OWEN HENRY JONES
This post was written by Victoria Doran
Owen Henry Jones was a widower who attested at the end of 1915 and died during the German Spring Offensive leaving a young son.
Cheshire Regiment cap badge
Owen Henry Jones was born at the beginning of 1880 in the Toxteth area of Liverpool. He was the second of the 4 sons of Elias Jones (1843-1904) and Ellen Jones (1847-1893). Both spouses really did have the same surname! Two daughters followed the 4 sons.
Elias Jones was born in Llanfair Talhaearn in rural Denbighshire, Wales. His father David Jones (1804-???) was a small master shoemaker and like his wife, Lucy Thomas (1813-1866) had never moved from the village.
It is not known when Elias joined a railway company, but at the age of 32 he was a railway porter living in Liverpool when he married Ellen. She was born in Llanfachraeth on Anglesey but nothing is else known of her before her marriage.
Owen followed his father into the railways, becoming a railway porter in Liverpool by 1901. On 3 August 1902 he married Sarah Elizabeth Ross (1881-1912) at St Clement, Toxteth Park.
Sarah Elizabeth was born in the summer of 1881 in Toxteth Park, her parents being William John Ross and Sarah McCabe. Nothing more is known about her parents or her life before her marriage.
By November 1909 the couple had moved to West Kirby, and their only child, William Ross Jones (1909-1957) was born on the 22nd. In 1911 the family were living at 11 Norton Road, and Owen was working as a groom / gardener at the Childrens Convalescent Home (now West Kirby Residential School) on Meols Drive.
Sadly Sarah died at the beginning of 1912, leaving Owen with sole responsibility for young William, then only just aged 2 years.
On 10 December 1915, with conscription looming, Owen attested for the Cheshire Regiment. He was a coal carter for Alfred Davies of Church Road, and was living in South Road. Possibly with sole responsibility for his son he might have been able to appeal against conscription; he was already almost 35 years old, so it would also have been quite a while before his turn came to be called up.
On 17 June 1916 he was mobilized as Private 44236 of the Cheshire Regiment. After training he arrived in France in January 1917. On the 4th he was posted to the 10th Battalion, but only 3 weeks later he was transferred to the 16th Battalion. This was originally the ‘Birkenhead Bantams’ but by 1917 the replacements were no longer under height men as not enough were available. Owen was in fact over 5ft 7 in tall.
The battalion does not seem to have been involved in any major battles during most of 1917. They were probably used to occupy trenches. On 19 August 1917 he received a gun shot wound. He seems to have been treated in France and returned to his battalion exactly 2 months later. The battalion was involved in the last 3 weeks of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, known as the 2nd Battle of Passchaendele from 26 October 1917 to 10 November.
On 18 January 1918 he was in Belgium and was granted 10 days leave. It is not known if he returned to England. At this stage of the war many battalions were severely understrength. Some battalions were disbanded to supply replacements for the others. Owen returned to Belgium just in time for the 16th Cheshires to be disbanded. On 22 February he was posted to the 12th Entrenching Battalion. Entrenching Battalions belonged to a Corps not a Regiment and were used as a pool of men for use whenever another battalion required reinforcements. The men retained their original regimental assignment.
Soon afterwards the German Army launched the Spring Offensive. The 7th (Queen’s Own) Battalion, Royal Kent Regiment was almost wiped out on 21 March 1918 when the Germans attacked under cover of heavy mist. On 1 April the 12th Entrenching Battalion was merged with the remnants of the 7th Royal Kents and immediately thrown in to the front line on the Cachy-Gentelles Plateau which overlooked the valley of the Ancre and the town of Amiens. They were a collection of officers and men who did not really know each other at all, let alone have any experience of acting as a unit.
Despite this on the night of the 1/2 April they provided covering fire to the 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment east of Hangard Wood. Thinking some German lights were an agreed signal they advanced and reached and held a copse that was not on their maps. They dug in and consolidated. This fortunately turned out to be a good location. The 3rd April was uneventful, but on the 4th the Germans attacked again and the battalion initially fell back towards Hangard Wood, but managed to regain their previous position. Many men and officers were killed that day and the battalion was withdrawn from the line.
Owen did not die until the 9 April, so he was doubtless severely wounded and making his way through casualty clearing stations and field hospitals when he died. He is one of only 21 war graves in Gentelles Communal Cemetery, which again suggests a medical facility nearby.
Gentelles Communal Cemetery
Six months later the problem of what to do with his son William was unresolved. William must have been ill or disabled in some manner as he was an 8 year old patient at the Childrens Convalescent Home in West Kirby. The Matron told the War Office he was nearly ready to leave and she was trying to get him into an orphanage in the south of England rather than pass him into the care of Cheshire County Council. His 4 surviving uncles and aunts all declined to take responsibility for him.
In May 1919 William was awarded a pension of 10/- per week. In March 1921 his father’s few possessions (wallet, photos and cards) were passed to the Secretary of Cheshire County Pensions Committee to be held in trust for him. At this point his guardian was Captain Thomas C Hening of Hoylake. In January 1923 Captain Hening received Owen’s medals in trust for William as he was still his guardian. Captain Thomas Hening was a Justice of the Peace and Chairman of Hoylake District Council. He lost one of his own sons George Viney Hening on the Somme in 1916.
It would seem that the local council took responsibility for William, possibly he was fostered locally. He died aged 47 in Hoylake in 1957 leaving over £1,000 to his widow.
Birth: Jan 1880 in Toxteth Park, Liverpool
Death: 9 April 1918 of wounds at Gentelles, France
Addresses: 10 Modred Street, Toxteth Park (81); 114 Hardman Street, Toxteth Park (91); 309 Grafton Street, Toxteth Park (01); 66 Cullen Street, Toxteth Park (02); 11 Norton Road, West Kirby (11); 3 South Road, West Kirby (15)
Occupations: railway porter; groom / gardener; coal carter
Units: 10th & 16th Battalions, Cheshire Regiment; attached 12th Entrenching Battalion; attached 7th (Queen’s Own) Battalion, Royal Kent Regiment
Number and Rank: 44236, Private
Medals: Victory & British War
Buried & Commemorated: Gentelles Communal Cemetery, Picardie, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby;
Sources: CWGC, SDGW, SR, Census: 81, 91, 01, 11, BR, PR, RSE