Private John Beckwith

Private John Beckwith, 1/6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. Service number 3154, later 265990.

Private John Beckwith.

John was born in Silsden on 29th February 1894. His parents were William and Isabella Beckwith. William had been a mill labourer but may have been a weaver at that time. John's birth was registered with the Skipton registrar in the first quarter of that year.
By 1901 John was seven years old and the family was living at 35, Woodbury Road, Heaton in Bradford. John now had three sisters, Dorothy aged five, Elsie aged three and Alice aged two. William had worked his way up to a position as a silk weaving overlooker.
At the 1911 census the family were living at the Traveller's Rest at Bent's Foot between Wilsden and Harden. This is a terraced row of houses at right angles to the main road (just above the Steven Smith's garden centre car park) and the Traveller's Rest was originally a Beer House so it's possible this was not a permanent situation. However, there is evidence to suggest it was no longer in use as a beer house at that time. By now John was 17 and a weaver and his immediate siblings Dorothy 15, Elsie 13 and Alice 12 were still at home too. The family had also increased in size somewhat with a brother Norman aged 9, sisters Eva aged 6, Mona aged 3 and the youngest child Harry aged just 1. Also living with them was Margaret Beckwith who was William's sister and a housekeeper. During this time William was a worsted overlooker and looking at the local maps around the time, they were near enough to Harden worsted mill, and there was also Spring Mills worsted mill in Wilsden, with Providence woollen mill between Bent's Foot and Wilsden village.
According to the West Yorkshire Electoral Rolls, the family was living at Bent's Foot until 1914, when they moved to 8, Leyburn Grove in Bingley. John who was twenty years old by now will have moved with them because this is referred to as his home address in an October 1916 newspaper report.
John must have enlisted fairly early in the war because he would have had several month's training before embarking for France.
It is likely he enlisted before the end of 1914 and as a Territorial soldier he may even have been serving part time with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment before war broke out. Sadly there is no Army service record for John, which is due to the records depository at Arnside Street in London being destroyed by fire during the blitz of WW2 with the loss of up to 70% of the Great War Army service records.

The 1/6th Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment was mobilised on 4th August 1914 and would have begun training in earnest in this country, to get ready for posting to the war theatre.
The 1/6th Battalion was based at Doncaster in early April of 1915 when they received orders to prepare to move abroad. Two trains of about 30 carriages each left Shakespeare Dock in Doncaster at 3.00 pm and transported the entire battalion to Folkestone, arriving at 10.30 pm. They immediately transferred to S.S. Onward (a former cross-channel ferry in use by the Army) and proceeded to Boulogne, arriving at around 1.45 am on 15th April where they disembarked and marched off to St. Martin's Rest Camp for the night. As far as we can tell, John served with the 1/6th West Riding Regiment for the entire war. In the absence of an Army service record we assume he took part in most if not all of the major battles they were involved in.

Overview of John's Shell shock incident:
The battalion was relieved on 15th September 1916 and the next day it was to be inspected but they were rushed into the front lines instead, where they received a barrage of artillery which caused a great number of casualties, particularly for B Company, which John was in. He was admitted with shell shock on September 16th. B Company was in Hindenburg Trench at the time. This was very close to Thiepval Chateau, which is where the Thiepval memorial now stands.

