Rifleman S/8114 William Charles Riley

Killed in Action on Friday, 30th July 1915, age 24.
Commemorated on Panel 46 - 48 and 50 of Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

9th Bn., Rifle Brigade. 42nd Brigade of 14th Division.

Husband of Mrs Gertrude Riley of Dudley Port, Tipton, Staffs. Eldest son of Mr and Mrs Enoch Riley.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Tipton, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 2nd June 1915.
Medal entitlement: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/920165/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
280 Dudley Port, Tipton, Staffs.
Enoch Riley (37, Iron Worker, born Dudley Port), his wife Annie (31, born Dudley Port), and their 3 children: William (8, born Dudley Port), Annie (2, born Dudley Port), Laura (3 months, born Dudley Port).

1911 Census
280 Dudley Port, Tipton, Staffs.
Enoch Riley (48, Mill Furnaceman, born Dudley Port), his wife Hannah (45, born Brockmoor), and their 5 surviving children of 9: William Charles (19, General Labourer, born Dudley Port), Annie (12, born Dudley Port), Laura Gertrude (10, School, born Dudley Port), Enoch (7, born Dudley Port), and Sylvia (2, born Dudley Port).

Marriage of William Charles Riley and Gertrude Davis registered June quarter 1915 (actually 11th April) in Dudley.
Gertrude must have been pregnant when he died, because his daughter Lilian Emily May Riley was born on 4th March 1916. She unfortunately died aged just 10 months.

Personal Data

After William's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £2/1/6d (2 pounds, 1 shilling and 6 pence); this was paid to his widow, Gertrude, in November 1915. His War Gratuity was £3/0/0d (3 pounds exactly), this was also paid to Gertrude in July 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that WIlliam had enlisted within the previous 12 months.

Action resulting in his death

The 9th Rifle Brigade was in 42nd Brigade of 14th (Light) Division. In June 1915 they moved into Belgium, taking over the Hooge Sector on the 23rd July.

At 7pm on 19th July 1915, a large mine was exploded by 175th Tunnelling Company R.E., under a German strongpoint at Hooge. The spoil from the detonation threw up a lip 15 feet high, around a crater 20 feet deep and 120 feet wide. After the firing, it was immediately occupied by two Companies of the 4th Middlesex. British artillery quelled all signs of German attempts to recover the crater.

German retaliation came on 30th July 1915. At 3.15am, with dramatic suddenness, the ruins of the Stables were blown up, and jets of flame shot across from the German trenches. This was the first time that the Germans had used liquid fire flamethrowers against the British. Immediately a deluge of fire of all kinds fell on the 41st Brigade who held the crater, and on all support positions back to Zouave Wood and Sanctuary Wood. The Germans achieved complete surprise, but although the British front lines were evacuated, they did not follow beyond them. There was intensive hand-to-hand fighting in some trenches; eventually virtually all of the positions held by the Brigade were lost.

The 42nd Brigade was in support on the left in Zouave Wood, and were not attacked. At 11.30am, orders were issued for a counterattack by the 41st and 42nd Brigades. A feeble 45-minute bombardment preceded this.

The 9th Rifle Brigade attacked from the south in Zouave Wood towards the Menin Road, no man getting closer than 150 yards to the new German positions. During the night, another flamethrower attack was repulsed, but further efforts by the 14th Division on the 31st came to nothing against heavy German shellfire. A further British attack on the 9th August reclaimed the area lost during this German attack.

29 men of the 9th Rifle Brigade were killed during the 30th and 31st July, amongst them William Riley. He has no known grave, and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Newspaper Cuttings