Great Wyrley’s Fallen: Alfred Whitehouse

Introduction and Identification
Having spent a lot time doing the article on the Royal Oak pub, I thought it was time to return to the Great Wyrley fallen. Having approached the gates to select a soldier, I realised fairly quickly that I had covered many of the guys on the second plaque; therefore, I thought that I may as well try to complete that one. The name I chose was the last of the names on the right-hand side for me to attempt one of these mini-biographies on, that of EA Whitehouse.

George Henry Smith and a Thomas Smith on the Wyrley Gates. 2014.

EA Whitehouse on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. 2014. Remember to click on photos to enlarge.

This man, I felt secure, would not be an error – after all, the Whitehouse family have been very prominent in the village over time: the farm that once stood on the Walsall Road, opposite the Swan Inn, and demolished when Brook Lane was driven through was called Whitehouse Farm and, added to this, there are the names of twelve other Whitehouse men that served and survived on the pillar plaques either side of the gates. Sadly of course, I was to be wrong.

I started with my usual sources for cross-checking the name, with the first port-of-call being the Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque. The plaque dates to 1928 and it has a Whitehouse on it, only it is an Alfred Whitehouse not an EA Whitehouse – so my suspicions were aroused that there could be yet another error on the gates.

The Smith boys on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque. (1928). 2014.

Alfred Whitehouse on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque. (1928). 2014.

I then checked the Staffordshire Roll of Honour: this was compiled in February 1926 by the Staffordshire War Memorials Committee and contains all the Staffordshire war memorials and the names upon them. This roll also has a Whitehouse on it, again being an A Whitehouse; according to the roll, he was a soldier of private rank but without a listed regiment. I was getting deeply suspicious by this stage.

The final source I then checked were the original returns for the compilation of the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour, which are housed in the Parish Council collections at the Staffordshire Record Office. The roll was started in 1917, with the initial entries being required by 21 September that year. Entries for those currently serving and those that had been killed were generally submitted on a crude pre-printed form, with the nominator completing the name and any other detail they wished to add: regiment, rank, date of death, wounds and distinctions for example. There were several Whitehouse entries, but just one for a casualty – and it was for an Alfred Whitehouse. There was to be a further complication, as the photograph below shows: the entry also carried the name of A Jukes in pencil, as well as the Jukes element being partly filled in in ink only to be crossed-through and replaced by Whitehouse. What is going on?

Alfred Whitehouse's entryfor the Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour - it also has A Jukes written on it? (Staffordshire Record Office)

Alfred Whitehouse’s entry for the Gt Wyrley Roll of Honour – it also has A Jukes written on it?
(Staffordshire Record Office)

In all the work and sources I checked regarding Alfred Whitehouse no other name or even initial is associated with him, either before or after the Alfred part. While I appreciate this isn’t fully conclusive, I still suggest that the ‘E’ should be removed from the plaque – as clearly he was known as Alfred; indeed, the question seemed now more to be, should the name Whitehouse be removed and replaced by Jukes? The truth was to be revealed with a little investigation.

Alfred, Early Life
Alfred’s early days seem to be a bit of an enigma. We know he was born in the tail end of 1892, most likely in the Cannock Workhouse infirmary, to mother Elizabeth Whitehouse. Alfred was one of several children whose address was given as the ‘Union’ (meaning the Workhouse) that were christened on 7 May 1893 at Cannock St Luke’s; he then disappears to us for several years.

The next we find of him is as an ‘adopted child’ in the 1901 census. He is, at this stage, living in the household of Joseph Alexander Jukes, who lives with his housekeeper, Mary Ann Cashmore, somewhere on the stretch of the Walsall Road in Great Wyrley between Jacob’s Hall Lane and the Wheatsheaf public house. Jukes was described as 49 and a hewer, Cashmore was 56; both were widowed.

The term ‘adopted child’ on the census refers to his relationship to Jukes, but of course he could be connected to Mary Cashmore in some way. Further, we cannot think in the same terms that adoption has today: there was no official adoption in this country until the Adoption Act of 1926, so before date adoption must be considered more of a ‘foster placement’ in that a child could be taken back by a natural parent at any time.

