Private William Ryan

Sherwood_Foresters_BadgePrivate William Ryan

12908, 9th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) who was killed in action on 9th August 1915, aged 29

Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Helles Memorial (Panel 150 to 152)


Timothy Ryan had left Ireland and found work as a general labourer in the Chesterfield area where he met and married Catherine (Kate) Cokeley in 1877. The young couple made their home at 14, Newbold Road where their children Michael, Jeremiah, Timothy and John were born.

By 1891, the family had moved to Marsden’s Place in Chesterfield. Timothy had found work as a coal miner and 14 year old son Michael was helping to support the growing family by working as a general labourer. Honora, Catherine, WILLIAM PATRICK and Emma and Mary had been born during the previous 10 years and, despite having eight children, the couple made room to further supplement their income by taking in a lodger. The family moved to live at 47, St Helens Street on Whittington Moor and, by 1901, had grown to include another son, Thomas, in 1894.

As the children grew older, family life changed dramatically with the deaths of both William’s brother, Jeremiah, and his mother, Hannah, in 1904 and the family home was broken up when John married Eliza Moss in 1905, Catherine married Joseph Shepherd in 1907 and Honora married in 1908.

Coal miner Timothy was no longer the head of a family home and was living with his joiner son, John, and his wife, Eliza in 1911. His eldest son, Michael, was also lodging with them at Victoria Street in Chesterfield and working as a bricklayer until his death the following year. Emma was working as a maid at the Notre Dame Convent in Sheffield.

William was employed at the Staveley Company’s Iron Foundry as a labourer in 1911 and was lodging with his mother’s sister, his aunt Sarah Ellen Bunney (nee Cokeley), and her family in a Company cottage at 237, The Blocks, Barrow Hill, just below the Long Row.

William enlisted with the 9th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbys Regiment) at Chesterfield in mid-August and was given the service number 12908. The 9th Bn. was part of Kitcheners First Army and came under orders of 33rd Brigade in the newly formed 11th (Northern) Division.

The volunteers of the 9th Bn., were sent to their training camp at Belton Park, near Grantham, the seat of Earl Brownlow. They had a tented encampment, which would suffice until the winter at least, a large enough area to train properly and a good firing range. 

The 9th Battalions first major parade took place on 18th October 1914 when Lord Kitchener himself inspected them. As 1915 began, the battalion training continued and slowly they became a cohesive fighting unit, ready for anything, or so they thought.  All that could be done to prepare the men had been done and they were ready for battle.

In early April the 11th Division moved south to the Godalming, Surrey area and the battalion would be at Frensham Camp near Farnham, which was a regular Army barracks. On 4 April 1915 the Division assembled at Witley and Frensham, where final training was undertaken. King George V inspected the Division on Hankey Common on 31st May 1915.

After ten months of training and preparation the 9th Battalion would be going to war.  No doubt many of the men thought they would serve in France and, by 1916, many wished they had.  Instead they were destined to fight in a theatre of war that would gain an infamous reputation – Gallipoli.

On 1 July 1915 the 9thBn, as part of 33rd Brigade, sailed from Liverpool on H.M. Transport ‘Empress of Britain’ via Malta, Alexandria and Lemnos before arriving at Mudros, the base for troops fighting on Gallipoli, on 18th July. The 33rd brigade went straight into action at Cape Helles, attached to the Royal Naval Division, where their trenches were under constant fire.

Gully RavineGully Ravine, Cape Helles, July 1915

After 10 days at Helles, the brigade was ordered back to 11th Division and Imbros.  They were relieved by French troops on Sunday 1st August and marched back to the rest camp.  At 10.30pm that evening they re-embarked on the S.S. Osmanieh and sailed to Imbros where they arrived the following morning.   The battalion then spent the time before the Suvla Bay landing, practising for the landing and recovering from Helles.

The landing took place on August 6th and involved the landing of 63,000 Allied troops. The secrecy behind the operation was so complete that senior officers were unaware of what others were doing. These 63,000 men were meant to take the area around Suvla Bay and then link up with the ANZAC’s at Anzac Cove.

At around 9-30 pm on the evening of 6th August the first troops of the main force landed at Suvla Bay and by 10 pm four battalions had made it ashore with more on the way. The Battalion took up their positions from a point on the S.W. bank of Salt Lake to the sea immediately after landing at Suvla Bay and waited for the order to press on.  That order failed to materialize and any chance of taking the Turks by surprise and thereby cutting off the enemy at Helles was gone.

The troops of 11th Division came ashore at A, B, and C, beaches. The 10th Division came ashore on 7th and, with the 11th Division, the attack continued on Biyuk Anafarta, Yilghin Burnu. Despite time being of the essence, the attacks lacked vigour and were put in with no serious intent by any of the Divisions.  Finally the 9th Battalion received orders to remain where they were and to dig in.  They moved forward during the night of 7/8th to Hill 50 ready for the attack of the 9th August.  

 At 4.45am on 9th August the Battalion received their orders to move forward, the formation for movement being two long lines some 200 to 300 yards. At first 33rd Brigade, of which 9th SF made up a part, made good progress.  They advanced about 1000 yards before encountering heavy fire and suffering many casualties.  Eventually though, all along the Brigade front, the advance began to stall. The 9th SF advance stalled on the right and in the centre, although by 8am a satisfactory line of defence had been taken up but at a cost of 8 officers and 150 other ranks killed or wounded.   

 The 9th SF however had fared badly after being held near Hetman Chair and progress was seen to be impossible.  By 8 am the majority of the battalions officers had become casualties (5 were dead), but despite this the line was held until around 3 pm.  The Turks then counter-attacked and forced a gap between ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies managing to enfilade from the right flank of the battalion and hoping to envelop them.  These two Companies had by this time only two 2nd Lieutenants leading them. As the day ended and stock was taken, the full cost of the battle became known; it was obvious that the 9thbn SF had been hard hit.  Only two officers remained fit for active duty and 7 officers were dead, 11 wounded and 1 missing.  The strength of the other ranks had been reduced to about 300 men. *

The list of men killed and mentioned on the Helles memorial bears testimony to the horrors of this battle.  The plan had very nearly worked but the ANZAC’s could not break out of Anzac Cove. The British at Suvla were pushed back by the frantic attack led by Mustapha Kemal and by August 10th, the Turks had retaken Suvla Bay.

William Ryan was one of the 221 men of the 9th Battalion who were killed or died of wounds whilst serving at Gallipoli. This was 29% of the battalion’s total deaths for the War. William was 28 years old and had been on active service in Turkey for just 3 weeks when he was killed in action on 9th August.

Ryan name memorial

HellesWilliam Ryan has no known grave and is remembered on the Helles Memorial.

1914 15 trio


He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medals.


© Ann Lucas


*Extracts from: 9th Service Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters.Nott’s and Derby Regiment during the First World War. A tribute to the men who served in World War One 1914-1919. By kind permission of John Stephen Morse.