Joseph Dutton: Here Come the Grenadiers, My Boys

After spending some weeks writing-up a part of my old dissertation on the Roman sites at Penkridge, I felt I needed a little break and so cheerily started back Great Wyrley’s fallen of the Great War: for those that have not read one of these small biographies before, I am investigating the Wyrley fallen in order to ask the Parish Council to address the number of errors on plaques during the commemoration of that sad time. The next soldier that I thought I would  take a look at is described on the gates as Dutton, Jos.

Theodore Bason on the Wyrley Gates - can you spot the inconsistency? (2014)

Dutton, Jos on the plaques of the fallen on the Great Wyrley Memorial Gates. Remember to click on photos to enlarge. (2014)

As I mistrust the names on the plaques with such good reason, I always start by confirming that the said name is in fact one of the fallen. A quick check with the Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque, presumably listing those members of the congregation that fell, also showed a Dutton. The plaque, erected in October 1928, also gives Christian names – in this case Joseph, which was consistent with the gate plaque.

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

Joseph Dutton on the Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque. (1928). 2014.

The second general source I then checked was 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 had a Dutton, J on it, whom, according to the roll, was a soldier of private rank and listed as being in the Grenadier Guards. While this turned out to be an error – as he seems to have been a Lance Corporal – I was satisfied at this stage that I was looking for a Joseph Dutton and this was to be confirmed as my investigations progressed – and so in this case the gate plaques would be shown to be correct.

Joseph Dutton: Background
Joseph Thomas Dutton was born in 1891 to parents Joseph and Elizabeth, a couple that lived their entire lives in Great Wyrley.

Joseph senior was baptised at Cannock St Luke’s Church on 29 November 1840, as St Mark’s Church in Great Wyrley had not been built at that time and, as such, Great Wyrley was to be a part of the Cannock parish until 1845. He was the first born child of John and Mary (nee Wood), a couple that had only married in Walsall at the beginning of the same year. John was a coal miner.

By 1851, the family were living in Stoney Lane, Great Wyrley. Stoney Lane appears to have been a generic name for the area around today’s Gorsey Lane, Hilton Lane (between Shaws Lane and Bentons Lane) and part of Landywood Lane. Living next door to Joseph and his parents were the Bate family: they were a young couple with three children, with father Thomas being a 23 year old coal miner and Mary his 20 year old wife. Their middle child was named Elizabeth and was then just two years old, she would later grow-up and become Joesph senior’s wife and our Joseph’s mother. That celebration would take place in Walsall, in 1868.

In 1870, John, the couple’s first child was born. By 1871 we know they family are living on the Walsall Road and somewhere close to the Star beer-house; indeed, Elizabeth’s brother, Thomas, is staying at the Star as Elizabeth Bullock, the proprietor, is their grandmother. What is also interesting is that two other houses nearby are occupied by ‘Duttons’, showing how extensive the family was in and around Great Wyrley at that time.

The Star on the Walsall Rd - a beerhouse since the 1830s at least, it was ran by Elizabeth Bullick in1871, Joseph's great grandmother.  (Express and Star)

The Star on the Walsall Rd – which had been a beerhouse since the 1830s at least. In 1871 it was ran by Elizabeth Bullock, Joseph Dutton’s great-grandmother.
(Express and Star)

The family grew rapidly. At the time of the 1871 census, Elizabeth was already expecting the couple’s second child and duly delivered William into the world a few months later. Maria was the couple’s first daughter, she being born in 1873. Henry followed in 1875, Mary in 1877, Hannah in 1878 and Elizabeth in January 1881. On the 1881 census, the family are still on the Walsall Road, but their next door neighbour is a Joseph Smith and his family – he is a 31 year engine fitter; Smith had been a lodger with the Dutton family on the previous census.

The family remained on the Walsall Road, continually growing. In 1883, Florence was born and she was followed by Fanny in 1885 and Ellen in 1888. By the time of the census in 1891, John, the eldest at 21 years of age, had become a blacksmith; William, now 19 years old, had followed his father into the mines and Henry, now 16 years, had become a labourer. Interestingly two birds had already flown the nest: the 14 year old Mary had become a ‘nurse’ to a confectioner and his household in Bilston; Hannah, at just 12 years, was not listed as being at home although she may have come home at night – she was in fact a domestic servant for a school teacher and his wife locally on Watling St.

