John Gossage: Dying With Dai

Identification
The next soldier named on the Great Wyrley memorial gates that I chose to look at was listed as Gossage J. Viewing the accuracy of the Wyrley gates with increasing scepticism, my first task would be to check all the local memorials and rolls of honour to see if there was indeed a Gossage J listed elsewhere to corroborate the name. A Gossage J was not found on any other local memorial, including that at the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, but he was to be found in the Wyrley entry in the 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour.

Gossage, J in the 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour (Walsall Local History Centre)

Gossage, J in the 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour (Walsall Local History Centre)

Happily, if it isn’t out of keeping with the situation, the Roll of Honour would give me the faith that Gossage J was to prove one of those names on the Great Wyrley memorial gates that at least was correct – and so it proved to be. It also indicated that he was of private rank, but nothing else.

A little more confident, a quick check on Ancestry’s WWI casualty lists (my thanks to them) would throw-up the following entry:

Name: John Gossage
Birth Place: Cheslyn Hay, Stafford
Death Date: 23 Aug 1917
Death Place: France and Flanders
Enlistment Place: Cannock, Staffs
Rank: Private
Regiment: South Wales Borderers
Battalion: 11th Battalion
Regimental Number: 41121
Type of Casualty: Killed in action
Theatre of War: Western European Theatre
Comments: Formerly 61374, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website would add that he was buried in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery and that he was the son of ‘Mrs. Susan Gossage, of Churchbridge, Cannock Staffs’.

John, who was clearly also known as Jack, would prove as equally frustrating as many other of the fallen Wyrley soldiers in that his war records no longer survive; so, again, what generally that has been pieced together has come from other sources and the general military history of his battalion. Also, the search would prove that Jack wasn’t the only Gossage to go to the War: Albert, Jack’s brother, also went – only he was to survive.

Early Days
An Albert Gossage had married a Susan Craddock in St Mark’s Church, Great Wyrley, on 20 January 1890. Albert, a blacksmith, was born, I believe, in King’s Norton (then Worcestershire) in 1864. The son of a blacksmith (and possibly, carpenter), he had grown-up in the wider Birmingham area before moving to the Wyrley area, likely in the tail-end of the 1880s.  Susan Craddock, a few years his junior, had grown-up in the shadow of the Red Cow Inn on the Walsall Road, Churchbridge (see my article 🙂 ). A daughter of an iron-worker, the 1881 census describes her as a ‘scholar’ when she was 14, but she couldn’t write her name on her marriage certificate in 1890.

In late 1890, Albert, the first of their six children arrived. The family were then living in Wedges Mills. In 1892, Jane was born. The family then moved briefly to Shareshill, where Ellen (Ellie) was born in 1893. John Gossage (Jack) was born in 1895, the family by then having moved to High St, Cheslyn Hay. Elizabeth (Lizzie) followed in 1897 and finally, Elsie was born in 1901. Albert senior was employed as a colliery blacksmith in 1901.

The Gossage family, 1901, now in High St, Chezzy Hay. (National Archives)

The Gossage family, 1901, now in High St, Chezzy Hay.
(National Archives)

By 1911, the family had moved again. They were now to be found at Susan’s old haunt on the Walsall Rd, Churchbridge. Albert senior is still a colliery blacksmith and Albert junior, whilst classed as a miner, is in fact an underground driver (horses). Jack is described as the same, and while we can not be certain of which collieries the two Alberts worked at, we know that Jack worked at the Old Coppice Colliery in Cheslyn Hay. Ellen and Jane were described as domestic servants. The Gossages were clearly a working family.

