Stories from Cannock Chase War Memorials
Stories from Cannock Chase War Memorials
Able Seaman Harry Bland
According to his Navy records, Harry was born on the 22nd October, 1877 in Burton-on-Trent. However, census evidence would indicate that he was born some two years later in 1879. This would suggest that, when he joined the Navy in October 1893, he was only 14 years of age. His father and mother both came from Northamptonshire, with the family moving to Oundle, Burton on Trent and later to Cannock because of John’s trade as a cooper. Tragically, John Bland died in 1892, perhaps hastening his son’s decision to run away to sea. Harry came out of the Navy in 1907, returning to Cannock and working at the East Cannock Colliery. In 1912, however, he re-enrolled for service in the Navy, joining HMS Ocean on the 18th March, 1912. In 1915, Harry’s ship was part of the fleet in the Dardanelles and the ship was sunk by torpedo on the 18th March. Harry was transferred to HMS Albion and it was while serving on this vessel that he was killed in action by a shell on the 19th June, 1915, aged 37. His body was buried at Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey. News of his death was received by his sister, Mrs. Mary Ann Kent who lived at 8a Wolverhampton Road, Cannock.
Harry enjoyed his new life, staying in the Navy for 14 years of exemplary service. He travelled the world and saw service during the Boxer rebellion in China, being awarded the China Medal.
Captain Charles Edgar Holton Smith
Charles Edgar Smith was born on the 5th June, 1884 and was the eldest son of Charles and Ellen Smith. Charles Smith was an engineer and the couple were married at Hackney in 1881. The bride, neé Holton, was the sister of Richard Holton who was a medical practitioner at Hednesford and who conducted many medical examinations on soldiers who volunteered for the Army.
Charles as an engineer, worked for a time in Germany and whilst there, Charles Edgar was educated at the Moravian School on the Rhine, before returning to England to attend Chigwell School in Essex. Here he won colours for football, with an assessment of his skills noting that he had “hardly been a success at half back, rather rough in his methods and careless to where he places the ball. Works hard but is too impetuous and he does not exercise judgement”. He also won prizes for running, finishing second to Hewett in both the three miles road race and the mile open. Charles Edgar was also a noted swimmer and won prizes for his efforts. His brother, Peter de Safforie Smith also attended the school and captained the football team, before marrying Eleanor Holton, the daughter of Richard Holton on the 4th November, 1914 at Hednesford. Charles Edgar went on to Aberdeen University from Chigwell, where he too qualified as a doctor. In 1912, Charles Edgar married Ethel Bertha Terry at Cheltenham and the couple moved to High Green, Cannock in 1913, where Charles Edgar had set up a General Practice. The couple had two children, and the practice was proving a success, but on the outbreak of the Great War, Charles Edgar volunteered for service in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was sent along with 24 other doctors to Serbia for six months before returning briefly to England. He was then posted to France and promoted to the rank of Captain. However, on the 16th September, 1916 Charles Edgar was one of four people killed by a stray shell as he was making his way to the trenches. Charles Edgar was 32 at the time of his death, and his body was buried at Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont, on the Somme in France. Chigwell School mourned at the news of his passing.
Corporal Thomas Charles Thacker MM
Thomas Thacker was born at Hednesford in 1891 and he was the eldest child of Thomas and Sarah Thacker. Thomas had married Sarah Matilda Chapman the year before at Cannock and in 1891 the young family was living with Sarah’s parents and their six other children at John Street, Wimblebury. In 1901, the family had moved into their own house at John Street and now had six children of their own, Thomas, Wilfred, George, John, Edward and Percy. By 1911, the family had moved to live at 39, Piggott Street, Wimblebury and in that ten years another five children had been born, Walter, Lizzie, Minnie, Lily and Isaiah. Thomas was now a coal miner driver, as were Wilfred and George. John was a coal miner gripper and Edward was a nipper down a colliery. On the 25th December, 1913 Thomas married Florence May Worrall at St. Peter’s Parish Church, Hednesford. The couple had one child, Violet who was born in 1915. Indeed it was in early 1915 that Thomas enlisted in the Army, joining the 4th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps and he was sent to France on the 28th July, 1915. He rose to the rank of Corporal and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery, but on the 7th November, 1918, just four days before the Armistice, Thomas was killed in action at the age of 27. His body was buried at St. Remy-Chaussee Communal Cemetery in France.
