A/Captain Edward Dugdale D'Oyley Astley
1st Battalion (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Royal Berkshire Regiment
Edward Dugdale D'Oyley Astley was born on the 18 Nov 1896 and was the only son of Henry and Catherine D'Oyley Wolvey Astley of Bridge House, 131/132 High Street, Hungerford. His father was a solicitor and Town Clerk in Hungerford. Edward was educated at Charterhouse from 1910 to 1914.
On the outbreak of the First World War he joined his county Regiment, the Royal Berkshire Regiment. After carrying out his officer training he was posted to the 3rd (Militia) Battalion on the 27 Jul 1915 were he carried out further training prior to his deployment to a front line battalion. As a non regular officer the learning curve was very steep but by October 1916 he was considered ready. He was posted to the 1st Battalion joining them in France as a special reserve Second Lieutenant.
As soon as he arrived at the battalion he heard of the death in action of another Hungerford man Lieutenant Maurice Hissey of the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment on 26 Oct 1916. (Maurice Hissey is also commemorated on the war memorial). He wrote the following to his aunt Mary in a letter dated 27th October 1916:
"I heard that Maurice had been killed in action last night in a letter from one of his fellow captains in our 2nd battalion"………."I know very little of how Maurice was killed but I do know that it was leading his company in the attack across the open in which the 2nd battalion took part just lately somewhere south of the river Ancre."
- Captain Astley
- Regimental Badge of the Royal Berkshires
- Captain Astley pictured in the garden of Bridge House, Hungerford before going to the front
- Warlincourt Halte cemetery 1920 - the burial place for Captain Astley - before the original wooden crosses were replaced by Commonwealth War Grave headstones.
- Captain Astley's CWGC headstone in Warlincourt Halte cemetery.
- Capt Edward Astley's headstone, 2019 (thanks to Mel Nichols)
- Capt Edward Astley's compass and map, 2019 (thanks to Mel Nichols)
- Capt Edward Astley's wreath, 2019 (thanks to Mel Nichols)
On his arrival in October 1916 at the 1st Battalion he was thrown in at the deep end and was immediately deployed in front line actions as the Brigade and Battalion diaries recorded. Although not a regular officer it is clear that he quickly adjusted to life in the trenches and front line service. He first came to prominence when he was mentioned in dispatches for taking command of a party in an attack on Munich Trench after their commander Lieutenant Stoneham had been killed.
He was soon promoted, and by March 1918 was a Captain and Company Commander. Very little information is available for this period, but his activities can be tracked via the Brigade and Battalion War Diaries.
Brigade Report on action in the Hebuterne sector 14.11.1916:
On arrival at Munich Trench just North of Crater Lane, the leading wave, some 10 to 15 strong, forced their way through a gap in the wire, which was still intact in parts, and jumped into Munich Trench, under 2nd Lts Astley and Stoneham – the latter officer was killed and some of his men. 2nd Lt Astley saw some Germans on the steps of a dug out who at once held up their hands. Leaving two men to guard them he went south along the trench to gain touch with his comrades but found no-one. He then went back to his men, but by this time, our barrage having lifted off the trench, a number of Germans came out of their dugouts, and commenced bombing and shooting, so he got back out of the trench and collected about 20 of his men (2nd Wave) who were some 20 to 50 yards in the rear of the trench with a view of again going forward. About this time the Germans got into their fire steps in considerable numbers, began moving down crater lane, and opened a heavy frontal and flanking fire on our men, whose strength rendered their position untenable, so they worked their way back and got into Crater Lane, east of its junction with Wagon Road where they formed a block. For this action Astley was awarded a Mention in Dispatches.
1st Battalion War Diary 20 December 1916:
Company training. Visited by GOC 5th Army (Lieut General Gough). Lieuts Lynch, Lavers, Astley and Musk on leave.
1st Battalion War Diary 7 May 1917:
CAPT BISHOP, 2/LT ASTLEY, 2/LT DENHAM and 32 OR's rejoined the Battn from XIII Corps training depot. 122 OR's joined the Battn as reinforcements.
1st Battalion War Diary 17 May 1917:
Working parties and training as on 14/7/17. 2/Lt ASTLEY and 2/Lt KING went on 3 days leave to PARIS.
