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Ambrose, William

Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private William Ambrose (31965)
Killed in Action on Monday 9th April 1917
Battle of Arras, aged 37
Son of Charles & Frances Ambrose
Father's occupation: Dairyman
Born 26th June 1879 at Reading
3 sisters, 1 brother, position in family: 3
Relatives: Wife - Beatrice Emily, née Priest m. 22 July 1905, daughter - Ethel, b. Q3 1906, nephews William and John Priest
Infant School:Binfield
Senior School:Hurst Boys
Admitted:16th September 1884
Age on admission:5
Left school:9th February 1890
Age at leaving:10
Local address: Lodge Road, Hurst
Pre-war occupation: Farm Worker
Battalion:2nd Bn.
Previous units:5th Bn Berkshires
6th Bn Berkshires
Went overseas:After 1 Jan 1916
Died:Monday 9th April 1917
Cause:Killed in Action
Action:Battle of Arras
Battalion at:St Martin sur Cojeul
Commemorated:Grave at Wancourt British Cemetery, Arras

William Ambrose was born in Reading on 26th June 1879 to Charles and Frances Ambrose, and was the middle of five children, having three sisters and one brother. He lived firstly in 59 Mill Lane, Reading where his father was an Engine Driver in a brewery and his mother was a Greengrocer.

A few years later the family were in Binfield where William attended Infants School and then in the summer of 1884 they moved to Cross Roads, Hurst and William became a pupil at Hurst Boys School. By the time William was eleven the family had moved to Lodge Road where they ran a dairy.

William left school at the age of ten to help in the dairy. He married Beatrice Emily Priest at St.Nicholas Church on 22nd July 1905; one of the witnesses was her older brother William, father of twins Harry and William who were 8 at the time. Just over a year after the wedding their daughter Ethel was born.

In 1911 the three of them were living at Park View in Whistley Green and William continued to work on his father's dairy farm. He enlisted into the army at Wokingham and was sent to France after the start of 1916. By the time of his death William was a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment, which formed part of the 21st Brigade of the 30th Division.

In early 1917 the German army had adopted new tactics on the Western Front and retired to a more formidable system of defences known as the Hindenburg Line. The allies responded by planning a coordinated attack, with the British moving forward around Arras, closely followed by a French offensive around the Oise and the Aisne. In April 1917 the 2nd Wiltshire Battalion took part in the Battle of Arras which comprised a number of offensives including Bullecourt at which Joseph Goodchild was killed and Arleux where Frederick Sherwood died.

On 3rd April the Battalion was withdrawn from the frontline to Bailleulval in preparation for the attack. They spent the next day resting and cleaning up and then for two days practised the forthcoming attack. On 7th April they paraded in fighting order before marching seven miles to the support trenches east of Mercatel. On the way they stopped at the Crucifix where tea was issued and the men received rations, bombs, flares and entrenching tools. The next day dawned with beautiful weather and British artillery bombarded the Hindenburg Line all day. The Battalion completed its preparations and everyone was in position by 11.30p.m. when rain commenced falling.

On 9th April the attack was launched at 5.30 a.m. under cover of a heavy artillery barrage. Closely following in the wake of the shell fire, infantry poured across No Man's Land on a wide front and overwhelmed the German lines. Within forty minutes of the opening of the battle, practically the whole of the German front line system had been stormed and taken.

At 7.30 a.m. the advance was resumed against the secondary objectives. Somewhat greater opposition was encountered, and at the hour when these objectives were timed to have been captured, strong parties of the enemy were still holding out on the high ground.

By 12 noon men from 12th Division had captured Observation Ridge and nearly all of the secondary objectives had been achieved. A large number of prisoners had been taken, including practically a whole battalion of the 162nd German Regiment.

East of Mercatel the 30th Division, including 2nd Wiltshire Battalion, took St. Martin-sur-Cojeul, and the line was carried forward between that point and Feuchy Chapel on the Arras-Cambrai road. The 2nd Battalion's War Diary described the day as follows:

Monday 9th April 1917
France, Trenches
At 1.30a.m. a party of 100 Other Ranks of "D" Company under the command of Lieut FRISBY went forward to attack the MILL near the HENIN - NEUVILLE VITASSE ROAD. The attack met with considerable resistance, and the attackers were forced to retire, having sustained heavy casualties. Lieut N FRISBY was wounded and Lieut SR PARSONS killed, and 35 Other Ranks became casualties. Lieut BEARNE and one platoon moved forward to cover the retirement. It was ascertained from prisoners taken later that the garrison of this MILL was at the time of the attack 120 Other Ranks and 2 machine guns.
At 5.30am the main attack on the HINDENBURG LINE commenced. NEUVILLE VITASSE and ST MARTIN - sur - COJEUL, the villages on our flanks, were captured, and at 11.38am the 21st Brigade attacked with the 2nd Wiltshire Regt on the right, the 18th King's (Liverpool) Regt on the left, and the 19th Manchester Regt in support. The distance between the assembly positions of this Battalion and their objective varied between 2,000 and 2,400 yards. The Battalion advanced in artillery formation, the first wave being composed of "A" company on the right and "B" company on the left, the second wave was composed of "C" company on the right and "D" company on the left, each wave consisting of 2 lines of 2 platoons per company.
Considerable hostile shelling was experienced throughout the advance, which became intense as it proceeded, causing heavy casualties before the attackers came in sight of their objective. To reach the objective (namely the HINDENBURG LINE) two sunken roads had to be crossed, at which considerable resistance was offered but was soon overcome, a machine gun and several prisoners being captured on the first. Between the first and second sunken roads the attackers came under fire from several machine guns, which together with the shelling formed a considerable barrage.
The advance continued up to the enemy's wire, but by this time the ranks of the attackers were considerably depleted. The wire was found to be damaged but not cut sufficiently to allow troops to enter the trenches. The few unwounded men left took cover in all available shell holes, but eventually had to retire to the sunken road running from NEUVILLE VITASSE to ST MARTIN - sur - COJEUL, where they dug in on the EASTERN BANK. The enemy's artillery immediately commenced to shell this road heavily with shells of large calibre, causing further casualties.
By this time most of the officers had become casualties, only three remaining, 2/Lieuts HC CLARK, FJ LONDON, and TW GLYNN. These officers collected all the unwounded men, 90 in all, and consolidated the position. Some little time afterwards two companies of the 19th Manchester Regt arrived in support, and also dug in on the same road. This position was held until the evening, when two companies of the 16th Manchesters came up and took over the position. After relief the remnants of the Battalion marched back to SWITCH LANE, South of MERCATEL.
The total casualties sustained by the Battalion in the attack, not counting those previously sustained in the attack on the MILL, was Captains 2, Subalterns 12, Other ranks 328. These were made up as follows:- Capt RW BROWN, 2/Lieuts WH BALKWILL, ST HORTON, AC CLAKE and CH MERRIMAN killed, and Capt CW WARD, DSO, Lieut LH BEARNE, 2/Lieuts CS GRAY, DJ CAMPKIN, GH KELLY, AVS GRANT, HS EDMONDS, FJ LONDON, and AS CARTER (att 21st TM Battery) wounded.

During the attack 2nd Wiltshire Battalion suffered 380 casualties and Private William Ambrose was one of those killed in action; he was thirty-seven years old. Today William rests in Wancourt British Cemetery not far from where he fell, along with comrades from his Battalion.


William Ambrose at Wancourt British Cemetery, Arras
Wancourt British Cemetery, Arras

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in morning
We will remember them.
Lawrence Binyon