Joseph Jukes was born into a mining family in the Leacroft area around 1853, to parents Thomas and Hannah. By 1861 the family had moved into Great Wyrley, before settling in Cheslyn Hay. In 1881, Joseph is still living at home – by now at Bird’s Row in Cheslyn Hay. In 1891, Joseph is living next door to his parents on Bird’s Row. He lives with an Emily Jane Jukes, although it appears that the couple didn’t actually marry until 1898. Living with them is Emily’s son by her first marriage, the 14 year-old brickyard assistant, Albert Hurd. Emily died in mid-1900 and this is how Joseph came to be living with Mary Ann Cashmore in early 1901.

Mary Ann was to have three husbands. Born in Upton-on-Severn as Mary Ann Draper around 1842, she had moved to Birmingham to become a domestic servant by 1861. In 1862, she married George Bannister and by 1871 the couple and their four children were living on the Lichfield Road, Aston. After having had at least one more child together, George, over a decade her senior, died in 1874; he was in his early 40s. In mid-1876, she married Robert Cashmore in Birmingham. In 1891, the couple were living in Aston with two of Mary’s children by George Bannister. Cashmore, a former carter from Nuneaton, also died in 1900, aged around 60.

Plant's Buildings, Walsall Rd, Landywood. (Great Wyrley LHS)

Plant’s Buildings, Walsall Rd, Landywood.
(Great Wyrley LHS)

As we know, Mary would next turn up in the census of 1901 living in Great Wyrley with Joseph and Alfred. Within a few months of this, Mary and Joseph were married – not in Bethlehem, but somewhere in Walsall 🙂 .  By 1911, the three of them were living at 3 Plant’s Buildings in Great Wyrley. Joseph is still a hewer at this stage, as is young Alfred. Alfred, it is interesting to note, is now described as a step-son to Joseph. I have not been able to discover, as yet, a link between Alfred and either Joseph or Mary Ann. Joseph Jukes, I believe, died in the locality in 1926. Mary, I believe, may have gone back to the Aston area; I think she may have died there in 1929.

The 1911 census showing Joseph, Mary Ann and Alfred Whitehouse. (National Archives)

The 1911 census showing Joseph, Mary Ann and Alfred Whitehouse.
(National Archives)

As the last few years of peace played-out, Alfred’s life would change dramatically. We know from his obituary in the newspaper that he was still employed as a miner prior to the War breaking-out, but the Cannock Advertiser places this to the Cannock and Leacroft Colliery. This colliery was located pretty much by where the current Cannock landfill site is now, which was then at the end of Washbrook Lane – the road opposite Leacroft Lane at its once junction with Watling St. Ironically, Leacroft seemed to be a hub for branches of the Jukes family as far back as the 1840/50s.

On 22 December 1912, Alfred Whitehouse married Elizabeth Bladon at Cannock St Luke’s Church. Bladon’s father, John, was from ‘The Firs’ in Leacroft. The couple were described as being from Heath Hayes, but if this was true, they had settled at 17 Plant’s Buildings prior to the outbreak of the War. A year after their marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to what would be their only child – Alfred.

The War
Alfred’s war records do not survive, so we must piece together what happened to him from the evidence we have: in this case his casualty records, medal awards, newspaper obituary and James P Jones’ History of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Jones’ account provides much of the framework for where the 2nd Battalion operated, but we can only assume that Alfred was present: for example, we do know that he was wounded twice, but we have no idea as to what these wounds were, their severity, where they occurred or if they took him away from the Battalion.

Alfred

Alfred Whitehouse, in person.             (Cannock Library)

We don’t know if he had any military experience in the Territorial Force prior to the War, but we do know that he volunteered for service around the May 1915. He signed-up to the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment at Walsall. This was a regular Battalion and had been on the continent since 13 August 1914. He served his 3 months basic training somewhere and on 29 September 1915 he landed in France. It isn’t known when he joined-up with his Battalion, but they had just been pulled from the line after a ‘gallant but fruitless attempt against the Railway Triangle’ during the Battle of Loos.

Whitehouse may well have been in the tranches by 27 October, at which point the 2nd Battalion were located in the Givenchy region. He may have actually witnessed a curious and moving tribute at this time, when the Germans raised a white cross near the railway embankment recently attacked by the Battalion bearing the words ‘in memory of Lt King and Lt Hall and eight men of the South Staffordshire Regiment who died like heroes’.

The Battalion moved to the Vermelles area, a little to the south, where the last of the year passed in trench duty and rest; Christmas day was celebrated out of the line at Annezin, with a good dinner and a day-off from training.