1/6th Battalion West Riding Regiment - War diary entry for September 1916:
HEDAUVILLE 15 September 9 am.
The C.O. started to inspect the Battalion by Companies, but orders were suddenly received that the Brigade were to proceed to the trenches & relieve the 32nd Infantry Brigade of the 11th Division.
Guides met platoons at CRUCIFIX CORNER at 9.30, the Battalion having had tea and a few hours halt in MARTINSART WOOD. Just as the relief had started the Germans made a bombing attack on the left part of the salient which was driven back. Heavy barrages were put on by both sides and our Battalion coming in had not a very pleasant time. D Company went into the front line and had a number of casualties before getting there.
1967. L/Cpl T. Monk, B Coy, Killed by shrapnel.
4177. Pte. L. Binns, D Coy. Killed by shell.
Casualties cont:
5532. Pte. Cockroft, S, D Coy. Killed by shell.
2417. Pte. Hutchinson, G. A, D Coy. Killed by shell.
1910. Pte. Bibby, R. B Coy. Shell shock.
2427. Sgt Pearson, H. B Coy. Wounded.
2449. Sgt. Segger, R. D Coy. Wounded.
3015. Cpl Green, R. W. D Coy. Wounded.
2933. Pte. Laycock, J. D Coy. Wounded.
4248. Pte. Woodhead, W. D Coy. Wounded.
4453. Pte. Simpson, H. D Coy. Wounded.
2070. Pte. Lilley, W. D Coy. Wounded.
1891. Senior, S. E. D Coy. Wounded.
5443. Grundy, J. C. V. D Coy. Wounded.
5596. Faver, J. C. D Coy. Wounded.
4853. Widdop, C. E. D Coy. Shell shock.
2100. Hancock, B. C Coy. Wounded.
3942. Doherty, M. D Coy. Wounded, remained on duty.
TRENCHES 16th. 4.30 am.
Relief reported complete.
[The battalion we relieved in the trenches was the 8th Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment, who have also been in Gallipoli.] The disposition of the battalion was:
D Coy in front line, which was supposed to be the line of the WONDER WORK.
B Coy in HINDENBURG TRENCH, also Battalion Headquarters.
C Coy in dug outs in LEMBERG TRENCH.
A Coy in TYTHE BARN St. dugouts.
The day was on the whole not so bad, except in HINDENBURG TRENCH which was shelled with 5.9.
The following arrangement was therefore made:
A Coy moved back to WOOD POST & QUARRY POST & 2 platoons of B were moved back into TYTHE BARN St. and a good many casualties were avoided by this means and HINDENBURG received a goood deal of attention all the time.
2nd Lieutenant W. B. Naylor was killed by shrapnel, in LEIPZIG SALIENT whilst acting as Brigade Bombing Officer.
2 Lt. W. B. Naylor. Killed by shrapnel wound in head.
3478 Pte. Birkett, T. - B Coy. Killed by shell.
5558. Pte. Ellis, H. - B Coy. Killed by shell.
4488. Pte. Barwick, H. - B Coy. Killed by shell.
5534. Pte. Causfield, A. - B Coy. Wounded by shell.
3880. Pte. Mitchell, F. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
5605. Pte. Blake, T. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
1855. Pte. Swindon, H. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
5613. Pte. Fisher, S. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
1996. Pte. Hunter, S. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
4832. Pte. Wright, H. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
4721. Pte. Waterworth, J. - B. Coy. Wounded by shell.
3154. Pte. Beckwith, J. - B. Coy. Shell shock.
1728. Pte. Brook, R. - B. Coy. Shell shock.
2352. Pte. Sharp, W. - B. Coy. Shell shock.
3121. Pte. Smith, H. - B. Coy. Wounded.
2625. Pte. West, A. - B. Coy. Wounded.
4225. Pte. Smith, A. H. - A Coy. Shell shock.
3349. Pte. Barson, R. - A Coy. Wounded.
5685. Pte. Garlick, J. - C Coy. Shell shock.
2104. Pte. Robinson, C. - B Coy. Killed.
2 Lt. A. H. Clegg. Gassed and wounded by H.E.
5503. Pte. Elliott, H. Missing.

Keighley News dated 7th October 1916:
Private John Beckwith, West Riding Regiment, of 8, Leyburn Grove, Bingley, has been admitted to hospital suffering from shell-shcok.

Keighley News dated 14th October 1916 - the photograph appears in this issue.

In early 1917 the service numbers for Territorial battalions were changed to six figure numbers. For the 6th Battalion West Riding Regiment the block of numbers allocated was from 265001 to 305000. John's Army service number changed from 3154 to 265990.

