Born: 1887, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
Died: 22nd January 1916; age 28; KiA.
Enlistment Location: Ipswich.
Date of Entry Therein: 22nd July 1915 – France.
Rank: Private; Service Number: 9326
Regiment: Suffolk Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
Medals Awarded: Victory, British War & 1915 Star.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of the late Henry & Mary Ann Oxer; husband of Harriet E. Ottaway (formerly Oxer), of 21, Black Horse lane, Ipswich.
1901 14, Hamilton Street, Ipswich.
William was 14 years old, and living with his mother. They were boarding at the home of his mother’s employer – 44 year old, Robert Davey, a widower & his family.
Mary Ann Oxer (nee Allen), 45, a Housekeeper, born Mistley, Essex.
1911 3, Cooks Court, Cox Lane, Ipswich.
William was 24 years old, a Labourer – Iron Foundry. He was married & Head of the Household.
Elsie, 11 months.
In 1909, Ipswich, William married Harriet Eliza Rix, born 1891, Little Soham, Suffolk.
They had 5 children:
Florence Pattie Oxer, born 1909, Ipswich.
Elsie May Oxer, born 1910, Ipswich.
John W. Oxer, born 1912, Ipswich.
George W. Oxer, born 1913, Ipswich.
Ethel R. Oxer, born 1914, Ipswich.
William’s father was Henry Oxer, born 1857, Ipswich – died 1909, Ipswich. His mother Mary Ann Oxer died in 1917, Ipswich.
William is also remembered on the war memorial at the Presbyterian Church formerly on London Road, Ipswich ,Christ Church, Tacket Street, Ipswich and St. Mary le Elms church Memorial Ipswich, the Orwell Works Memorial Ransomes Sims & Jefferies Ipswich
Suffolk Regiment, 2nd Battalion;
The Suffolk Regiment diary noted:
“A terrific explosion occurred. The ground shook violently and an immense column of earth shot up in front of the Bluff carrying away the south-eastern face of it. The explosion was not followed by any bombardment or attack and for the moment no one realised what happened. Men in the trenches next to the canal were buried several feet deep; ammunition boxes were hurled hundreds of yards; and all the surrounding trenches upon which the Battalion had spent so much labour, as well as the systems of tunnels within the Bluff, collapsed completely.”
Dazed and confused, command was quickly regained. The War Diary noted that “the garrison of trench 28 immediately opened rapid fire” as the men awaited the counter attack they felt sure would come. Lieutenant Dix, finding none of his men had survived the explosion, took what men he could find and immediately manned the right hand lip of the crater against attack. They waited for the enemy, but thankfully, they nor their artillery came.
The official figures for killed wounded or missing that day will probably never be known. The official figure now, is 45 Suffolk men killed that day; all of whom were privates and NCOs. No officers of the Battalion are recorded as being killed that day.
The Battalion received a special commendation for their actions that night by the commander of 3rd Division; Major-General R. Haldane, who described their actions in a Divisional Memo which was typed out and pasted into the War Diary by the then Adjutant; Captain H.C.N. Trollope. It concluded: “The conduct of the Battalion under these trying circumstances , was excellent, all ranks behaving in a soldier-like manner, so that their position, which might easily have become serious, was never in danger.”
Of all the amazing incidents that occurred that night, perhaps the tale of No. 4142 Sgt Harry Bragg was probably the most courageous. The Regimental History modestly recorded his award of the DCM as being “for conspicuous gallantry” but the truth was far more amazing. Bragg and his men were manning the front line just yards from where the mine was detonated. Initially blown upwards, they were subsequently buried under almost four feet of earth. Bragg succeeded in digging his way out, then single handedly dug out four of his comrades; one of whom was wounded. They then manned the crater for the remainder of the day and what was describes as “hot fire.”