The Gossage family, now located on the Walsall Rd, Churchbridge - Susan's old stomping ground. (National Archives)

The Gossage family, now located on the Walsall Rd, Churchbridge – Susan’s old stomping ground.
(National Archives)

As the War approached, and indeed, for a few years into it, Jack remained firmly entrenched at the Old Coppice Colliery. As a miner, his employers may have sought an exemption for him as mining could be classed as a ‘reserve occupation’, but whether forced or wanting to go, we know that he attested at Cannock on 2 April 1917, when he was 22 years-old. We also know that he was a committed Anglican, as he had become a member and communicant at St Paul’s Church, Bridgtown; this may also answer the question as to why his name doesn’t appear on the Wyrley Methodist plaque.

Albert may have been an Anglican, too; while had volunteered by 1915, his faith may have manifested itself in his choice to go into the Medical Corps – equally, it may simply have been a more prosaic decision – a general shortage of nursing staff or his skill with horses for example. We don’t know exactly when Albert joined-up, but we do know that he was in a theatre of war by August 1915; and however it fits into Albert’s soldiering, one thing is certain, a few months prior to his leaving England, Albert Gossage married Dora Woodvine.

Albert Gossage
Albert’s war records do not survive, but we do know that he attested into the 41st Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, as a private. This unit was attached to the 13th Division. A ‘Field Ambulance’ is not to be confused with an actual ambulance vehicle, it was in fact a complete medical unit that comprised of over 200 men with an array of different duties: orderlies, drivers, washer-men, stretcher-bearers, stores, sanitation and so forth. A ‘Field Ambulance’ was expected to be able to cope with 150 casualties, but in a battle situation it would likely be overwhelmed. It was responsible for an entire chain of medical facilities, from the front-line back to behind the lines: Bearer Relay Posts, Regimental Aid Posts, Advanced Dressing Stations, Main Dressing Stations and Walking-Wounded Collecting Stations, as well as various rest areas and local sick rooms.

Albert’s ambulance served with the 13th Division, which had been formed as a part of Kitchener’s volunteer army. We only know for certain that Albert married Dora around the time that the Division started to be moved to the Mediterranean, so that may have been the catalyst for the wedding. We know from Albert’s medal card that he was in the Balkans on 7 August; in fact he was in Gallipoli on or around that date.

Albert's medal card, showing he was in the Balkans by 7 August 1915. (National Archives)

Albert’s medal card, showing he was in the Balkans by 7 August 1915.
(National Archives)

The 13th Division landed at ANZAC Cove in the early days of August. A paragraph will not cover the horror, failings and damn right stupidity that dogged this campaign. The Division fought at Sari Bair, Russell’s Top and Hill 60 before being transferred from the Cove to Suvla Bay. Albert’s ambulance wouldn’t just face the wounded from these battles, but also had to deal with the plethora of soldiers that went down with dysentery and typhus.

4th Field Ambulance HQ at Gallipoli. (Gutenberg Project)

4th Field Ambulance HQ at Gallipoli.
(Gutenberg Project)

After the evacuation of Gallipoli, Albert would find himself moved to Mesopotamia in February 1916. An old Arab proverb says something along the lines of, ‘When God (Allah) created hell, He did not think it bad enough, so He created Mesopotamia and gave it flies’ – so this was hardly an idyllic posting. Albert was immediately thrown in to the failed relief of Kut al Amara (the British garrison being marched into captivity, and many to death).

A year later, after licking their wounds, the tables were turned and the Allies went on the offensive. Albert, and the 13th Division, would find themselves back at Kut as a part of the general advance towards Baghdad. The Division would would be some of the first troops to enter Baghdad after its fall in March 1917. The next month or so would see the Division pushing north and fighting several engagements in order to consolidate the capture of Baghdad.

Albert, the Field Ambulance and the Division remained fairly inactive after this period, save for those reporting sick. News would have reached him in the August of the loss of his brother, but he was likely demobbed in 1919.

