Ernest Warneford Wray

Born: 20 February 1885

Died: 23 August 1917

Studied at the RCA: dates unknown, ARCA Diploma 1907

Ernest is one of the ‘and all others’ referred to on the College’s memorial plaque. While no student file has been found for him, other records make clear he came from York to study architecture at the College, having gained a National Arts Scholarship (and coming first in order of merit). By the time war was declared he was working and living in London, married to Florence (the daughter of an engineer), with one small son, (another was born in 1915). Initially he served at home with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Anti-Aircraft Corps and then joined the Royal Engineers, No.6 Works Company (Kent Fortress) – a ‘Territorial Force’ concentrating on coastal defence. But, perhaps, he felt he could be more useful elsewhere, as in November 1915 he applied for a commission (still with the RE), supported by the Principal Architect of HM Office of Works where he had been employed, surely aware of the engineers’ crucial work in the field.

As the Battle of the Somme neared its last fortnight, he embarked for France as a 2nd lieutenant, reporting for duty with the 517th Field Company on 4 November 1916. During the following February and March he was briefly attached to another section, along with a couple of other officers, laying out internment camps, presumably in advance of action planned at Arras, and the arrival of prisoners of war. He was not, however, in Flanders during the early stages of the Third Battle of Ypres in late July–early August, having been given leave to return to York to visit his sister and terminally ill mother – a doctor believing she had just days to live.

When he returned to the front, the high cost of fighting in the area must have been apparent, and not just because of formidable opposition, but also because of the appalling conditions soldiers were facing in the waterlogged landscape. And, in the face of so much damage, the field company continued to do what they were there for – construction, repair and maintenance.

By 20 August the 517ths had moved forward (by train and bus) to ‘Montreal camp’ near Ouderdom, south of Brandhoek, and taken over from another field company. Over the following days they followed a careful programme of works: erecting cupolas for dressing stations (for the wounded), constructing dug-outs, and conducting reconnaissance. On 23 August the company successfully disarmed a mine on the Menin Road, the hugely important and notoriously dangerous main transport artery from Ypres to the trenches. But it was also there, at 11.30 am, that they suffered their only casualty that day. At the very bottom of the war diary page is a simple note that this was Ernest –  killed by a shell.

His mother outlived him, dying in September.

Ernest is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, No. 3, Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium.