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Barracks at Shorncliffe Camp
Barracks at Shorncliffe Camp
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Hayward, George

George Hayward
1914-1915 Star
1914/15 Star
Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private George Hayward (10743)
Killed in Action on Monday 3rd July 1916
Battle of the Somme, aged 22
Son of John & Martha Hayward
Father's occupation: Cattleman
Born Q1 1894 at Newland, Berks
1 sister, 3 brothers, position in family: 3
Relatives: 3 brothers. Pte 201380 Charles Hayward, DCM, 8th Berks; Driver 616311 Hubert Hayward, RHA; Shoeing Smith John Hayward
Local address: Mungell's Cottage, Hurst
Enlisted:Reading, Monday 31st August 1914
Regiment:Royal Berkshire
Battalion:5th Bn.
Division:12th (Eastern)
Went overseas:Sunday 30th May 1915
Died:Monday 3rd July 1916
Cause:Killed in Action
Action:Battle of the Somme
Battalion at:Ovillers-la-Boisselle
Commemorated:Memorial at Thiepval Memorial, Somme

George Hayward was born in Newland, Berks in 1894 to John and Martha Hayward. By the age of seven George was living with his sister and three brothers in Clay Lane, Newland and his father was a cattleman. During the First World War George's address was Mungell's Cottage, Hurst and he enlisted into the army at Reading on 31st August 1914 along with Ernest Lloyd. Arthur Hale and Francis Goodall also signed up on the same day.

They were initially stationed in Brock Barracks, Oxford Road, Reading along with other volunteers. The recruiting campaign was so successful that by 12th September there were enough men to create a 5th and 6th Battalion for the Royal Berkshire Regiment, each staffed with 1,100 men. These new 'service' Battalions of volunteers were distinct from the two regular and one reserve Battalion that were the peacetime complement for a county regiment.

Brock Barracks was overwhelmed by the sudden inrush of volunteers and by 8th September conditions were called 'a disgrace to the country' in a complaint forwarded to Lord Kitchener. There were 2000 men in accommodation designed for 300 and it would have been a relief for George and the other Hurst soldiers to be assigned to the 5th Battalion and sent within a few days for training at Shorncliffe Barracks. Even here there was overcrowding and men were sleeping on the floor without sheets.

Conditions did not improve when 5th Battalion was moved out of the barracks to make way for new arrivals. They then slept under canvas on St. Martin's Plain until a combination of bad weather, leaking tents and deep mud made soldiering impossible. The men were then billeted in various hotels around Folkestone and training continued to improve the men's fitness and discipline with square bashing, full-pack marching and shooting practice at Hythe Ranges. During this time Herbert Bevis from Hurst joined George and the others in 5th Battalion.

Towards the end of February 1915 the Battalion transferred to Aldershot to join up with the rest of 12th (Eastern) Division, becoming part of 35th Brigade. After further training 5th Battalion was ready for action and George, along with Ernest, Arthur and Herbert, sailed for France on 30th May 1915, arriving in Boulogne the next day. Meanwhile Francis Goodall was transferred to 2nd Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

5th Battalion moved on to Armentieres and then to Ploegsteert, just across the border in Belgium. Ploegsteert was a comparatively quiet part of the front line where new troops were acclimatised to the rigours of trench warfare and George spent three months in this sector. At first 5th Battalion were fortunate to find themselves under instruction from 1st/4th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. George learnt the daily routines of life at the front and there was time to meet up with friends in the ten days before 1st/4th Battalion was moved to another sector.

On Sunday 26th September George's Battalion was relieved at the front and they retired three miles to billets at Westhof Farm near Neuve Eglise. Next day they marched back into France to the pretty village of Merris near Bailleul, ten miles behind the front lines. They arrived about 6p.m. and were expecting to stay for three weeks. Within two hours of their arrival orders were given to pack up and be ready to move out at 7a.m. next morning. Buses took the men south to the assembly point for 35th Brigade of 12th Division. They were about to play their part in the Battle of Loos.

The Battle of Loos was the British element of a combined offensive with the French, designed to overrun the railway system behind the German lines and undermine their positions along much of the Western Front. It was a large scale engagement involving 120,000 men from six divisions advancing on a six mile front. The attack took place on 25th September 1915 and by the time that George and the others moved up into the support trenches with the 35th Brigade, the battle had been in progress for five days.

Evidence of the earlier fighting was all around as they passed German prisoners, walking wounded and ambulances going in the opposite direction. Their path took them over ground taken in the previous days where they saw hundreds of British soldiers lying dead, still in formation. They then dug into the loose chalk while stretcher bearers looked for signs of life amid the carnage and took pay books from the dead as proof of their identity.

