Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte J J Hiley
2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action, 10.9.1918
John James Hiley’s paternal family were long time inhabitants of Weybridge with the key points in their lives chronicled in the records of St. James’ Church. His father James was born in 1866 and married Eleanor Wenham at St. James’ on 21 December 1889. John and his younger sisters, May and Grace Amelia were all born in Weybridge; he was baptised at St James’ on 7 June 1890, having been born two months earlier on 29 April. His father was a fly driver at the time of his son’s birth. A year later the family home was on Monument Hill. By 1891, now joined by May and Grace the Hileys lived at 3, Milton Cottages in Waverley Road which remained their home until at least 1918.
John married Ethel Elizabeth Walton early in 1910; their first child Hilda May was born in the same year. The young family were at three different locations at the time of the 1911 Census: John, a pot man in a Public House, was with his mother and aunt in Waverley Road, Ethel was registered at Oatlands Park Hotel as a kitchen maid and their infant daughter was with her maternal grandparents at 30, Medwin Street in Brixton SW4. Three more children followed; John Henry Sydney in 1911, Eleanor in 1913 and James in 1915. John appears to be the only one who was baptised at St. James’ – on 9 November 1911. His parents lived at Scotch Villa in Oakdale Road and John Snr had become a bandsman with the North Staffordshire Regiment.
His war service began in 1915 when he was posted to the 5th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (R/33432) which remained in Britain as part of the Thames and Medway garrison. John went to the Western Front in November 1916 to join the 2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. This battalion were already veterans of the Battle of the Somme having been in action on the first day of this offensive (I July 1916) when few made it to the enemy’s barbed wire because their own artillery had not hit the German front line. John experienced five key phases of the war: the Arras Offensive, April – May 1917; the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), July – November 1917; the Battle of Cambrai, November – December 1917; the German Spring Offensive, 1918 and the final One Hundred Days offensive to defeat the enemy. He endured a period of intensive fighting between August and December 1917; at the Battle of Langemarck (Third Ypres) the battalion came under heavy shelling in the front line, at the Battle of Poelcapelle (Third Ypres) they faced appalling conditions having to fight through cold drenching rain with the resulting heavy conditions underfoot and at the Battle of Cambrai they experienced street fighting and the first massive use of tanks. Despite initial success in breaking through the German defences of the Hindenburg Line they lost ground during the counter-offensive.
By April 1918 John and his comrades were in the Merville area (15 km north of Bethune) when the heavy German attacks of the Spring Offensive sent them into retreat. The Germans penetrated up to 40 miles into Allied territory until their by then exhausted forces were finally halted around Rheims on 15 July. The final Allied push now began; John’s battalion went into attack again in late August at Outtersteene Ridge (5 km south-west of Bailleul) where they were successful in advancing the line. After a brief respite they were back in the line, close to Outersteene, on 4 September; the following day patrols pushed forward and under very heavy shelling 10 were killed, 29 were wounded and 6 were reported missing. John is likely to have been one of the wounded as on the day of his death – 10 September – the battalion was not in action but resting at Outtersteene.
He is buried in Ephey Wood Farm Cemetery (VI.C.II) which lies between Cambrai and Peronne, about 18 km north-east of Peronne. John’s wider family maintained their links with Weybridge and St. James’ Church when his sisters Grace and May were married at the church on 16 September 1916 and 7 September 1918 respectively. His widow moved to Woking where between 1924 and 1931 she lived at 1, Baker’s Cottages, Lavender Road and between 1932 and 1945 she resided at 221, Boundary Road.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
British Army in the Great War, The Long, Long Trail – Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England, The National Roll of the Great War, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk