Name: Lawrence Carney
Unit/Regiment: 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number: 11760
Date of Death: 28 September 1916
Cemetery: Batley Cemetery
Lawrence Carney was born in Birstall in early 1895. His parents were English-born Andrew and Norah Carney. Though his family origins were Irish, Andrew came from Batley; Norah (née Kilkenny) hailed from the North East (censuses have her birth place as either Newcastle or Sunderland), but by 1881 was living in Gomersal. The couple married at St Mary’s on 3 August 18851 and, including Lawrence, went on to have nine children.
Lawrence’s older siblings were Michael, born in 1886; Thomas, born in 1887; James, born 1889; and John, born 1891. Also in 1895, eleven months after Lawrence, came Edward. He died in September 1904; Patrick followed in 1897; Andrew in 1903; and finally a girl, Mary Ellen, born in 1904.
But these bare facts, and the fact eight out of nine children were still living by 1911,2 belie the harsh realities of family life – including brushes with the law, extreme poverty and time spent in the dreaded workhouse.
Even before their marriage, Andrew was well-known to the local police and magistrates. Predominantly charged with drunk and disorderly, or riotous, behaviour, some of these convictions led to short spells in Wakefield Prison because he could not pay the fines imposed. The pattern of behaviour continued after his marriage to Norah, resulting in even more time served in Wakefield Prison. But as a married man with a young family to support, all this quickly impacted on family finances – either through payment of fines, or lack of earnings whilst in prison – and the situation eventually spiralled out of control.
Things came to a head in 1895. The year Norah gave birth twice, first to Lawrence and then Edward.
In January that year, around the time of Lawrence’s birth, Norah got involved in an argument with neighbour Martin Halloran over a bastardy case in which Norah gave evidence. The altercation turned physical, with Norah left “bleeding like a pig from her nose and mouth”3 after Halloran seized her by the hair, dragged her down some steps, and thumped her. Despite this, the judge believed Norah had provoked Halloran who, although found guilty of assault, was fined a pitifully low 2s 6d.4
But it was only the start of the family’s woes that year. The first part of the year saw Andrew twice more in Wakefield prison – in February and July. Then, at the end of November 1895, whilst Norah was heavily pregnant with Edward, Andrew ended up in prison yet again (his ninth time overall). On this occasion the crime was non-payment of the poor rate. It meant he could not appear at Dewsbury’s West Riding Police court in early December to face yet another charge, this time obscene language.5 The obscene language incident occurred immediately prior to the poor rate non-payment imprisonment.
Andrew was released from prison after a week for his rates non-payment, to return to the family home at Coach Lane, Birstall. But it was to be no happy Christmas 1895 for the Carney family. On 21 December, days before the Christmas Day birth of Edward, events took on a grimly distressing turn.
Andrew, who earned 18s a week as a miner at Soothill Colliery, normally gave his wife 10s a week. But the prison sentences and fines had taken their toll. For the three weeks leading up to 21 December she only received a weekly sum of 3s 6d.6 The fine and costs for the obscene language conviction came to 16s 6d. This was the straw which broke the camel’s back. It effectively wiped the family finances out, and Norah had to borrow 6d from a neighbour to pay it.7
Because of the state in which the family were now living, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children became involved. Edward’s birth delayed the court case until the end of January 1896, by which time the Carney’s landlord had been granted an eviction order against his tenants, making matters even worse.8
Saying that, the description of the house in question left much to be desired. One headline described it as “a wretched hovel”.9 The house, which as a result of the investigation was condemned as unfit for human habitation, consisted of a room and a pantry, the latter containing nothing but a few raw potatoes. The only other food in the house was a loaf of bread. Furnishings were an iron bedstead, a rotten straw mattress, filthy bedding, a cradle and a chair without a back. There was no soap in the house – but neither was there water, it being stopped because the family could not afford the rate. When the Inspector visited he found Andrew laid on the bed just as he had come out of the pit.10
The condition of the children was pitiable. The description of Lawrence read:
The youngest, aged eleven months…was in the cradle insufficiently wrapped up in clothing, and lying on something that was completely rotten. The baby and its garments were covered in vermin…11
The children were taken to the workhouse pending proceedings against their parents.12
In January 1896 Andrew was found guilty of child neglect and imprisoned for three months.13 Norah, against whom the case was dismissed, told the magistrates she too would have to be sent to the workhouse as she now had neither home or habitation.14
Poverty was behind the Carney’s appearance in court in September 1899, in a case which showed the feisty side to Norah’s character.
