Written by Moira Nairn
William Charles Layton was born on 28th May 1898, the first son and third child of Charles Robert Layton and Clara Layton née Clarke. Both parents had been born in South London but, by 1901, had settled with their family in 24 Fengates Road, Redhill where Charles worked as an upholsterer and picture framer. Sadly, in the same year of William’s birth, his sister, Mary Elizabeth, died. A fourth child, Frederick Charles Layton, was born in 1907.
William Charles joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) at the age of 16, joining up on 18th May 1915. After training, he was quartered in the borough where he was working as an orderly.
He took ill suddenly and died of peritonitis on 3rd March 1916. A gun carriage carried his coffin to Reigate cemetery where the Last Post was played and a firing party was deployed. His burial on 8th March was reported in a local paper.
A MILITARY FUNERAL
A REDHILL LAD BURIED AT REIGATE
‘The 2/5th Battalion on the Queen’s West Surrey Regiment, who are quartered in the Borough, have lost a very promising and popular soldier in the person of Pte W.C. Layton, who died after a very short illness on the Reigate and Redhill Hospital on Friday morning and was buried on Wednesday at the Reigate Cemetery with military honours. Pte Layton, the son of Mr C. R. Layton, 24 Fengates-rd., was a keen soldier. He enlisted in the 2/5th Queen’s on the 18th of May 1915, at the age of sixteen, and, with the military training he received at Windsor and other places developed and looked older than he really was. Since the battalion had been in the Borough he has been engaged as a clerk in the orderly room. He was suddenly taken ill last week and removed to the hospital, where he died in the early hours of Friday morning in the presence of his father and mother.
A large number of people witnessed the funeral, which was of an impressive character. The coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was taken on a gun carriage drawn by six horses to Shrewsbury Hall, the Plymouth Brethern Mission, where deceased attended regularly prior to joining the Army. Mr Joseph Burt and Mr F. Kent conducted a service, and kindly and sympathetic reference was made to the dead solider.
After the service the cortege proceeded to Reigate Cemetery, headed by a firing party under Sergt. Tovey. The band of the Battalion attended, and played suitable music en route. The mourning coaches were followed by the “B” Company of the Battalion, to which Pte Layton was attached. Lte.-Col. St. B. Sladen, the Acting Adjutant, Lieut. Chase, and Regtl.-Sergt.-Major Childs were also present.
The mourners included Mr and Mrs C.R. Layton (father and mother), Miss Cissie Layton and Master Fred Layton (sister and brother) and his aunts and cousins. The Battalion Chaplain conducted the service at the graveside. Three volleys were fired and the Last Post being sounded on the bugles, the company dispersed. A number of floral tributes marked the love and affection and esteem in which Pte Layton was held. They were sent by the mother and father, sister and brother, grandma, “Horace.” Aunt Sophie, Aunt Fanny and cousins Flo and Nellie, Mrs Haylar, Mr and Mrs Manning, Mr and Mrs Gandy, the Misses Woodman and Crawley, Mrs. Canter, and Mr and Mrs Bacon. Lt-Col. St. B Sladen, officers and men of the Battalion sent a wreath, Lieut. Sparks a floral tribute, and the men of “B” company also subscribed for a permanent token of respect. The funeral arrangements were placed in the hands of Messrs Geo.Comber and Sons.’
Keith Field, William’s great nephew recalls his grandfather, Frederick Charles Layton, speaking of his childhood memory of the guns being sounded over the coffin. Nine years of age at the time of his brother’s death, the brothers had been close.
The newspaper report concluded by mentioning a ‘permanent token of respect’ given by his regiment to the family. It does not specify what that might be. However, Keith Field has in his possession a framed tribute containing a photo of his great-uncle. The rear of the frame has two metal stamps, one with his great-uncle’s name and service number, and the other with the name of his battalion.
Might this be the ‘token of respect’ referred to in the article?
My thanks to Keith Field for sharing this information about his maternal great-uncle. Keith and his father, Charles Field have also been interviewed as part of the Oral History project where they talk about Charles Field’s Uncle Charles’ WW1 service.