This soldier was a true son of Hoylake and of the old Parish of West Kirby, where his ancestors can be traced as far back as the mid-eighteenth century. Due to my own roots in this fascinating district, I have found the research into John’s life and ancestry to be both intriguing and profoundly moving. At this point, I am not aware of there being a direct genealogical link between myself and John, but I should not be surprised if one exists, as I have Davies ancestors in eighteenth century West Kirby who married into the Rainford Family and there is a possible link with a branch of the early Hoylake Roberts Family. My fellow researcher, Mrs Carol Hunter, is third cousin twice removed to this soldier. I thank her for the information she has shared with me about his ancestry and I acknowledge the work carried out by Gail Brumfitt who has compiled a ‘Hoylake Fishing Families’ family tree, which is an indispensable resource for an enquiry like this one.
John was born in the township of Hoose, in the centre of Victorian Hoylake, on 4th October 1896. On the day of his baptism, 5th May 1898, he and his family were living at 5 Bank Road, Hoylake, but seem to have moved house many times both before and after that date. His parents were John Davies (1859-1918) and Helena Pugh (1870-1958). In 1901, the family was living at 7 Lee Road. According to the Hoylake and West Kirby ‘Green Book’ Directory of 1911, John Davies senior (possibly not with the rest of his family) was living at 4 Marmion Road, while the 1911 Census shows his wife Helena living in a four-roomed house at 6 School Place, Birkenhead with her nine children. At that time, John Junior (our soldier) was aged fourteen and employed as a Carter’s Boy for the Midland Railway Company. By 1915, when John joined up, the family was living at 22 Rudd Street, Hoylake. The following pages from the ‘Green Book’ reveal some important characteristics of the local community:
As shown in the above images, John Davies senior was a fisherman, the son and grandson of fishermen and neighbour to numerous other fishermen. John’s wife’s ancestors were also fisherfolk. Indeed, her father, Thomas Pugh (1832-1919), shows up in the 1871 census (made on 2nd April) on board the fishing vessel ‘Liverpool’ of Hoylake (39 tons, number 17799) in the Queen’s Channel in Liverpool Bay. He was the vessel’s master; Joseph Parr was Mate while Samuel and William Parr and Edwin James Evans were deck hands and boy respectively.
True, however, to the form I have noticed in other Hoylake fishing families of the time, including my own, John Junior did not follow in his father’s footsteps: by 1915 he was working for succesful local businessman, Thomas Totty, as a ‘vanman’ (we would probably say ‘van driver’), delivering fruit and vegetables in the local area. The following page from the 1911 ‘Green Book’ shows the extent of Mr Totty’s empire:
We do not know whether John volunteered for military service or whether he was a ‘victim’ of the 1915 Derby Scheme (named after its inventor, the 17th Earl of Derby from nearby Knowsley Hall) – a compromise between voluntarism and conscription – which paved the way for full-blown conscription in May 1916, but we do know that he presented himself at Hoylake’s Recruiting Office on 16th November 1915 at the age of nineteen years and forty-three days. He was sent home and told to wait for the call to be ’embodied’. This came on 31st January 1916 when he was given a medical inspection and found to be 5′ 3″ tall (just tall enough not to be a ‘Bantam’) and to have a 35″ chest with a 3″ expansion; his physique was described as ‘fair’. As a motor driver, and like numerous other older men with the same skill, John would have been useful to the Artillery or the Army Service Corps and been able to enjoy a slightly less dangerous military career, but, as a fit young man, he was an ideal front-line infantry soldier and so was assigned to the 8th Battaion of the Cheshire Regiment.
By the time John had been called to join the 8th Cheshires, they had been serving in the Dardanelles as part of 40th Brigade, 13th (Western) Division and were moving to the Middle East. John’s service papers say that he sailed from Bombay (without saying how and when he got there) on 4th August 1916, arriving at ‘Busra’ (present Basra in Iraq) on 20th August 1916. Eight days later he joined his battalion at Amara, which, at that time was part of the Turkish Empire in the territory known as Mesopotamia. The British had been besieged at Kut Al-Amara between December 1915 and April 1916 and had surrendered the city to the Turks. The Mesopotamian Campaign was a miserable, unglamorous and deeply unhealthy sideshow in an alien and unforgiving environment, where soldiers suffered from numerous diseases. John went down with jaundice on 19th November 1916 and was in hospital for five days, rejoining his unit on 24th November.
Following the fall of Kut, the British forces in Mesopotamia were reformed by their new commander, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude who combined the Indian Expeditionary Force D with the 13th (Western) Division (containing John’s unit, the 8th Cheshires) to form the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. The 8th Cheshires later joined the Indian III Corps or ‘Tigris Corps’. They outnumbered the Turkish forces and were well supplied by rail. Baghdad was captured on 11th March 1917, about seven weeks before John died in hospital. His records show that he died of wounds to the abdomen on 30th April 1917, but they do not say when his wounds were received. We do not know, therefore, whether he had been wounded during the capture of Baghdad or during a subsequent action.
This precious Hoylakean is commemorated in Iraq, where his name is one of 40,639 on the Basra Memorial to the missing. His possessions (unlisted) were sent home to his parents on 1st February 1918 and his commemorative Scroll and Plaque posted to Hoylake on 20th January 1920. He is listed on Hoylake’s Parish memorials and at Grange Hill.
Birth: 4th October 1896 in Hoylake.
Death: 30th April 1917, died of wounds in a British Military Hospital in Mesopotamia.
Address: 22 Rudd Street, Hoylake.
Unit: 8th Cheshire Regiment.
Number and Rank: 33396, Private.
Medals: British War and Allied Victory.
Commemorated and Buried: Grange Hill, Hoylake Parish Memorials in St. Hildeburgh’s Church, Basra Memorial to the Missing in Iraq.
Sources: 1901 and 1911 Censuses, Book of Remembrance, Kelly’s directory of Cheshire 1910, Hoylake and West Kirby ‘Green Book’ 1911, Birkenhead News and Commonwealth War Graves Commission Database.