Now living at Scargill Fold, the summons was in respect of 12-year-old Thomas. On a handful occasions, owing to the fact his parents had been out of work, leave of school absence was granted in order for Thomas to contribute to the family income. This permission ended once his parents were earning once more – in addition to Andrew’s coal hewer work, Norah is recorded in one source as being a rag picker.
However, after his supposed return to education, Thomas only put in 34 out of a possible 102 school attendances. Instead he worked at the pit. Norah appeared in court to answer the School Board charges.
Her defence was Thomas worked at the colliery during the school holidays, but after a few days broke his arm. He received medical treatment for seven weeks and the colliery proprietors paid her 4s a week. In return they insisted her son worked out his notice or face a summons. Even though Norah knew he was underage, she sent him to work to fulfil his contract.15
Adamant about the correctness of her decision, she excitedly told the court when challenged about her defiance:
Yes, and it will be defiance again. He will work his notice out whether or not. There is nothing like telling you the truth, and telling you straight. He will work up to Friday this week whatever you say, and then he can go to school when school commences again. That is what he will do.16
Her continuing protestations led to her removal from the court.
This, then, was the tough family background in which Lawrence grew up. However it was not all unremittingly bleak times. Besides being a member of St Mary’s church, he also attended the school where he won great popularity amongst his schoolmates with his swimming abilities. St Mary’s school was well-known for its excellent swimming teams and Lawrence represented the school on numerous occasions, winning many prizes.17 It was a family skill, with Lawrence’s brother Patrick also named amongst the champion swimmers of St Mary’s.18
Perhaps it was through school that he met Annie Gavan. A little over a year older than Lawrence, she was the daughter of Bridget Gavan and step-daughter of Bridget’s husband, John Herbert (Jack) Hill – my great grandparents. In 1911, 16-year-old coal hurrier Lawrence was living at home with his parents at New Street, Batley.19 The following year, on 30 November 1912, he and 19-year-old Annie were getting married at St Mary’s church.
The reason for their marriage at such an early age was clear. On 12 January 1913 Annie gave birth to their first child, a son named John. Less than two months later tragedy struck. On 25 February 1913, only 23 days after his baptism at St Mary’s, the young couple were witnessing the burial of their infant son in a public grave in Batley cemetery.20
Before 1913 closed they celebrated a happier event. On 18 November, Lawrence and Annie welcomed the birth of their second child, daughter Annie.
As 1914 dawned, like many other families up and down the country, little could the Carney family imagine how irrevocably their lives would soon change. Before the year was out, Lawrence, like so many other men, would be serving King and country.
But there was no sign of this in the early months of 1914. Life carried on as normal. And once more Annie was pregnant. Lawrence was still working in the pit. According to a newspaper report he was employed as a trammer (another word for a hurrier),21 pushing the coal tubs or corves from the working face to pass-byes on the main haulage road underground.22 Obituary reports also state he worked at Soothill Wood Colliery.23 However, based on the fact he is commemorated on the Crawshaw and Warburton War Memorial, it does appear he was associated with either the Shaw Cross or Soothill Colliery.
Wherever he worked, this all changed shortly after the declaration of war. Although his service papers have not survived, looking at his service number Lawrence is likely to have enlisted in late August 1914.24 He joined the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Formed in Pontefract on 12 August 1914 it was one of the battalions of the New Army. Initially based in Woking, they moved to Witley Camp, Godalming, Surrey in November 1914. By now Annie was in the final months of pregnancy.
