February – March 1916: The Dark Side of the Cannock Chase Camps (part 3)

The Most Sensitive of Projects
Due to a high number of ‘incidents’ occurring since the Cannock Chase camps were opened, in July 1916 a question was raised in the House of Commons regarding possible bullying at the two sites; this question, as so often with politics, would ultimately be brushed under that carpet – as I suspect that nobody really wanted to know the truth, whatever it was.

So, this series of articles seeks to examine some of these ‘incidents’ – well, those reported in the local press – and ask whether the soldiers involved felt compelled to take extreme action because of such bullying; if such ‘incidents’ were the consequence of a lack of understanding or consideration for soldiers suffering with stress, anxiety or depression; whether some incidents were simply down to men being fed-up; or, possibly, a more calculated means on their part to escape the army.

The first article in the series was all about context: I look the reasons behind the project and I briefly examine how well the concepts of melancholia, stress and anxiety were understood back in World War One (see https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/driven-to-dispair-the-dark-side-of-the-cannock-chase-camps-part-1/ ).

The second part reaffirms some of this – especially my personal approach to the soldiers involved – before taking in a little on the history of the camps and the first two of the soldier’s own stories: Privates Davill and Greenwood (see https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/october-1915-january-1916-the-dark-side-of-the-cannock-chase-camps-part-2/ ).

This, the third part, looks at three bizarre, alcohol-fuelled incidents that date to February and March 1916. They involve theft, as well as threatening behaviour and the physical assault of policemen.

A few words about drink. Men on the front line did get a rum allowance in the trenches – those behind the lines did access local ‘estaminets’ that sold dubious spirits, and it was not uncommon for some men to drink themselves into stupors. Alcohol was not freely available on a home-camp of course, although I am sure it found its way to those that sought it, and strict penalties could be imposed. As such, men got passes and went into the local towns for recreation. Denial, boredom and beer being so much stronger then, led to continual military appearances before local magistrates – who were generally, but not always completely, unsympathetic to the soldier’s situation. Usually little harm was done and a fine was imposed – the soldier went back to camp and got a yelling at there, too.

A few cases were a little more ‘extreme’, and I present three for you here: the first is the strange theft of a horse and trap, which, however seriously he mean’t it or not, the perpetrator hoped might get him out of the army; the second is a case where drink definitely destroyed a man – but while it could be argued that he was driven to it by his war service, I feel he was really no different from many of his comrades; while the last is the story of what could be seen as an attempted murder, and someone who was very different from most.

John Gibson: Making a Getaway
In many ways the story of this incident may appear to help us little with regard to identifying bullying at the camps, after all, we cannot trace a John Gibson that we can link to this incident, either before or after it, in order to see if it was out-of-character for him. Further, we cannot offer any reasoning – save for the wisdom of Rome: in vino veritas (in wine there is truth) – behind why he acted as he did. Saying that, I think it does warrant its place in this article, for its relevance will become clear and it can also be compared to the cases of Storey and Lycett, whose stories follows on from it.

We have little to go on to identify John Gibson – and as such, I have been unable to trace him or his military papers (which I suspect do not survive). The newspaper accounts of the incident report four facts about Gibson’s military background: first, that he was of a Private rank; second, that he was in the West Yorkshire Regiment; third, he was actually out on a pass from the camp’s hospital as a wounded soldier, having received an injury to the ankle at some time prior to 1916, and so was not actually a soldier in training; and finally, that he received that wound at the front.

So, as he received the wound at the front, this wound would mean that Gibson was in France/Belgium in 1915, possibly even in 1914. If this is the case, then Gibson was either a regular, a former regular re-called to the colours in 1914 (and young enough to be so), or he was one of Kitchener’s initial volunteers when the war broke out. His regiment indicates he is likely a Yorkshireman, but we cannot be certain of this.

His wound was significant enough for him to be returned to England, so I can only image that it was either a break, or inflicted by a bullet or shrapnel. We don’t know when it was or how severe it was – other than it was severe enough to be a Blighty wound – but we do know that he was, while still in the hospital’s care, mobile enough not only to get around in February 1916, at least enough to commit a theft and an assault!

