William George Spires

From towers to trenches, we remember William Spires

The deathly silence is broken by buglers at 8pm sharp, the familiar notes of the last post echo around the Menin Gate in Ypres. The last post is played each evening since the tradition began in 1928 as a tribute to the memory of the many soldiers who fought and fell in the Ypres Salient so many years ago. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland). Among the names engraved on stone G in bay 39 is Spires WG. A search in the memorial’s register provides a little more detail “SPIRES Pte William George 18411. 5th Bn Oxf Bucks Light Inf. 25th Sept., 1915.”

William was the fourth known child of Arthur and Elizabeth Spires and was born in the summer of 1896 in Old Bradwell possibly Loughton Road where the family lived in 1891. Arthur was employed as a labourer on a local farm and was born and bred locally in Old Bradwell. Mother, Elizabeth nee Lennard was born in Little Horwood and the couple were married in 1888.

In 1901, the family were living “next to” the “post office”; Arthur was aged 36 while his wife was 3 years his senior. The children Hilda age 11, Sarah age 10, Arthur age 8 and William age 5 were presumably all attending the local school.

Fast forward to 1911 and the census record completed by Mrs Arthur Spires shows that father, Arthur was employed as a “Cowman on farm”, while his daughter Sarah was employed in a printing works and his elder sons Arthur and William had been taken on as apprentices with a brick layer and house painter respectively. Hilda was perhaps one of the two children to have died before the 1911 census. The home they lived in was still near the post office and contained four rooms including kitchen but excluding any scullery, landing, lobby, closet or bathroom. Around this time William rang the bells at Bradwell.

While the service records for William do not appear to have survived The Blitz it is likely that he was killed on the first day of the Battle of Loos (25th Sept – 18 Oct 1915). The web site Lightbobs.com has transcribed a copy of the 5th Battalion’s action during the First World War, this document recounts that the battalion was assembled by midnight on the 24th expecting to commence the attack on Bellewaarde farm at 4.20am. It gives details of how the battle developed during the course of the day and the devastating result of one day’s action: 13 out of 15 officers and 463 out of 767 other ranks had lost their lives. William amongst the 463 was most likely a member of the left column who were heavily shelled at the beginning of the battle.

Information sources

Census records for 1911, 1901

Commonwealth war graves commission

Buckinghamshire remembers

Medal card records

The Long, Long Trail