Daughter Ellen, known as Nellie, was born on 30 December 1914. This was the day Lawrence arrived home for five days’ leave, which – owing to the arrival of a new baby – he extended without permission. Then, having no money to return to camp, he simply waited for the military to collect him for free. This duly happened. He appeared before the Batley magistrates on a charge of being absent without leave on 10 February 1915, and was remanded to await an escort back to Witley Camp.25
This was not untypical in the early months of the war, with many men (who at this stage had to bear the transport costs for visits home on leave or due to sickness/recovering from injuries) simply not returning to their units knowing an escort would be provided to take them back free of charge. It led to different schemes being introduced, providing travel warrants or concessions to encourage men’s return.
But there was also the question about the separation allowance paid to Annie for the month when Lawrence should have been back at camp instead of at home – an issue raised by the police in court. No mention about the outcome of this is made.26
Lawrence and Annie spent the early part of their marriage at Peel Street. This is where the couple are recorded living at the time of John’s burial through to Nellie’s birth. However, some time before Lawrence’s death, Annie moved to Victoria Street, Carlinghow. It made sense – this is where her mother and step-father lived, so family would be close at hand if she needed assistance whilst Lawrence was away.
Lawrence did not go out to France with the 6th KOYLI’s initial deployment in May 1915, not going overseas until 15 December 1915.27 On 23 June 1916 Lawrence appeared in the official newspaper casualty lists, wounded.28 However, there was a significant time lapse between this report and the date of Lawrence’s injury. The 6th KOYLI Unit War Diary records he was taken off ration wounded on 28 May 1916, so his injury occurred around that time.29 It is possible Lawrence was injured whilst taking part in a patrol beyond our front line trenches at Agny, about three miles south of Arras. The entry on 28 May 1916 reads:
Patrol went out opposite G16 last night and found a German lying outside our wire. They immediately attacked him, but he managed to free himself from them. A German patrol which was covering him threw bombs at our patrol and unfortunately wounded all three men. 10164 Sgt Robinson was rather badly wounded, but 11584 L[ance]/C[orporal] A Dodsworth himself wounded gallantly carried him back to our trench.30
Lawrence’s injuries were not so serious as to keep him out of the Front line for long. Perhaps events on the Western Front speeded up his return – the Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July 1916. He returned to the Front in late July, but not to his old battalion. Instead he went to serve with the 2nd KOYLI. And it was not on the Somme that Lawrence received what were to be his fatal wounds. It appears he incurred these towards the middle to latter part of September 1916, by which stage he was nine weeks into his latest stint at the Front.31 During September the 2nd KOYLI were based predominantly in trenches around the Cuinchy area, around 20 to 25 north of the Somme. battlefield.32
On 23 September 1916 Annie received a card from the Warrington Lord Derby War Hospital, Winkworth, to say her husband lay wounded there.33 At the outbreak of war the hospital was the 5th Lancashire County Asylum housing around 2,160 patients. As casualties mounted and the pressure for hospitals to treat the wounded increased, the asylum was converted to a military hospital, treating some 56,000 wounded soldiers between 1915 and 1920.34 It subsequently reverted to an asylum. Newspaper adverts appeared from mid-1915 onwards seeking comforts for the injured at the military hospital. From gramophones and records,35 to walking sticks and footballs; cigarettes and pipes to fruit and flowers; bed jackets to sweaters; as well as writing paper, stamped postcards and pencils.36
Lawrence did manage to write home to say he was in great pain. Then, on Wednesday 27 September, Annie received a telegram informing her that her husband was now seriously ill.37 A visit was permitted. It is hard to imagine the hurried arrangements she had to make in such anxious circumstances. But everything in place, she travelled over to Warrington on Thursday morning, 28 September. Within half an hour of her arrival Lawrence died from the injuries.38 These had necessitated the amputation of his left leg above the thigh, but such were the extent of his injuries he was also due to have an operation to remove his other leg.
