John and William George Beck


John belonged to another well-known and long-established Hoylake family. He was first cousin to Joseph and Robert Hallows as their mother was a sister of his father. On his mother’s (Elizabeth Banks, born in 1866) side, he shared a great grandfather, George Banks (1802-1871), with the aforementioned Arthur, Ernest and William Banks and was, therefore, their second cousin. His father, John, was born in Hoylake in 1861 and was a carpenter by trade, but employed as the caretaker of the Hoylake National School, where he and his family lived, surrounded by other local people, many of whom were fishermen. There were four boys in the family and one girl. John was the third child. Like his older brother Robert, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a carpenter. At some point after 1911, he emigrated to Australia and continued to work as a carpenter.

On 12th April 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F) in Melbourne. His attestation papers say that he was 5’ 6¼” tall; his chest measured 34” with a 2” expansion and he weighed 9st. 13lbs. John had a fresh complexion, grey eyes, brown hair and bore scars on his knees (perhaps as a result of playing football). Interestingly, in response to the request for information about any previous military experience, he reported that he had been in the Church of England Boys’ Brigade. He went to Gallipoli on 25th October 1915 and back to Alexandria in Egypt on 7th January 1916. Whilst in Egypt he committed his only infraction of military discipline when he went absent without leave in Tel-el-Kebir for 24 hours from 19th January 1916. He lost two days’ pay and was admonished. On 26th March 1916, John arrived in France. By June, his unit was on the Somme front and took part in the “Big Push”.

John Beck's Australian Army Casualty Form

John Beck’s Australian Army Casualty Form

He was one of the many Anglo-Australians to fall in that terrible battle and appears, along with 10,761 of his compatriots, on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial to the Missing. The military authorities sent John Beck senior his son’s meagre possessions shortly after his death – “a wrist watch and strap, chevron and numerals”. There was some correspondence in 1921 about the whereabouts of John’s pre-war possessions, but they could not be traced.

Birth: 14th April 1992; christened in Hoylake 19th June 1892
Death: 3rd August 1916, killed in action aged 24
Addresses: School House, School Lane, Hoylake (01- 11) Seymour, Victoria, Australia (15)
Occupation: Carpenter (11-15)
Unit: 22nd Bn. Australian Infantry
Number: and Rank 1882 Private
Medals: 1915 Star, Victory, British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Villers-Bretonneux Memorial
Sources: BR, CWGC, SR, Census: 01, 11


William George Beck

William George Beck

William was second cousin once removed to the previous Beck. They shared a common ancestor – Thomas Beck (born in Kendal in about 1790), who was married to Jane Little (born in Little Meols in about 1792). He was William’s great great grandfather and John’s great grandfather. William and John were also neighbours on School Lane in Hoylake, which lay in the old township of Hoose, where many of the town’s fishermen dwelled. William’s father, Edwin (born in 1861) was a fisherman, who qualified as a skipper in December 1893. His mother was Jane Cookson, who was born in 1863 and a member of another well-known and extensive local family. Edwin and Jane had five children – three boys and two girls. William was the third child. In 1911, aged 16, he was working as a golf caddie.

It is surprising that he was not a fisherman like his father. He must have subsequently become a seaman of some sort because, like a lot of local mariners, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and was enrolled for war service on 8th June 1915. He was transferred to the Trawler Section on 1st October 1916. His naval records confirm the impression made by his photograph that he was a tall well-built man at a height of 6’ and a chest of 40”. He had a dark complexion, grey eyes and “three dots on his left hand”. William had a good discipline record and his service on every vessel was described as “satisfactory”. His vessels’ names were – Neved, Vivid, President III and SS Rosario. The nature of these vessels’ work is not recorded, but trawlers were usually employed in minesweeping. The picture below is of the kind of vessel with which William would have been familiar, even though it is a drifter, not a trawler.

The Steam Drifter "Hearty" in Service as HMS "Cheery" during WWI

The Steam Drifter “Hearty” in Service as HMS “Cheery” during WWI taken from the Naval History Website

He was a deckhand and gunner. William was drowned when the last named vessel was torpedoed off the north coast of Ireland. The Deeside Advertiser reported that William was on his way home when it sank. He was heading for “a well earned rest” having only enjoyed five days leave since joining up.

Birth 27th January 1895, christened 28th April 1895 in Hoylake
Death 18th August 1917, aged 22
Address: 20 School lane, Hoylake (01-17)
Occupation: Golf Caddie (11), probably a seaman of some sort by 1915
Units: Royal Naval Reserve: Neved, Vivid, President III and SS Rosario
Number and Rank: 1481 Deckhand and Gunner
Medals: ?
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, UK: Plymouth Naval Memorial Grave number 24
Sources: BR, CWGC, SR, DA, Census: 01, 11


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