This post was written by Victoria Doran
A Private in the 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment who died of abasia, or general paralysis, in Egypt.
Book of Remembrance entry
Harold Saxon was born at the end of 1890 in Birkenhead, the second child of the 4 sons and a daughter of Joseph Saxon (1863-1907) and Hannah Jane Williams (1866-1902).
Harold’s grandfather, John Saxon (1826-1901) was born in Chester, but nothing is known about his parents. By 1855 he was a labourer in Liverpool, when he married Ellen Anyon (???-1858). Ellen died in Wirral at the beginning of 1858, and John was back in Liverpool on 4 April 1859 when he married again, this time to Martha Upton (1839-1914). Martha’s father was a very small farmer in Oxton, sometimes classed as a farm labourer. John and Martha soon moved to Birkenhead, where their first child was born in 1860, to be followed by at least 8 other children.
It is not known how a farm labourer managed it, but John had set up as a market gardener in Frankby by 1888. After John died in 1901, Martha continued the business with some of her children and grandchildren.
Harold’s father, Joseph, enlisted in the Royal Artillery in October 1887, but bought himself out for £10 (a considerable sum of money at the time) less than 3 months later in January 1888. 10 months later he married Hannah Jane Williams, the daughter of William Robert Williams (1847-1915) a prosperous team owner and coal agent. Nothing is known of the Williams family prior to 1865, due to the ubiquity of the surname in Birkenhead.
Joseph and Hannah Jane lived from then on in Birkenhead and Joseph worked as a domestic gardener.
Harold had a severe childhood illness of some kind as in 1901 he was a patient at West Kirby Children’s Convalescent Home. He recovered from this and after his parents’ deaths went to live with his paternal grandmother at Irbyside Cottage, Frankby, where he was a horseman on a farm.
Cheshire Regiment cap badge
Harold’s military service record has not survived, and in 2 lesser records (medal card and Register of Soldier’s effects) he is recorded as William Saxon not Harold. They definitely relate to him as the latter record correctly lists his 4 siblings. As he had a brother William, it is unlikely that he was ever called William. From his regimental number of 4516 in the 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment it is likely that he enlisted in 1915, when the battalion was in need of replacements after their losses at Gallipoli. His number is only 134 lower than the original number of William Thomas Kendrick. His medal card indicates that he only went overseas in 1916 as he was not awarded the 14/15 Star.
Harold / William Saxon medal card
As the 4th Battalion was in Egypt from 11 December 1915 until Harold died, he cannot have been involved in any fighting.
On 14 May 1916 he died of abasia (general paralysis usually caused by hysteria), in hospital in Cairo. He was 25 years old. This may have been related to his childhood illness, or may have been ‘shell shock’ induced by shells heard during training – we will never know.
He is buried in Cairo War Cemetery, where he was later joined by Robert Hallows. He is also commemorated on Frankby War Memorial and Grange Hill War Memorial.
Cairo War Cemetery
Harold’s older brother Albert Saxon (1889-1963) was a career soldier in the Cheshire Regiment, who was serving in India in 1914. He rose to Sergeant and later served in the Labour Corps. After the war he became a postman in Greasby.
Next brother William James Saxon (1894-1927) must have been very small as he enlisted in the 17th (Bantam) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment in September 1915. He spent time in the UK in the Royal Defence Corps before being reposted to a Cheshire Regiment Reserve Battalion in 1917 and being sent to India. Because he served overseas, but not in a war situation, he was only awarded the British War medal. He was not demobbed until January 1920.
No record has been found of Harold’s youngest brother John Frederick Saxon (1896-1977) serving in any capacity.
Birth: Oct 1890 Birkenhead, Cheshire
Death: 14 May 1916; died of abasia in Cairo, Egypt
Addresses: 19 Berry Street, Birkenhead (91); Childrens Convalescent Home, West Kirby (01); Irbyfield Cottage, Frankby (11)
Occupation: horseman on farm
Unit: ‘D’ Company, 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: 4516; Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Cairo War Cemetery, Cairo, Egypt; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; Frankby War Memorial
Sources: CWGC, MC, RSE, Census: 91, 01, 11, PR, BR