A month or so after the census, Joseph Thomas Dutton was born – being baptised at St Mark’s Church on 25 May. He was to be the youngest of the brood. Over the next few years his older siblings would drift away from the house as the age gap became more obvious. Sister Maria married a Joseph Hemingsley in 1894, but only moved out to live just up the Walsall Road. Mary had also married, she and a Harry Sambrook tied the knot in 1896. I suspect that the eldest, John, died in 1900 – at just 30 years of age. Elizabeth had married a John Henry Walker in 1900, but they were living with Joseph and his family in 1901. Hannah, at this time, was a housemaid for a widow in Walsall.

The 1901 census for Joseph Thomas Dutton, Walsall Road, Great Wyrley (National Archives)

The 1901 census for Joseph Thomas Dutton, Walsall Road, Great Wyrley. (National Archives)

The age gap would show itself further, as the new century got under way. Hannah married a Charles Newman in Walsall at the end of 1901 and by 1911 they were running an out-door in Portland St, Walsall. Joseph and his siblings lost their father in 1904. 1904 was the same year that brother Henry married Henrietta Potts and the couple went off to run the Bricklayers Arms in Cheslyn Hay, as well as sister Florence marring an Ernest Walker with the couple moving into their own house on the Walsall Road. In 1905, sister Fanny married a George Hawkesworth – the couple settled in at the Dutton family home and raised their children there for a while – so maybe not such a quiet time for Joseph, especially as he would witness the trauma of his sister losing one of her children by 1911.


Joesph and family on the 1911 census – still living on the Walsall Rd, Gt Wyrley. (National Archives)

We know that by 1911, Joseph’s brother William was still at the family home and a haulier by profession. Joseph had followed his father’s vocation and gone into coal mining; he was, at 19 years of age, a colliery labourer above ground. We know from his obituary in the Cannock newspapers that he was working at the Great Wyrley Colliery when he went to join the colours in November 1915. Great Wyrley Colliery was located off Landywood Lane, opposite the Shants Bridge/Streets Lane junction, adjacent to the railway – and the modern Landywood Station platform towards Birmingham. We also know, from an obituary in the Walsall Observer, that he was a keen bowls player, representing the Bridgtown Anglesey Bowling Club – which I assume was attached to the Anglesey Arms pub, the modern Stumble Inn.

Great Wyrley Colliery (Sambrook/Holmshaw, via Walsall Local History Centre and Jo Harrington)

Site of Great Wyrley Colliery
(Sambrook/Homeshaw, via WLH Centre and Jo Harrington)

Joseph Dutton: The War
Joseph’s War record does not survive so we have to make up his experiences from bits and pieces of what does remain: chiefly his obituaries, the Battalion War diary and other military records.

Joseph T Dutton, signed-up to the Grenadier Guards in November 1915 (Cannock Library)

Joseph T Dutton, signed-up to the Grenadier Guards in November 1915
(Cannock Library)

Joseph was a collier when the War started. While he was old enough, he was neither in the Territorial Service or one of Kitchener’s Army that joined the fray in fear of missing the show that would be all over by Christmas. Saying that, he didn’t wait until conscription; he signed-up for whatever motives on 17 November 1915. As he wasn’t conscripted, he was able to sign into a regiment of his choice and he chose, and not the only local chap to do so, the Grenadier Guards. The Grenadiers are the most senior of infantry regiment in the army (the most senior overall are the Life Guards). Dutton chose a prestigious unit. He was mustered into the 2nd Battalion, which like all the Grenadier battalions had been smashed in the early exchanges of the War.

It is likely that he served his basic (and later) training at the Wimbledon Common. We know from his medal card that he didn’t get into the War zone that year, but it is likely that he did sometime in 1916. Saying that, we only have one other date of significance in his military life other than the date he joined the War and the date he left it, this was when he got wounded on 31 July 1917. So, rather than reel-off a detailed account as to where he may have been, I will just give some background information as to where the 2nd Grenadier Guards were until 1917.