John was home on leave in early November 1917 as he married Marion Bloomfield at the Zion Chapel on St. John Street, Bingley. They were married on the fifth November. John was 23 years old and described as a bachelor and a Private No. 265990 1/6 West Riding Regiment, living at 9, Arthur Street in Bingley His father was William Beckwith, a weaving overlooker. Marion was 25 years old and described as a spinster and worsted weaver, living at 7, Ferncliffe Road in Bingley. Her father was William Elijah Bloomfield, a packer.

1/6th Battalion West Riding Regiment - War diary entry for April 1918:
ST. JAN'S CAPPEL. 16th April.
During the morning the enemy registered our line with trench morters and field guns and there was considerable machine gun fire from both sides, also enemy movement in small parties. Our artillery gave us considerable support and when enemy were seen collecting they put down a very satisfactory shoot.
4. pm.
At about 4 pm the enemy showed great activity with their trench mortars and field guns and shortly afterwards attacked opposite the right of A Company. The attack was completely repulsed and a certain amount of the success achieved was due to prompt co-operation of Stokes battery.
Patrols were at once sent out to pick up prisoners. The patrols were very successful and brought in two complete light machine guns and 16 prisoners, several of whom were wounded. The night passed fairly quietly and a good lot of (barbed) wire was put out.
The appendix sheets for this month included a long list of casualties, arranged chronologically and for 16th April there was this entry:
265990. Pte. Beckwith, J. Wounded, a/c. 16.4.1918.
It's likely that 'a/c' means 'accidentally caused' as opposed to a wound sustained as a result of enemy action. This may have been subject to an official enquiry which would have been recorded in his Army service record because any question of self-inflicted injury was taken seriously. This does not cast any kind of cloud over John's service and may have been just a formality, especially as they've described it as 'a/c.'

John became disembodied from the Army on 30th March 1919.

Marion's death:
Marion, his wife of two years, died on 14th February 1919 and her death was recorded in the first quarter of that year, at the Keighley registry office. How close this was to his return home from the war is unknown and she may have been a victim of the influenza epidemic which was prevalent at that time. She was 26 years of age when she died. Her death was recorded in the Keighley News 'Deaths' column of 22nd February 1919 and states:

Beckwith - February 14, Aged 26, Marian Beckwith, Skirrow Fold, Bingley.

After the war John would have been awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory medal for his war service. It's likely he would have received these in early 1920/21. The Star would have been inscribed with his 3154 number and the BWM and VM with the 265990 number.

John married his second wife Edith Annie Booth at Charlestown Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Baildon on 26th May 1923. John was described as a 29 year old widower and a worsted weaving overlooker living at Arthur Street, Bingley. Edith was described as a 34 year old spinster and worsted weaver living at 41, Otley Road, Charlestown, Baildon. Her father was John Booth, a Driver. The marriage was registered at Wharfedale Registry Office in the second quarter of the year.

In 1939 everybody was recorded in a register. This was different from the census rules so it is available for us to view. Persons who may have been still alive have had their details redacted so John and Edith are listed, but two others are blacked out, possibly children.
The register shows that John and Edith were resident at 11, Strathmore Drive, Baildon. John was a weaving overlooker and was also listed as 'Auxiliary Fire Service, Baildon' which would have been his part of the civil war effort. Edith was listed as 'unpaid domestic duties.'
Two persons' details are blacked out. Their youngest child Gerald, born on 23rd August 1931 is listed and was a schoolchild at the time.

John died at the age of 79 on 10th September 1973 and his death was registered in the Bradford district in the third quarter of that year.
His probate record shows his home address as 2, Mount Pleasant Bank in Baildon and his personal effects amounted to £3555.

Information sources:

England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
National Archives WO95 2801 War diary for 1/6th Battalion West Riding Regiment
Keighley News archives - held at Keighley Library
British Army World War I Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
World War I Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005
1939 England and Wales Register
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995

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