremont Farm, in the south of the battlefield, adjoining the French sector.
Overnight on the 3/4 September, the Norfolks moved into their assembly positions. They were ready by 4.40am with “A” Company on the left and “B” on the right. The plan was that “zero hour” would be set for 3.10pm and that, for 20 minutes before this, the British artillery would heavily shell the Germans. The men would then “go over the top”. The attack started on time and the Battalion’s War Diary can now take up the story:-
“A & B Coys assaulted. Very heavy machine gun fire opened on them immediately. Captain Farmer and a few men of A Coy. succeeded in reaching the SW corner of the Farm but were bombed out and the remainder of the attack was held up by cross machine gun fire. The situation then became very involved as all the officers but two were either killed or wounded and the advance over a 600 yard front was very split up as the only way to go on was by crawling from shell-hole to shell-hole – any attempt at an advance was immediately stopped by the machine gun fire.”
Later in the day, other units attempted to storm the Farm but this also failed.
William’s body was recovered from the battlefield and buried close by. His personal effects were sent home to Mr & Mrs Bice. They included his wristwatch, whistle, two pairs of glasses, a mirror in a leather case and several letters. Over the course of the War, the location of his grave was lost (or was destroyed in later fighting) and he is now commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing a few miles away at Thiepval,