John Thomas Hepworth


Private 79767, Durham Light Infantry

Died 9th September 1918 aged 19

No Known Grave Commemorated on the Vis-En-Artois Memorial, Haucourt, Pas-de-Calais, France

Son of Edwin and Maria Hepworth

Lived 10, Strawberry Square, Heckmondwike

In the 1891 census John Thomas' father, Edwin, was living in Strawberry Square, near St James' Church, with his parents and a brother and four sisters. Edwin was aged 22 and was working, like his father Tom, as a Willier in a woollen mill. A willier is a worker who feeds fibres into a "willeying" machine to separate and comb them for carding, often blending fibres in the process.

Maria Rawden, Edwin's wife, was the daughter of John and Hamy(sic) Rawden; John was a Card Fettler - someone who cleaned the machinery in woollen mills, removing fibres, grease etc. The Rawdens lived in Kilpin Hill. Edwin and Maria married in 1897. In the 1901 census the family were living at 32, Milton Square off High Street. Edwin, now aged 32 was employed as a Wire Drawer.

The 1910 local taxation records show that Edwin and Maria had moved to 10, Centre Street; they were living in a house rented from a David Brooksbank of Cooke House. Their house had a rateable value of £5-5s. Centre Street is off Cooke Lane.

In the 1911 Census they were living in 2 rooms at 10, Strawberry Square (behind the Sir Robert Peel Pub). The family consisted of Edwin now a Wire Drawer's Labourer, his wife, Maria, listed as at home, daughter Annie Ward Rawden (14) working as a Worsted Spinner, John Thomas (11), Ivy (6), Horace (4) and Elizabeth (1).

John Thomas was keen to join the war effort and to serve as a soldier; he attested for service on 22 February 1915 at Mirfield. He was a reservist and on signing up he joined 2/5 West Riding Regiment. He was discovered to be under age (3 months short of 16 years) and he was discharged at Larkhill Camp in February 1916 with 340 days service. At this time his physical development was good and it was anticipated it would improve.

After his discharge, John Thomas worked at Burnley's in Gomersal. He attended St James' Parish Church Sunday School. He re-enlisted when he was 18 yrs 54 days from 10, Strawberry Square, Heckmondwike; his initial Army Number was 63554 and by July 1917 he was part of the 85th Training Reserves. The medical records show that he was 5'5" tall with a chest of 33 and a half inches when fully expanded and 31 inches without expansion. He weighed 120 lbs and his development was described as good, but with a slight speech impediment (stammer).

He was posted to Folkestone and then to Boulogne and Etaples on the 21August 1918. The most important base for the British Army was at Étaples, using Boulogne as its port for personnel. Calais was used mainly for stores, ammunition etc. Étaples was the BEF's main infantry base, with sections for every regiment with battalions at the front. In theory, the base held a ten percent reserve for every frontline battalion, but these figures fluctuated significantly depending on the levels of casualties at the front and the supply of fresh troops from England. Troops held at the base were "toughened up" while waiting dispatch to the front. Wilfred Owen described the camp as the "bull ring" because of the brutality of the instructors — many of whom had not served at the front — and the generally harsh conditions that reigned there. Whilst training he was promoted to L/Cpl (unpaid) but on transfer to the British Expeditionary Force and to the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry he reverted to Private. His regimental number was now 79767.

John Thomas' service totalled 1 Year 43 days in the United Kingdom followed by 20 days in France.

He died on 9 September 1918, in France, 20 days after his arrival. At that time the Battalion were involved in fighting in the Albert and Bapaume area of Northern France. Unofficial reports of his death were accepted by the War Office, in August 1919, as sufficient evidence for official records and his death was assumed to be on that date.

The official War Office form, for medals and gratuity, was witnessed for his mother, Maria, by the Vicar of Heckmondwike, Rev. Robert Henderson, on 17 October 1919. This form confirmed that John Thomas' siblings at home were: Horace (12), Fred (7), Arthur (5), Clifford (3), Sam (8months), Joy (15), and Elizabeth (10).

John Thomas's final resting place is unknown, he is remembered on Panel 9 at Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, Haucourt, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais, on the road from Arras to Cambrai. The Cemetery is at the north side of the main road between the two villages.

His father, Edward, received £7-5-8 from his son's regimental account, this included a War Gratuity of £6-10-0. Edwin Hepworth acknowledged receipt of John Thomas' British War Medal and The Victory Medal on 24 November 1921.{KW-068}

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