Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

John (Jack) Beasley - Sergeant 12540

This page is dedicated to the memory of Jack Beasley who died on 21st March 1918 in France.

John Beasley was not actually a blood relative, but he was the step-grandson of my 3xgreat aunt Mary Green. It may seem a tenuous connection, but my family were fond of him it seems and he like all the other men of World War 1 deserves to be remembered. He was born on 17th April 1897 in Dordon, Warwickshire, the third child of William Beasley and Mary Louisa Congrave. He died on 21st March 1918 in France, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 20.

Mary Green had married the widowed William Congrave in 1884 and became the step-mother to his two children. Her step-daughter Mary Louisa Congrave subsequently married William Beasley in Polesworth in 1891 and had 10 children, of which John Beasley was the third. John grew up in Hall End, Polesworth where his father worked as coal miner. The 1901 census shows John at Hall End with his parents and sister Harriet, 3 other siblings having died in infancy. By 1911 though John was living with his grandparents William & Mary Congrave in Dordon, perhaps helping them in their off-licence. The rest of the Beasley family were now also living in Dordon near Tamworth.

The children's step-grandmother Mary Green must have taken an interest in them and it seems took at least some of them to visit her family. Mary Green had grown up in Westhide, Herefordshire and John and his sister Harriet must have visited there. This postcard was sent in 1911 back to Jack Beasley (at his Congrave grandparents' house in Dordon) from his sister Harriet - she'd been staying at Veldo in Withington with her step-gran's sister and husband and asks Jack if he remembers the place in the photo.

Once he was of working age John seems to have followed in his father's footsteps and become a miner. That at least is what his is described as on his attestation papers. Fortunately John Beasley's service record is one of the few to survive and gives lots of information. He enlisted in May 1915 aged just 18. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he was a Serjeant in the 9th Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps that his service number was 12540 and that he was buried in the Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery in France. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here

You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it:

NameCorpsRankRegtl No.
BeasleyK.R.R.C.Sjt12540
John-- 
Medal.RollPageRemarks
VICTORYM/101B/141753 
BRITISHdittoditto 
STAR   
    
Theatre of War first served in  
Date of entry therein  

As is so often the case with these medal cards, not all of the information has been filled in, but it does indicate that he would have been entitled to two medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame. Luckily John's service records survive to give us more information about his time in the army. Much of the British Army World War One Service Records were destroyed when the War Office was bombed in London in 1940. John's service record is one of a relatively small proportion that survived.

John's service records give so much information that can be found nowhere else. He volunteered at Rhayader on 14th May 1915 and joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He was enlisted as a rifleman (equivalent to a private), but he must have done well as by the following year he was promoted to Lance Corporal and then Corporal. By the end of 1917 he had been promoted again to Serjeant. His promotions may in part have been determined by the fact that in September 1915 he was assessed as being a 1st Class Shot. It looks like he first went to France in May 1916. There is no mention of any leave back home, but hopefully he did get to see his family again. The records go into great detail about his family listing not only his parents, but his 5 surviving brothers and sisters. There is also a physical description of him; he was said to be 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair and weighed 127lbs. They described his age as 18 and 6 months although in fact he was only just 18 when he joined up.

Ultimately of course his service records describe his fate. He was initially recorded as missing on 21st March 1918. It then took nearly a full year for him to be "accepted as dead". No other details are given in his service records with respect to his death. However, you can now look at the War Diaries for a given regiment, so I've looked at the War Diaries for the 9th Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. War Diaries were kept as a daily record of operations, intelligence reports and anything else that was going on for a given battalion. I've transcribed the relevant war diary for the day of John's death below. I've also transcribed the day before - to give a feel of what John must have been doing in his final days.

King's Royal Rifle Corps

WAR DIARY

FOR

March - 1918

WAR DIARY
or
INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and Information
TRENCHES19th & 20th 

The Battalion relieved the 5th O.B.L.I in the same sector. The tour commenced without any unusual incident.
At 2:40 pm the Brigade received the following line Battle Zone take precautionary action. On receipt of those orders Captain Griffiths took up D. Coy from Les Saules dug outs where they were in Battn reserve at Brigade Headquarters and manned the Lambay Switch. At the time few realized that the Intelligence Department had timed the announcement of the great German offensive to the very hour.

