Band of Brothers: The Ainger Brothers of Epsom

Today’s blog was written by one of our project volunteers, Clive Orton.  Clive has been volunteering for the project for a little while now, cleaning, cataloguing and scanning the plates but The Ainger Brothers have been the first sitters he has attempted to research for us.  It can be a little demoralising when you first begin, to hit brick wall after brick wall – so little information do we have on many of our plates. But Clive hit the jackpot with the Ainger’s, who appear to be not only well documented in local school records but also had extensive military service records.

With thanks to Clive for his fascinating work and to Epsom College Archives which proved an amazing source of information.


“I approached the task of researching the Ainger family with a sense of foreboding. A family portrait, probably taken in 1912, showed four sons: Douglas Slade Ainger (aged 22), Geoffrey, Dawson Ainger (aged 19), William Edward Ainger (aged 17) and John Dawson Ainger (aged 10). (Slade was their mother’s maiden name and Dawson was a family name on their father’s side).

All four had been born in Croydon, but the family moved to Epsom in the early 1900s. The three oldest boys attended Epsom College. What would happen to them? Would any of them survive the impending war? The thought made me quite anxious. I need not have worried; they all had successful military careers and survived both World Wars. Three are well documented in the excellent archives of Epsom College, which made researching their lives a lot easier.

Allied prisoners of war after the liberation of Changi Prison, Singapore c. 1945 Image taken from Wikipedia

Allied prisoners of war after the liberation of Changi Prison, Singapore c. 1945
Image taken from Wikipedia

Douglas left home in April 1913 to work as a rubber planter in Selangor near Kuala Lumpur in the Federated Malay States, and so avoided WW1 altogether. He travelled frequently between England and Malaya in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1921 he enlisted in the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (the local equivalent of our Territorial Army), joining the armoured car regiment and rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by 1942. He received the Royal Aero Club Aviators Certificate (a sort of pilot’s licence) in 1930, which probably allowed him to inspect his plantation from the air. He was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, and imprisoned in the notorious Changi PoW camp until September 1945, where he wrote ‘Diary of a Prisoner-of- War, Changi Camp,Singapore’. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1946. He appears to have retired to England in the 1950s, and lived to the ripe old age on 86, dying in Torquay in October 1976.

Geoffrey, who had been working as government clerk, enlisted in the 5th Battalion of the London Regiment as a Private at the start of the War and was sent to France on 4 November 1914. He was wounded in April 1915 and later selected for officer training. He served in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps before transferring to the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and was awarded the Military Cross in June 1917. He served with distinction in both France and Italy. After the War he continued to serve with the KOYLI, and was promoted first to Captain and later to Major. Throughout WWII he served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the TA, retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1947. He died at the age of 59 in St Richards Hospital, Chichester in 1952.

dkw_32086_aingerWilliam, photographed here in 1911 by Knights-Whittome in an individual portrait started his working life as a clerk in the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and enlisted on the outbreak of ware as a rifleman in the 5th Battalion London Rifle Brigade, and was sent to serve in France in September 1915.

He was shot in the attack on Gommecourt on 1 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He applied for a commission and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in November 1917. He was gassed in the defence of Amiens in April 1918, and demobilised in March 1919. He joined Douglas as a rubber planter in Malaya and travelled between England and Malaya throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Like Douglas he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, and imprisoned at Changi, in the former jail because of his civilian status, where Douglas was allowed to visit him on one occasion.

He continued to work in Malaya after the War, but retired to England in September 1951 and settled in Somerset. William died at the age of 90 in Weston-super- Mare in 1985.


