JOHN FIRTH  DCM

Sergeant 7522, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)

Killed in Action 4th June 1916 aged 29

Buried Essex Farm Cemetery Boezinge, Belgium

Son of Squire and Martha Firth

Lived 45, King Street, Heckmondwike


John was baptised in George Street Independent Chapel Heckmondwike on 19 June 1887 when he was one year old.  His parents, Squire and Martha Firth, lived in Chapel Street, Flush.  John’s only sibling Amy was baptised in the same chapel on 19 January 1890 when she was 6 months old.

By 1891 the family were in Holme Street, Liversedge.  Then it seems that misfortune fell upon the Firths.  It appears that by 1901 John, aged 15, was at the Boys’ Industrial School, Marygate, York.  By 1911 John and Amy were together again, living with their relatives Allen and Mary Ellen Donkersley in Morley.  Amy was a weaver, John a farm labourer.  Amy married Johnnie Hudson in 1913 using the surname Donkersley.

In 1914 John was a Private with the 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and was in France by 8 September 1914.  This points to John having joined the Army sometime before the outbreak of war.  The Battalion was in the front line near Ypres in early June 1916.  The War Diary contains lengthy entries for that time and confirms that the Battalion took and held a German strongpoint which was just 80 yards from their trenches.  In that action on 3 and 4 June the Battalion suffered heavy casualties, including the loss of five Sergeants, all of whom had ‘started the war as Privates and had worked their way up through hard work and merit’.  One of these was John Firth.  His name appears in The Times newspaper casualty lists for 23 June 1916 as one of those soldiers still missing.

The War Diary records that on 7 June 1916 the Distinguished Conduct Medal had been awarded to Sergeant Firth.  The citation mentions ‘consistent gallantry....notably when he carried messages at a critical time’.  In addition to the DCM Sergeant Firth was awarded the 1914 Star (the ‘Mons Star’) confirming that he was one of the so called ‘
Old Contemptibles’; the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  All these medals were sold at auction in Mayfair, London in 2013 for £1500.  Their condition was described as ‘nearly extremely fine’.

In October 1916 his sister Amy Hudson was sent his outstanding pay and allowances of £37 19s 2d.  The War Gratuity of £13 was sent to her on 10 September 1919.  Sergeant Firth is buried just to the north of Ypres in Essex Farm Cemetery, Boezinge, Belgium.  This cemetery is one of the most visited in the area, partly because of the memorial to the Canadian John McCrae who wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’ whilst based at Essex Farm.  Around 1921 Mrs Hudson, living at 221 Fountain Street, Morley, paid 6s 8d for 23 letters (at 3½d per letter) for the inscription: ‘He died nobly doing his duty’, to be carved at the foot of her brother’s headstone.
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These notes were compiled with the support of a member of the extended Firth family.  Our thanks go to them.

The Society thanks The War Graves Photographic Project (www.twgpp.org) for providing this headstone photograph.

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