Harrison’s Fallen: Patrick Downey MM and the Wyrley Memorial Gate Error

Patrick Downey is the man that really prompted me to start this bloggy thing. It all started because he appears on the Harrison’s memorial tablets, but not on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. This in itself may not be an issue, just because Downey frequented a club in the Landywood area, he could have lived in Timbuktu for all I knew and so appear on their memorial – however, my curiosity was aroused when I saw a Patrick Downing on the memorial gates…

Patrick Downing on the Great Wyrley Memorial Gates

Patrick Downing on the Great Wyrley Memorial Gates

Something didn’t sit quite right with me; the names were too similar and I suspected an error – and to be honest, I suspected Harrison’s of getting it wrong. I started with a swift look for a Patrick Downing, but somewhat struck-out. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have just seven names for Downings killed that have ‘P’ as their first initial. None were called Patrick, indeed five were excluded straight away on this basis. Of the two that were left, neither were outstanding candidates, both just being listed as having ‘P’ initials. The first was from Kent and had a rank of ‘Gunner’ in the Royal Field Artillery and the other, a ‘Private’ in the Welsh Regiment.

This is hardly conclusive proof of course, however, when this was further supported by the fact that I couldn’t track a Downing linked to Great Wyrley on the census, I decided to look as to what I could find out about Downey himself. It would be the good fortune that his war record survives and that, along with a few other pieces of evidence, supply the following account. I think the account shows that the Patrick Downing on the memorial gates should in fact be Patrick Downey, MM.

2nd Corporal Patrick Downey, 1/2 North Midland Field Company

The life of Patrick Downey is bound-up with a local family, that of Matthew Wallett. We know that in 1911 the 25 year-old Wallett was living with Elizabeth his wife in Broad Lane, which runs between Bloxwich, Essington and Upper Landywood. Their only child has died. He was a miner and this may explain why he has moved to no2 Plant’s Buildings in Landywood by 1914. It is from this address that Downey attests when he joins-up in September 1914 – which means that he should be, or is entitled to be on the memorial gates.

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

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

Downey is in fact untraceable on any census. His joining-up papers, dated 13th September 1914, state that he is 32 and originally from Kerry in Ireland. Further, he is unmarried and so his next-of-kin was listed as his brother, Jeremiah Downey, whose address was simply given as ‘somewhere in the United States of America’. This would create problems upon the death of Patrick in September 1916 regarding his effects and medals.

I do believe Downey is in the area by 1913. We know he is a member of the Harrison’s Club, but there is no such membership issued in their somewhat basic member’s book. As there is no Patrick Downey listed, I suggest that one Patrick Dovey, who is listed in the Harrison’s Club membership book from July of that year, is him. The same name is listed in again in 1914 – both described as living on the Walsall Road, which would be consistent for the Plant’s Buildings. He does not appear again, which would also be consistent as he joined the army in late 1914 and never returned. I could not trace a Patrick Dovey, which is also suggestive.

Patrick Dovey, a member of Harrison's Club from July, 1913.

Patrick Dovey (maybe Patrick Downey), a member of Harrison’s Club from July, 1913.

Downey describes his occupation a bricklayer, indeed, states that he is employed at ‘Woottons’ in Bridgtown, near Cannock. This would be Abraham Wootton & Sons Ltd, which was a timber yard that seems to be located, according to the 1902 OS Map, at the corner of North Street and the Walsall Road. They operated a saw-mill too, and while there is one on the opposite side of North Street to the yard as early as 1884, which may be connected, we know was in operation by 1894 as they are having a chimney stack built.

Downey signs-up for the 2nd North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers. This was a territorial force, yet at his attestation he stated that he had never served or been a member of any military force. This field company had been raised from 1908 onwards (when the territorials were formed) by Captain Harrison, owner of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company and so the Great Wyrley Colliery no3 (known locally as Harrison’s). Indeed, he raised the company, by hook-or-by-crook, from his own employees and used his home, Norton Hall (in Norton Canes), as the drill hall.

Downey signed-up for a unit of the Royal Engineers and so became 1497, Sapper Patrick Downey. The 2nd Midland Field Company was comprised of ‘artisans’; saddlers, carpenters, wheelwrights and of course, bricklayers. Downey was not an employee of Harrison, so wasn’t forced into the territorials, but Harrison did pay men to join and for going on camp, so it is possible Downey was territorial – otherwise he volunteered very quickly – even the more interesting when you consider he came from what is now classed as the Republic of Ireland.

