Coming Home: Hezekiah Henry Jones

Introduction and Identification
I suppose there was to be a time when I was really worried that I would not be able to trace the first thing about one of the soldiers on the gates and that time came fleetingly with Harry Jones. A plethora of problems awaited regarding his identification: Harry is a name in its own right or it can be short for Harold or a nickname for Henry and, added to that, Jones is hardly the rarest of surnames.

Edward Aulder Benton on the Wyrley Gates. 2014

Harry Jones on the Wyrley Gates. 2014.

First things first, however. My faith in the accuracy of the names on the gates is, as anyone who has read one of the stories knows, fragile, however, I started the process of identification in the usual way. I first went to the other local source: the 1928 Wesleyan Methodist Chapel plaque offered the same ‘Harry Jones’, which although encouraging did suggest I would have a devil of a time locating him. I followed with the Staffordshire Roll of Honour: this was compiled in 1926 and contains the entries for all of the Staffordshire memorials. It proved to be less help in that it gave no first name and no regiment, but did at least register him as of Private rank.

The 1927 Roll of Honour

The 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour – giving a Private H. Jones. (Walsall Local History Centre)

At this stage a fairly swift general search of the census, birth certificates and so forth for a Harry Jones proved completely fruitless; equally, so did a search of the military records under that name. I then undertook a wider search for a ‘Jones’ and ‘Wyrley’ on the database for the soldiers that died in the Great War to see if that could help and it threw up a couple of soldiers: Isaiah Jones and Hezekiah Jones. There was no guarantee that Harry was either of these men of course, as the database only provides a place of birth and current address and not for every soldier. According to the database both of these soldiers were listed as being born in Wyrley, but both had subsequently left.

Isaiah was born in Wyrley in 1897, but was living in Hednesford from the age of four. He was killed in the early days of the Somme campaign in July 1916, fighting with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He appears on the Hednesford memorial.

Hezekiah looked a better bet, especially as his middle name turned out to be Henry. I found an account of his death in the Walsall Observer, but it states the was living in Chasetown at the time.

I returned to Stafford Record Office, just in case I had missed something regarding the forms for the Roll of Honour that the village was compiling in the latter months of 1917. I had missed something, there was an entry for a Hezekiah Henry Jones,who was indeed a Private in the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment.

The Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour entry for Hezekiah Henry Jones. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour entry for Hezekiah Henry Jones. (Staffordshire Record Office)

While I was elated at having found Hezekiah and that I was now confident I had got the right person and, that in all likelihood, he was known as Harry to his family and friends, and had proved the memorial gates correct, I was immediately hit by something quite painful. Whoever filled in the entry was in a state of limbo and, most likely, feeling quite sick in the stomach: Hezekiah was neither listed as a serving soldier as such or was he listed as dead, he was in fact described as ‘wounded and missing, 28 April 1917’ – can you really imagine the strain the writer was under?

A Tale of Lost and Found: Hezekiah’s Early Life
Knowing the name of a soldier doesn’t automatically mean that you can trace them in the historical records and so it proved with Hezekiah to some extent. What we do know is that Hezekiah Jones was born in Great Wyrley to parents William and Esther Ann Jones in the last few months of 1897. In this story, it became imperative to trace his parents for reasons that become apparent.

William Jones, Hezekiah’s father, was born in Blakenall around 1860. His father, James Jones, was a miner from Blymhill in Staffordshire and his mother, Sarah, was from Tettenhall. His parents moved to Bilston, where they started a family, and then on to Blakenhall Heath by 1857. In 1861, James’ sister was living with them and his brother and his family were living next door. A decade later and they can be found at Cockshuts in Bloxwich, which was located between Sneyd Lane, Short Heath and the Green.

In 1881, William turns up as a coal miner in Church St, Bloxwich. According to the census he is married to wife, Anney. Anney is 20 years-old and from Bloxwich. Here things start to get a little confused for a while. I said Hezekiah’s mother was Esther Ann Jones and so she was, however, I think she is known as Esther, Hannah and as Ann/Anney over time. The clue as to who Anney actually was comes from the third member of the household in 1881 – Deann Somerfield. Deann is described as a 49 year old widow, her husband Charles (Deann was also a Somerfield before her marriage) had died and left her with three children at least. One of these is Anney, whose birth was registered as Esther Ann Somerfield in 1862.

The couple were not married in 1881; I believe they married in Blakenall Church in 1882, where there is an entry for a William Jones, father James Jones, marrying a Hannah Somerfield, father Charles Somerfield. Their first child, Harriet, was born 29 October 1881, being baptised a week or so later at the Pinfold Primitive Methodist Chapel in Bloxwich. Her mother was listed as Hannah, while no father was recorded. She would appear on the census as both Harriet Jones and Harriet Somerfield over the next two decades – again, this is important in locating Hezekiah later on.

Over the next few years Sarah Ann is born (May 1883), as is William (December 1886), Elizabeth (April 1889) and John (February 1891) and all were baptised at the same Primitive Methodist Chapel. By April 1891, the family are living on the High Street, Bloxwich.

The family had relocated to Great Wyrley by 1897, as Hezekiah was born there that year. In 1901, the family are residing on the Walsall Road, very near to the Wheatsheaf public house. William Jones is still a coal miner, as it seems William junior is. Harriet is listed as a Somerford and her son, Enoch, is also at the house. The impression is of course that she has married by this stage but, as stated, she hasn’t. Enoch is a month old on the census that year. Elizabeth and John Jones are both still at home, whereas Sarah has left.

The 1911 census records that Harriet Ann Somerfield actually married around 1906, when she took Charles Morris as her husband. Morris had, in 1901, lived just a few doors away from her on the Walsall Road. This would help track Hezekiah after the great family upheaval that took place when his mother, Esther, died in 1910 at the age of 49.