Private Uriah Talbot
Uriah Talbot was born at Hednesford in 1896 and was the second son of Henry Charles and Emily Ann Talbot. Henry came from Congreve, Staffordshire and was a coal miner and his wife came from Brewood, Staffordshire. The couple had married at Cannock in 1889, and Emily’s maiden name was Bailey. Their first child was born in 1890 and named Abner William, but in 1891 he was living with his grandparents in Pillaton near Penkridge. His parents were living at Platt Street, Chadsmoor where a second baby Henry Charles had just been born, but this second child died shortly afterwards. In 1901, the family had moved to live at Bradbury Lane, Hednesford, and in the meantime Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Uriah and Kate had been born. In 1911, the family had moved to live at 72, Brindley Heath. Abner had married and left home and Uriah was working as a coal miner engine road man. Two more children had been born into the family, Arthur and George. On the 3rd April, 1915 Uriah enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and he was sent to Gallipoli on the 6th October, 1915. From there he served in Egypt before being sent to France in time for the Big Push. Uriah was killed in action at Delville Wood on the 27th July, 1916 at the age of 19. His body was not found after the war and Uriah is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in France. Uriah’s sister, Elizabeth married Henry Thomas Gaskin and was murdered by him at Hednesford in 1919.
Private Richard Stephens
In 1888 at Cannock, Richard Stephens a 22 year old coal miner from Dawley, Shropshire married the 22 year old Hannah Darral from Bilston, Staffordshire. The couple moved to live at Arthur Street, Wimblebury and their first child, James was born in 1889. In 1901, the family were still living at Arthur Street, but more children had been born, with John in 1892, Richard in 1895, Harry in 1897 and Thomas in 1900. By 1911, the family had moved to live at 27, Piggott Street, Wimblebury and John was working as a coal miner’s loader at the Coppice Colliery, Heath Hayes, while Richard was a horse driver at 8’s Pit, Cannock Chase Colliery. Harry was also working down the pit, as was James who, although married, was living at home. The family had also had a daughter, Lily, born in 1903. With the outbreak of the Great War, Richard and his brother John volunteered for service with the 1/5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment on the same day in September, 1914. They were sent to France on the 5th March, 1915, and on the 13th October, 1915 during the Battle of Loos, both were killed in action. Richard was 20 at the time of his death and as his body was not found after the war, he is remembered on the Loos Memorial to the Missing.
Private John Stephens
John enlisted on the same day as his younger brother Richard and was sent to France on the same day, the 5th March, 1915. John was killed in action on the same day as his brother the 13th October, 1915 during the Staffords’ gallant attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Sadly like his brother, the 22 year old John’s body was not found after the war and he too is remembered on the Loos Memorial to the Missing in France.
Pilot Officer Cyril Brewe
Cyril Brewe rose from humble circumstances to become an officer in the Royal Air Force. He was born in 1886 at Burntwood, his parents having married in 1875 in Stafford. In 1891, John Brewe was earning his living as a farmer at Lea Bank, Burntwood. Later his father John and his brother, George, were both employed as boat loaders on the canal, although John later became a miner and moved to Heath Hayes. Cyril began work as a general labourer in Whitehouse’s Edge Tool factory in Bridgtown. The family then lived in Church Street. Cyril was keen to improve his prospects and joined the staff of the Cannock Chase Courier before enlisting in the Royal Marine Light Infantry at the age of 19, serving on HMS Prince of Wales. He rose to the rank of Corporal before the onset of the Great War, and was sent to France on the 27th August, 1914. Cyril saw action at Antwerp, Bruges and Gallipoli, when he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service. By the time of his marriage to Annie Selina Parker on Christmas Day 1916 at St. James’ Church, Norton Canes, he had risen to the rank of Chief Petty Officer based at the Isle of Sheppey. On the 1st April 1918, Cyril was transferred to the newly created Royal Air Force where he served in Mesopotamia, rising to the rank of Pilot Officer in 84 Squadron. He was killed on the 22nd June 1921, aged 35, and is buried in Basra Military Cemetery, Iraq. His widow lived at Lilac Cottage, Washbrook Lane, in Norton Canes.