Gibson makes his appearance in the Cannock Advertiser (Cannock Library)

The incident took place on Saturday 5 February. All we know is that Gibson went out of the camp presumably on a pass, although it may have been for official reasons. Whether he went anywhere first and whether he was with company we do not know, all we know is that he imbibed some alcohol and ended up in that metropolis of culture known as Heath Hayes, seemingly alone.

At 10.10pm, William Henry James, who was a 44-year old grocer from Rummer Hill (Cannock), had parked his horse and trap outside a shop on the Hednesford Road in Heath Hays. He had entered the shop and had been there no more than three minutes when he was alerted to the fact that his horse and trap had, forgive the pun, gone walkies. He alerted the police, in the form of P.C. Carter, who was on duty on Hednesford Road at that time.

The route between Market Place and New Penkridge Road, which was taken by the fleeing Gibson that night. 2017.

Carter made enquires and clearly understood the perpetrator, who was traced to the Market Place in Cannock, to be a soldier from the camps. He then obtained a ‘motor vehicle’ and set off in pursuit with the aid of P.C. Thorpe. The other side of Cannock, on the New Penkridge Road, they caught-up with the hapless Gibson.

The two policemen passed Gibson before signalling for him to stop. Gibson, heading in the direction Penkridge, did so and was promptly arrested for theft; his response to the arrest was interesting: ‘That’s right. I shall get out of the army now. I have had enough of it’. In the course of his handcuffing, Gibson struck Carter in the eye.

He was taken to Cannock Police Station, where he was charged. His response was now apologetic: ‘send me to the front again, I am only a wounded soldier… I am sorry, I didn’t intend to do it, don’t remember doing it’. He was described by the officers as ‘having had some drink, but being far from being drunk. He was, however, very excited’.

Gibson was dragged up before the magistrate on the Monday. Gibson, now more humble, explained that he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing; and that he took the horse and trap ‘intending to drive back to the camp where he was in hospital’. If he took the trap at 10.10pm, it may have been because he was panicked that, in an inebriated state, he was not going to get back to camp before his pass ran out. His drunk state – and possibly his lack of local knowledge (if from Yorkshire) – could have been demonstrated by the fact that, as the Magistrate pointed out, he was heading in the wrong direction!

We have no evidence that Gibson’s actions were motivated by anything more than just being fed-up, which were exacerbate by drink. Gibson would not get his wish to escape the army – if that were really the aim of his bizarre theft – as James didn’t press charges over the theft of the horse and trap, so all that happened was that he found himself 27 shillings lighter for the assault charge and, one assumes, eventually returned to active duty.

I would love to know what became of him.

John Reginald Storey: In the Drink
The case of Private John Storey is sad: his demise highlights the vengeance that alcohol can take for a single moment of euphoria or oblivion – possibly to escape the fear or the boredom of the war.

John Reginald Storey – possibly known as Reginald to the family – was born in Sunderland in 1896. His parents, John and Margaret (Ellis), had been married in 1893. John Reginald was in fact their second child – the second named John, even – as John George had died before his first year was out. The couple had eight children in all: after the Johns there was Florence (1898), Richard (1900), Ann (1903), Margaret (1905), Andrew (1907), James (1910) and Nora (1913).

John Storey was a shipyard labourer. In 1901 the family were living at 9 Woodbine Terrace, which is in the Pallion district of Sunderland and occupied mainly by shipyard workers (the road still exists, though devoid of housing now, and likely Storey worked at Short’s – the shipbuilding yard at the bottom of the road).

In 1910 John and Margaret faced a second family tragedy, as well as having to endure an inquest after, when their three-month old baby, James, suffocated due to being unable to breathe as the result of a severe cough. By the same year John Reginald had become an apprentice riveter – actually, a rivet heater – and was definitely employed at Short’s shipyards. We know that the family are in Lister Street the following year, which was located just around the corner from Woodbine Terrace (all trace of which has now gone).