TRENCHESMarch 21 

At about 4.45am an intense bombardment was opened on the Battalion front and on back areas. Wires to Brigade Headquarters were broken at once, and a heavy ground mist made visual signalling impossible. The bombardment continued until about 9.30am, gas shells being extensively used for the last two hours. The German infantry then came over in small columns.
Information as to what actually happened is almost entirely lacking but it would appear that the enemy came in on our left flank, and not on our front, as the first warning of the attack was the appearance of Germans moving down the St Quentin Road. C and A. Coys were killed or captured to a man. A few men of B. Coy escaped, together with Capt Webber O.C B. Coy who was wounded early. The Germans would seem to have lost direction in the mist and to have remained in some force round our front line for several hours. "Funny" and "Frorty" works and "Excellent" (Bn HQ) were reported by Col Bury to be holding out at 11am. The Red Smoke signal for the closing of barrage lines had been sent up but it is almost certain that the gunners were unable to see either this signal or the SOS which had been sent up from Battalion Headquarters at 10.00am
D. Coy in Lambay Switch had seen no signs of the enemy at 11.20am, but very shortly after this small columns of his infantry began to press forward into the Bois de Lambay and over the Urvillers Lambay ridge. A pigeon message from Col Bury stated that Battalion Headquarters were still holding out at 12.20pm but no further information was received from the front line, or from D. Coy, one or two men escaped from D. Coy and it would appear that the Lambay position was not seriously attacked, at any rate until about 2pm by which time the enemy had occupied BENAY and had reached the Battle Zone and had thus entirely cut off LAMBAY FARM. Sounds of MG fire were heard later in the day from the direction of Lambay which would suggest that the company held out for some time after being surrounded.
Mention should be made of Cpl Harber who escaped from the Vauban OP and after being twice in the hands of the Germans made his way by compass to Brigade Headquarters and gave a very clear report as to the situation on the front line.

 March 22  By the evening of March 21st the Battn had apparently ceased to exist. A few stragglers were collected, however at PETIT DETROIT on the morning of the 22nd under Sgt Beresford of B. Coy and attached to the Bn Rifle Brigade.

So John Beasley died during the German offensive at the start of the Battle of St Quentin. Given the scale of the offensive and the near annihilation of the 9th Battalion, it is not surprising that it was not clear for a long time whether John had been captured or killed. He was of course not mentioned by name in the War Diary. When I first started reading War Diaries I thought it was very sad that other ranks were so seldom mentioned by name. But this seems to have been standard procedure and the officers recording the events probably had neither the time nor the information to record any more detail. Certainly in the case of the events of 21st March, there was no way the officer could list all those lost.

I've not managed to find any local newspaper reports from 1918 stating that John Beasley was missing, but presumably his parents were informed. They must have then had an agonising wait, hoping for a miracle, until his death was confirmed in February 1919. The first report below comes from the Tamworth Herald on 22nd Feb 1919 confirming his death. His parents must have then had the second announcement published at the end of March 1919 to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Both images Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

John is buried at Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery in France (Plot II.C.6). He is also commemorated back home on the Dordon War Memorial (image reproduced with kind permission of Nuneaton & North Warwickshire Family History Society).

The final piece of documentation I could find for John Beasley was his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. It lists the amout of money in his account at the time of his death and the amount, including the War Gratuity, that was eventually paid to his next of kin - in this case to his mother. For John the total amount came to just 23 8s 6d - not much to show for the ultimate sacrifice.

In researching John's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:

The British Newspaper Archive holds digitised images of newspapers from all over Britain. New pages are added weekly and it can be a great way of adding to your research:

The Nuneaton & North Warwickshire Family History Society is a really useful website for anyone with relatives in the area and particularly WW1 soldiers:


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

Nicky Rowberry 2018

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry