William was the eldest son of William and Sarah. He was born in 1893 and the 1901 census shows him living with his parents and siblings, Percy and Eunice. His father, William was from Barton and he married Sarah Ann James who was from Ranton in Staffordshire. It seems from the census records that Sarah Ann’s father had moved to find work in the Iron Works and Sarah Grew up in Frodingham.
The 1901 census shows young William as a 7 year old living on the Screeds in Ashby next door to the Waters family whose son Harry is one of the two sailors commemorated on our windows.
In 1911 he is still at home, working as a crane driver but we can see that the family has grown and he now has three more brothers.
Three years later, towards the end of 1914 William married Elsie Winters from Crowle. The couple set up their home in Stubbins Terrace which was close to Manley Street in Scunthorpe. Their daughter Mabel was born on the 27th of December 1915.
Mabel went on to marry William Coult and their two daughters, Yvonne and Marjorie still live in Scunthorpe.
We cannot discover whether William enlisted as a volunteer or whether he was a conscript but we do know that he served in the 112 Company of the Machine Gun Corps. This was formed in Grantham and on March 4th 1916 was posted to France where it was attached to the 37th Division.
The action in which William was to die was the final engagement of the first battle of the Somme. It took place in an area near to a tributary of the river Somme known as the Ancre. There had been previous battles over the heights of Ancre and the fighting there is well documented. It is perhaps worth noting that the later stages of the battle of the Somme, from the end of September onwards saw the introduction of a new weapon of war, the tank, and William would have been among the first soldiers to see them used in battle. The British casualties in the fighting for this last piece of ground were particularly heavy and the 37th Division suffered the loss of 2,469 men between the 13th and 24th of November 1916.
William is buried in a small military cemetery at Hamel, close to the village of Beamont-Hamel which is not far from the famous monument at Thiepval.
The Lincolnshire Star of the 23rd December 19116 contained a brief entry under the heading ‘FOR KING AND COUNTRY’ in the local news for Ashby which read as follows – “Pte. Wm. Sparks of the Machine Gun Corps, eldest son of Mr. Sparks,71 Screeds, and husband of Mrs. Elsie Sparks, Stubbins Terrace, Scunthorpe, who was killed in action in the severe fighting in France on the 22nd November.”
This is a copy of William’s medal record card held in the national archives at Kew.
Below is a series of maps of the area in the Somme region where William died.
Below are photographs of the cemetery at Beaumont Hamel which were taken in 2014. The cemetery itself is relatively small compared to some in the area and set well back from the road. Like all the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries it is immaculately kept and a place of peace and tranquillity in what can be described a beautiful countryside. Such a vivid contrast to the devastation and horror of a hundred years ago!
Finally there is a copy of William’s commemoration certificate.