Soon 5th Battalion moved up to relieve a Guards Battalion and found themselves on an open plain in full view of the Germans. They were under constant bombardment and could only move around at night. For a fortnight the Battalion suffered this torment as they alternated between the front line and reserve. Then they had a short spell behind the lines in readiness for the second attack on 13th October.

The attack started at 2p.m. and 5th Battalion was sent over the top when the initial thrust was held up by machine gun fire. Despite suffering heavy casualties they managed to reach the German trenches where hand to hand fighting ensued. Later in the day they were driven out and had to crawl back across No Man's Land under constant fire. By the end of the day one hundred and sixty of George's comrades were reported killed, wounded or missing. The Battle of Loos ended without the desired breakthrough and was ultimately deemed a failure. It resulted in over 50,000 casualties for the British First Army.

The next few days were spent on the sorry task of clearing up and on 19th October the 5th Battalion was relieved and marched two miles to billets in Vermelles. Next day they were withdrawn to the Béthune area and they spent the next few months in this sector, rotating between their billets, reserve and the front line. This was not without danger and thirty four men including Arthur Hale were killed during the first half of 1916, even though 5th Battalion was not involved in any major offensives.

From the end of April the Battalion spent the majority of its time training for the next big offensive and on 16th June 1916 they boarded trains at Lillers for the move south to the Somme. They disembarked at Longeau station in Amiens and marched 12 miles north to billets in Vignacourt. The next two weeks were taken up with intensive training for the forthcoming attack. Battalion training was interspersed with Brigade Field Days at Montonvillers to ensure that all units understood their part in the plan.

From 24 June the British artillery bombarded the German lines to cut the wire and destroy their defensive positions. On 30th June 1916 the Battalion moved forward to Franvillers and next morning the Battle of the Somme commenced. 5th Battalion did not engage until the third day and the War Diary describes the build up to their attack:

5th Royal Berkshire
Saturday 1st July 1916
France, Franvillers
9a.m. The Battalion left Franvillers and marched to HENENCOURT WOOD, arriving there about 11a.m. All packs were collected and stored in a hut. Two extra bandoliers, and two bombs, were issued to all ranks, and 200 entrenching tools were issued.
5p.m. Received a sudden order to move to ALBERT to relieve the 8th Division. The relief was not complete until daybreak on 2nd.
Sunday 2nd July 1916
France, Albert
3a.m. The Battalion occupying the front system of trenches from RYCROFT Street to ARGYL Street. B and C Companies occupied the front system of trenches, A and D companies were in Support in RYCROFT Street. Battalion H.Q. in VINCENT Street. The 37th Infantry Brigade were holding the trenches on our left the 19th Division on our Right. The trenches were found to be in a very filthy state, with many dead and wounded lying about. In the evening orders were issued that at dawn the following day the intention was to capture the village of OVILLERS LA BOISELLE.

Ovillers la Boiselle had been a first day objective for 2nd Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and their attack had been repulsed with heavy casualties. 5th Battalion had to repeat the assault over ground littered with the bodies of fallen comrades, including George's friend Francis Goodall who had been killed two days previously. The attack commenced at 3.15 a.m and was preceded by an hour long bombardment. By zero hour the men had already crawled forward into No Man's Land and they soon reached the German front line with few casualties.

This was only lightly held and all went well until the attackers reached Shrapnel Terrace, the heavily fortified German third line of defence. Fierce hand to hand fighting ensued and when supplies of bombs ran out the German defenders gained the upper hand. Survivors of 5th Battalion fell back to whatever cover they could find as the German machine gunners raked the ground. They hung on in shell holes and in the shelter of a sunken road until dark when they were able to withdraw. The War Diary describes their return:

Monday 3rd July 1916
France, Ovillers la Boiselle
4p.m. The Battalion which consisted of about 70 men, and the C.O., was ordered to go to the ALBERT Defences for the night. Here the men made bivouac shelters, and the officers and N.C.O's who had been left at the Transport lines rejoined, and cookers were brought up. In the evening 2nd Lieutenants BREACH and MAY, and about 60 men who had been dug in, in "No Man's Land" rejoined. We were all very glad to see them.

The attack on Ovillers la Boiselle had been a brave but costly failure. Nearly 100 men from 5th Battalion had been killed, with twice as many wounded. It was not until mid-August that the Reading newspapers reported that George Hayward and Ernest Lloyd were missing. Their families must have suffered an agonising wait of several weeks before being notified that the men had been killed on 3rd July. Both soldiers were in their early twenties and had shared thirteen months of hardship on the Western Front.

George has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial alongside his friend Ernest; he was twenty-two years old. George's three brothers (Charles, Hubert and John) also enlisted in the army and survived the war.


George Hayward on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme
Thiepval Memorial, Somme

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