Albert's entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour 1917, like his brother, it was in the form of a hand-written  note (Staffordshire Record Office)

Albert’s entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour 1917, like his brother, it was in the form of a hand-written note (Staffordshire Record Office)

Jack Gossage
So we turn to Jack. Our major source regarding his military life comes from the Cannock newspapers. Whatever the circumstances over his calling-up, he joined on 2 April 1917 at Cannock. He was placed into a training battalion for basic training, after which he was posted to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Jack's obituary in the Cannock newspaper (Cannock Library)

Jack’s obituary in the Cannock newspaper
(Cannock Library)

Sometime in tail-end of June 1917, Jack would be moved to France. Jack had also been transferred to the 11th Battalion, South Wales Borderers. The 11th Battalion had been smashed on the opening days of the Battle of the Somme and had been inoperative for a year – so Jack’s transfer was one of many to return it to operational strength. Indeed, whoever filled-in his roll of honour entry were unaware that he had in fact transferred.

Jack's entry written for the roll of honour in 1917. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Jack’s entry written for the roll of honour in 1917.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Jack would find himself in the Ypres region, just in time for the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Pilckem was the opening exchange in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, famed for Passchendaele and mud. It is interesting to note that the letter written to Jack’s parents on his death was from Sergeant Ivor Rees. It may be possible that Jack was a part of Rees’ platoon. Rees won the Victoria Cross at Pilckem for leading his platoon and taking-out a machine gun post that was inflicting serious casualties. Gossage may have been with him.

After Pilckem, came the Battle of Langemarck: this was another attempt to break the German lines on the higher ground. Like Pilckem, it too ended in general failure on the 18 August. Several localised engagements and artillery bombardments occurred over the next few days; and it was to be shell-fire that killed Jack Gossage instantaneously on 23 August 1917.

The 11th Battalion’s war diary entry for the day was posted on the Great War Forum by ‘Gwentpal’, in response to a request for information on Gossage by local war memorial researcher, Graeme Clarke… Battalion had received orders on the 22nd to relieve 13th Welch in front line. On 23 August 1917… “7.30pm Battn started to move from Canal Bank in parties of 20 at 100yd intervals. 8.30pm Front party passed CANDLE TRENCH at C86.9.8. 11.57pm Relief complete Battn Hqrs with Major Monteith in command are at Alouette Farm U29a 8.6, B & D companies are in front line and hold from U23d 50.70 to U24c 00.40 (d coy) and from U24c 00.40 to U30a 4.9 (b coy). The supports A&C coys are approx from U29b 10.85 to U29b 35.60 and from U29a 45.90 to U29a 65.70. The 17th RWF and 6th Border Regt are on our left and right respectively. When the Battn was on its way up the SOS was being sent from Aloutte Farm by lamp. Shortly after our artillery opened up a very intense bombardment and the signal STOP was read. The enemy barrage just escaped us. Our casualties were 1 Officer Wounded.”

There was no mention of Jack’s death. He was buried in Poelcapelle Cemetery. His parents received a letter from Rees and his Victory medal and British War medal in due course.

Jack's medal card (National Archives)

Jack’s medal card
(National Archives)

Epilogue
Albert senior passed away in 1924, at the age of 61 (although his age varies considerably from source to source). Susan lived until the ripe old age of 90, passing away in 1959. Jane never married, but remained local; she died in 1973. The other girls all married between 1917 and 1925. Albert was to return and get his name on the Wyrley plaques for having served his country. It wasn’t until 1925 that he and Dora had their first child, sadly, the boy did not survive. Fortunately, in 1927 the couple had Barbara and in 1929, their second child, also named Albert. Albert and Dora lived on into the 1960s.

In memory of Jack and Albert Gossage. I would also like to dedicate this article to Graeme and Gwentpal, simply because they care.

Thanks to:
Staffordshire Record Office
Walsall Local History Centre
Cannock Library
http://www.1914-1918.net
Graeme Clarke and Gwentpal (from Great War forum)
http://www.gutenberg.org

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Comments
  1. SJ says:

    Would this Gossage be fore runners to an Albert Gossage that lived on the corner of Bentons Lane and Gorsey Lane in the 1960’s next to Challinores shop, another very good piece

  2. Gerald says:

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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