Private John Steggles
3227, 1st/6th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) who was killed in action on 14th October 1915, aged 21
Remembered with Honour
Loos Memorial (Panel 87 to 89)
William Steggles and Alice Sturgeon both originally hailed from Suffolk. William was related to John Darkin of 134 (160) Barrow Hill, a three bedroomed stone cottage on the “Blocks” and had come to Barrow Hill to work as a coal miner for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company.
The couple were married at Staveley Parish Church on 22nd September 1890 and lodged with John Darkin and his family. Their first child, and only son, JOHN STEGGLES, known as “Jack,” was born at Barrow Hill and baptised at Staveley on 1st November 1894. His sister Minnie was also born at Barrow Hill in 1897.
The family moved to Chesterfield where Florence was born in March 1899 and then to Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk where William worked as an insurance officer and where their daughter Gladys was born.
The family returned to the area and their youngest daughter Pattie was born at Brimington in 1904 where John was “educated by Mr Bell” and later at St Helen’s Street School. The couple had moved to live at 27, St Mary’s Gate in Chesterfield by 1911 where they had a grocery shop and sold ice-creams and refreshments. John was apprenticed as a moulder at the Staveley Ironworks and Minnie was a domestic servant.
Immediately prior to the war, John had been employed by Mr Webber, a plumber of Chesterfield, and had recently set up as a self-employed plumber and become engaged to Miss May Weeks.
John enlisted at Chesterfield on 22 October 1914 and signed Army Form E 624 (agreement to serve overseas) on 9th November which confirmed his posting to the 1/6th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment). His medical examination revealed that he was 5’ 4 1/2 “ tall, weighed 120lbs and had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. It was also noted that he was a practicing Wesleyan Methodist.
The 1/6th battalion spent 3 months at Harpenden until ‘fitting-out’ was complete and then moved to Braintree. Soon after midnight on 24th February, Companies of the 6th Sherwood Foresters began to fall in and marched off to the railway station at Braintree. By noon the following day the men had detrained at Southampton and began to board the ships that would take them to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. John was in “C” Company, which embarked on the TS King Edward; the world’s first commercial steam turbine ship.
The 46th Division was the first complete Territorial Division to arrive in France. The early months were spent in the Ypres salient and John wrote a number of cheery letters home to his mother describing his experiences at the Front which were published in the Derbyshire Times. (see end)
The Division suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Loos (25 September – 18 October 1915). Amongst them was John Steggles who, it was reported, was shot through the head by a German sniper whilst on sentry duty on the morning of Tuesday 14th October. John died at Hohenzollern Redoubt.
Amongst the personal effects returned to his family were a disc, cross, wallet, photographs, testament, notebook, waistbelt and scissors.
and from the Derbyshire Times……
Chesterfield Private’s Escape
Shell dropped five yards from him but did not burst
Private J Steggles of “C” Company 6th Batt. Notts and Derbyshire Regiment is fortunate in being alive to relate how a German shell dropped within five yards of him. Happily it did not explode. Writing to his mother, Mrs W Steggles, 27 St. Mary’s Gate, Chesterfield, he says –
“The last time we were in the trenches we had some experiences I don’t want to witness again for some time. One shell killed several of our fellows and another fell five yards from me. I thought our time had come – But as luck would have it, it never went off, a good job too, or I should never have written this letter. If we never see any more we have seen enough to last a lifetime.”
“When we were digging a new trench the other day, we unearthed a dead man. Just fancy digging up a dead body and little bits of lead flying about all the time you are doing it. But still it has to be done and we go into the work with the best of spirits. We are often told that the people have never seen a more cheerful set of lads. I don’t think we could be quiet for one minute. We are always singing”.
In another letter dated April 14th, Private Steggles says –
“The other day they took us to a lunatic asylum for a bath. I told them to close the gates when we were inside, but we managed to get out again. They did not know who we were surely”.
In another letter he writes:
“The last two days we were in the trenches the Germans wanted to come out and play us at football. But we did not trust them. They don’t catch the 6th Notts and Derbys napping like that. You don’t know when to trust a German. They are breaking the laws of war by using dum-dum bullets and poisonous gas. When they begin to use the gas we have to put a wet rag over our mouths.”
“We go into the trenches for four days at a time, and during that time we never have our clothes off and we don’t get a wash. If the war lasts much longer there will be nothing left in Belgium except heaps of bricks. There is scarcely a house, mill or church that has not been shelled. We have had some fine billets. We have been in farms, mills, old empty houses and once a pub – that would suit some of them at Chesterfield. I think I have worn all the sharp corners off my hips by lying on stone floors and on the ground. You ought to see us when we come out of the trenches. We look more like a gang of roadmen just turned out of a pub on pay day! As we go we generally sing ‘Has anyone seen a German band’.
What a Chesterfield Soldier Thinks of Dodging Shells
Mr and Mrs William Steggles, Lordsmill Street, Chesterfield, have received two letters from their son, Jack, who is a private in the 1st-6th Sherwood Foresters and who has had some exciting experiences at the front. In the first to come to hand he says –
“We got shelled out of our trenches the other day, and with the exception of the bomb throwers all the company had to retire. We could see the huge shells coming through the air, and when we had judged where they would drop we ran for our lives out of the way. It’s the fun of a life time – that is if you don’t get hit.”
“Talk about sunny France,” adds Steggles, “it is all right, and we shall soon be fighting in our shirt sleeves. I would not mind fighting them with our fists, supposing they were not armed, for I think we could just about hold our own.
In the second letter, Pvte Steggles states that Pvte. Albert Bedford of Brampton has been wounded, having been shot through the neck, whilst he (Steggles) stood by his side. He was sorry to hear about Bert Spencer, as he knew it would be a big blow to his father and mother.
“My platoon has suffered about as much as any” continues Steggles. “Poor old No. 9, first one and then the other keep getting picked off, and we shall soon want reinforcements. Out of my section of 15, only 5 are left, and while I myself have come safely through up to now I have had some narrow shaves. But I have sent them as good as anything they have sent me. In one hour last night I fired over a hundred rounds, and the night before that Albert Bedford and I were blazing away for all we were worth.
© Ann Lucas