1st Battalion War Diary 28 March 1918:
During the morning thorough inspections were carried out and an attempt was made to organize into 2 companies (A with B and C with D), and to ascertain our actual casualties, but before this was completed we were ordered to provide 2 companies, each 130 strong, as part of a composite Battn of the 99th Infantry Brigade. They were hurriedly made up, one, (C) under command of Lieut ASTLEY and the other (D) under Lieut CROSBIE and the two companies moved off after dinner through ENGELBELMER to a position under AVELUY WOOD, N of MARTINSART, which was held all this night and next day. Lt Col WINTER D.S.O (23/RF) was in command. At 4 pm the remainder of the Battn moved back to LEALVILLERS where 1st line Transport was established. Today the long spell of fine weather, which has been so favourable to the enemy plans, broke up and heavy rain fell during the afternoon and night. [Captain Astley was promoted to the rank of Captain on this day]
1st Battalion War Diary 3 April 1918:
The morning was spent resting, cleaning up and inspections. It was decided to keep the 2 company organization for the present. No 1 Coy under command of Capt M P PUGH and No 2 under command of Capt E D DO ASTLEY - but care was taken to retain the 4 Company administrative arrangements active. During the morning a warning order for move to FREVENT area was received. Dinners at noon and Transport moved off at 1pm. No further orders were received but the Battn was embussed at 4pm reached FREVENT (via DOULLENS) at 6pm - debussed and marched to HOUVIN-HOUVIGNEUL arriving at 7.30pm. Billets scattered but quite good.
1st Battalion War Diary 1 June 1918:
Village shelled in the morning with high velocity 5.9's. Capt Astley and 2 O. Ranks killed, 8 O. Ranks wounded. Usual training carried out in the morning - Battalion moved billets in the afternoon to wood near LA BAZEQUE with majority of the men in shelters constructed in trenches, remainder under canvas. C.O. Adjutant and Signal Officer in Brigade Staff Ride in the afternoon.
1st Battalion War Diary 2 June 1918:
No training. C of E Church Parade in wood in the morning. Funeral in the afternoon WARLINCOURT HALTE cemetery (Capt ASTLEY and 2 O. Ranks) - a fine day.
He was buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, Pas de Calais, France.
The battalion moved on and members of the Regiment wrote to the family.
Letter dated 1st June 1918 from the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Brett to Captain Astley's father:
"Your boy was killed instantaneously at 7.30am this morning by a shell which landed just outside his tent when he was asleep"…...He was far and away my best company commander and I don't know when I have become more attached to anyone in so short a time."………..he was one of the best officers that this regiment has produced since war began"
Letter dated 1st June 1918 from Captain Frank Bazett to Captain Astley's father:
"I am writing at once in the hope that I shall forestall the WO (War Office) telegram. To tell you how awfully distressed we all are by your boys death. He was such a fine fellow and, as an officer can never be replaced – and he is another of our real Berkshires"………". [Captain Bazett was an officer in the battalion who came from Newbury]
Letter dated 2nd June from the Battalion Padre C.H. Bell to Captain Astley's father:
"Personally I loved him and I think all him men were very fond of him. He was one we could ill afford to part with – certainly one of the best officers in the battalion. I have this in common with him, I was at Charterhouse only a little before his time. I think he died almost instantaneously and without any pain. Today we buried him in the cemetery near here, his grave will be kept and we have put up a cross". [This original wooden cross is now on display at the Regimental Museum at Salisbury]
The Newbury Weekly News reported:
"The lamentable tidings reached Hungerford on Tuesday afternoon that Capt Dugdale ASTLEY (Berks Regt), only son of Mr H D'O W ASTLEY, Solicitor and Town Clerk, had been killed in action, the news evoking from townspeople of all classes, genuine sorrow and unfeigned sympathy with the parents. The deceased was a young man of high promise and had he returned, would have taken a high position in the town of his nativity."
Captain Astley is commemorated at Charterhouse School, on the North Wall of his local church, St Lawrence Church in Hungerford and on the family headstone in St Saviour's churchyard, Eddington.
Of course the Army admin system had to take its course and his effects were sent back to Hungerford. When his effects were finalised he had a bill for his groom of 18 shillings and 4 pence. Later his sister Miss B K Astley (later Mrs Barbara Hope) received his medals.
Edward Astley's Compass and map:
In May 2019 Mel Nichols contacted the Virtual Museum saying: "I have a 1916 British Army Marching Compass that I now know belonged to to Edward Dugdale D’Oyley Astley.
My wife bought it for me about 27 years ago from a Hungerford antiques shop. [We have a cottage near Marlborough and visit Hungerford often].
Although I’ve had and treasured the compass for a long time, I didn’t know until recently that it belonged to Captain Astley. I discovered it was his when I unfolded a piece of paper jammed into the bottom of its case that I’d assumed was just packing. In fact it’s a hand-drawn map that I believe Edward made on a training exercise in 1916. It’s signed Ed Astley Lt 1 R Berks R.
Thanks to the Hungerford Virtual Museum, I now know who he was and what happened to him.
Edward was killed on June 1, 1918. To pay tribute to him, on June 1 this year I am going to go to his grave at Warlincourt Halte with the compass and map. I am taking with me a friend – Richard Hughes – who is a World War 1 historian and certified battlefield guide.
He has obtained the Royal Berkshire Regiment’s War Diary. After visiting Edward’s grave, during the weekend of June 1 and 2 we intend to drive to many of the sites where we know that he fought."
Mel went on to write an article about the compass, the map, and the visit to Edward Astley's grave. It was published in the Dec 2019 edition of "Octane".
See also pics of the map, the compass, Octane's front cover and Edward Astley's headstone.