After these three, John came as quite a surprise. He didn’t attend Epsom College, and joined the Royal Navy in January 1916 (at the age of 13!). I haven’t traced his wartime career yet, until he was listed as a 2nd Lieutenant in July 1922, and as a Lieutenant in February 1924, and as a Lieutenant-Commander 29 February 1932. He transferred to the RAF in June 1924 as a Flying officer to train as a pilot, completing the course in January 1925.

fairey_flycatcherHe served in 1926 and 1927 as a pilot in 402 Flight of the Fleet Air Arm, flying Fairey Flycatchers from HMS Eagle. He was elected a member of the Royal Aero Club in 8 June 1928. He went on to serve on the aircraft carriers HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious. He retired “at his own request”with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in 1932. He re-enlisted and served throughout WWII as a Lieutenant-Commander at HMS St Vincent, a shore-based training establishment at Gosport, Hampshire. He finally retired in April 1946. His subsequent career needs further research, but he appears as Vicar of Holy Trinity, Cleeve, Somerset from 1948 to 1951. He died at the age of 86 in Weston-super-Mare in February 1987.

The four brothers thus had varied military careers, their paths crossing in remarkable ways, and all except one living to a ripe old age, considering the events they had lived through.”

If you can add anything to this story, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.


Update:  With thanks to Brian, a researcher based in Epsom for the following additional information:
(The) family resided at Alton, Links Road, Epsom. When the University and Public Schools Men’s Force descended upon the town a number were billeted on the Aingers.

On 20 September 1914, Archibald Aldridge Laporte Payne wrote from their house: –

“I was first of all billeted in a public house with three other men. When in the town later I met a friend who said he was in a palace, so I got leave from a Special Constable to move there. On the next day, most unfortunately, we were re-billeted by companies, and we have landed up in a much smaller house and the food is not nearly as good. But eight of us all friends are billeted together in two adjacent houses. It is great fun. I have met several men I know. There are 3500 of us here now…”

Perhaps they occupied bedrooms vacated by the Ainger sons.


3 thoughts on “Band of Brothers: The Ainger Brothers of Epsom

  1. Very interesting to read this and view the photograph. I believe the mother of the 4 boys was Annie Slade of Paignton, Devon – who before her marriage had been a keen collector and preserver of marine algae (seaweeds) and had made a lovely album of these pressings (1884) which she presented to a Mr and Mrs Slatter. (She wasn’t alone in this occupation – a number of Victorian women took this up even, it is reported, Queen Victoria herself as a young woman). That album is now in an academic library in Queensland Australia where the pressed seaweeds look almost as bright and fresh as if they had been collected yesterday.


  2. Western Morning News – Friday 30 May 1924
    NAVAL APPOINTMENTS. J. Dawson Ainger to Victory (addl), tempy., May 31.
    [Note: Victory may be a stone frigate]

    Wells Journal – Friday 17 August 1928
    ENGAGEMENT. The engagement is announced between Lieut. John Dawson Ainger, Royal Navy, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Ainger, of Blagdon and Frieda third daughter of Mr and Mrs W Brand, of Wooler, Northumberland.

    Western Daily Press – Tuesday 25 June 1929
    BLAGDON. – A Naval Wedding. A picturesque and interesting naval wedding took place at the Parish Church of St. Andrew, Blagdon, on Monday, between Miss Frieda Brand, third daughter of Mr and Mrs W. Brand, of Wooler, Northumberland, and Lieut. John Dawson Ainger R.N. the youngest son of Mr and Mr W D Ainger, of Blagdon. The officiating clergy were the Rev. Prebendary M. G. Lambrick, rector of Blagdon. and the Rev. Canon Marshall Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Malta. Miss Brand, who has been captain of Girl guides in Africa was attended by two Brownies in uniform, who acted as her train-bearers. Her bridesmaid was Miss Miriam Moore a personal friend. A reception was held at the Mendip Bungalow Hotel, and Mr and Mrs Ainger later left for a motoring honeymoon tour.

    Western Daily Press – Monday 07 January 1946
    The new rector of Barliegh Hungerford, with Tellisford, was inducted at Tellisford Parish Church the Archdeacon of Wells (the Ven. W. N. Higgins). Also taking part in the service was the Rural Dean of Frome (Prebendary K. C. Jackson). The new rector is the Rev. John Dawson Ainger, who was ordained 1935 after spending his earlier life as commander in the Royal Navy. He served as a lieutenant-commander during the present war and prior to that had been the Nautical School, Portishead, and had held a curacy at Yatton.

    From this it may be reasonable to assume that his role in WWII was in the chaplaincy but this may only be confirmed from family memory or access to his WWII army records.


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