6 May 2010

DYKES William Albert


Private G/7784, 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Killed in Action on Monday 10th July 1916
Commemorated: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, Pier and Face 7c

William Albert Dykes was born in London, the eldest of four sons of William and Elizabeth Dykes. In 1911 the family were living in Greenwich, where William senior was employed by the local council as a tram driver, and William junior was a draper's assistant. By the outbreak of war the family had moved to Lancing and were living at Fairfield, Penhill Road.
William's army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted into the 7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment in August 1915, while his brothers Percy and Charles joined the Royal Garrison Artillery later that year.

There is some confusion about the actual date of his death, as although the official date is given as the 10th July 1916, the evidence suggests that it is more likely he died three days before. The battalion war diary held at The National Archives [WO95/1856] shows that the battalion was involved in heavy action on the 7th/8th July 1916 at Ovillers, the account running to eight pages, with 20 officers and 508 other ranks as casualties, while by the 10th they were out of the line and bivouacked north of Senlis before marching to Forceville. Newspaper reports can, at times, be misleading and inaccurate, but a report in the local paper on 1st November 1916 gives more weight to the suggestion that William Dykes was killed on the 7th July:

LANCING MAN'S FATE - First reported missing, and then gazetted among the dead, Private W. A. Dykes, Royal Sussex Regiment, was one of the three sons in the Army of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Dykes, Fairfield, Penhill Road, Lancing. He joined a year ago last August, being at that time a carman in the employ of Potter, Bailey and Co. of Lancing, and was in his 25th year. His parents last heard from him by letter dated 29th June, and then came a field card dated the 3rd July. Nothing further was received from him, but in the meantime his brothers, who were home on leave, were sending him letters, cigarettes, etc. Towards the end of July, between the 20th and 30th, a communication was received from a comrade that he was missing after a charge on the 7th July. Other communications, including one from his Captain, written in August, and one subsequently from Hounslow, confirmed the news. Three months after the occurrence came the tidings that he had been killed on the 10th.

As part of 36th Brigade, the 7th Royal Sussex were alongside the 8th and 9th Battalions, Royal Fusiliers on the 7th of July 1916. The following extract is taken from the Royal Fusiliers Regimental History:

Ovillers. On the 7th, two other Fusilier battalions were also engaged in the battle. The 8th and 9th Battalions of the 36th Brigade with the 7th Royal Sussex between them, made another attempt to capture Ovillers, and few more costly actions were fought in the whole of the battle of the Somme. The weather was bad, and though no rain fell during the night, the fumes of the gas shells were blanketed in the hollows of the ground, and formed a death trap for the many who fell wounded ...
The Prussian Guards who held these battered positions were worthy foemen, and though the first and second trenches were captured, the cost was very terrible.

My own great-uncle, Jack Cox, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, was killed at Ovillers on this day, and it was the search for him that started my interest in the Great War. The picture on this page is the view from Ovillers Military Cemetery across Mash Valley where the men had advanced. Neither William Dykes nor Jack Cox have a known grave, and may still lie buried beneath the now peaceful fields. They are both named on the nearby Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, which commemorates more than 72,000 officers and men who died on the Somme and who have no known grave.



Paul Nixon said...

Hi Sue. It looks from his number as though he joined the second half of August 1915.

Sue Light said...

Thanks - the local paper helped me out with this one.