Sapper John Henry Belfitt
40773, 65th Field Coy., Royal Engineers who died on 17 August 1915, aged 40
Remembered with Honour
Helles Memorial Panel 23 to 25 or 325 to 328.
New Whittington Memorial
William Belfitt and Sabina Barnett married at Handley by Staveley on 5th Jan 1874 and made their home at 167, Barrow Hill, one of the cottages below the terraces known as the Long Row. Their children JOHN HENRY (1875), Fred (1877) and Annie Elizabeth (1883) were all born “on the Blocks”.
William worked for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company as a moulder at the local Iron Works and the family income was supplemented by taking in railwaymen as lodgers.
By 1891, the family had moved to 70, Barrow Hill, a cottage on the second row of block cottages. William was still working as a pipe moulder, 16 year old John Henry was a steam engine fitter and 13 year old Fred was recorded as a coal miner. 7 year old Annie would still be attending the Staveley Works Schools at Barrow Hill and Sabina would have been very busy taking care of the 4 lodgers who shared the small cottage with the family.
Both John Henry and Fred enlisted in the army; John Henry around 1892/3 as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers and his younger brother Fred with the 1st Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby) Regiment.
On 11 October 1899, war was declared against the Boers in South Africa and the 1st Battalion was sent from Ireland, where it had been on garrison duty, to the Second Boer War. Private 5647 Fred Belfitt was killed at the Battle of Diamond Hill (Donkerhoek) which took place on 11 and 12 June 1900 and a plaque was placed in Staveley Parish Church in his memory. He was posthumously awarded the South Africa Medal with clasps for Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Cape Colony and the Orange Free State. He was 23 years old.
Sapper 26780 John Henry Belfitt was then serving with the 25th Coy., Royal Engineers in China during the Boxer Rebellion. He was awarded the silver China Medal and clasp for the Relief of Pekin which took place between June 10 and August 14 1900 and which was issued on 1 April 1902.
William Belfitt died in 1910 and, by 1911, John Henry had served his time in the army and returned to live with his mother, sister Annie and niece Ethel at Barrow Hill. He was working at the Staveley Company’s iron works as a cinder cracker and general labourer. Annie married William Magness the following year, a labourer who had been lodging with his sister’s family at New Whittington. Sabina, is later recorded as living with Annie and William at 74, South Street but it is not certain if this move took place before, or after, John Henry enlisted.
When war was declared, John Henry re-enlisted with the Royal Engineers as Sapper 40773 at Chesterfield on 24 August 1914. His army service records reveal that he was then 5’10” tall and weighed 136lbs. He was posted to the 65th Field Company in the 10th (Irish) Division, one of the new field companies raised for Kitchener’s 1st army. After initial training at the regimental depot at Chatham, the units of the Division moved in 1915 to the Curragh, Newbridge and Kildare, where training alongside elements of the newly formed infantry Brigades began. In May 1915 the Division moved to England and concentrated around Basingstoke where it was inspected by Lord Kitchener at Hackwood Park on 28/29 May.
On 27 June, the Division received orders to prepare for service at Gallipoli where a campaign was being fought by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war, to relieve the deadlock of the Western Front in France and Belgium, and to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea.
John Henry was transferred to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 6 July 1915 and departed from Liverpool on 9 July for Lemnos. The 10th Division landed at Suvla Bay on 6 August 1915 and made an attack on Chocolate Hill 7/8 August.
John Henry was reported “Missing, believed killed” less than 2 weeks later on 17 August 1915. His mother was not informed until over a month later due to a clerical mistake.
John Henry Belfitt is remembered on the Helles Memorial on which the list of men killed bears testimony to the horrors of Gallipoli.
He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
*The name of John Henry Belfitt is not listed on the plaque at Barrow Hill. His family lived in New Whittington at the time of his death and his name is recorded on the memorial in St Barnabas Church.
© Ann Lucas