Grenadiers sniping at Wimbledon Common Training Camp (First

Grenadiers sniping at Wimbledon Common Training Camp

The first half of 1916 was spent in and out of the trenches in the Ypres salient. We know the Battalion was moved to the Somme for the offensive that started in July, although it appears they moved towards the end of the month. The battle raged on and off until mid-November, but the Guards seem to have been involved in the mid to later stages. It started for them in earnest with the battle at Flers-Courcelette, which opened on 15 September and where the 2nd Grenadiers took over 350 casualties. Over the next few days drafts of around 300 men arrived – and Joseph may have been one of these – but their effect was lost due to the casualty rate at the battle of Morvel on 25 September. The Somme campaign finished for the Guards with periods of rest and trench duty.

The opening months of 1917 were spent in and out of the line in the Somme region. I am fairly confident that Joseph was with the Battalion by 1917 and that he, like the other lads, took pride in winning the XIV Corps ratting competition on 8 February 1917 by securing 386 furry kills! You never know, he may also have played in the 3-0 football victory over the 1st Coldstream’s on 16 April, or watched the sergeants rout the officers 4-1 at the end of the month. March and April were quiet months as the Germans retreated to their new defences on the Hindenburg Line.

By June the Battalion were back in the Ypres area. Early July was a rough ride in the front line and even being shelled when out of it – late July was to be worse. On 31 July the Battalion breakfasted at 3 am before moving-up to the front line near Pilckem Ridge. The epic Battle of Passchendaele was about to open with an attack on this German held ridge – a part of a wider plan to take all the German held ridges around Ypres. The Guards Division had the most success that day on the north end – however, we don’t know how, when or where, but during this initial push Joseph was wounded.

Joseph’s injuries were severe enough for him to be away from active service for 9 months. He would have been moved to a Casualty Clearing Station, then back to a military hospital – most likely at Rouen. Once stable, he would have been shipped to a military hospital in England and, as he made a recovery, he would have been moved to more local hospitals and then to a convalescent home. Finally, he would have been moved to a Military Depot, to start to retrain and get full fitness back before being shipped back to the front. We know that he returned to the War around the first week in April 1918.

Joseph's obituary in the Cannock press (Cannock Library)

Joseph’s obituary in the Cannock press – they have his age and mother’s initial wrong. (Cannock Library)

The situation that Joseph returned to was an alarming one, yet had peeked. The Germans had launched their all-or-nothing offensives that had smashed holes in the allied defences and everywhere the British were retiring. On 26 March 1918 the 1st Guards Division was ‘standing to’ around Boisleux – an area between Arras and Gomiecourt – as the Germans pursued the retiring and confused British 31st Division. The Guards repulsed the German attacks over the next few days and were finally relieved on 1 April being ‘badly in need of a rest’. Over the next few days several drafts of soldiers arrived, although the Battalion remained under strength – Dutton would be one of these.

In late April the Battalion were in the Ayette area – a part of the line that was ‘extraordinarily quiet’, as the focus of the German offensive had moved north. It remained around here through the May, although activity increased. According to his obituary, his casualty record and to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Joseph was killed on 18 May 1918 – his obituary in the Walsall Observer stating that it was caused by a bursting shell that killed four and wounded five. The Battalion commander later bemoaned how they had lost 19 men killed that tour and just how it wasn’t quite that quiet any more.

There is no entry in the Battalion War diary for 18 May, but an entry for the 26 May has an entry that ‘one post took a direct hit killing or wounding every occupant’ – it also mentions a Corporal that was killed by ‘our guns’. It is difficult to say if dates are confused or if Dutton was the victim of friendly fire as the CWGC list seven soldiers from the 2nd Grenadier Guards Battalion as being killed between 18 May and 26 May –  and four of them are Lance Corporals. Whatever the day, he had just celebrated his 27th birthday.

He was buried in the Ayette Military Cemetery and in due course his family received his Victory and British War medal. Elizabeth would eventually receive around £20 from the War Office in compensation for her lost son and the Bridgtown Anglesey Bowls Club simply lost a member.

In memory of Joseph Dutton, keen bowls player and ratter extraordinaire!

As ever, my thanks to:
Gt Wyrley Methodist Church
Walsall Local History Centre
Cannock Library
National Archives

Express & Star
Jo Harrington
R Sambrook & E Homeshaw, 1951, Great Wyrley

  1. […] Joseph Dutton: Here Come the Grenadiers, My Boys […]

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