Private, TF/200168, 'C' Company, 1st/4th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
Killed in Action, Monday, 29 July 1918, at Soissons, Aisne, France, aged 22
Buried at Raperie British Cemetery, Villemontoire, Aisne.
Grave 6, Row E, Plot 9

Raperie British Cemetery
(Click to enlarge)

William Joseph Styles was born at the Lower Green, Forest Row, in late 1895 to parents Joseph and Annie Styles, who were married in 1888.

In the 1901 census William, aged 5, lived with his father Joseph, a 34-year-old platelayer for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, and mother Annie, aged 38, who was born in Ifield, Sussex. They resided at Lower Green in Forest Row with Annie aged 13, Rose aged 10, and Albert aged 3. Annie's mother, Mary Ann Tester, aged 71, also lived with them.

In the 1911 census, William, now 15, was recorded as a carter boy on a farm. Also present were Joseph and Annie, Albert, now 13 and at school, and Charley aged 8. Mary Ann Tester aged 81 was also present.

William first served in the Balkans from 8 August 1915. The regiment was active at Gallipoli, Alexandria, Gaza and Jerusalem. In mid-1918 the regiment moved to France, rejoining the 34th Division on 30 June, preparing for the Battle of Soissons. On 28 July at 9.30pm the battalion was led to a point of assembly ready for an advance under a creeping barrage at 4.10am on Monday, 29 July. The objective was to take the Grand Rozoy to Beugnaux Road. Unfortunately the French guide lost his way. But by 2.45am on the 29th the battalion was at the right assembly point and were already under attack. Two captains were killed at 3.00am. At 4.00am the battalion advanced on a two-platoon front and were soon within 100 yards of the objective. A temporary halt was called to consolidate and at 6.00am the advance continued but was held up by enemy machine gun fire from the woods. No artillery support could be called up because of a lack of communications so the line was pulled back. However by 7.00am the edge of the woods were successfully rushed with bayonets, many enemy were killed and machine guns captured. No further advance was possible. As the men entered the wood they were now faced with deadly machine gun fire from all sides. Up to 8.00am they were pinned down by machine-gun fire and point blank artillery salvoes. At 8.45am the line was withdrawn to consolidate. Casualties on Monday the 29th amounted to 3 officers and 42 other ranks killed, 4 officers and 125 other ranks wounded, and 29 other ranks missing. This was the day William Styles was killed.

Sign pointing to Raperie British Cemetery, Villemontoire
(Click to enlarge)

On 31 July the objective of the 29th was attacked again and by 2 August the enemy had withdrawn.

Private Styles was originally buried at Grave 5 on the right hand side of the road from Grand Rozoy to Qulchy-le-Chateau. He was later reburied at Grave 6, Row E, Plot 9 at Raperie British Cemetery, Villemontoire, in the Aisne department of north-eastern France. The grave inscription reads: "He was loved by all. Rest in Peace."

William would have been entitled to the Victory Medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal, awarded to all those who also received the 1914 or 1914/15 Star, and to those who received the British War Medal. The British War Medal was automatically awarded to all killed in action while on active service.

The cemetery at Villemontoire lies about 10 kilometres from Soissons. It holds 612 casualties, of whom 498 are identified, mainly relating to the victorious advance of of the 15th Scottish and 34th Division soldiers under French leadership from 23 July to 2 August 1918. The cemetery was completed after the Armistice by gathering together various battlefield graves and several smaller burial grounds.

The Book of Remembrance in Holy Trinity Church in Forest Row was signed by William Styles' mother, Annie, of Tugela Cottage, Forest Row.

Kevin Tillett