1913 would see a big change for John Reginald, by which time the family had moved into 3, Frederick Terrace (a street away from their previous house, and also gone). After 3 years he left his employ at Short’s and on 11 November that year, not yet aged 18 years so he was ineligible for service abroad, he attested into the 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, as a special reservist.

John Reginald Storey’s recommendation to join the 3rd West Yorks in 1913. (National Archives)

The 5′ 3″ lad, sporting blue eyes and brown hair, as well as tattooed arms, was given a good reference by William Hodgson, the Foremen Riveter at Short’s, who stated that he was both sober and honest; while the Recruiting Officer marked him as ‘a decent, respectable lad’ and one ‘most likely to develop’. In my research, whilst it isn’t conclusive, I found no evidence that he had fallen foul of the law prior to his military service.

He headed to York, where he undertook a special course for reservists and, in June 1914, a musketry course. I get the feeling that Storey never actually counted on the possibility that he could go to war, as everything seemed to fall apart after the commencement of hostilities. Storey was officially mobilised at York on 5 August 1914. The Battalion would then move to Whitley Bay – where it remained through the conflict – as a part of the Tyne Garrison against Zeppelins and any landed attack.

We have no proof as to why, but on 31 October he was sentenced to 14 days detention, although I suspect this was for being ‘absent’. Assuming he was detained for the full two weeks, he then absented himself again only to to be arrested at his home and brought before a magistrate on 19 November. P.C. Winn told, of when arresting Storey, that he stated when charged with desertion: ‘Yes, and it will not be long before I am out of this lot again.’

Storey was returned to his unit, where at a hearing on 20 November he was given another 14 days detention and fined 21 days pay. His response was as he promised,as on 21 November he promptly deserted. The speed of this only indicates to me that he was deeply troubled or ‘melancholic’ about the war or his treatment – and no mention of alcohol is aver made.

What happened next is a little bit of a mystery: it is possible that Storey was not caught, although I suspect he was, as while he was to get his release from the West Yorkshire Special Reserves, he was not to escape from the British Army. One can view it as sympathetic treatment or not, but I suspect that in an effort to keep him away from his home in Sunderland, which was too close to Whitley Bay, he was allowed to join another regiment, with a clean slate, but one destined for the front.

And so John Reginald Storey, although just signed as John Storey, attested into the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, on 2 December 1914. Describing himself as a labourer, he states that he has never served in the army before, which was a clear lie, and his age has also gone up by a year – he now claimed to be over 19-years, so was eligible for foreign service (which, after a period of training, he would have been anyway).

Tents at Halton, Buckinghamshire – home to John Storey Dec 1914 – July 1915. (Unknown)

John was whisked away to camp at Halton Park, Buckinghamshire. The foul weather and sodden ground saw many troops billeted out, not to return to new wooden huts until April/May 1915. Assuming John was billeted out, then he struggled upon returning to barrack life: he was fined 6 days pay for the period 28 May to 2 June and another 6 days pay on 2 June 1915, the reason is not stated. In July, the Battalion moved to the Witley Camp, near Aldershot. John would be at Witley for around 6 weeks, after which the Battalion was moved to France.

He landed at Boulogne on 11 September 1915. The Battalion, a part of the 21st Division, moved to the front quickly in order to take part in supporting the French in the ‘Third Battle of Artios’. The 15th arrived at Loos on 25 September; the following day, raw and exhausted, they went into battle. The Battalion would lose 462 men killed or wounded in a disastrous, confused attack in the area between Loos and Hulluch (to the north). This was the biggest engagement the British had been in up until that point and John’s Battalion had been smashed. John himself was not spared, as at some stage he copped some gas, which was severe enough to get him returned home on the SS Cambria on 30 September.

While back in England he was transferred to the 16th Battalion on 6 January 1916 – possibly when he was discharged from hospital or convalescent home. This Battalion was a Reserve Battalion and, at that point, was stationed at the Penkridge Bank Camp. I have already proffered the belief that John struggled with barrack-life when on home service, and what would come next would only reaffirm this opinion.

