Although born in Berkshire, by the time of the 1901 census, the Ley family were living in Astage Farm House, Windlesham. Ernest joined as a regular soldier in approximately 1906, serving in the Hampshire Regiment. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1916.
In a supplement to the London Gazette published on 11th March 1916, the citation to Sergeant Ernest George Ley reads:
‘For conspicuous coolness and resources. When his company commander and platoon commander were killed he collected the men nearest to him and opened fire on the enemy who were enfilading his trench from some houses near, thereby keeping down their fire during construction of a barricade. He saved a difficult situation by his promptness.’
Sadly Ernest died only a few months after this award, on 1st July 1916, at the first battle of the Somme.
Writing in the Windlesham Roll of Honour, the Rev A.J. Hutton tells of his service and reports on what his commanding office wrote after his death.
‘Quartermaster Sergeant Ley, DCM, of the 1st Battalion of the Hants. Regiment was on leave in Windlesham where his parents lived when war was declared. He received a telegram calling him back to Colchester, which place he left the next day to put up his Regiment’s colours at Winchester, & bring back reserves mobilised for war from Harrow. Sergeant Ley took part in the Retreat from Mons & fought in both battles of Ypres gaining the D. C. M. He was fatally wounded at the first battle of the Somme July 1st 1916 before Beaumont Hamel. He had seen eight years continuous service prior to the war.
Lieutenant Colonel Garcia commanding his regiment wrote after his death: ‘ He was my platoon sergt in the winter of 1914/15 and I soon learned to appreciate his extraordinary worth. My attention was first drawn to him when a reconnaissance had to be carried out and the scouts selected for the job felt nervous about going and both asked for Sergt Ley to be allowed to go with them. I then discovered that the men had a childlike confidence in him & would do anything for him. I became very attached to him & felt his death very much. I shall always treasure his memory as a very brave soldier and loyal N.C.O. who never thought of himself. He was one of the most gallant NCOs the 1st Battalion ever had………there was nothing he could not do with his men. The Regiment lost a splendid soldier, when he fell on the battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916.’ ‘
Anon, 1916, London Gazette , 11 March 1916
Hutton, A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour Z_682_1 28A