Downey's attestation, September 1914. (National Archives)

Downey’s attestation, September 1914.
(National Archives)

Downey attests at Norton Canes, the Company HQ. On the same day he is having his recruitment signed-off by Major Hatton at the military camp at Limbury, near Luton. In fact, the 2nd North Midland were already at Limbury – having moved there in mid-August. Downey had agreed to service overseas, which the territorials were not bound to do at this time. The Company remained at camp until the November, when those that agreed to overseas service, and now called the 1/2 North Midlands Field Group, took a meandering path to the coast, and to France. Downey embarked with the rest of the Company on the 26th February 1915.

Downey agrees to service overseas, Sep 1914. (National Archives)

Downey agrees to service overseas, Sep 1914.
(National Archives)

The 1/2nd North Midlands Company were to be moved into Belgium, at Ypres. Later, pulled back into France, they were to be involved in the battle at the Hohenzollern Redoubt (Loos) on the 13th October of 1915, performing engineering work,  On 14th October 1915, Downey was raised to the rank of Lance-Corporal. The Company were a part of the 46th North Midland Division.

The war diary states that the Division was moved to Egypt in December 1915. The 1/2 North Midlands were at Marseilles on 1 January 1916 where they boarded the HMS Magnificent to sail for Alexandria. They arrived on 9 January and were moved to a place called Shallufa (possibly modern Shallubah?). The Division protected the Suez Canal, while the 1/2nd North Midlands were engaged in such tasks as road and bridge construction, brick-making and erecting tanks for drinking water. After barely a month, the Division and the 1/2 North Midlands were returned to France; they embarked on the SS Minnewaska on 5 February, returning to Marseilles.

The Company moved around a little for the next few months, being in Monfleures, Beauvel, Canaples, Fienvillers, Canettemont and Ecoivers. Initially, the company were engaged in drill, billet improvement and making grenade boxes and trench signs, but soon returned to trench/dug out repairs and maintenance, gun emplacement, plumbing and water supply work.  On 8 April they even worked on Watling Street – that being a name given to a local communication trench!

In early May, the Company moved to the La Bazeque area, where they constructed observation posts for the Royal Artillery and an ’18 pounder gun pit at [the ominously named] Sniper’s Square’. On 23 May, the Company is at Lucheux, training infantry in trench digging and constructing a gas proof chamber for the Divisional Gas School. On 26th May 1916 Downey was raised to the rank of 2nd Corporal, which gave him full Non-Commissioned Officer status. The 27th of June saw Downey take and pass a military test regarding his bricklaying skills. This entitled him to an extra farthing a day (1/4d).

27/6/16, Downey passes a bricklaying examination and is promoted to 2nd Corporal. (National Archives)

27/6/16, Downey passes a bricklaying examination and gets a farthing a day! (National Archives)

June saw the Company return to the La Bezeque area, where they assisted the RAMC to build huts. The first day of the Somme campaign (1st July 1916) saw the Company involved in supporting the 5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, in a diversionary attack on Gommecourt, France, during which two men were killed. Afterwards, the 1/2 were moved to the Barles Au Bois area.

On 2 September 1916, a number of Sappers participated in a series of trench raids, carrying bangalore torpedoes in case the German wire wasn’t cut. The war diary states two Military Medals were given out in this action, to Corporal Price (wounded) and Corporal Morris. It isn’t known if Downey went on this raid.

Sadly, Patrick was not to enjoy is new found status or farthing for long, as he was killed-in-action on the 17th September 1916. The following extract is taken from the war diary: ‘3 sappers and 4 1/5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment fitting trench frames and corrugated iron and cutting grade for water to flow back (1096 2 Cpl Downey P was killed on this work by a shell). He is buried in the Berles-Au-Bois churchyard.

That seemed to be that, Downey was killed on what seemed to be routine trench work, but the London Gazette carried a report on the 11th November that Downey had been awarded the Military Medal and I can’t help thinking that the two are linked. The war diary makes no mention of the award of an MM for Downey, so if it wasn’t for an act of bravery, unrecorded in the diary, connected with his death, it is possible it was connected with the trench raid some days before. We will not know for sure.

I think, if it hadn’t been for Matthew Wallett, Downey’s death may have gone completely unreported in Great Wyrley. Wallett doesn’t appear on Harrison’s list of members that served, so I can only assume he stayed in the mine, however, the Club do seem to pay him 12/6d a month for the supply of their newspapers.

