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Oliver Speak

Private Oliver Speak, 66578, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st Battalion

Oliver Speak was born in Ossett in summer 1891, the eldest of ten children born to John Walter Speak and his wife, Harriet (nee Colley) who married in late 1889. Sadly two of their children died before April 1911.

The family lived in Ossett until about 1900 when they moved to West Ardsley and by 1911 the family, including Oliver, a miner like his father, had moved again and were living in Crofton.

Oliver, a miner aged 25, married Grace Bickerdyke, a mill hand, at Woodkirk Parish Church on the 16th September 1916. Both bride and bridegroom were living at Woodkirk at the time of their marriage.

Oliver Speak’s army service record has not survived but he enlisted at Morley and joined the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with regimental service number 66578. He was killed in action on the 8th November 1918, just three days before the Armistice. Unusually, it has not been possible to locate Oliver’s Medal Card but it seems likely that he was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals. It seems unlikely that he served overseas before 31st December 1915 and if this was the case he would not qualify for the 1914/15 Star.

The 1st Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were in Singapore when war broke out in August 1914. They returned to England, as soon as a Territorial unit arrived to man the garrison, landing at Southampton on the 9th of November. They moved to Hursley Park moving to Harwich on the 18th November. On the 17th of December they returned to Hursley Park to going 83rd Brigade, 28th Division. They proceeded to France from Southampton, landing at le Harve on the 16th of January, they concentrated in the area between Bailleul and Hazebrouck, being joined by additional Territorial units.

In 1915 they were in action in The Second Battle of Ypres and The Battle of Loos. On the 19th of October 1915 orders were received to prepare to sail and five days later the first units left Marseilles for Alexandria in Egypt all units (with the exception XXXI and CXLVI Brigades RFA) arrived the by 22nd of November and the 1st KOYLI went on to Salonika on the 7th of December 1916. Later in the year they were in action during the occupation of Mazirko and the capture of Barakli Jum'a. In 1917 they were involved in the capture of Ferdie and Essex Trenches (near Barakli Jum'a) and then the capture of Barakli and Kumli.

In mid 1918 a number of units returned to France, including the 1st KOYLI, who left the division on the 20th of June and moved to France via Taranto, Italy. They joined the reforming 151st Brigade in 50th (Northumbrian) Division on the 16th of July. They went back into action in October in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, The pursuit to the Selle and the Final Advance in Picardy. At the Armistice the 50th Division was resting at Solre le Chateau, demobilisation began December and the service of the Division was disbanded on 19th of March when the final troops left for England.

Private Oliver Speak was killed in action during heavy fighting around Dourlers in France on the 8th November 1918:

"1/KOYLI was billeted at Noyelles on the night of November 6th 1918 and went on through 149 Brigade to attack towards Dourlers. Next morning it met with very severe opposition and sustained many casualties; the objective was not reached until 9.30 am on the 8th, the battalion reaching the Avenses-Dourlers road, some five miles north of Avenses. The new position was held under heavy shell fire until 3.15 pm, when the Scottish Horse passed through just after a heavy counter-attack had been successfully dealt with. The battalion then withdrew to Monceau where it was billeted in farms and rested for the next few days." 1

Oliver Speak is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour probably because he and his family left Ossett before 1901.

Oliver Speak was not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour probably because he and his family had left Ossett in the early 1890s. He is remembered in this 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and/or the "U.K. Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1918" listing records him as born or residing in Ossett.

Private Oliver Speak, husband of Grace Speak, of 132, Old Rd, Farsley, Leeds, died on the 8th November 1918, aged 27 years, and is buried at grave reference I. C. 10. at the Dourlers Community Cemetery Extension,2 Nord, France. Doulers (previously Dourlers) is a small village on the D33 off the main road N2 between Maubeuge and Avesnes-sur-Helpe.

Dourlers village was in German hands during almost the whole of the First World War. It was taken on 7 November 1918, after heavy fighting, by the 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 1st K.O.Y.L.I.

The communal cemetery was used by the Germans during the war, but in November 1918, a small extension was made by Commonwealth troops at the west end. After the Armistice, the German graves from the communal cemetery and others from the battlefields, together with Commonwealth graves from isolated positions and the following small cemeteries, were brought into the extension:-

Limont-Fontaine Communal Cemetery German Extension, contained 45 graves;

Lancashire Cemetery, St. Hilaire-Sur-Helpe, contained 15 graves.

The Extension contains 161 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 14 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to four casualties known or believed to be buried among them. The extension also contains 108 German burials, 62 of which are unidentified.

References:

1. "History of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry: 1914-1918" by R.C. Bond, Naval and Military Press, Page 1010.

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site