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Percy Robert Styles

Gunner 248731 Percy Robert Styles, B Battery, 77th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery


Percy was born in Milton Lilbourne near Pewsey in Wiltshire in 1888 the son of Benjamin Styles and his wife Elizabeth Ann née Davis. He was the youngest of their six children who survived infancy, the others being: Oliver Davis (born 1871), Ralph Neate (1877), Arthur Benjamin (1880), Louis Frederick (1882), and Elsie Elizabeth (1885).


Keep's, Broadway

Frederick Keep's shop in The Broadway was demolished in the 1920s, the shop next door on the right is now Domino's Pizza.

Benjamin was a village bootmaker his business was probably not such that he could take on all five of his sons and train them in his craft; instead Percy was apprenticed as a baker. By 1911 he had travelled from from Milton Lilbourne and was working as a journeyman baker in Newbury and lodging with his employer, Frederick Keep above his shop in the Broadway.


This move to Newbury had another impact on Percy’s life; he met local girl, Ellen Taylor – they married in 1915.


Percy did not volunteer to serve, when conscription was introduced in January 1916 he was working as a baker – a ‘certified’ occupation.  In recognition of the needs of the war effort at home many occupations were ‘starred’ indicating that those employed in them were too valuable to the home front to be dragged away as unwilling soldiers. Typically the occupations were involved with feeding the nation or equipping the army in the field – miners, munitions workers and, amongst many others, bakers. However, in May 1916 some limitations were placed on this ‘starring’ to release younger employees for military service, depending on the trade. 


The introduction of conscription included a system of local tribunals to which men or their employers could appeal against a man’s call up. Appeals were mostly unsuccessful though many resulted in a few weeks reprieve to give time for the employer to find a replacement or for the conscript to make arrangements to keep his business going (or close it down). At a meeting of the Newbury Borough tribunal in May 1911 the issue of the changes to the ‘starring’ of occupations arose. The cases of six local men, including Percy, were reviewed. Under the new rules slaughtermen under 25, bakers under 30 and print workers under 30 were to be unstarred, rendering them available for subsequent call up. Percy was one of three bakers affected; two slaughtermen and a printer also lost their certification.


Royal Field Artillery badge

The regimental badge of the Royal Field Artillery..

At his age (18) it would not have been long before he was called up. He was posted to serve with the Royal Artillery.  The precise details of his call up, training and posting abroard are not known (his service record was one of many destroyed in a fire in WW2), but he was in France with the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) when he was wounded in March 1918:


Newbury Weekly News, 18 April 1918 – Local War Notes

Mrs Styles of 3, Burton-terrace, Russell-road, has received news that her husband, P R Styles, RFA, was wounded on March 30th at Arras, and is now in Bellahouston Hospital, Glasgow, suffering from gunshot wound, and is progressing favourably.

 

His wound was evidently not too serious since he recovered and soon returned to active duty in France. At this stage he was serving with the 77th (Howitzer) Brigade of the RFA, a unit with a confusing history and a lost war diary. Consequently it has not been possible to determine where Percy met his end. The news was reported in the local paper:

 

Newbury Weekly News, 19 Sep 1918 – Local War Notes

Mrs Styles of 3, Burton-terrace, Russell-road, has received the sad news that her husband, Gunner P R Styles, has been killed in action. His officer writes, they were being heavily shelled by the enemy in the early hours of August 22nd when Gunner Styles was serving his gun, and doing his duty manfully, as he always did, when a shell burst quite close fatally wounding him. They buried him the same day, and a cross made by his comrades marks his grave. Before joining the colours he was for many years baker to the late Mr F C Keep. He leaves a wife and three children.

 

Mrs Styles (born Ellen Taylor) had already lost a brother, Robert Taylor, to the war, now her husband had also gone. Percy was buried in grave VI. H. 2 at Beacon Cemetery, Sailly-Laurette, which, at least, goes some way to locating where he died. 

 

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Percy's name on Newbury War Memorial.

(lower left)

Sailly-Laurette is a village on the River Somme that was behind Allied lines for most of the war; in the spring of 1918 it was captured by the Germans only to be retaken by the British advance during the Battle of Amiens on 8/9 August. Percy’s battery was evidently involved in the push east that began with the success of those two days and continued up to the Armistice in November. RFA units would follow the advancing infantry to offer close support, by 22 August his battery may well have been operating close to Sailly. Both sides fought an artillery duel throughout the war, one of the principal aims of a battery being to destroy their opposite numbers. Howitzer batteries such as Percy’s were particularly appropriate to this role. On 22 August it was the enemy guns who won Percy’s personal battle when he was killed by counter-battery fire from a German gun.


Locally he is remembered on tablet 1 of the Newbury Town War Memorial, and also on the roll of honour and memorial board in St Nicolas’ Church.

 

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 Died this day:
19 November 1918
Thomas Barnard Sills
Bradfield

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