Whoever it was, someone filled in the most important of entries regarding his place on the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour. I think it was Matthew Wallett. The form is quite clear: in response to a Parish Council request for information on names to add to the parish Roll of Honour, someone filled in the form with the details of Patrick Downey – Lance-corporal, 2nd North Midlands Field Company and ‘killed in action’. No Miliatry Medal was mentioned, as likey, this wasn’t known about at the time. Next to the full-name, written in small pencil, is a name that looks like Patrick O’Downdes, or possibly Downing at a push. Either way, this is where the confusion has arisen. Downing is Downey.

Patrick Downey, entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour c1917

Patrick Downey, entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour c1917

It would not be until 1921 that the next phase in the story of Patrick Downey MM would begin, and it would all centre around Matthew. Firstly, as we know, the Harrison’s memorial tablets were conceived and unveiled that year. The draft list that survives has Downey as the first name. At the unveiling ceremony, Downey was represented by Matthew and Elizabeth Wallett.

Harrison's draft list for the fallen, 1921. Downey leads the list, Thomas James is missing.

Harrison’s draft list for the fallen, 1921. Downey leads the list, Thomas James is missing.

March 1921 saw commencement of a new chapter, and a rather sorry one. The War Office originally instructed the Officer in Charge of Records, Royal Engineers, to dispatch the personal effects of Patrick Downey to Matthew Wallett. This was duly done and Wallett received the following; watch and chain, note book, purse, dice, knife and a rosary.

16th March 1921. The War Office advises the RE to dispatch Downey's personal effects to Wallett. (National Archives)

16th March 1921. The War Office advises the RE to dispatch Downey’s personal effects to Wallett.
(National Archives)

Wallett wrote back to the military thanking them:
In regard to 2nd LC P Downey Royal Engineers 1096
I am greatly pleased with the effects that I received as this is the first correspondence since I was notified of his death in action as also I have no knowledge of anyone else to claim the effects so far as now all that I know which I have stated before he asked me on enlisting if he had a home still to come home to and I told him he had until his Death anything else… forthcoming I would be pleased to receive.

At some stage, over the next few months, Patrick’s medals were dispatched to Wallett; these included his British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1915 Star. His Military Medal was withheld. The Military Medal had only been instituted in March 1916, although backdated to 1914. It was given to non-officers (who got the Military Cross) for bravery in battle. It allowed the use of MM after the recipient’s name.

Wallett wrote to the military in the august asking for Downey’s Military Medal. The military then had a volte-face and decided to ask for the medals back. They wrote to Wallett in November of 1921 asking for their return as he had no legal claim to them. They were duly returned. Patrick’s medal card shows they were returned and that his Military Medal was ‘scrapped’, in other words, melted down for the silver content.

Patrick's medal card, showing his medals returned and that the Military Medal had been scrapped.

Patrick’s medal card, showing his medals returned and that the Military Medal had been scrapped. (National Archives).

I suppose this ends the story of Patrick Downey, however, this chap planted the seed of this blog in my mind and means a lot to me. It is my hope to approach the Parish Council and have the Great Wyrley memorial gates amended to reflect Patrick’s true identity – the evidence is clear, he has been hidden under Downing for far too long. Further, I will approach Harrison’s Club to make a slight amendment to their memorial – considering his military medal has been scrapped and nobody will ever claim it, I wonder if they will add it to his name – after all, the committee back in 1921 did say the tablets were to be devoid of rank but to include any distinctions they had received. Fingers crossed.

Harrison's original instruction regarding the tablets - 'distinctions may be added'. 1921.

Harrison’s original instruction regarding the tablets – ‘distinctions may be added’. 1921.

Today is the anniversary of my first blog article. I find it fitting to give this update today above all days, as Downey really started me off on this blog. This week, Downey finally got local recognition of his ‘melted down’ Military Medal – this was thanks to Harrison’s Club, The British Legion and to Neil Stanley.

Harrison’s Club have been fantastic. From the start they supported getting the tablet updated to show the medal award, not only as it would be the only public declaration that he had been awarded it, but as Alan Kelsey said laconically, ‘well, it’s just got to be done’. The Legion have a branch at the Club and it was one of their ranks (I am in it myself) that stepped up to the plate. Neil Stanley, a former soldier himself, trained as a stonemason before joining the boys (and girls) in blue. The photo below shows what he did, asking nothing in return; it is so cheering to know that people still care after a century.