What was left of the family split-up. William Jones senior is likely the same William Jones that appears as a 50 year-old widower lodging in 1911 at the house of the Wheatley’s, which was at 48 Low St, Cheslyn Hay. He was still a hewer of coal. William junior had already left to marry Alice Clemson in 1907; by 1911, the couple, now with a child, had settled into a house on High St, Chasetown. William had become a miner too and I believe returns to the story a little later.

Hezekiah, living with his sister in 1911, after the death of their other the previous year. (National Archives)

Hezekiah, living with his sister in 1911 after the death of their mother the previous year. (National Archives)

Hezekiah, as the youngest, was looked after by his sibling. In 1911, he is found living in Broad Lane, Bloxwich, with his sister, Harriet, and her husband, Charles. He is named as Henry on the census, perhaps indicating that his first name, Hezekiah, was not really used by the family. He was described as a scholar that year.

Hezekiah was to leave school and, like all the other male members of his family, head down the pit. We know from a small write-up in the Walsall Observer that he was to move to High St, Chasetown, which sounds suspiciously to me that he had moved in with brother William. We also know that he took a job at the Norton Canes Conduit Colliery, perhaps obtained through his brother. He remained working at the colliery until October 1915, at which time the 18 year-old lad went to Lichfield where he enlisted into the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.

Hezekiah’s War
Hezekiah’s war records do not survive, so again we can only piece together his story with the scraps that we have. Hezekiah would likely have spent three months in basic training, possibly at the camps on Cannock Chase. Initially, this was build up physical fitness (many soldiers put on weight due to the better and more regular meals and some even grew in height) and start the process of instilling military discipline through drill and fatigues, although there were some leisure facilities. As the British Library states, ‘After a few weeks training began to get more advanced. Soldiers began to learn the basics of movement in the field and were introduced to night operations and route marching. Later would come weapons handling, marksmanship and digging trenches.’

Then, after this, as he was under 19 years of age, Hezekiah would have received further, more specialised training, until he was old enough to serve abroad – if he had declared his age correctly. Hezekiah’s medal card indicates that he wasn’t in France before 1916 as he wasn’t awarded a ‘1915 Star’, but we do know that he did reach the war zone sometime that year as he was invalided back to England suffering from influenza, a potential killer in those days.

Hezekiah Henry 'Harry' Jones, aged 18/19. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Hezekiah Henry ‘Harry’ Jones, aged 18/19. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Quite just for how long Hezekiah underwent treatment, where he was treated, how he was treated and whether his influenza had been triggered by gas poisoning we will likely never know, nor do we know when he he returned to action other than we know he had by 28 April 1917. It is possible that Hezekiah was involved in the action at Braillescourt Farm on 17 February, where fellow Wyrleyite Alfred Whitehouse was killed (whose story can be found on the blog).

After Braillescourt, the Germans started to retreat to their new defensive positions – known as the Hindenburg Line. The weather was atrocious, which helped their withdrawal. By the 15 March, the Germans had fallen back to Bihucourt and the 2nd Battalion, along with other units, followed. Bihucourt is a few miles north-west of Bapaume. The Germans retired on 17 March and the British occupied Mory; Bapaume and Peronne followed soon after. By the time the Germans reached the Siegfried Line (part of the Hindenburg Line), Hezekiah would have seen the effects of their meticulous scorched-earth policy, in which even ‘orchards of immature fruit trees which could not of afforded shelter to a rat’ were savagely destroyed.

The Battalion remained in billets at Hestrus from 30 March until 6 April. On 11 April they were in the trenches at Roclincourt, north of Arras. The Second Battle of Arras had been raging for a couple of days by this point. The Battalion remained in the trenches until 25 April, when they were pulled from the line in order to prepare for an attack on Oppy Wood and the village of Oppy. The attack would be a part of what became known as the Battle of Arleux.

The 2nd South Staffords had been split-up, with some soldiers going to the 13th Essex and some to the 17th Middlesex Regiments, prior to the attack which commenced at 4.25 am. It was preceded by a heavy barrage, but simply ended up with a frontal assault that was cut down under ‘terrific machine gun fire’ on reaching the German wire. The fighting in Oppy Wood saw the Essex and Middlesex Regiments being nearly surrounded due to a combination of being left exposed by the 63rd Division, the German wire being too thick and their forces being overwhelming. Never the less, they Brigade reached Oppy village where they were met with a massive counter attack and were driven back to their starting point.

A plea for news of Hezekiah (Walsall Local History Centre)

A plea for news of Hezekiah (Walsall Local History Centre)

During this action Hezekiah was wounded, but then went missing. Likely blown up or buried by a shell as he lay wounded or was being treated, he was denied a grave and so his name would find its way onto the Arras memorial after the War. Oppy Wood was not captured until June 1917.

As for his family, I believe his father went to his grave the following year without knowing the truth about his son’s death. He did receive Hezekiah’s effects when I assume he was declared dead in May 1918 and, I believe, the 58 year old died within months. Hezekiah’s brother, William, would receive a further war gratuity of £7 in 1919 and, likely, his British War and Victory medals.

The Arras Memorial (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

The Arras Memorial (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

And so another soldier was lost in what appeared to be a futile action; in fact the battle had been to help ease pressure on the French army, whose on attacks (the Nivelle offensive) had ran into trouble, rather than specifically aimed at an objective itself.

In memory of Hezekiah Henry Jones

With thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
Staffordshire Record Office
National Archives
JP Jones: The History Of The South Staffordshire Regiment, Whitehead Bros Ltd, 1923