Born: 26th August 1887, 5, New Street, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

Died: 22nd January 1916; age 28; KiA by an explosion of a mine under the trenches.

E.A.D.T. – Friday, 24th March 1916 – Mrs. Oxer, of 21, Black Horse Lane, Ipswich, has just received official information that her husband, Private William George Oxer, of the 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, was killed in action on the 22nd January last. In a letter received by Mrs. Oxer from Lieutenant R. Barber, the officer says that “Private Oxer met his death by the explosion of a mine under the trenches where he was on duty. Your husband was a brave soldier, always alert when on duty, respected by those who knew him, and a faithful soldier to his King and country.”

Residence: 21, Black Horse Lane, Ipswich.

Occupation: Labourer – Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies, Orwell Works, Ipswich.

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.


For many years the body was never found, and William Oxer’s name was recorded on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the missing in Belgium Flanders. In July 1926, the body was discovered in a battlefield grave, exhumed, and identified by a Disc before being reburied in a coffin at Divisional Collecting Post Cemetery Extension where 511 Commonwealth burials from a total of 676 are unidentified. William Oxer’s name was removed from the Menin Gate memorial


Grave Reference:


Divisional Collecting Post Cemetery Extension,




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.

Harriet, 20.

Elsie, 11 months.


It is not known if Mary Ann Oxer’s husband, Henry Oxer, was William’s father. Mary Ann, a housekeeper, recorded no father on William’s birth certificate and had dropped the surname Oxer for herself and her newborn son. By the 1891 census, Mary Ann had returned to Ipswich and was living with Henry. William and his siblings were not living with the couple.

Henry Oxer, born 1857, Ipswich, gave his occupation as a bricklayer’s labourer on the numerous times he was summoned to appear before the Magistrates but was always out of work for a considerable time, and quite often on the tramp with no settled aboded. Henry was often found by the police helplessly drunk in the streets or sleeping off the drink on pavements and doorway steps. Henry Oxer often ran away from the responsibility of his family leaving his children chargeable to the Ipswich Union. Mary Ann Oxer also appeared before the Magistrates for stealing and then pawning – pleading that she did it “…. for want of bread….” The Oxer family lived in domestic misery. The Unicorn Press 2005 book – “Rags and Bones,” by author Frank Grace has a piece on the destitution of the Oxer family.

Henry Oxer died on the 17th December 1909, at 15, Bond Street, St. Michael’s, Ipswich.

William’s mother Mary Ann Oxer died in 1917, in Ipswich.


In 1909, Ipswich, William married Harriet Eliza Rix, born 1891, Little Soham, Suffolk – daughter of William Rix, a shepherd, and Elizabeth Rix (nee Lake), of Icklingham Road, Tuddenham, Suffolk.

Harriet and William had five children:

Florence Pattie Oxer, born 1909, Ipswich – died 1909, Ipswich.

Elsie May Oxer, born May 1910, Ipswich.

John William Oxer, born December 1911, Ipswich.

William George Oxer, born 1913, Ipswich – died 14th April 1916, at the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital as the result of terrible burns. Inquest held on the fatal injuries.

Ethel Rose Oxer, born August 1914, Ipswich.


Soldiers’ Effects to Harriet E. Ottaway – widow.


William is also remembered on the war memorial at the Presbyterian Church formerly on London Road, Ipswich, and at Christ Church, Tacket Street, Ipswich and at St. Mary le Elms Church Memorial Ipswich, and the Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies, Orwell Works, war memorial – now sited at the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, Suffolk.



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.”

Suffolk Regiment battalion movements

Friends of The Suffolk Regiment


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