Category Archives: Western Front

Henry Thomas Eighteen


Henry Thomas Eighteen
Private 20350
1st/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

At the time of the death of Henry Eighteen on 24 November 1916 the 1st/4th Battalion was serving on the Somme in the area of the Butte de Warlencourt. The Butte was an ancient burial mound some fifty feet high held by the Germans. In the gently undulating fields of the Somme it gave the occupying force not only an observational advantage but also a strong point of defence. The Butte was part of the last line before Bapaume. The Germans had the visual advantage in an area where the British trenches were dangerous with gaps in their defence. Conditions for the Berkshire men were dreadful and it was common for the 1st/4th to suffer six or seven casualties each day for the period they occupied these trenches.

s death refers to him having been killed in action in Albert. The Butte de Warlencourt is on the Albert to Bapaume Road about 10 miles from Albert.

Private Eighteen is buried in Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont, Somme.
This cemetery is a concentration cemetery. It was made after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields and small cemeteries surrounding Miraumont, and particularly the Canadian battlefields around Courcelette. The cemetery name comes from reversing the name Canada and the maple leaf is much in evidence. It was fortunate that Henry’s original grave was well marked and that it was not lost during later battles, as often happened.

Henry’s story illustrates how information must be gleaned from several sources in order to give a complete picture. In his case the local newspapers have been particularly valuable. Henry Thomas Eighteen is now known to be one of the five sons of Mr Frederick Syer Eighteen and Mrs Charlotte Ellen Louisa Eighteen (nee Smith) of 30, Leopold Rd., Reading. Work done on the Eighteen family tree available throught Ancestry UK indicates that there were 12 children. The 1911 census indicates that Frederick senior was a fish salesman, sons Stanley and John were both helping in the business and the rest of the children, including Henry Thomas were in school.

The Reading Chronicle 31 August 1917 gave notification of the wounding in the eye of Stanley James Eighteen on 18 August; he had been in service 18 months and had spent 14 months in France. This notice indicated that there had been five sons serving in the army, two had been killed, two wounded and one was still serving. From another report came information about John Bernard Eighteen, Driver 10213 ‘D’ Battery 75th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. It is now known that he was Henry’s older brother. John Eighteen died of wounds and is buried at Wimereux Cemetery. Wimereux was the site of many base hospitals. At the time of his death on 25 June 1917 John was aged 21. Stanley James was an older brother to both Henry and John and he survived the war living until 1956.

Both Henry and John Eighteen are commemorated on the memorial of the Trinity Congregational Church, Reading.  On the second anniversary of Henry’s death another ‘In Memoriam’ was published in The Reading Chronicle, 22 November 1918. It was particularly poignant because the Armistice had just taken place and people were looking forward to loved ones returning, it should be noted that in this document the father appears to be a widower:

Eighteen – In ever loving memory of Henry Thomas killed in action November 24th 1916.

He left his home in the flower of youth, he looked so strong and brave,
We little knew how soon he was to be laid in a soldier’s grave;
But the hardest part has yet to come, when the heroes all come home,
And we miss among the cheering crowd one that will never return.
From his loving father, sisters and brothers.

The name Eighteen is not particularly common, only three soldiers of that name appear in Soldiers Died although it was a well known name in Reading.  The impact of the war is illustrated by another entry in The Reading Chronicle September 1915 when it was reported that H. Eighteen, Horse dealer of Reading, had sold his business when both his son and nephew enlisted.


Godfrey Lewis Allum

Godfrey Lewis Allum
Private 203413
5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.

G L Allum headstone


Initial research revealed that Godfrey died on 26 August 1918 and was buried at Péronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt, location IV. E. 34.   Godfrey Allum was remembered by his parents, brothers and sisters in the Reading Standard 1919 although the ‘In Memoriam’ supplied little information about the circumstances of his death and his age wasnot given.

An search of  Ancestry UK revealed that his parents were James Allum and Eliza Pendygrass Allum. In 1911 Godfrey’s second name is written as Louis on the census form. He was then aged 18, his year of birth is given as about 1893 and that he was born in Henley upon Thames; his occupation is given as a printers apprentice. His father was a labourer at a corn merchants and his mother is recorded as being a dressmaker.  Only rarely at the time were women recorded as having an occupation. Godfrey had an older sister, Olive, then 21 and working at the biscuit factory, and a younger sister Myrtle aged 14 and younger brother Cyril aged 12 who were presumably still at school. The family were living at 13. Elgar Road, Reading. Godfrey would have been about 25 when he was killed.

Colin Fox in ‘Their Duty Done’ gives an account of the 5th Battalion battle at Carnoy on 26 August 1918 and Godfrey Allum is numbered among the thirty-seven casualties of the battalion who were killed during the action. The fighting took place during the British advance to Péronne. The battalion orders for the day were to prepare for an attack between 4am and 4.30am:

 ‘They marched by compass bearing and only reached their forming-up position at 4.45am, thus losing their barrage which was now falling some 1,500 yards a head of them. Their attack was made on both sides of the village and was met with heavy artillery and machine gun fire that caused a large number of casualties. The survivors managed to reach a spur, which was their first objective, and the leading troops were able to fight their way to German trenches on a forward slope beyond the village facing the strip of woodland called Talus Boisé, west of Maricourt. A line was established late in the afternoon. On the following day the battalion moved forward and took up a position beyond Talus Boisé with its right on the small copse immediately to the east known as Machine Gun Wood. From here they moved back to Carnoy which had been meanwhile secured by other units and stayed there until the end of the month.’


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.