George Reginald Audsley was born in Woodlesford in August 1894 and baptised by the Reverend A.J.E. Irvin at All Saints church on 21 October. Known by his middle name he was the eldest son of Harry Audsley whose family had lived at Claremont Terrace in Oulton for a number of years. Born in Ossett he had been a commercial traveller before setting up as a provision merchant on Call Lane in Leeds.
Reginald’s grandfather Audsley’s roots were in the woollen industry and he ran the Victoria Hotel in Ossett before becoming a traveller and agent for a brewery, possibly Bentley’s, but it may have been Tetley’s in Leeds.
His mother, Susan Emily, was the daughter of Issac Barnes, a joiner and cabinet maker, who lived at Vine Cottage on Applegarth. Issac came from Charlton Marshall in Dorset and had married a dressmaker from Chagford in Devon. Susan Emily was born there before the family moved to Yorkshire sometime in the 1870s.
Reginald grew up in a house on Alma Place and went to Woodlesford school. Compared to other children he was reasonably well off.
A family story he would have been familiar with was the time his father had a row in church with a churchwarden who ripped his coat. It happened in January 1890 and Harry took Thomas Henry Taylor to court in Wakefield charging him with assault and wilful damage. He was a bailiff who owned a number of houses in Woodlesford.
The altercation happened when a collection was being made during the singing of a hymn. Taylor had handed the alms bag to Harry who put some money in and gave it him back instead of passing it to others in the pew.
Taylor didn’t like his attitude and said: “Come out, you scamp,” and grabbed him by his new velvet coat. According to a report in the Leeds Times he dragged Harry “in a very violent manner” out of the pew, tearing the coat in the process. Taylor said that Harry had leered at him and disturbed the service so, as the churchwarden, he was trying to expel him and accidentally tore his coat. The magistrates found in Harry’s favour and Taylor had to give him £1 2 shillings to repair the coat.
The Audsley family fortunes may have taken a knock around the time of Reginald’s 5th birthday in August 1899. It was just before the start of the Boer War in South Africa when trade in Leeds is known to have declined so Harry’s business may have been affected. Whatever the cause he advertised four rooms on Call Lane for use as offices or by other businesses.
Five years later the family had moved to live in Normanton. Reginald’s grandad, Henry Frederick Audsley, had gone there first in about 1892 where he had been the landlord of the the Hark to Mopsey Inn on Wakefield Road.
He bought the pub but appears never to have recovered from a miners’ strike in 1893 followed by the year long sickness and death of his wife. He sold out to the Ind Coope brewery which allowed him to stay on as landlord paying rent. He had hoped that with the Normanton football club playing next door he could recoup his losses but that wasn’t to be and he was declared bankrupt in 1902.
That doesn’t appear to have put Harry off and he became the landlord at the Midland Hotel in Normanton. When he was old enough Reginald started to help behind the bar while his two sisters and two brothers went to school.
At the start of the First World War in August 1914 Reginald was back at Woodlesford and working as a draughtsman. Following the famous call from Lord Kitchener of “Your Country Needs You” he “attested” or joined up on 10 September agreeing to serve in the army for three years.
He was 5ft 9 and a half inches tall, had a chest measurement of 37 inches, and had a fair complexion, light hair, and blue eyes.
Reginald was posted to the Leeds City Battalion, known as the Leeds Pals, and went for training at Colsterdale Camp near Masham in North Yorkshire. By then his parents had moved to Queens Road in Headingley and it was there, in July 1915, that Reginald’s mother died. She was 44 years old and was buried at Normanton All Saints church.
Along with other units from Accrington, Bradford, Barnsley and Hull the Leeds Pals were part of the 31st Division and on 2 October 1915 Reginald applied for a transfer to the 31st Divisional Cyclists Company and was sent for training to Hurdcott Camp on Salisbury Plain.
There are conflicting records but it appears Reginald left England for Egypt on 11 December 1915 where the division had been given the job of guarding the Suez Canal against a perceived threat from the Turks. However that didn’t materialise and by early March 1916 they were on their way back, via the port of Marseille in southern France, to fight on the Western Front.
There he took part in the Battle of the Somme which started in 1 July 1916. Unlike many of his comrades Reginald survived the battle and it may well be because he was a cyclist relaying messages in the communications trenches.
He must have been writing regular letters home to his family but about the end of June they stopped, prompting his worried father to write to the army at York from his new address at 15 Hill Top Mount in Roundhay.
Can you give me any information regarding George Reginald Audsley whose regimental number is 9908 B Company VIII Corps Cyclists Battalion, engaged at the Battle of the Somme, July 1st. I have had no letter from him for nearly three weeks and am most anxious as to his welfare. Thanking you in anticipation.
Yours faithfully, H. Audsley.
He was in 15th West Yorks “Pals” as they are known here. I am his father.”
If a reply was sent it a copy wasn’t kept on file, but his father’s mind would have been put at rest with the news that Reginald returned to England on 31 July 1916.
However it appears that he had been injured in some way and he was sent to the 2nd Northern General Hospital in Leeds. He made a good enough recovery to be considered by the registrar to be fit enough for light duty and a weeks leave was authorised from 24 September. He was then able to visit his family and, as it turned out, see his father one last time before he too died, at the age of 46, in December. Reginald returned to France just after Christmas.
In November he had been transferred to the 6th (Service) Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment and it was whilst fighting with them, during operations on the Ancre, that Reginald was killed in action on 17 January 1917. His effects, and later his medals, were sent to his sister Kathleen who was living with her uncle, George Barnes, in the house on Applegarth in Woodlesford. Reginald Audsley’s name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial for men who died with no known grave.