Photos from the behind the lines: William Royle at the Battle of the Somme

William ‘Billie’ Royle was born in 1891 in Doncaster. The son of Thomas Clifford Royle, the local register of births of deaths, William lived at 67 Nether Hall Road with his parents and three brothers, Francis, Reginald and Frederick. William was educated at Beechfield Junior Boys School and later Doncaster Grammar School. He was well-known member of the community, performing in the Parish Church choir and as part of the Doncaster Operatic Society. The family later moved to 3 Town Moor Avenue and a younger brother, Harold, was born. William’s father Thomas began work as the relieving officer for the local poor guardians, making decisions on applications for poor relief. Reginald and William followed their brother Francis into the banking business, working as clerks. William worked for the Joint Stock Bank at Doncaster, later moving to their Mexborough branch.

William signed up to serve with the Sheffield Pals Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment soon after the outbreak of war, later obtaining a commission in the 3/5 battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant. William was killed in action on the 5th of July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. A telegram was sent to his parents on Town Moor Avenue to notify them. In October 1916, Mrs Royle received a letter from Lillie Stones at 35 Casualty Clearing Station in France. Lillie described how sad she was to hear of Billie’s death, writing that she’s had tea with him in Rouen when he was on his way up the lines. Lillie goes on to write that she had just had a patient in her ward named Private Addy who was with William when he was killed. Private Addy told Lillie that William never spoke after he was wounded and died immediately. Private Addy was close to Billie, having been recommended for the Military Medal by Billie and another comrade named Smith. She goes on to write ‘Billie was killed at Thiepval and I wrote to tell you this in case you have not been able to get any particulars, as I hear that there were only about 10 men returned out of the Company.’

In February 1917, William’s mother Mary received another surprise letter from one W. L. Lister. A comrade of William’s, William was forwarding some photographs of William taken by Second Lieutenant G N Smith a few days before the beginning of action at the Battle of the Somme. Lieutenant Smith had copies made for Billie’s mother and had just gone back to France, requesting they be forwarded to her.  He also wrote that photography was not allowed and the photographs had been enlarged from a pocket kodak camera. It’s possible this Second Lieutenant Smith is the Smith mentioned in Lillie’s letter.

Billie’s brothers Reginald (Rex), Francis and Frederick all served during the First World War, while their youngest brother Harold was too young to serve, but received regular letters from his older brothers abroad. Billie is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, France. This memorial remembers the missing of the Somme with no known grave.

2 Responses to “Photos from the behind the lines: William Royle at the Battle of the Somme”


    My mother, Edith Gertrude Royle, was William Royle’s first cousin. Her father George Herbert was William’s uncle. Seven months ago, as a result of ancestry research by my daughter, I wrote to the Sheffield Telegraph & Star, the Yorkshire Post and the KOYLI archives to try to get in touch with William’s descendants with a view to perhaps meeting up at the Thiepval Memorial this month. Unfortunately I received no reply. I presume the documents in your article were supplied by William’s family so if possible could you give them my email address so they can contact me if interested? Thank you

    • lynseys

      Hi Trevor, thanks very much for commenting. Unfortunately these objects are from our King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum collection and were donated to the museum many years ago, long before the existence of the internet so we have no e-mail addresses for the family. My e-mail address is [email protected] if you want to send me an e-mail and I can try and help you out with your search.


      Lynsey Slater, Doncaster 1914-18 Project Researcher.

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