Lance Corporal Robert Winfer
The Winfer family were born and bred in the Cannock area. Robert’s father and his eldest son were both born in Shareshill. Robert senior was a coal miner, whereas his sons both earned their living at a Tilery, although Robert junior later became a miner, working at the Old Coppice Colliery. Robert was a well known local sportsman, playing football for Bridgtown Amateurs and later, for Cannock Town. On the 27th September, 1903, he married Daisy Young at St. Luke’s Church. Between 1904 and 1913, the couple had five children. Despite being in a reserved occupation, Robert volunteered in February 1915, electing to join the South Staffordshire Regiment, although later in the war, he transferred to the Royal Engineers, serving in the 253rd Tunnelling Company. In 1917, Robert came home on leave with the news that he had just been promoted to Lance Corporal. This cheerful soldier was killed in action on the 27th September 1917 when he was hit by a shell. Significantly, he died with his habitual smile on his face, perhaps thinking about his wife on what was their fourteenth wedding anniversary. Robert Winfer was buried at Mendinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium; he was aged 33 at the time of his death.
Private Charles Austin Fisher
Charles Austin Fisher was the younger brother of John Henry Fisher. He too had been born at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire in 1889, and worked as a general labourer after the family had moved to Norton Canes. In 1905, Charles joined the Army, enlisting with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. To say that Army life was not to Charles’ liking is an understatement. Between 1905 and 1910, his record was a catalogue of one misdemeanour after another, from absence, desertion, drunkenness, theft, assault, insubordination and losing clothing by neglect. In 1910, Charles was transferred to the Wiltshire Regiment, with a character assessment of “good”!! Despite being given a second chance, the problems continued; with more desertion, drunkenness, insubordination, urinating on a colleague’s bedding, and losing all service entitlements. Finally, even the British Army had had enough, and Charles was dishonourably discharged on the 15th January, 1914. He returned to Norton Canes, where he found employment as a coal miner. Amazingly, with the outbreak of war, Charles volunteered for service. By an incredible coincidence, he enlisted with the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment on the same day that his older brother was killed in action in France. Charles was sent with the Battalion to Gallipoli on the 12th July, 1915 and was killed in action on the 6th August, 1915 at the age of 26. Charles’ body was never found, and he is remembered on the Helles Memorial to the Missing in Turkey.
Private Samuel Whorton
John Whorton, a 37 year old general labourer from Gornal, Staffordshire married the 21 year old Annie Stokes from Halesowen, Worcestershire at Stourbridge in 1885, their first child, Elizabeth being born at Old Hill, Staffordshire in 1886. The family then moved to live at Norton Green, Norton Canes and it was here that Samuel was born in 1888, followed by William in 1890. By 1901 the family had grown and the Whorton’s had moved to live at Hednesford Road, Norton Canes. Alice had been born in 1893, Amy in 1896 and Harry in 1900. In 1911, John was working as a colliery surface labourer, while Fanny had set up a business as a grocer and draper on the Walsall Road, Norton Canes. Samuel was working as an insurance agent, with William employed as a locomotive stoker. A further addition to the family, Gladys, was born in 1903. Samuel did well as an insurance agent and was promoted to become the assistant superintendent for Refuge Assurance. On the 4th November, 1915, Samuel enlisted in the Army, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps. He embarked for service in Southampton on the 31st May, 1916 arriving at Rouen on the 2nd June. Samuel was then posted to the 2nd Field Ambulance, serving until the 18th October, 1917 when he was sent home on leave for ten days. Samuel returned to his unit and was in France until the 18th September, 1918 when he was severely gassed. He was taken to the 141st Field Ambulance, and transferred to the 42nd Ambulance Train on the 19th September. From here Samuel was sent to the 2nd General Hospital on the 20th September, and then he was put on the Carisbrooke Castle and taken to Plymouth Military Hospital. On the 24th December, 1918, Samuel died of acute influenza at Plymouth at the age of 31. The body of the respected lay preacher was returned to Norton Canes where he was buried at St. James’ Churchyard after a service at the Primitive Methodist Chapel.
Private Stephen Barratt
On the 10th July, 1891 at St. Luke’s Parish Church, Cannock, Stephen Harry Barratt, a 21 year old coal miner from Bromstead Heath, Shropshire married the 18 year old Julia Hill from Bridgtown. The couple found a home at New Street, Bridgtown and they soon began a family with the birth of Rhoda in 1894. Leonard followed in 1896 and Harry Stephen in 1898, with Leah being born in 1900. Sadly Leah died in 1903, a year after the birth of Harold in 1902. By 1911, the family had moved to live at John Street, Wimblebury, and Leonard had started work as a coal miner trammer, while Stephen and Harold were still at school. Stephen was conscripted into the Army in 1917 and was sent to France in 1918, serving with the 9th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He was killed in action on the 27th May, 1918 at the age of 19. After the war Stephen’s body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Soissons Memorial to the Missing in France.
