Richard Espley, Private 11961, 2nd Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Died of wounds 15th August 1915 in France, aged 40
Richard Espley was born on 18th June 1875 and baptised on 28th November 1877 at Christ Church, Macclesfield, at the same time as his brother John and sister Elizabeth, the son of Christina and Joseph Espley, an insurance agent. In 1881, five year old Richard was living at 39 Armitt Street with his mother and siblings Sarah (18), Herbert (15), John (11), Frederick (8) and Elizabeth (3). Ten years later, the family had moved to 62 Lord Street, and Richard was employed as a silk hand. Richard’s father does not appear on either of these censuses; presumably he was working away from home on those days.
Richard was educated at Christ Church School.
Richard married Edith Elizabeth Wardle at St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield on 20th October 1895, stating that he was a blacksmith, and their first child, Winifred May, was born two years later. According to the Cheshire Electoral Registers, the couple initially set up home at 3 Lee Street, Macclesfield, but by 1899 they had moved to 13 Antrobus Street, Congleton, where their second daughter Annie was born in 1900. By 1911 the family had moved again, to 6 Lower Park Street, Congleton, and they then had six children: Winifred Mary/May (14), Annie (10), Edith (9), Frederick (5), Horace (2) and Gertrude (5 months).
Richard enlisted in Macclesfield and after a period of training, landed in France on 4th May 1915 and travelled to join his Battalion near Ypres in Belgium to participate in the Second Battle of Ypres.
On 8th May, the Battalion was at Verlorenhoek when a heavy bombardment commenced, including the use of poison gas, resulting in over 200 men wounded and almost the same number of men missing. The Battalion regrouped in what had previously been the reserve trenches, about 500 yards to the rear. A draft of men from England, probably including Richard, arrived at Verlorenhoek on 9th May, and the whole Battalion moved to huts to the west of Ypres the following evening. On 11th May they moved to huts near Poperinghe, and on the evening of 12th May they marched to billets at Boenhaert, southwest of Poperinghe. Early on 14th May the Battalion moved to billets at Brandhoek, and on 19th May moved to billets at Herzeele.
At 11am on 21st May the Battalion assembled in the Market Square at Herzeele and were inspected by the Commander in Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French, who addressed them, saying:
I have come here today to see you and to express to every officer, NCO and man my personal thanks for and appreciation of the splendid work you have performed in what will probably be known as the second battle of Ypres, your magnificent fighting qualities and bravery.
Though your past records are splendid, they have never excelled the truly wonderful spirit you have manifested during the recent heavy fighting against superior numbers. You have sustained very considerable losses, I am sorry to say, but your achievements have been great. During those trying days, when the enemy endeavoured … to break through your lines in order to reach the coast, the eyes of the world were on you. Had you not possessed the undaunted courage which you then exhibited in repelling him and he had got through, it is difficult to say what might not have happened. Italy, then watching the trend of events, has now joined the Allied Forces.
Again I thank you for your self sacrificing devotion to duty and I trust the nation will recognise it as I do.
The Battalion returned to Brandhoek the next day, and on 24th May proceeded to Ypres, following the railway lines south of the town to the trenches, from where an attack was made on enemy trenches at about midnight.
On 24th May 1915 Richard was admitted to Casualty Clearing Station No. 8, which was just over the French border at Bailleul, with a bullet wound in his shoulder, and the same day was transported to a hospital.
Richard died of his wounds on 15th August 1915.
Private Richard Espley is buried in Grave Ref. I. C. 57 of the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension in France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Richard Espley, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
His widow asked the inscription “THY WILL BE DONE” to be added to his headstone.
Locally, Private Richard Espley is commemorated on the Macclesfield Christ Church School and Congleton war memorials.