Francis John Hollowell

The following biography was written by Victoria Doran who is working her way through the casualties from West Kirby. The Hollowell family were well known in the area on account of the fact that William Hollowell was sometime Headmaster of Calday Grange Grammar School.


West Kirby Parish Register 1896: John Hollowell's Baptism

West Kirby Parish Register 1896: John Hollowell’s Baptism

On the 1911 census his school recorded him as simply ‘John’ so that is how he will be referred to in this biography. John was another of the significant losses of the ‘Testament of Youth’ generation of Vera Brittain. John Hollowell was the elder son and third child of the four children of Rev. William Hollowell (1859-1932) and Ada Louisa Francis (1859-1938) and was born at Calday Grange Grammar School in the spring of 1896. His father had been the headmaster there since 1891.  His mother Ada was a teacher before her marriage and came from a family steeped in that profession. Both her parents, Alfred Francis (1837-1899) and Harriet Selina Baker (1837-1907), taught at the elementary National School at Aveley, Essex, and at least three of Ada’s sisters became teachers. However her grandfather William Francis (b1796) started life as a miller at Woodborough Mill at Compton Dando, Somerset, became a master baker and confectioner by 1851, and had moved to Liverpool by 1871 as a confectioner, establishing a business in Renshaw Street. The Francis confectionery business under his descendants in Liverpool had expanded by 1911 as the following extract from Gore’s Liverpool Directory shows.

Edwin Francis Confectioner in Gore's Liverpool Directory

Edwin Francis Confectioner in Gore’s Liverpool Directory

Three of Ada’s brothers described themselves as confectioners, and were, presumably, involved in this family business. The business was still supplying confectionery and bridal cakes in 1941 in Liverpool. John’s siblings carried on the teaching tradition. At the 1911 census the eldest Gladys Amy (1887-1978) was teaching mathematics at a council school in Huddersfield. Like her sister Doris Jeannie (1893-1932) she never married. At the 1911 census Doris was a history student at Oxford, though not recorded as a member of a college. If she ever worked, teaching was probably the only option. Younger brother Patrick William Cecil (1898-1967) became a house master at Charterhouse School in Surrey after the war.

William Hollowell came from another enterprising family. He was the eldest son of the many children of James Hollowell (1830-1915) and Ann Robinson (1833-1910), both of whom came from Northampton. James Hollowell was one of the many children of the publican of the Melbourn Arms in the village of Duston (now part of Northampton) and started life as a mason and bricklayer. His father William left nearly £1,000 when he died in 1859. James ran the Melbourn Arms for a while whilst continuing his own trade. By 1871 he had moved his family of, eventually, seven boys and two girls to Rugby, Warwickshire, plied his own trade there for a while and then set up as a builder. He was a canny man, for even when he was employing four men, the family still took in boarders. James only retired at the age of 79, making the business over to son Frank. He left over £15,000 when he died.

When he died aged 86 in May 1915, it was noted that he was ‘a staunch churchman’, which means he would have been very pleased that his son William took Holy Orders. This was the month that John was ‘gazetted to the Worcesters’ according to the Birkenhead News, so he may or may not have been one of the many grandsons of James present at the funeral. The Rev William Hollowell’s name heads the list of mourners. The following photo of James Hollowell is from the Rugby advertiser in May 1915.

James Hollowell from the "Rugby Advertiser"

James Hollowell from the “Rugby Advertiser”

William Hollowell obtained a BA from London University in 1889, some three years after he had married Ada Louisa Francis in Sheffield. It is not known how they met, but probably both were teaching in the same area. He was then assistant master at Latchford, Cheshire before becoming only the second headmaster of Calday Grange Grammar School in 1891. He took Holy Orders in the Church of England becoming a deacon in 1892, serving as a Curate at West Kirby for the next four years, becoming a priest in 1895. He only took charge of a parish after he retired as headmaster in 1920, when he became vicar of Higher Bebington.

Crockford's Clerical Directory

Crockford’s Clerical Directory

John first went to school for a short time at his father’s school. As this was a Grammar School, he presumably received his earliest education at home from his mother. He then attended The Leas on Meols Drive, Hoylake. This was a boys preparatory school.

The Leas School Meols Drive

The Leas School Meols Drive

From there John gained a Foundation Scholarship to Bradfield College in Berkshire. Whilst at Bradfield College he was a prefect for 5 terms, and captain of the football team in his final year of 1914-15. He twice represented the school in the Shooting Eight in the Ashburton Challenge Shield at Bisley.