At 9.30pm on 19 February Storey was in Hednesford, in the Green Heath Road, on a pass. Two police constables, Kirkham and Parsonage, witnessed Storey arguing with two corporals, before removing his coat and trying to fight with one. Parsonage tried to calm him, but at that point Storey thumped the corporal, causing his nose to bleed. Parsonage attempted to usher him off to camp, but was met with a torrid flow of ‘filthy language’, and several kicks to the legs. The constables managed to handcuff Storey who was ‘mad drunk’, and stopped a taxi in order to get him to the police station. Interestingly, some of the soldiers about tried to rescue Storey from the law: as there is no evidence they knew and liked him, it should be looked at, in my opinion, as simply looking out for their own.

Storey appeared on 21 February in front of the Bench at Cannock. The evidence was read and the only thing the 5′ 4 1/2″ Storey was recorded as saying was ‘It looks well to say that one man who is mad drunk can tackle two policemen twice his size’. Storey was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment.

Storey would have been released around the middle of March. An absence on his record, after crossed out, was recorded against him for 24 to 25 March. Whether he was absent is unclear, but he certainly did go absent on 31 March – apparently for 14 days. On 16 April he was sentenced to 7 days detention. His old demons back, he was transferred to the 13th Battalion, in France, on 12 May 1916.

He returned, ironically, to the Loos area, joining his Battalion on or around 8 June. As the Battle of the Somme was launched the 13th Battalion were located near Albert, north of the River Somme. In and out of the line, they took some heavy bombardments and acted as support in the capture of Contalmaison. Early August was another rough time, while September would be personally worse for John.

According to his war record, between 19 September and 8 October John was suffering with ‘shell-shock’. The only action I recorded in the War Diary for this date does at least fit with this. A Company from the 13th DLI assisted in trying to clear some Germans occupying parts of the same trench system. This was a bombing (grenade) mission to remove the trench ‘blocks’ established and the Company took casualties – as well as undergoing a bombardment from our own artillery. Shortly after his return they would move to the Ypres area – again, in and out of the line.

Bollezeele, where Storey’s lack of affection for NCOs was again demonstrated. (Unknown)

The new year offered the same lottery in the same place. In March, the Battalion found itself at Bollezeele in Northern France (several miles to the south of Dunkirk) – at rest. On 9 March a mirror incident occurs – except that it was under military jurisdiction and not civil. All we know is that Storey got drunk and was then guilty of ‘striking’ two Non-Commissioned Officers. At his hearing he was awarded 21 days Field Punishment number 1: Field Punishment number 1 was effectively being tied to a post, upright, for a couple of hours a day (usually twice, an hour at a time), for a maximum of 21 days.

War Office drawing of FP1, 1917. (Spartacus Educational)

Storey did not heed the warning. On 5 April, ‘A’ Company were billeted at Millam (near Bollezeele), and remained there for over a week. On 13 April, at 6.45pm, some of the lads were in an estaminet kept by Mme Devroe in nearby Cappelle-brouck – Storey included. After drinking whiskey, rum and cognac, the lads began drifted back to their billets – again, including Storey. Storey, according to Private Garbutt, had been ‘drinking rather freely’ and expressed ‘the desire for a swim’ (he was, by all accounts, a good swimmer).

Private Haw walked back with Storey, and he stated that they reached the canal, en route to Millam, at 7.45 pm. Garbutt noticed the two and that Storey was undressing for a swim, while Haw was trying to prevent him. Haw said he was joined by a Private Hall, but Storey broke free from them both and jumped in.

Hall headed for the other bank via the ferry. He noticed Storey suddenly get into difficulty, so stripped and jumped in to assist. He saw Storey go under and the current take him away. His body was recovered and pulled to the bank, but Hall’s attempts to revive him failed.

Storey paid the ultimate price for his bravado from a bottle. An inquest was held and his death was recorded as an accident due to the drink. His family received his medals in due course. As an aside, Garbutt and Haw would also be dead by the end of 1917, too.

I am not daft enough to think he had never had a drink or gotten as ‘merry as a sandboy’ on the ale prior to the army, but what little evidence there is indicates to me that turned to the drink more to forget his situation and experiences. Cannock was not the reason for his demise, I think he struggled with melancholia at both his home bases and at the front and saw drink (and whacking the odd NCO) as his only way out.

I see him as one of many lads in this kind of situation, only in his case it led to a stupid death. I think, judging by Haw and Hall’s testimony, he was liked by his the other guys in the company (with Haw walking with him after the estaminet visit, and Hall’s actions in trying to save him), so I don’t see him as a violent man in general. What a waste.

John Lycett: The Charge at Dulce Domum
It is interesting to compare Gibson and Storey’s incidents to that of Sergeant John Lycett. Drink lay at the root of all, but Lycett’s was different in nature and outcome. We have no context for Gibson, but we do for Storey and Lycett, however, before I recall Lycett’s life I want to outline the case itself, then you can judge yourself how far the contextual information influences your view of the incident.

Being a Sergeant at the turn of 1916, I guess one could be forgiven for thinking that John Lycett had been a regular prior to the war – or signed-up at the outbreak of hostilities – and was a man trusted by the officers, a man of character. If that was the case, then he all would get a rude awakening after a somewhat bizarre incident occurred near to the junction of the Stafford Road and Cemetery Road, Cannock.

The junction of Stafford Road/Cemetery Road, Cannock, and the White Lion pub, close to Lycett’s charge of March 1916! 2017.

The date was Sunday 4 March, and it was 8.45pm; snow covered the floor and everywhere was in the darkest of night as there had been a Zeppelin alert and, while the all-clear had been sounded half an hour before, the street lights were still out. Police-Sergeant Collins was on duty in Stafford Road when he heard obscene language from what turned out to be Sergeant Lycett of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Lycett had been out of camp, acting as an escort (for someone or something) to Stafford. He claimed that as it was Sunday the shops were closed so he had not eaten; he had though taken some whiskey, which he was not used to. The police involved stated the Lycett was ‘mad drunk’.

Lycett was heading into Cannock from the direction of Stafford. He was shouting obscene things, including: ‘If I meet a policeman I will kill the … dog’. This prompted Collins to approach Lycett, who drew his bayonet and threatened to cut off Collins’ head. Lycett struck out at Collins, but he evaded the weapon.

As they passed Cemetery Road, Collins was joined by Special Constable Orton, who could see the fracas as he was about to return to his house. Orton was a magistrate’s clerk and a member of the Volunteer Training Corps (Home Guard of the day). He had been on duty on account of the Zeppelin warning and, usefully, had his rifle with him. He was also able to supply Collins with a truncheon.

Lycett had moved further towards Cannock, in fact he was tapping his bayonet on a telegraph pole just by Dulce Domum – a house that once stood on the site of Chetwynd Gardens (opposite Cardinal Griffen School, Cannock). He then entered a field, followed by his pursuers (Orton a little behind, catching up). Lycett told them: ‘Go back you Germans or I will do you in’, and then proceeded to lunge at Collins with his bayonet; he came close as it flashed between Collins’ arm and body, catching and pinging off a metal button on his uniform. Orton stated that at this stage he was prepared to fire at Lycett’s legs if necessary.

Instead, the two lawmen flanked him and, while he raised the bayonet above his head to strike down, Collins succeeded in landing him a blow on the head. They cuffed him and took him to the station, where he appeared in front of the Bench the next day.

At the hearing the tale was retold and the two policemen were highly praised for their actions and bravery by the Bench. Lycett’s defence of Sunday shops, whiskey and his plea that he was sorry for making a fool of himself fell on deaf ears. Not only was he sentenced to 6 months, but the Bench summed-up with a strongly worded statement, paraphrased by the Cannock Courier: ‘The Bench were of the opinion that it wasn’t just the drink, but there was something wrong in the head. They could not see what good a man like that was in the Army.’

Some will think that this seems a harsh punishment, others not, as a weapon was involved and it could have ended-up far more tragically but for the grace of God. The sentence is one thing, the summing-up comments another; these comments seemed a little over-the-top to me, but then the Magistrate was definitely party to information that I did not know until I looked into his life.