January 1916 may have seen Alfred watch (or even play in!) the 6th Divisional football tournament, where the 2nd South Staffords hammered the 1st King’s Liverpool Regiment 3-0. The final was played a few days later, where the Staffords were demolished 6-0 by the 17th Middlesex Regiment – a team, bemoaned the Battalion history, that comprised of international and first-league players. Rotation through the trenches continued in the La Bassee region.

On 11 February, Alfred found himself at Le Touret, before moving onto the Calonne area a few weeks later; here they continued with a mix of trench duty and so called rest periods that in fact consisted of general and specialist training, as well as working parties and other support work. In early May, the Battalion took part in large-scale trench raids on the German positions and by the end of the month the Battalion had moved to the Vimy Ridge area. On the 28 May the Battalion attacked the Momber Crater with a view to regaining an old British trench, but the attack failed.

Momber Crater (Imperial War Museum)

Momber Crater: The British trenches are in blue.
(Imperial War Museum)

Alfred and the 2nd Battalion hardly whiled away the hours from the end of May until the opening of the Battle of the Somme in idle pleasantry, as lots of communication trenches and other work needed to be done. Alfred didn’t join the battle until it was 28 days old – the Battalion had moved from Berthonval North to Montauban a week before, but were now thrust into action at Delville Wood. The Battalion came in for heavy punishment but held until relieved on 1 August, after which 200 men were drafted into the Battalion.

Delville Wood (Devil's Wood) (Nat Library of Scotland)

Delville Wood (Devil’s Wood)
(Nat Library of Scotland)

On 8 August, the Battalion acted as close support to both British and French forces on the attack at Guillemont. The following day they led the attack on the ‘Machine Gun House’, where at one point they entered German tranches. After this, Alfred and the boys were relieved and went to camp at the inappropriately named ‘Happy Valley’; they then returned to the trench rotation system in the Serre region through September and were in Bertrancourt through the October.

On 13 November, the Battalion advanced along the Ancre river as a part of the last great offensive in the Battle of the Somme. The thick fog may have disguised their approach, but led to directional chaos. They then faced two days of strong counter-attacks until relieved on 15 November. The remainder of the year saw them behind the lines, training.

Terrible weather, including heavy snow, dogged the new year. The 2nd moved into trenches at Bapaume. Jones takes up the story: ’17 February was fixed for an attack on Baillescourt Farm, which, if won, would give us command of the Western approaches to Miraumont… the Germans evidently expected an attack, and their artillery shelled the front. The Battalion gained its objectives, but was subjected to machine gun fire and casualties were heavy’. Alfred was one of those. Within a few days, the Germans started a retreat to their Hindenburg Line – they had planned to vacate the farm and ground that Alfred died attacking anyhow.

Baillescourt Farm in 1911. (unknown)

Baillescourt Farm in 1911.
(unknown)

We know that Alfred was popular, as Elizabeth received at least three letters from serving colleagues. His platoon sergeant, J Jones, covered the patriotic bit – he had written to praise his bravery and his capacity as a soldier. Private Wild was more human, saying he was a good chum and that he will be missed. Whether true or just a comfort, he also stated that Alfred died soon after being shot in the head – the intimation being that he didn’t suffer. Finally, Harry Ledbury, a Pelsall lad now residing at the Harrison’s Buildings in Landywood, and currently serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, wrote to Elizabeth to relate how the two were long-time friends and they had met up just the day before Alfred was killed, when Ledbury had given Alfred a pair of gloves.

Alfred's obituary in the Cannock Advertiser, 1917. (Cannock Library)

Alfred’s obituary in the Cannock Advertiser.
(Cannock Library)

Alfred was buried in the Serre Road Cemetery. He would go on to be awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Elizabeth would receive several payments over the next few years amounting to around £10 to cover Alfred’s effects and a war gratuity. She herself would re-marry just months after Alfred’s death; her new husband was John Glaze. I couldn’t trace any children from this marriage. She died in 1952.

In memory of Alfred Whitehouse. 

My thanks to:
Staffordshire Record Office
Walsall Local History Centre
The National Archives
Cannock Library
Great Wyrley Parish Council
Imperial War Museum

The National Library of Scotland
Great Wyrley Local History Society

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Comments
  1. […] Great Wyrley’s Fallen: Alfred Whitehouse […]

  2. Linda says:

    Thanks for another interesting read, one I read with added interest as my grandad was in the South Staffs regiment and also fought in the battle of Delville Wood. Grandad was wounded there in August 1916 ….

  3. Another interesting article. Is the Great Wyrley memorial in the running for the most flawed memorial in England?

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