National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

The Cambridge ‘Aussie’ Sees His First Son

William Alfred Mason Dray

William Alfred Mason Dray

William Alfred Mason Dray was born on 23 September 1888 in Sydney, Australia to parents William and Letica Dray.

William had been living in New Zealand for 14 years prior to World War One and was working as a plumber for Wilkinson and Company, and living with his wife, Elsie and daughter in Leamington, Cambridge before deciding to enlist on 23 February 1917, aged 28.

At the time of his enlistment, his wife was pregnant and so he was ‘held back’ from sailing until the birth of his son, Alan.

William embarked with the 33rd Reinforcements from Wellington on 31 December 1917 aboard the Athenic arriving in Glasgow, Scotland on 25 February 1918. From there, William headed down to Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain for training and then Brocton Camp near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.

Now with the NZ Rifle Brigade, William Dray left for France on 28 April 1918, arriving in Etaples two days later. He then joined the 2nd Battalion in the field on 3 May 1918.

By this stage, the New Zealand Division were pushing the Germans back and were part of a major offensive that would hopefully bring an end to the war.

In August 1918, the main focus for the New Zealanders was the French town of Bapaume which was held by the Germans. The plan was to surround the town and force the Germans to surrender. They knew what the final outcome would be but continued to inflict casualties on the New Zealand Division.

On 26 August, the troops endeavoured to encircle the town. The advance would be on a frontage of 2400 metres and was launched at 6.30am. The men moved forward and got into their work, capturing machine guns and killing or taking the crews prisoner.

Fighting on the outskirts of the town was tough with William Dray and the men of 2nd Rifles bearing the brunt of the attack as they moved in the centre of the advance. At the end of the day, they had 45 killed in a total of 178 casualties. One of those killed was William Dray. He was initially listed as ‘missing’ until his body was later recovered.

He would never know that his efforts on that day would eventually lead to the taking of Bapaume.

William Dray was 29 and his buried in the Vaulx Hill Cemetery, France, grave I.C.3. He is also commemorated on the Cambridge War Memorial.