The headline in the Cannock Courier, 6 March 1916. (Cannock Library)

John Rushton Carthy Lycett was born in Armitage, near Lichfield, in 1882. His name is an amalgam of a family heritage. Rushton is from his father’s side – I believe it was the maiden name of his great grandmother. Carthy is the maiden name of his mother. John was also a family name. His father was John Rushton Lycett, a railway signalman, and unimaginatively his grandfather was also a John Rushton Lycett, he being the one time game keeper at Wolseley Hall.

John’s parents, John and Rosa Ann Carthy, were married in 1881. John’s father was was lodging with Rosa’s parents in Armitage at the time (having been born in Etchinghill) and was working on the railway, while Rosa herself was a domestic for a Barrister in Longdon. John would be their first child; they would go on to have five in all – all of which survived.

In 1891 the family were living on the Armitage Road, coming under the Brereton parish. There were four children at this stage: George had been born in 1884, Henrietta in 1886 and Francis in 1889. John and George were at school, and John’s father had become a fully-fledged signalman at Rugeley Trent Valley station (working the Cannock junction signal box).

The couple’s last child, Ethel, would be born in 1898, however, by that time, John Rushton Carthy’s life would have changed direction. We don’t know where he went to school, but we do know that he was sent to a reformatory school at some stage, in or prior to 1897, as ‘nothing could be done with him’.

1897 has the first easily accessible recorded evidence of John’s fall from grace. Interestingly, the year starts when John goes off to Lichfield at the age of 15 years 3 months. Here, on 15 May 1897, and declaring his profession as a musician, he attests into the army; however, Lycett does not go into the local Staffordshire Regiment, but into the Highland Light Infantry.

Lycett, with a tell-tale scar above his right eye, had grey eyes and light brown hair. Not yet 5′ 4″ in height, with a chest measurement of 31″, he was initially passed fit for a 12-year period of service – and he joined as a ‘boy’. By 18 May he was in Hamilton, Scotland, at the base depot, yet, despite a 12-year attestation, on 3 July he was formally discharged as no ‘longer being being required’.

The scar may be evidence of a violent episode, or equally just an accident, so putting that aside, it seemed strange that at such an age he would run off to the army. If it was an ambition to join-up, why go to Scotland? It is possible that he wanted to escape his family, but I think it more likely that he was avoiding something else – the law. I have no proof, just suspicions based on what happened immediately after his discharge, but I think he had committed a petty crime and was fleeing – or he was absconding from a reformatory school.

So, on 3 July John leaves Scotland. On 6 December that year he was in front of the Bench at Cannock on a charge of the theft of two watches. He was sent to a reform ship, possibly in Liverpool. I suggest he absconds from the ship and returns home, as on 2 and 3 March 1898 he first bound over for burglary, then sent down for 3 months for absconding from the ship. It seems he was still in the ship in January 1900, as he was sentenced to 6 months for threatening (or attempting) to set fire to it.

We know that in early 1901 he was back at home, as he appears on the census as being with his family who are now living on Lion Street, Rugeley. John is described as a bricklayer’s labourer.

Lion Street, Rugeley. Lycett’s house was number 40. 2017.

Sadly, Lycett had not only become a habitual offender, but seemingly opportunist one – and one who often seemed to get caught. On 3 October 1901 he was sent down for 3 months at Stafford for stealing postal orders and a ring. In 1902 he was charged with an assault and being drunk, before appearing in front of Penkridge Bench for the theft of a watch and chain on 18 August – he was given 4 months.

John Lycett, serving 9 months at Stafford Gaol, 1903. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Having gained release, he was back inside before you can say Jack Robinson. On either 16 March or April (2 different dates supplied), he was in front of the Lichfield Bench for the theft of a watch. He got 9 months and was packed off to Stafford Gaol. Again, no sooner released, when he was sentenced to two 15 month concurrent terms at Birmingham – this time for the theft of two rings.