Lawrence’s body was brought back home to Batley for burial. His funeral took place with full military honours in Batley Cemetery on the afternoon of Monday 2 October. Many people assembled along the route of the cortege, a large number of sympathisers turned out at the cemetery. There was no band, but a firing party from Pontefract attended, as did several wounded soldiers from Batley hospital. The coffin, made of polished oak and draped in the Union Jack, was borne shoulder high to the grave by local soldiers. The officiating priest was Rev. Father Lea, and after he had committed the coffin in the earth, three volleys were fired and the Last Post was sounded by a bugler.39
Lawrence was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.
In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on Batley War Memorial and the Memorial erected by Crawshaw and Warburton for their employees who had died during the war.
In April 1918 Annie married again. Her new husband was Sergeant Ernest Henry Passaway of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.40 Epping-born, this 2nd Boer War veteran and pre-war regular soldier was part of the British Expeditionary Force who went out to France in August 1914. At this point her widow’s pension ended, and she was paid a final lump sum. Ernest survived the war.
Lawrence and Annie’s daughter, Annie, died on 1 December 1918.41 She was buried alongside her father in Batley cemetery. Annie’s death occurred during the horrendous second wave of the Spanish flu pandemic. I have not obtained her death certificate to see if she was a victim. But it did play a part in what happened next. Because of the heavy death toll during this wave of the pandemic, local gravediggers were in short supply. Given the increased rate of deaths over the normal, the Registrar and cemetery staff came under particular pressure, resulting in distressing delays to burials. It appears Annie’s burial, on 6 December 1918, was amongst these delayed interments.42 For more details about the flu pandemic’s impact in Batley see my post here.
Five of Lawrence’s brothers served with the Army – Michael (Royal Engineers), Thomas (KOYLI), James (Royal Engineers), John (York & Lancaster Regiment) and Patrick (KOYLI). All survived, but Patrick spent the final months of the conflict as a prisoner of war.
St Mary’s War Memorial man Martin Carney was Lawrence’s uncle, Martin being the half-brother of Lawrence’s father, Andrew.
1. Batley News, 8 August 1885.
2. 1911 Census, The National Archives (TNA) Ref: RG14/27244/93.
3. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 12 January 1895.
4. Batley News, 11 January 1895.
5. Batley News, 6 December 1895 and Batley Reporter and Guardian 7 December 1895.
6. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 January 1896.
8. Batley News, 3 January 1896.
9. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 January 1896.
10. Batley News, 24 January 1896.
11. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 January 1896. Vermin was a word used for lice.
12. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 December 1895.
13. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 January 1896.
15. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 15 September 1899.
17. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 6 October 1916.
18. Batley News, 4 May 1918.
19. 1911 Census, The National Archives (TNA) Ref: RG14/27244/93.
20. Batley Cemetery burial registers.
21. Batley News, 13 February 1915.
22. A Dictionary of Occupational Terms: Ministry of Labour. Based on the Classification of Occupations Used in the Census of POPULATION, 1921. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1927.
23. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 6 October 1916 and Batley News, 7 October 1916.
24. Service Number 11763 and 11767 enlisted with the 6th KOYLI on 26 August 1914.
25. Batley News, 13 February 1915.
27. Medal Index Card.
28. The Times, 23 June 1916.
29. 6th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA Ref WO 95/1906/2.
31. Batley News, 7 October 1916.
32. 2nd KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA Ref WO 95/2402/1.
33. Batley News, 7 October 1916.
34. Winwick Hospital, https://asylumprojects.org/index.php/Winwick_Hospital.
35. Liverpool Echo, 16 November 1915.
36. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 10 July 1915.
37. Batley News, 7 October 1916.
39. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 6 October 1916 and Batley News, 7 October 1916.
40. Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War, TNA Ref WO364.
42. Batley Cemetery burial registers.
• Batley Cemetery Burial Registers.
• Batley Court Registers.
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
• England and Wales Censuses, 1871 to 1911, TNA, various references.
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes.
• Long, Long Trail website.
• Medal Award Rolls.
• National Library of Scotland maps.
• Newspapers – various editions of the Batley and Dewsbury papers;
• Parish Registers.
• Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.
• Wakefield Prison Nominal Registers.
• Probate records.
• Soldiers Died in the Great War.
• Soldiers’ Effects Register.