Patrick Downey gets his MM. 2015.

Patrick Downey gets his Military Medal. 2015.

This is not about war, it is not about the glorification of war, this is about reflection, remembrance and respect. I can only thank Harrison’s, the Legion and especially, Neil.

It remains only to get the Wyrley Memorial Gates altered… I am really hopeful this will happen after I complete the report on all the soldiers.

Dedicated to Alan Kelsey – another Harrison’s member who also seems to give his life to others

My thanks to:
Staffordshire Record Office
Walsall Local History Centre
The National Archives
Harrison’s Club
Great Wyrley Parish Council
Great Wyrley Local History Society

The British Legion (Wyrley Branch)
Neil Stanley

Birmingham University and Andrew Thornton http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/14/3/Andrew_Thornton_Thesis.pdf
Long, Long Trail http://www.1914-1918.net/
Burntwood Family History Society

  1. Clive says:

    Now thats what icall research, I like it when someone is lost in history and someone finds the time, and as the knowledge to sort it out. Nice one mate.

  2. Brian says:

    Brilliantly researched and written my family have lived in Great Wyrley from at least 1830 and probably longer and regrettably have never noticed the error.I would gamble that my grandfather (1890-1967) and a user of Harrisons club (like myself) would certainly have known Patrick Downey MM,once again wonderful article and if you don’t me saying so please keep up the good work.Best Regards

  3. Diane Tolley says:

    Thanks, this has answered a question I have been asking since I started trying to list all the men from the village who served in WW1.

  4. Pedro says:

    Thanks for taking the time to highlight one of the Dead Souls who would otherwise go without due recognition, and good luck with the Council.

    There is a reference that quickly caught my eye, being that Downey was not an employee of Harrison, “so wasn’t forced into the territorials”, but may have been in the Territorial Force. If anyone would like an in depth article on the THE TERRITORIAL FORCE IN STAFFORDSHIRE 1908-1915 it can be found here in a thesis by Andrew Thornton…

    Click to access Andrew_Thornton_Thesis.pdf

    Here it can be seen that Harrison employed the “novel” tactic of making new employees enlist in the Territorial Force if they wanted a job in one of his collieries. No doubt so that he could boast a great interest from “his” men on the social circuit. He did pay his employees for time in Camp, but most employers did not.

    Don’t be fooled by the mention that Harrison provides part of the “ancestral” home as a Drill Hall for the Territorials. Norton Hall had been purchased around 1850, but although still in the family in 1908 it may have been no more than an outbuilding to them. In the 1860s the family had owned Hagley Hall, near Rugeley, and in the 1890s Captain Harrison had built himself a home in the leafy suburbs of Aldershawe. His brother John Harrison, although still associated with the Hall, also had a Norton House in Croydon and came back to live in Berry Hill House, near Lichfield.

    LCol WE Harrison, the Captain’s son, would be over in Orgreave Hall and on the death of his father would purchase the Wychnor Estate before the outbreak of war.

  5. […] Harrison’s Fallen: Patrick Downey MM and the Wyrley Memorial Gate Error […]

  6. J. lilley says:

    I enjoy reading your blogs what a fantastic result well done .

  7. You may be able to find a little more about the date of action for the MM by finding the schedule number. These are recorded on the MM specific medal cards from The National Archives (these aren’t on Ancestry). If you compare the schedule number for his with the other awards you mention identified from the war diary, you’ll be able to see if it was made before or after those awards, and if very close, probably the same action. I know a full list relating schedule number, gazette and probable date of action is being worked on, but the data hasn’t yet been published

  8. Martin says:

    Here is an snippet from entry in the London Gazette relating to issue of the MM

    The London Gazette
    Publication date:10 November 1916 Supplement:29819Page:10921

    7232 Pte. J. Dougan, R. Ir. Fus.
    G/1582 Pte. A. W. Douglas, R. W. Surr. R.
    139191 Sapper W. H. Douglas, R.E.
    4543 Sjt. A. Dovey, Essex R.
    54362 Gunner H. J. Dow, R.G.A.
    9 Sjt. W. H. Dowler, R.E.
    841 Pte. H. Downes, Line. R.
    1096 2nd Cpl. P. Downey, R.E.
    84885 Bombr. A. Downie, R.F.A.
    11213 Sjt. R. Downie, R. Dub. Fus.


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