He was out by January 1905 and, maybe for a fresh start, had headed up to Bradford. His new start – or hope that he wouldn’t be recognised by the police – failed immediately: he was to be arrested and given 3 years penal servitude (hard labour) for the theft of two gold Alberts (watch chains). The treadmill and the crank had now gone as punishments, so hard labour would be solitary confinement and breaking rock for, or being directly involved in, building work, as well as other physical work.

I suspect he served his sentence out in Yorkshire, as he was picked-up again upon his release. We know he was in Bradford, then Leeds in December 1908. On 10 December, in Bradford, he violently assaulted and wounded a Thomas Tiplady, robbing him of nearly £6. No mercy given, Lycett was sent down for 5 years penal servitude. I think he started off in a Yorkshire gaol, but he was moved down to Stafford in June 1909 – as he appears in their admissions photograph album at this time. He served further time on the Isle of Wight – as he was there on the census of 1911.

John Lycett in 1909, back in Stafford on a 5-year stretch for violent robbery. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Lycett was due for release in early 1913, if he served the full term. In June he is in Manchester, where describing himself as a miner, he met and married a Fanny Green. A child followed the next year, being born in the Swinton area of Manchester. The family lived at 61 Long Lane, Swinton, at the time – and Lycett was again describing himself as a bricklayer.

The family moved into Yorkshire for a short while – living at 107 Bentley Road, Doncaster, then settled back down in Rugeley, where another child was born in 1916. Lycett returned to the Rugeley area not out of direct choice, but because he was posted there: for on 22 November 1915 he had signed-up in the 3/5 Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

His attestation, into what was a Territorial force, may well be slightly exaggerated – although I may be wrong. Now 6′ in height, with a chest of 42″, he does not seem to have been asked if he had spent time in a prison and when asked about his military service, he didn’t mention his time in the Highland Light Infantry, but claimed he had been in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (a Territorial unit). If he had been in it, and it is possible, I am not sure when he could have fitted it in between prison sentences – especially as he claimed that he served the entire period he had attested for! Hmmm.

John Lycett’s military career, promotion and busting. (National Archives)

This deceit, if it were one, could have had beneficial consequences. Possibly in light of what they saw as prior service, he was promoted to a corporal rank on 27 November, then acting lance-sergeant on the same day (just a week into his service). He must have been efficient enough, as on 12 February 1916, he was made a full sergeant.

This was the zenith of his military fortunes, for within a few weeks he was leading the solo bayonet charge against Collins and Orton. The Bench were aware of his past – which is why he was sentenced to 6 months and accused of not being right in the head.

Due to his past, I cannot accept his actions were down to bullying at the camps, or depression/melancholia brought on by his time there; if there are questions about mental health, then Lycett’s continual pilfering and aggression – and just as importantly, being continually caught – is perhaps more suggestive of a deeper problem – and one that the Bench sort of recognised, just using the parlance of the time.

So, what happened to Lycett? He did his 6 months, although he was busted to a private rank upon conviction. On release, he was transferred to the 4th Reserve Battalion, but ended-up being sent to France as a part of the 1/5 Battalion on 18 October 1916. He had a bunion problem prior to entry into the services, but the water in the trenches had exacerbated this. He could hardly get his boots on and couldn’t even wear ‘waders’. He received a slight wound to the hand and came home on 22 November. He never returned to the front, as he got to the point where he could just about walk a mile in army boots, and so he was medically discharged in June 1917.

Around 1918/1919 his family moved to 164 Heathfield Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. Sadly, Fanny would pass away in 1927; she was just 34-years of age. Without the certificate it is uncertain, but I suspect he married again, up in Stoke, and started a second family. If it is him, and he is the only other John RC Lycett on the General Registry Office indexes, then he married a Nellie Wilson within weeks of Fanny’s death. Nellie would pass away just a few years later. I don’t know if he ever put is shady past behind him, but he died in the Stafford area in 1952.

In memory of all those mentioned here.

My thanks to:
Cannock Library
Staffordshire Record Office
National Archives
Spartacus Educational

and those I am not sure of the provenance of

Advertisements