JOHN RICHARD LACEY
This post was written by Victoria Doran.
John Richard Lacey was a former regular soldier who was recalled from the Reserve at the outbreak of war. His was the first death in action known from the area, but we only know about it from a single photograph.
John Lacey’s name does not appear on any memorial or list that we have previously found, but the following photograph from the collection of Heather Chapman initiated the search for him.
It is believed that the photo was taken whilst the plaque was being restored. From the other names on it, it would appear to belong to a non Conformist church in the Hoylake and West Kirby area. The most likely is the former Welsh Church that has recently closed in Alderley Road, Hoylake.
The spelling of his surname is incorrect, but, nevertheless, it has proved possible to find his connection to the area.
John Richard Lacey was born in the autumn of 1883 in Huyton Quarry, a couple of miles east of Huyton village in the Prescot district of Lancashire. As its name suggests there was a quarry nearby, and a station on the 1830 Liverpool to Manchester railway line to service it. John’s father, William Lacey (1857-???) came from Somerset and was working as an iron works labourer when John was born. Nothing is known of William until he married Margaret Ellen Lyon (1858-???) in early 1881 at Prescot.
Margaret Ellen was a Huyton lass, the eldest in the large family of Thomas Lyon (1836-1903) and Ellen Robinson (1835-1887). Her father was an illiterate labourer in various settings, who ended up as a jobbing gardener.
All of John’s ancestors in the 19th century would have found life a struggle. All baptisms, marriages and burials found for them were performed in the Church of England. John had an older brother, William Lacey (1882-???) and a younger sister, Ellen Ann Lacey (1888-???) but little is known of them.
It is not known where John was at the time of the 1901 census , but on 5 November 1902 at Preston he enlisted in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as Private 6928. He was just over 5ft 5 in tall with fair hair and blue eyes.
Loyal North Lancashire Regiment cap badge
He originally signed on for 3 years service, with a further 9 years in the Reserves, but in 1906 he extended his service to 8 years, transferring to the Reserve on 5 November 1910. He never rose above Private, but he had a clean record and served in Ireland, Mauritius and South Africa, so he had seen quite a lot of the world.
On 18 January 1906 he married Margaret O’Shea (1882-???) in Kinsale, Cork, Ireland. No doubt he was in barracks in Kinsale at some stage. Margaret was from a Roman Catholic family from Kinsale, and her younger sister Maria apparently also married an English soldier. Margaret never seems to have left Kinsale, and in 1911 she and her sister were living together in Barrack Street, with their husbands absent. Neither had any children.
John was in Hoylake in 1911, living with his father at 22 Newton Road. He is described as a general labourer, but ‘unemployed’ has been crossed through, so presumably he came to Hoylake to find work. His father was working as a labourer for the District Council. His mother was in Rainford on a visit. It must have been whilst he was living in Hoylake that he was a member of the congregation of the church where his name was recorded.
John Christopher Lacey (1914-1995) was born in Kinsale on 25 January 1914, so his father must have returned to Ireland by early 1913.
On the outbreak of war he rejoined the 1st Battalion of his regiment on 12 August 1914 at Aldershot, and he landed at Le Havre, France the next day. They were part of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division of the British Army. This Division was comprised entirely of regular soldiers.
On 22 August they reached Mons. As part of the 1st Division they were stationed along the Mons-Beaumont Road and so took little part in the Battle of Mons, where the fighting was largely along the canal. Their role was to defend the right wing of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
The 1st Division took part in the Retreat from Mons, until they reached the Marne. The BEF established a bridgehead across the river on the 6th to 8th September. The Battle of the Marne was a victory for the Allies, and for 4 days the BEF advanced against the German rearguards. About 12 September the Germans stopped retreating and started to dig in on high ground beyond the north bank of the Aisne. On 13 September most of the BEF crossed the Aisne using pontoons in dense fog, and started to advance onto the plateau. As neither side was willing to retreat a stalemate resulted. The BEF were ordered to ‘dig in’ but they lacked entrenching tools and training, so managed bare scrapes in the terrain. The German Army was well trained and equipped for trench warfare.
At the right hand side of the red line is marked ‘Troyon’. This was a hamlet with a Sucrerie (sugar refinery) that the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were ordered to attack. The position of the factory is the “F” just above Troyon. John was killed during the attack. At that time his body was not recovered.
In 1926, when the former battlefields were being cleared, his body was found near the Sucrerie. The identity disk was damaged and not completely readable, but he was identified by his size 8 boots made in 1912 by Walker & Walgrave in Northamptonshire. See www.walgrave-village.co.uk/history/boots-and-belts for more information about this important boot manufacturer.
He was then belatedly buried at Vailly British Cemetery at Vailly sur Aisne, Picardie, France. This is quite a distance from where his body was found, but by 1926 many new burials and reburials were being ‘concentrated’ in a few larger cemeteries.
Vailly British Cemetery
From his military record we know that by March 1916 John’s parents had moved to Southport. There is a J N Lacey recorded on Southport’s War Memorial, but it is not known if it is the same man. His wife and son had stayed in Kinsale, so when war memorials were considered in north west Wirral only the members of the church congregation still remembered John locally, so he was omitted from the main memorials. He does not appear on the memorial at St Multose (Roman Catholic) Church, Kinsale, but by the time war memorials were being considered the situation of the widow of an English soldier in the south of Ireland would have been difficult.
As he fought before November 1914, his widow was sent a 14 Star medal with clasp, as well as the usual Victory and British War medals.
Birth: Oct 1883 at Huyton Quarry, Lancashire
Death: 14 Sep 1914 killed in action at Troyon, France
Addresses: Seel Street, Huyton with Roby (91); 22 Newton Road, Hoylake (11)
Occupation: regular soldier; labourer
Unit: 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Number and Rank: 6928; Private
Medals: 14 Star with clasp, Victory & British War
Commemorated: Vailly British Cemetery, Soissons, France; unknown church in Hoylake; possibly Southport War Memorial
Sources: CWGC, MC, SR, SGDW, Census: 91, 11, PR, Irish census: 01, 11, http://www.findagrave.com, Mcmaster digital archive (http://digitalarchive.mcmaster.ca)