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About William Leo Ogden, first World War

About William Leo Ogden, first World War

William grew up in children’s homes and joined the army at the age of 15 in 1894. Compared to today’s boys he was only the size of a 12-13 year old at the time. He enlisted in the West Surrey (or Queen’s) regiment and subsequently spent three years with the 1st Battalion in India. In 1897 he was wounded and sent back to England to join the 2nd Battalion. In 1907 he was discharged from the regiment and shortly after he married.

In 1914, at the age of 35, William re-enlisted with the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s Regiment upon their return from India. He embarked for France in November 1914 as part of the 7th Division. The battalion fought in the First Battle of Ypres although William may have arrived too late for that. He was in the trenches at La Boutillerie near Armentieres for an unofficial Christmas Day armistice at the end of 1914.

By 9th May 1915 the Battalion was billeted close to Estaires, about 14 km north of Béthune, and a few km west of their Christmas position. Early that morning they marched to the front, and from 6am they waited in support trenches, under continual shell-fire, with the rest of the 7th Division to follow the 8th Division in an attempt to seize the Aubers Ridge. The wait continued next day, but in the end the 8th failed to break through, the attempt was abandoned, and that night the Brigade marched about 14 km south to new billets at Essars, a couple of km north of Béthune.

On the evening of 15th the Battalion marched from their billets to wait in trenches east of the village of Festubert, which is about 7km ENE of Béthune. Over the course of that night about 790 men of the Battalion went “over the top” to raid the opposing trenches. They held them until 7.30pm the following day when orders were given to pull back. During that period of fighting 155 were killed, 237 were wounded, and 42 were designated missing. William was one of the 26,000 British casualties in that month’s offensive.

Like many others Corporal William Ogden is listed as having no known grave, but he is mentioned on the panel of Le Touret Military Cemetery just north of Festubert. He left behind a widow, Edith, and two children, Harold and Arthur. Before re-joining the regiment William had moved them to be close to Edith’s sister and his pre-war employer, the Post Office, paid for the boy’s education at a local grammar school. Life was hard, but the preparations William had made meant that it was manageable. William Leo Ogden was my great-grandfather and Arthur was my grandfather.