Researched and written by Anne Wright
Trooper P J Tilley
Household Cavalry & Cavalry of the Line,
2nd Life Guards
Killed in action, 23.1.1916
Philip James Tilley must have been a fine looking young man; when he enlisted at Kingston on 29 August 1914, he stood almost six feet tall, had a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. His parents, Reuben and Sarah (nee Franks) had moved to Weybridge soon after their marriage in the Chertsey district in 1878. Reuben was a native of Chertsey, having been born there in 1846 and at the time of his marriage was a gardener. Sarah hailed from Steeple Aston in Oxfordshire and was six years younger than her husband. They had nine children, eight of whom survived: Charles, Reuben, Elizabeth, Florence, Frank, Philip, Edith and Margaret. The growing family moved between four locations in Weybridge: Sandpits Cottages in 1881, Waverley Road in 1891, Pine Cottages, Heath Road in 1901 by which time Rueben described himself as a woodcutter and they were still at Pine Cottages in 1911 when Reuben was an invalid and Sarah had become a boarding house keeper before moving to Arundel in Melrose Road. Philip was born on 26 May 1893 and baptised at St James’ Church on 8 July; he went on to attend St James’ School (Baker Street).
When he joined the army Philip was just four months away from completing his apprenticeship as a boat builder with James Taylor of Bridge Road, Chertsey. He received his enlistment notice from another of those on the Weybridge War Memorial, Col Sgt Thomas Ivess who was the town’s recruiting agent. Philip specified that he wanted to join the 2nd Life Guards and his request was granted. He spent from the time of his enlistment until 19 May 1915 in Britain when he left for France. The 2nd Life Guards although part of the 3rd Cavalry Division fought most of the war as a dismounted unit. Philip was part of a draft of six officers and one hundred other ranks that joined the Guards at Wallon-Capell, south-west of Ypres on 23 May 1915. They had been in Belgium since October 1914 having arrived in time to participate in the First Battle of Ypres from 18 October to 11 November. On 1 November they were in Sanctuary Wood, half a mile south of Hooge when the Germans were mounting simultaneous attacks from north and south to ‘pinch out’ the Ypres Salient which was established by the end of the last attack on 10 November and held by Allied forces throughout the war.
The 2nd Life Guards remained in the Ypres Salient and when Philip joined them had just spent a short time in trenches two miles north-east of Ypres. He had his first taste of trench experience when they went back into the line in Sanctuary Wood a week after his arrival. They had a relatively quiet time marked by sniping from both sides and aeroplane activity also from both sides. From then on much of their time was spent in training for future operations, providing digging parties and in the constant care of their horses. There was no return to the trenches until the beginning of January 1916; they were based at Hucqueliers in the Pas de Calais area from where on 3 January, 313 dismounted other ranks set off by train from Desvres to billets at Fouquerevil (a small village between Bethune and Bruay la Buissiere) and then into the trenches. On 23 January the unit’s War Diary recorded that ‘nothing of note had happened at Hucqueliers’ but among the dismounted company there had been casualties, including four fatalities – Philip Tilley was one of them.
He has no known grave and with over 20,000 others is commemorated on the Loos Memorial (Panel 1) which is 5 km north-west of Lens. Philip’s father did not survive his son for very long – he died in 1922 and his funeral service took place at St James’ Church. His mother and sister Edith continued to live in Melrose Road until 1928 when they moved to Hersham Road where they remained for five years. Sarah Tilley died in Staines in 1935.
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1987, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
P J Tilley’s Service Record, The National Archives, WO-400-157-2978_02.jpg