William Mitchell was the only son of Ernest Mitchell, a draper’s assistant, and his wife Ada (née Ladd), of 19 Hedley Avenue, Blyth. He was born at Blyth on 1 September 1893. In 1911 at the age of 17 he was an apprentice teacher at Bebside County School in Blyth, and in 1912 became a student at Bede College in Durham.
As was the custom, with the rest of his 1912 cohort, on 15 November 1912 Mitchell joined the 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (T.F.). As a group they were embodied into the regiment in August 1914 and sent for home training to Sunderland and other places around the north-east.
The battalion arrived in France on 20 April 1915, and without further preparation was sent as part of the Northumbrian Brigade directly into front line trenches during the Second Battle of Ypres. They were there to fill a gap created by the first use of gas by the enemy against French divisions attempting to hold the line. On 28 April, during the battle of St Julien Mitchell received a gunshot wound to his leg and was treated first at a field ambulance, then a Casualty Clearing Station and finally the Australian Voluntary Hospital at Bailleul before being invalided home on 29April 1915.
In November 1915 after completing his 3 years’ engagement in the Territorial Force he was discharged. No record can be found of his activities in 1916. After probably 4½ months of training in an Officer Cadet Unit for training Mitchell was on 1 March 1917 commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant and attached to the 25th (Pals) Battalion (2nd Tyneside Irish), Northumberland Fusiliers. This unit was part of 34th Division of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in 3rd Army commanded by General Edmund Allenby. Preparations were then being made for what became called the Battles of the Scarpe and Arleux which were part of the Arras offensive in April 1917. Second Lieutenant Mitchell was posted as missing on 28 April following an action near Fampoux in which his battalion advanced toward Plouvain and succeeded in securing its objective, but at great cost, and which had to be abandoned at nightfall as the Germans began encircling the position. Mitchell’s commanding officer reported that the “battalion went into battle with 13 officers and came out with 5”, and as many as 162 of 264 Other Ranks were missing at the end of the engagement; “the list of killed will be high as the Germans sniped the wounded all day in the open”. The Bede magazine of April1918 reports that while lying wounded in a shell hole he was hit by a bullet and killed: his body was never found. A good trench map recoding the attack survives in the battalion war diary (WO 95/2467/1).
William Mitchell is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in the Faubourg d’Arras cemetery in the Pas de Calais. He is also remembered on several war memorials at Blyth: the war memorial in Ridley Park, the war memorial on Cowpen Road, a plaque at the Blyth County Secondary School (now closed), and a plaque and roll of honour in St Cuthbert’s church. His name is also listed in the National Union of Teachers War Record 1914-1919 (1920), and on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour.