Category Archives: Reading University College

William Arthur Ayres

William Arthur Ayres
Private 14328
8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment

and Sapper 243961 Royal Engineers


William Arthur Ayres was the son of  William Reynolds Ayres and Minie Ayres of
9, St. Edwards Road, Reading.  William was the eldest of their five children. The 1911 census has him recorded as  13 years old and still attending school, this would give his year of birth as 1898. His brothers and sisters were: John 12, Harold 8, Elsie May 10 and Gladys 4.  William’s father’s occupation was given as a carpenter and joiner. Living with the family at that time was Phoebe age 85 who is recorded as an aunt.

William’s military papers are also available through Ancestry UK. He attested to the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 7 September 1914. William gives his age as 19years and 1 month and his occupation as a brass finisher.  Local newspapers give his age at death as 19 or 20 years. From the evidence available it seems that William lied about his age and enlisted at the age of 16. His attestation papers record him as ‘head’.

William served just under 3 years.  As the information below shows William was injured at Loos. Whilst recovering was put on a charge for breaking out of camp and remaining absent for 3 days and 15 hours. What he was doing during his absence is not stated. His punishment was loss of 4 days pay and 14 days confined to barracks. In 1916 he was hospitalised for an appendectomy. When he had recovered he returned to France where he transfered to the Royal Engineers.  The Reading Standard ‘In Memoriam 1919’ states ‘Killed in Action.’ where as grave registration states died of sickness. William’s military papers confirm that he did indeed die of sickness. His records provide comprehensive notes of the cause of death which is given as menigitis. This developed because of  previous operation for a mastoid. The original problem with his ear was given as being due to the  effects of the guns and shelling whilst serving on the Somme.

This text which follows is taken from the authors unpublished manuscript – “The School, the Master, the Boys and the VC.” which is about the men named on the Alfred Sutton School War Memorial. It gives further details about William Arthur Ayres military service.

William Ayres took park in the Battle of Loos in September 1915.  Although injured he  survived the severe machine gun fire of the battle and found himself on the outskirts of Hulluch village near the Lens-La Bassée road. He was in a signalling section of his unit and part of a small scouting party sent to reconnoitre the village. William’s  own account of his experiences in front of Hulluch was published in the book Responding to the Call authored by Colin Fox et al:

“We had captured three lines, most of the enemy not waiting for the bayonet.  We signallers had two wires across to the almost captured village (of Hulluch). Corporals Giddings and Shirley took another wire across.  We were in sight of the village and they were
trying to stop us: three men with a quick fire gun.  The shells did not hit but the sniper did and
put one through my shoulder, mess can, coat and everything.  My two mates dropped down, put a field dressing on my wound and ran on. I believe they got the wire across. I lay low
‘till the sniper in the trees had wasted most of his ammunition and then I made
a bolt for it and got to the field dressing station.”

William was lucky to reach the dressing station and obtain treatment and evacuation to safer territory. The survivors of the battalion were less fortunate with many of them suffering from thirst and hunger until they were finally relieved on 28 September.

William Ayres was hospitalised in Warrington but within a matter of months he found himself back at the front. Having recovered from the wounds received at Loos in autumn 1915 William found himself back with his unit during the Battle of the Somme. The 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was essentially in support during three separate engagements, 14 July, 18 August and 3 September. The battalion arrived in the battle zone on 9 July and went into action for the first time early on the morning of the 11 July; orders had been given to hold, at all costs, the village of Contalmaison, in the area of Mametz Wood. The area was one of destruction, the village had changed hands several times and not a house was standing. However, the battalion managed to consolidate the line. On the evening of the 12 July patrols were sent out and preparations made for an attack on the 14 July that, in the event, was very successful for the Fourth Army of which the battalion was a part. It was during this period that William Ayres won the Military Medal. The London Gazette 1 September1916 records the citation ‘for good work and bravery.’ The action was ‘mending a telephone line at great risk,’ also commended with him was Private R. Slyfield of Reading. (Details about R.Slyfied, Robert, and his brother also R.Slyfield, Richard, who is buried in the cemetery can be found on this site.)

It is not clear what other actions he was involved in but, having survived the Somme campaign, the coldest winter for many years and the early actions of 1917, which included the Battle of Arras, he transferred to the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers had a major responsibility for signalling and, initially at least, he is believed to have continued his work as a signaller. This was a dangerous and vital job. Communications with the front line were often broken and the signaller had the job of effecting repairs under the most trying of circumstances.”

William died in France on 22 July 1917 and is buried at Merville Communal Cemetery Extension, location I. B. 43.   The town of Merville is situated around a waterway ‘crossroads.’  The River Lys, runs from west to east, the Canal de la Nieppe runs from the north to west skirting the Forêt de Nieppe; the Canal d’ Aire runs to the southwest. It is not known exactly what  William’s work was but he was serving in the Inland Waterways Salvage Unit at the time of his death.

William was also a puzzel in other ways. William’s family were atheists and his headstone does not bear the usual cross and has the following commemoration:


However, Local newspapers at the time of his death stated that prior to the war William was employed in the Signal Works department of the Great Western Railway whether this has anything to do with being a ‘brass finisher’ as given on the attestation papers is not known.

William was a member of Reading University College and is commemorated on that war memorial.  His father, William Reyolds Ayres was an ardent socialist and trades unionist; he was the first Labour member of the Reading Town Council.



Ernest Edward Woods

Ernest Edward Woods
Staff Sergeant SS/5255
attached to 37th Division H.Q. Army Service Corps.

 Division 80

Woods EE photo Woods EE grave

Ernest Edward Woods was the son of Thomas and Susannah Woods, of  185, Oxford Road at the time of their son’s death; and 23, Coley Hill, Reading at the time of  CWGC registration.  His name is commemorated on the headstone of  grave number 16890.  He died on 22nd May 1916 and is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension II.C.18.

 The Standard 29th July 1916 gives details of his career and the details of the illness which killed him.

Sergt. Woods enlisted directly the war broke out, prior to which time he was a journalist on the ‘West London Free Press,’ which makes the following comment on his death:- “Woods was a capable and strenuous journalist.  His qualities of sprightly energy, alertness and loyalty won him the sincere regard of our staff.  His death appears all the more tragic because it was so unexpected.  Shortly before he was taken ill he wrote to his mother saying he was quite well and ever so happy.  Further information showed, however, that the preliminary cause of death was a tumour on the brain.  He was an extremely bright and joyous fellow, and had he lived would have had an honourable career in the Army.  Already he had won the confidence of the officers’ and men, and at headquarters it was known that he was marked out for rapid promotion.  For his mother and other relatives the sympathy of all who knew Staff Sergt. Woods goes out.”

          The C.O. wrote: “Woods had been in my confidential clerk for over a year – ever since the formation of the division.  It may be of some satisfaction to you to know that your son did his duty both willingly and well.  He died practically in the front line.”

 Doullens was the H.Q. of the French General Foch in the early part of the war.  From Summer 1915 to March 1916, the town was the junction between the French 10th Army and the British Third Army on the Somme.  The Citadelle, overlooking the town from the south, was a French military hospital, and the railhead was used by both Armies.  In March 1916, the Arras front became British, and the town became home to various Casualty Clearing Stations.  Medical units buried their dead firstly in the French Extension of the Communal Cemetery and later Extension No.2 when casualties form both the Arras and Somme fronts increased.

Seymour Waldegrave Soole

Seymour Waldegrave Soole
Gunner 199044 3rd Reserve Brigade
Royal Horse Artillery

 Division 46


Seymour Waldegrave Soole, was the eldest son of Laura Sophia Soole and the late Rev. S. H. Soole, of 3, Castle Crescent, Reading.

His is a registered war grave but bears a private memorial, number 7627.

 His death was reported in the Reading Standard, the newspaper for which he had worked.

Death of Gunner S. W. Soole

“To his journalist friends the death of gunner Seymore Waldegrave Soole, RHA, came  as a great shock.  Just three weeks ago the deceased joined the colours, he was taken ill at Portsmouth and died suddenly on Saturday of cerebro-menigitis.  The deceased aged 40, was the eldest son of the late Rev. Seymour H. Soole, vicar of Greyfriars’, Reading and grandson of the late Martin Hope Sutton, founder of the firm Sutton and Sons.  For over ten years Mr. Soole had  been on the literary staff of the “Reading Standard”.  He was educated at Bradfield college and at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with Honours.  He performed his duties with courtesy and unostentation, and was greatly esteemed by his journalistic colleagues in Reading”. 

Then follows a list of the mourners.

“The grave was lined with ivy and moss, entwined with white a salmon cyclamen, and the laurel wreath and sheaf of violets were lowered with the coffin, which had been covered with a Union Jack”.

A list of the floral tributes followed.