Mentioned in Despatches
21172, 21st Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) who died of wounds on 22nd September 1918, aged 34
Remembered with Honour
Ligny-St. Flochel British Cemetery, (IV. E. 1)
JOSEPH HARRY STUART was born in 1884 at 11, Furnace Hill, Barrow Hill, a row of cottages belonging to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company next to the Wesleyan Free Methodist Chapel. He was the son of Staffordshire born iron moulder Joseph Stuart and his wife Jane, brother of Florence and Lizzie Stuart and half- brother of Charles Sneath Bennett. A younger brother, Dennis Redfern Stuart was born in 1886, the same year in which 7 year old Lizzie sadly died. The boys would have attended the Staveley Works Schools at the top of the hill and, until education became free and fees were removed in 1891, would each have had to pay 3d per week.
Josephs’ father died in 1891 when Joseph was just 8 years old. Jane and her children could no longer live in a Staveley Company house, which were for employees only, and moved to Meadow Cottage, near the Railway sidings. By 1901, with her sons all working for the Company in the foundry, they were able to move to a “Block” house at 105, Barrow Hill. Living with them was Josephs four-year old nephew, Hubert, who later served in France with the Royal Field Artillery.
22 year old Joseph married 28 year old Mary Ellen Brookes in Sale, Cheshire in 1905 but was sadly widowed less than 3 years later. His mother died in the same year and the family dispersed. Dennis married Sarah Barnes in 1906 and moved to live at Wellington Street, New Whittington where he worked as a hairdresser. By 1911, 27 year old widower Joseph was also working as an assistant hairdresser in Eckington where he boarded with the Riley family.
Joseph enlisted into the army at Wakefield and served as a Lance Sergeant with the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own), 21st (Service) Battalion (Wool Textile Pioneers). His medal index card shows that he did not serve abroad until at least 1916. It is likely that he was conscripted into group 14 under the Derby Scheme which was mobilised from March 1916 onwards.
The Battalion had been formed in Halifax on 24 September 1915 by the Lord Mayor and City of Leeds and moved to Skipton in February 1916 before it came under orders of the 4th Division as a Pioneer Battalion in June 1916.
On 1st July 1916, the 4th Division assaulted the German lines from the Serre road at the Heidenkopf to just north of the Sunken Lane on Redan Ridge. This attack was a costly failure, with heavy casualties: some 5,752 officers and men. With such heavy losses, 4th Division was moved up to the Ypres Salient for a ‘rest’ and to refit with drafts from England. However, it soon returned to the Somme in time to fight in the Battle of Le Transloy Ridge in October 1916, remaining in this sector for the winter of 1916/17.
In early 1917, Joseph had re-married in Chesterfield to Phyllis Brier. Phyllis’s address is later given as 136, Lister Lane, Halifax which suggests that the couple had made their home in that area.
In 1917 the 4th division was engaged at Arras, and on the first day of the battle advanced further than any other unit. After further fighting at the Third Battle of the Scarpe, by May, the 4th Division had lost 6,300 men. It then returned to the Ypres Salient, where as part of Third Ypres, it fought at Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and Passchendaele with 2,340 casualties.
When the German Offensive came in March 1918 the 4th Division was out on rest near Arras, and towards the end of the month was engaged in the fighting in defence of Arras. In April it fought in the Battle of the Lys with 4,800 casualties.
At midnight on 26th/27th August, the 4th Division was transferred from First Army reserve to join the Canadian Corps. It was advancing south of the River Scarpe (east of Arras) to attack the formidable Drocourt-Quéant Switch, a key part of the Hindenburg Line; the last and strongest of the German army’s defences consisting of three well-defended trench systems, established in 1917. 4th Division relieved 3rd Canadian Division in the line near Remy on the night of the 28th. The advance continued, with difficulty over swampy ground near the Sensée and against increasing German resistance, on the next two days.
On 1st September a strong German counter-attack struck 4th Division and 1st Canadian Division on its right, but it was thrown back. Heavy casualties over the last few days had so weakened the British 4th Division that 10th Canadian Brigade took over 10th Brigade’s front on the night of the 1st/2nd, to leave only its 11th Brigade in the line. The Canadian and British attack on the 2nd into the strong German defences of the Drocourt-Quéant Switch was a major success.
Until September 27, 1918, no changes developed on the front. Night patrolling and sniping, of course, were kept up. There was also continuous night firing by artillery and machine guns, while the heavy artillery carried out daily wire cutting, counterbattery shoots, and gas concentrations.
Joseph Harry Stuart died of wounds on 22nd September 1918, aged 34. No history of the 4th Division has been written so it is unclear whether Joseph sustained his injuries during a specific battle, nor is his wounding mentioned in the battalion war diary. He was, however, mentioned in Sir Douglas Haigs despatch of 8th November which described a soldier’s gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy. It is reasonable to assume that Joseph was fatally wounded carrying out such an action.
Joseph was awarded the British and Victory medals and his entitlement to the emblem is noted on 13th February 1920 on his medal roll index card. The emblem is an oak leaf, worn on the medal ribbon, to signify that a soldier was mentioned in despatches. The medal card and the Gazette also list him as a Corporal.
Joseph is buried at the Ligny-St Flochel British Cemetery, Averdoingt. The cemetery was started at the beginning of April 1918 when the 7th Casualty Clearing Station came back from Tincques ahead of the German advance. At the end of May the 33rd Casualty Clearing Station arrived from Aire and in August, No.1 Casualty Clearing Station from Pernes.
Dennis Redfern Stuart enlisted at Doncaster as Private 20246 with the 10th (Service) Battalion, King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) which had been formed at Pontefract in September 1914 as part of K3 and came under command of 64th Brigade in 21st Division. The battalion had landed in France in September 1915 and served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.
Dennis was not awarded a 1915 Star which indicates that he was also probably conscripted under the Derby scheme. He served on the Somme in France in 1916 where the battalion was in action at the Battles of Albert and Bazentin Ridge in July and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September.
He was killed in action on 25th September 1916 and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval Memorial (Pier and Face 11 C and 12 A) and on the memorial in St Barnabas Church at New Whittington.
(His story will be published by Louise Booth on http://fallenheroesww1.blogspot.co.uk/)
© Ann Lucas
Reference: The Story of the Great War, Volume VIII (of VIII) Victory with the Allies; Armistice; Peace Congress; Canada’s War Organizations and vast War Industries; Canadian Battles Overseas