Private Hyla Witton
In 1894 at Lichfield, Staffordshire, James Witton a 21 year old coal miner from Sedgley, Staffordshire married the 23 year old Mary Hanslow from Ogley Hay, Staffordshire. The couple set up a home at The Spinney, Burntwood and it was here that their first child Eunice was born in 1896. She was followed in 1897 by twins, Hyla and Harold and then in 1900, John was born. Samuel was next in 1904 and Edith completed the family in 1909. By this time, Hyla was working as a nipper down the pit and his twin brother was employed as a rock picker on the pit bank. Shortly after this, Hyla left Burntwood and settled in Wimblebury where he worked as a miner. However in early 1915, he volunteered for the Army, joining the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, being sent to France on the 8th December, 1915. Hyla served until the 13th May, 1917 when he died from wounds at the age of 20. Hyla’s body was not found after the war and he is remembered on the Arras Memorial to the Missing in France.
As reported in the
London Gazette, it went on
to say about the raid
“That it was successfully accomplished was due mainly to the coolness and presence of mind of Sapper Bray, ”
Sapper Aaron Hathaway
Aaron Hathaway was born at Cannock in 1887. He was the fifth son of Aaron and Rebecca Hathaway, who both hailed from Dudley, Worcestershire. They had lived in Dudley for a number of years as a couple and their first four children were all born there, James in 1880, John the following year, Charles in 1883 and Arthur in 1895. The family then moved to live on the Heath Hayes Road, Wimblebury and it was here that Aaron junior was born and Alice in 1889. By 1901, they had moved to live at Chapel Street, Heath Hayes, where the four eldest boys were all working down the pit, while Aaron was an office boy at a colliery. Another child, Ethel had been born in 1897. In 1911, the family was still living at 54, Chapel Street, but only John, Alice, Ethel and Aaron were still at home. John was now a coal miner hewer like his father while Aaron junior was a coal miner’s loader. Aaron later became a fireman at Littleton Colliery. Also living with them was John Priest, aged 19, who is described as an adopted son. On the 20th October, 1915 Aaron enlisted in the Army, joining the Tunnellers and Headers Company of the Royal Engineers. He was sent to France on the 13th November, 1915, and was remustered with the 173rd Tunnelling Company on the 15th May, 1916. He was on leave from the 22nd November, 1916 until the 2nd December. Aaron received 14 days under open arrest for being absent from roll call on the 29th July, 1917. On the 17th December, 1917 Aaron died from wounds at the age of 30. Aaron was buried at Bleuet Farm Cemetery, near Ieper in Belgium.
Corporal Richard James Timmins MM
Heath Hayes War Memorial
Isaiah Timmins, a coal miner from Kingswinford, Staffordshire married Emma Nock, from Blackheath, Staffordshire at Dudley in 1881. Their first child, Mary Ann was born at Blackheath in 1884, with Richard James following in 1887, born at Kingswinford. The family then moved to live at Hednesford Road, Heath Hayes and it was here that William was born in 1889. Isaiah junior was born in 1893, Arthur in 1898 and Eli in 1900. By this time, Richard had begun work as a coal miner at the Fair Lady Colliery. By 1911, the family had moved to live at 38, Bank Street, Heath Hayes. Richard was still living at home, as was Isaiah junior and Arthur, both of whom were horse drivers down the pit.
Richard’s body was not identified after the war and he is remembered on the Ieper (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing in Ieper city centre in Belgium.Did you know...>
Mary Ann had married Thomas Savage at Cannock in 1901. She too was living with her parents with her three children, and William Nock, Emma’s 73 year old father was also living with them, although he was still working as a bricklayer’s labourer. Richard was a Scoutmaster with the St. John’s Troop and was also a member of the Cannock Fire Brigade. Richard was an enthusiastic member of St. John’s Church. On the 27th May, 1912, Richard married Annie Elizabeth Marriott at St. Luke’s Parish Church, Cannock. They set up home a few doors away from Richard’s parents at 33, Bank Street, and it was here that their only child, James was born in 1913. When the Great War broke out, Richard volunteered for service with the 2/5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, and was sent to France on the 24th August, 1915. He was then transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, and promoted to Lance Corporal, winning the Military Medal for bravery in May 1917. On the 14th August, 1917, Richard was killed in action at the age of 30.
Captain Walter John Shaw DCM
Walter Shaw was born at Heath Hayes, Staffordshire in 1879. He was the third child of John and Sarah Shaw. His father was a coal miner, born at Great Wyrley, Staffordshire, whilst his mother came from Banbury, Oxfordshire. In 1871, they were living at Norton Canes, where Emma Louisa had been born in 1867 and Eliza in 1870. In 1881, the family was living at Stafford Street, Heath Hayes, and Albert had been born there in 1873. In 1889, Sarah died at the age of 49, and on the 2nd February, 1891 John married Emma Reynolds at St. Luke’s Parish Church, Cannock. In 1898, Walter decided to join the Army, enlisting with the 2nd Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He was sent to fight in the South African War and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He remained on the Reserve List, and on the 3rd December, 1910, Walter married Kate Elizabeth Howard, at St. Luke’s Parish Church, when he was working as the manager of the Royal Army Training Corps at the Shropshire Regiment Head Quarters. With the outbreak of the Great War, Walter volunteered for service with the 7th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and was promoted to Sergeant. He was sent to Gallipoli on the 20th July, 1915 and was wounded at the landings at Suvla Bay. On recovery he was given a commission and was attached to the Labour Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant, before returning to his Regiment as a Lieutenant. Walter saw service on the Somme, and was promoted to Captain, before he was severely wounded and invalided out of the Army. Walter then underwent treatment at various hospitals and institutions, before returning to Heath Hayes, where he lived with his sister Eliza and her husband Alfred Cooper on the Cannock Road, Heath Hayes. On Tuesday, 8th March, 1927 at the age of 48, Walter Shaw finally succumbed to his injuries. He was buried at St. John’s Churchyard, Heath Hayes.
Sapper John Beach
John Beach was born at Chadsmoor on the 29th January, 1888 and was the second son of John and Fanny Beach. His parents were married at Cannock in 1881, John being a coal miner from Pensnett and his wife, whose maiden name was White, came from Gornal. Their first child Geoffrey was born in 1883 and the couple had set up home on the Cannock Road, Chadsmoor. By 1901, more children had been born; William in 1893, Frederick in 1899 and Gladys in 1900, although Alfred who had been born in 1890 had sadly died. In 1911 the family had moved to live at 12, Burns Street, Chadsmoor, with Daisy having been born in 1903 and Alice in 1906 and Fanny’s 76 year old father was also living with them. By this time Geoffrey and John were both coal miners at Littleton Colliery and William was a horse driver at East Cannock pit. On the 29th March, 1912, John decided to leave England and sailed from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. Here he established himself as a carpenter, but on the 27th July, 1915 he joined the Canadian Army at Hamilton, enlisting firstly with the 39th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and then transferring to the 7th Field Company, Canadian Engineers. John embarked for France on the 2nd April, 1916 and served until he was badly wounded on the 26th September, 1916. He was taken to the 2/1st South Midland Casualty Clearing Station at Warloy where he died in the Special Hospital on the 28th September, 1916 aged 28. John’s body was buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, near Amiens on the Somme in France.
Sapper William Beach
William Beach was the younger brother of John Beach and was born at Chadsmoor on the 1st April, 1893. Like his brother he began working life down the pit at East Cannock Colliery and he followed his brother to Canada on the 5th October, 1912 sailing from Liverpool to Montreal. He worked in Canada as a labourer and William decided to enlist on the 16th April, 1915 at Hamilton, joining the 18th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Whilst John’s service record had been exemplary, William’s was less impressive. In Canada he was docked two day’s pay for absence and on arriving in England he was awarded 14 days field punishment number two for being drunk and disorderly. This continued in France where he received three punishments for absence and refusing to follow orders which resulted in 120 days imprisonment and a transfer to the 36th Battalion. Further misdemeanors ended with a second transfer, this time to the 7th Company, Canadian Engineers the same Company as his brother. On the 20th May, 1916 William was admitted to Number 5 Canadian Field Ambulance with bruised feet, being returned to duty three days later. On the 27th July he was admitted again with a gunshot wound to the left hand, rejoining his unit on the 6th August. However, on the 26th September, 1916 William was killed by a high explosive shell, dying on the same day that his brother was fatally wounded. At the time of his death, William was 23 years of age, but his body was not found after the war and he is remembered on the Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge in France.
Paul Bedford: Autobiography
Paul was a teacher for 26 years, 24 of these spent at Kingsmead school in Hednesford. He has always had an interest in local history and this sparked an interest in the Gaskin story resulting in his successful book about the infamous murderer, Gaskin (Brewin Books: 2006) Since then Paul has been working on his second book Not Just Names which focuses on the soldiers on local war memorials who gave their lives during the First World War.