Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 203484
Date of Death: 02/05/1917
Regiment/Service: York and Lancaster Regiment 1st/4th Bn
Awards: MM (Military Medal)
Grave Reference: III. B. 12. Cemetery: Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue
Paul Allen writes:
During 2 May 1917 Scarborough lost: 203484 Lance Corporal Ernest Gray MM.
Born in Scarborough during 1899 at 101 Commercial Street, Ernest was the eldest son of ‘Foreman Butcher’ Robert Barker and Annie Elizabeth (formerly Wharton) Gray. Fatherless from the age of 7, Ernest lived for most of his short life with his mother and 3 younger siblings Hilda, Olive, and Robert (born at Scarborough 1901, 1903, and 1906 respectively) at 3 St Johns Road. He was educated at the nearby All Saint’s Church Infant, and Gladstone Road Council Schools. Leaving school like most children of the time at the age of 13, Ernest become an apprentice to joiner Mr Spink, whose workshop was located in Belle Vue Street.
Ernest enlisted into the locally-based Territorial Force 2nd/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment for 4 years service in the United Kingdom in Scarborough at North Street Barracks (this building would eventually become the YMCA until its demolition during the 1980s; the site is now (2011) occupied by a TKMaxx store), on 10 November 1914. Aged 17 years, two months at the time, according to his service record (courtesy of Ancestry.com), Ernest is also recorded as being 5 feet 6½ inches in height, with ‘normal’ vision and ‘good’ physical development. Issued with the Regimental Number 2689, a uniform, 2 pairs of boots and all the other accoutrements of an infantry soldier, Gray had set off on his journey to the war.
Formed in Scarborough during September 1914 for Home Service only, to replace the Western Front bound 1st/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment initially had its headquarters in the town’s Grand Hotel. However, by the time that Ernest joined the unit it was stationed at Darlington, where Private Gray joined soon after his enlistment. Remaining in training at Darlington until April 1915, Private Gray and the remainder of the Battalion moved to Benton Camp, near Newcastle, and stayed in this location until the start of April 1916, when all those men regarded as ‘A1’ were ‘asked’ to volunteer for foreign service. Duly, during the night of 6 July 1916, he went the way of so many thousands of ‘Tommies’ before him by boarding His Majesty’s Transport ‘Golden Eagle’. Arriving at Boulogne the following day, Ernest was sent to one of the many Infantry Base Depots [IBDs] located near the town of Etaples.
Assigned to the 37th (Territorial Force) IBD Gray underwent intensive infantry training at this Depot in large training areas located in the expanse of sand dunes located near ‘Eat Apples’ known to the men as ‘the Bull Ring’, where he endured seemingly endless hours of exhaustive drill and exercises overseen by bellowing and often sadistic instructors known to the men as ‘Yellow Canaries’ (due to the yellow armbands they wore). Private Gray endured the rigours of the Bull Ring until Monday, 17 July 1916. Posted to 1st/4th York and Lancaster instead of the Yorkshire Regiment, Gray exchanged his Yorkshire Regiment ‘Eiffel Tower’ cap badge for that of the ‘Cat and Cabbage’ of the York and Lancs and duly joined his battalion on 18 July whilst it was ‘resting’ at Forceville.
Attached to 148 Brigade of the Territorial Force 49th (West Riding) Division, the 1st/4th (Hallamshire) Battalion of the York and Lancashire Regiment was a pre-war Territorial Force battalion of infantry. Located at Sheffield at the outbreak of hostilities the Battalion went to France during April 1915 and took part in the battle which included the first German phosgene gas attack during December that year whilst stationed on in the Yser Canal Sector to the north of Ypres. Involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the opening stages of the Somme of 1916, including the Battle of Albert (1-13 July), by the time that Ernest Gray joined the 1/4 York and Lancs the unit had recently been involved in the ferocious fighting on the Ancre, where on 16 July the unit was involved in an attack on Ovillers where it helped to fight off a German counter-attack on the ‘Leipzig Salient’ that had been spearheaded by bombing and flamethrowers.
Throughout the remainder of August Gray and his battalion were stationed in various sectors of the Somme: Martinsart Wood (4 August); Hedauville (7 August); Puchvillers (18 August); Hedauville (25 August); Aveluy Wood (26 August); and back to Martinsart Wood on 2 September. The following day the Battalion moved into the front line of the formidable Thiepval Sector. Ernest took part in operations on the Somme throughout the remainder of the month when, between 15-22 September, he took part in the Battle of Flers/Courcelette. It was during this action that the 18-year-old and a number of comrades were buried alive in a dugout that was hit by an enemy shell. The first to dig himself out, the dazed youngster, nonetheless, played a part in the rescue of the other trapped men. Displaying ‘conspicuous gallantry’ during this episode in his life Ernest was awarded the Military Medal (the award was ‘Gazetted’ in ‘The London Gazette’ of 14 November 1916).
Promoted to Acting (unpaid) Lance Corporal shortly after the Battle of Flers/ Courcelette (28 September 1916), Ernest Gray remained on the Somme throughout the bitter winter of 1916. However, by April 1917 his unit had moved further northwards to the French/Belgian border where, on 2 May 1917, Ernest killed by enemy shellfire, whilst resting in a house in the village of Pont-du-Hem that had come under fire from enemy artillery. Reportedly writing a letter to his mother at the time of his death, this part-written letter eventually reached Scarborough where his family found that the letter also contained a preserved Flanders poppy. His mother displayed the poppy on her mantelpiece for many years after Ernest’s death. 
Aged 18 at the time of his demise, the young soldier’s remains were taken to a small a battlefield cemetery located in an area that had once been an apple orchard near Pont-du Hem, a hamlet located on the main road between La Bassée and Estaires, where they were interred in Section 3, Row B, Grave 12.
Ernest’s name was included in a casualty list that appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, 11 May 1917. Included in the small segment of news dedicated to the youngster’s loss was part of a letter from his Commanding Officer that had been sent to Ernest’s mother stating… ‘He will be sadly missed out here as he has always been a good soldier’…
Commemorated on Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, Ernest Gray was a former member of the congregation of All Saints Church in Falsgrave and his name was also duly added to the church ‘Roll of Honour’ that contained the names of 41 men of the church who had lost their lives during the war of 1914-1918. Unveiled during the evening of Wednesday, 27 July 1921 by Lt Col A D Legard CBE, Officer Commanding the local 1/5 Battalion of the Green Howards (Yorkshire Regiment) this fine memorial took the form of an oak screen and cost the church over £150. It remained in the church until its demise in the 1970s. However, the author does not know the current whereabouts of this memorial.
Ernest’s name can also be found, to this day on a large brass plate ‘Roll of Honour’ located in the Junior Hall of Gladstone Road School. Unveiled on 14 December 1921 by Ernest’s former Headmaster, Mr William Robert Drummond, this memorial contains the names of the 71 other former pupils of the school (including sisters Esther W and Maria M McLaughlin who died at Scarborough during 1918 of ‘Spanish Flu’ whilst acting as nurses with the Voluntary Aid Detachment aged 25 and 21 years respectively) who lost their lives whilst on active service in the Great War of 1914-1918.
 I am indebted to my very good friend Mr Bill Parker for his assistance in the gathering of information relating to his great uncle Ernest Gray. I am especially grateful that he had told me the story of the letter with the preserved poppy enclosed which provided a moving and emotive end to the story of a very brave young soldier of Scarborough, God bless him.