William Riley (1862-1925) and Mary Ann Walker (1868-1933) married at St Mary de Castro on 12th September 1886. Before marriage Mary Ann had lived in the parish of St Martin, working as a domestic servant and at the time of their marriage they lived together at The Newarke. After their marriage William worked as a groom and Mary Ann a corset maker. They had at least ten children, who were William (1889-1898), Edith Rosanna “Rose” (1891-1991), George Arthur (1892-1893) Ernest Royal “Roy” (1894-); John Horace (1896-1917), Lilian “Lily” (1888-), Elsie (1899-1927), Arthur (1902-), Frederick Richard (1905-1971) and Sidney James (1908-1970). The first six children were baptised at Holy Trinity church but none of the later children were baptised at any local parish church. Between 1890 and 1898 the family lived at 93 Welford Road. In December 1895 William Riley was involved in a serious accident whilst working as a groom – he collided with another trap and the occupants were severely injured. In 1898 eldest son William died, aged nine. Early in 1901 they moved to 24 Caroline Street. William worked as a groom for a tram company. But by 1911 he was out of work and the whole family were squeezed into just five rooms at 11 Little Lane. They would remain there until the 1930s. The house was always crowded, with spouses moving in after marriage and yet more children being born.
The Riley family retained a connection with St Martin’s after the First World War. In January 1920 ten shillings worth of coal was delivered to the Riley household at 11 Little Lane courtesy of St Martin’s Elkington’s Charity. Lily’s illegitimate children Patricia Irene “Irene” (1921-) and Elsie May (1928-) were baptised there – on New Year’s Day 1922 and 2nd December 1928, though when mother Mary Ann married Frederick Stevenson in 1927 and Ernest Royal married Marjorie in 1928 it was not at St Martin’s.
Father William Riley died in 1925 and was buried at Welford Road Cemetery. His unmarried daughter Elsie died in 1927 aged 28 and was buried nearby. Mother Mary Ann remarried, to Frederick Stevenson, in 1927. She fell ill and spent a while at the Royal Infirmary before dying in December 1933. Her body was laid to rest near to that of her first husband William.
After leaving school the Riley children worked in humble jobs. At age 14 John Horace Riley – who by then was known as “Horace” – was a street cleaner for the Borough Cleansing Department. By 15th November 1916, when Horace joined up, he was working in the shoe trade. He was 5’6” tall. Horace expressed a preference for joining the Seaforth Highlanders, where he would have been with his older brother Roy, but instead was enlisted in the 2/5th Leicestershire Regiment as a private soldier. After training he sailed with his battalion from Southampton to Havre, landing on 28th February 1917, before travelling by train and finally marching to Petit St Jean to billets. He reached trenches at Morcourt on 8th March, after which members of his battalion began to be wounded and killed by enemy bombardment and in raids. July and August were mostly spent in training and attack practise. On 26th July he was deprived of three days’ pay for being dirty and inattentive on parade.
On 24th September the battalion took over front line trenches near St Jean. At 3.50am on the 26th September the bombardment started and two hours later the battalion went over “to capture all enemy positions.” Platoons kept within a hundred yards of the barrage, in some cases closer. The Germans responded with bombardment all day, and a counter attack at 4pm, which was held at bay. Horace was seriously wounded before the battalion were relieved the next day.
Presumably Horace was collected on a stretcher and treated at a field hospital, perhaps at a hospital further back from the front lines. We do know that Horace returned to England and was admitted to Exeter War Hospital on 1st November with gunshot wounds to his head and right hand. His right eye was impaired and his tibia fractured. He had suffered two haemorrhages and an abscess and his wounds had become severely infected. An operation was performed on 19th November 1917 to drain the abscess but Horace’s physical condition was by now very poor and he died while under general anaesthetic. He was buried at Welford Road Cemetery on 26th November 1916.
Horace’s effects of £4 11s were given to his mother in April 1918 and a war gratuity of £3 10 in September 1919. Mary Ann received his medals in 1920.
Roy was born Ernest Royal Riley on 6th May 1894, but for his whole life was known as “Roy”. He was baptised at Holy Trinity on 8th August 1894. After leaving school Roy worked as a scourer in the boot trade.
During the First World War Roy served as a private soldier in the 1/6th Seaforth Highlanders. Unfortunately Roy’s service record does not survive so it’s not possible to know how long he served or which battles he fought, but it’s very likely that he at least saw action at the final advance at Picardy, and ended the war at Iwuy, which is north east of Cambrai. Roy obviously enjoyed military service because he opted to re-enlist once his initial service was at an end. He joined the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment on 3rd June 1919 and served in India, Sudan, Germany and Palestine.
Roy married Marjorie Elsie Pole (1911-1980) in Leicester in 1928. They had children William Raymond (1929-1989), Eileen Beatrice M (1930-2006), Alan Walter (1934-1986) and John Royal A (1937-1990). Roy remained in the Leicestershire Regiment until June 1931. In 1939 Roy and Marjorie lived at 13 Queen Street and once more, Roy entered military service, this time with the 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment on 16th May 1939. It isn’t clear how long he served this time, but no doubt he remained for the duration of the Second World War.
Roy died in Leicester in 1960, just before the marriage of his youngest son. Elsie died twenty years later.