Bisley 1914

From The Contingent for 1st August 1914 (The Contingent was the Journal of the Officers Training Corps)

Although already aged 18 at the outbreak of war, John stayed on at school to obtain a Jodrell Scholarship in Classics at Queen’s College, Oxford. This would have been to start in autumn 1915 presumably. However in May 1915 he enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant.

Worcestershire Regiment Cap Badge

Worcestershire Regiment Cap Badge

Despite already being a good shot, he received more training than earlier recruits, only landing in France on 27 May 1916. We know this from his medal card shown below.

John Hollowell's Medal Card

John Hollowell’s Medal Card

He was, unfortunately, not quite one of the ‘3 week Lieutenants’ of the war, being killed on 7 July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, having only been 6 weeks in France. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion which was part of the 25th Brigade of the 7th Division. According to the Calday Grange Grammar School book of all pupils who served during the First World War

He was last seen leaving the trenches with his men after they had been relieved. Every officer in the company was a casualty and he seems to have been in command at the last. At the time the battalion was withdrawn, a very heavy shell fire was directed especially on the communication trenches and there was not the slightest hope of survival.

His commanding officer wrote to his father that he ‘had shown himself to be a brave officer, entirely devoted to his duty’. His father is recorded as noting that of the boys he had taught since 1891, upwards of a thousand were likely to be serving in the forces. The war must have been a torrent of bad news for him.  John’s body was eventually recovered and is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No.2

The Landscape Near the Serre Road Cemeteries; Picture taken by Stephen Roberts, July 2014

The Landscape Near the Serre Road Cemeteries; Picture taken by Stephen Roberts, July 2014


Currently, the exact location and circumstances of John’s death are something of a mystery. On 7th July 1916, the 3rd Worcestershires were not in action, but resting and refitting behind the lines in Albert and were inspected by Major General Bridges. John must have been attached to a different battalion. Only inspection of his service papers at the National Archives (reference: WO339/48330) is likely to resolve the problem.

He was one of 279 old boys of Bradfield College who died during the war, probably about 1 in 4 of those who served. He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War memorial, Calday Grange Grammar School Honour Roll and on the plaques at St Bridget and St Andrew churches in West Kirby.

John’s brother Patrick joined the Royal Engineers as a Second Lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on 14 October 1918 whilst repairing a bridge in Belgium under continuous bombardment. He was severely wounded as a result.

Birth: April 1896 at West Kirby
Death: 7th July 1916 at Somme, France; killed in action
Addresses: Calday Grange Grammar school (01); Bridge House, Bradfield College, Berkshire (11)
Occupation: None
Unit: 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, Calday Grange Grammar School, France, Somme: Serre Road Cemetery No. 2,
Sources: BR, SDGW, CWGC, MC, Census: 01, 11, BR, PR, BN, DA, Rugby Advertiser, LG, The Contingent, Crockford’s Clerical Directory, Probate, Kelly’s Directory of Liverpool 1881, Gore’s Directory of Liverpool 1911, Calday Grange Grammar School WW1 pupils; Francis John Hollowell’s Service Papers are kept at the National Archives (reference: WO339/48330), but have not yet been consulted; once they have been, this biography will be augmented accordingly.


4 thoughts on “Francis John Hollowell

  1. I live in Aveley, Essex and was quite surprised to read of our village connection. It just goes to show that the saying ‘It’s a small world’ is so true!

    • The coincidences don’t end there Martin because I worked at the Grays School 1994-1999 – not far from Aveley.

  2. Thank you so much for this absolutely fascinating article – particularly fascinating to me, as Patrick William Cecil Hollowell – John’s brother – was my grandfather. I’ve just read the whole piece out to my mum, who is now quite elderly, and whose memory is failing. She really enjoyed it, and we both found out some background details that neither of us were aware of. It might be of interest to you that my grandfather was also awarded a bar to his MC. Though I am aware of the action for which he was awarded the original MC ( in common with so many of his generation he did not speak about his war experiences, but I have an account in the obituary that was published in The Carthusian magazine), I have never been able to ascertain what led to the award of the bar.
    Oh, and he actually became Deputy Head at Charterhouse as well as being the housemaster at Bodeites.

    • Thank you for that. I am so glad that our blog is proving to be useful in this way. It was my dream that it would be so. Thanks also for the extra family information. Keep in touch. Best Wishrs, Stephen

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