Name: Martin Carney
Unit/Regiment: 1st/4th Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number: 3419
Date of Death: 11 November 19151
Cemetery: Bard Cottage Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Martin Carney was the son of County Mayo-born John Carney, and his second wife Catherine (Kate) Gillon, who came from Halifax.2 Born on 7 August 1887, he was the couple’s second child.
John Carney, who hailed from Swinford, a town in the east of Mayo, arrived in Batley in 1862, along with his first wife Mary (née Riley) and young son Patrick. Subsequent children – Andrew, Michael, Mary, John and Thomas – were all born in Batley.
On 22 August 1884 42-year-old Mary Carney died.3 Although some of the Carney children had reached adulthood and independence, the youngest boys were only around 10 and 11 years old. The fact that John had these younger children to care for helps explain the need for him to quickly find a new wife. Less than a year after Mary’s death, John married Kate Gillon at Batley St Mary’s, on 18 July 1885.4 This short interval was not unusual.
Kate was around 14 years John’s junior. It meant the Carney family continued to expand, starting with the arrival of a daughter, Margaret, in 1886. She died 20 months later in February 1888. Next came Martin. Other children included George, born in February 1889; Rose Ann, born in January 1891; William, born in August 1892 and who died the following August, just before his first birthday; Mary Ellen Carney, born in late 1893; James, born in March 1895, and who died that July; Michael, born in 1896; Fred, born in November 1899; Theresa, born in March 1903 and who died in October 1904; and Joe, born in September 1909.
Life was tough for the Carney family. John Carney cut a noticeable figure around the Batley area. Whilst working on the construction of Dewsbury’s Great Northern railway station he had an accident which resulted in the amputation of his left hand.5 It meant he wore a large hook. It was a weapon he used to good effect on 16 December 1883 in an assault on two policemen, an attack which landed him before the magistrates at Batley Borough Court.6
Despite his disability he worked as a mason’s labourer, employed for many years by Joseph Oldroyd. However his disability did impact on his earning ability. Even when working full-time he was only able to earn around 17s a week in 1899.7 This was well below the average wage for the period.8 With a wife and several children to support, it was clearly a struggle to make ends meet, with money being a constant worry. It meant the Carney children did not have the easiest of childhoods.
Martin and his brother George had lengthy absences from school. At one point they were sent to stay with grandparents to escape the School Board officer.
The family had frequent moves, with homes in Batley and Birstall. And, with John’s limited earnings, the accommodation was at times far from healthy, desirous or well-furnished. One Birstall home was described as:
…only two rooms on one floor, one of them being very small and used as a w.c. The floors were of stone…though the weather was very cold there was no fire…9
At this point the family consisted of John, Kate, five children and a newborn. The report went on to describe the scant furnishings and a problem with vermin – in this context the definition is more likely to be lice and fleas rather than mice and rats.
Both John and Kate had brushes with the law, some of which ended up in spells in Wakefield prison for both. In 1889, whilst baking, Kate became involved in a dispute with Elizabeth Carrol. She grabbed the nearest ‘weapon’ to hand – a rolling pin.10 The assault landed her with a two-month prison sentence.11 Luckily Elizabeth survived – otherwise the charges could have been far more serious. A decade later both John and Kate were in prison at the same time – John for two weeks, and Kate for a month.12
The turn of the century did not bring the family any better luck. In fact, in April 1901, their situation deteriorated further. By now they were back in Batley and living at East Street, in the Spring Gardens area of town. On the morning of 30 April John Carney was removing scaffolding from a building in Warwick Road, Batley Carr. One part of it got stuck and John, who was on the chimney of the house, attempted to release it. Unfortunately he slipped. The roof had been prepared for slating, and John fell through the lathes of the ceiling and into the bedroom floor below. He landed heavily on his right side. The severely injured workman was taken to Batley hospital, where examination revealed a fractured shoulder and serious internal injuries.13 He remained in hospital for several weeks, but he did slowly recover. All this meant the family income was further reduced, with the impact on the earnings of the main breadwinner.
Fortunately the Carney family did now have other sources of income. 13-year-old Martin was no longer at school. He now worked as a hurrier in a coal mine, so he was now contributing to the family’s income. Also John’s employer, Joseph Oldroyd, paid his badly injured workman 10s 7d per week during the period of his total or partial incapacity from work. The case, though, did end up in Dewsbury County Court in October 1901, with John making a claim against his employer under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Joseph Oldroyd wanted to reduce the previous monetary offer to a nominal amount as he believed John was now fit for work. The case went in favour of John, with the higher scale award continuing.14 But it was still substantially below the 17s John earned less than two years earlier.
It all goes to show how precarious family finances could be without the safety net of the welfare state, when the last resort would be falling back on the Poor Law and dreaded workhouse.
In a way John was lucky that his loss of earnings was the result of an accident covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Sickness and unemployment were not covered by this Act. The family’s predicament would have been more dire if John had simply been unable to work through illness. It was not until 1911 that the Liberal Government introduced a National Insurance Act, which meant workers would have cover against sickness and unemployment. It also illustrates how important the earning potential of children might be – their small contribution could make a huge difference in staving off the dreaded workhouse. And this explains why parents were keen for their children to leave school and start earning.
The 1911 census found the family living at New Street in Batley. John was now back at work as a mason’s labourer in the building trade. It also appears the family income was in a far better place, with three of the Carney children now working. This included Martin, who was employed as a coal mine bye-worker. This was a person employed by the mine who worked where needed – either underground labouring , mending roadways, doing joinery work and providing cover for absent workers, someone who was skilled in several jobs. It is not clear who Martin’s employers were at this point, but he worked for some time at Shaw Cross Colliery. Before enlisting he was a bye-worker at West End Colliery.
Just when things appeared to be looking up for the family, in October 1911 John Carney died.
The following year, on 9 September, Martin married Winifred Haley (sometimes written as Heal[e]y) at St Mary’s. They started married life at Villiers Street, but soon moved to New Street, and it was here that the family resided at the time of Martin’s death.
Winifred’s son Leonard was born on 28 October 1907. She and Martin had a further three children. James, their first-born, survived for only three days after his November 1912 birth; daughter Rose Ann was born on 19 December 1913; their final child, Martin, was born in August 1915, less than three months before his father’s death.
Martin’s service papers have not survived, but there is a brief description of him, age 19, from other sources. With brown hair, he was relatively tall for the period, standing at 5 feet 7½ inches high.15
He served as a Private with the local Territorials, the 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, under Service Number 3419. When the Territorial Force was formed in 1908 the idea was these part-time so-called ‘Saturday night’ soldiers would, in the event of war, be deployed at home only, back-filling the regular army who would go overseas. The Territorials were not obliged to serve overseas. Martin though, like many of the other local Terriers, waived this right upon the declaration of war and mobilisation.
After training in camps including Doncaster’s Sandbeck Park, and Gainsborough, the 1st/4th KOYLI moved to York at the end of February 1915 to finalise their preparations. They left York on 12 April 1915, heading to the ports of Southampton and Folkestone and then on to France, arriving on 13 April 1915 as part of the 49th (West Riding) Division.
In July 1915 the Battalion moved to Belgium, in the vicinity of the Ypres-Boesinghe line. This is an area north of Ypres, along the Yser Canal. Whilst there were no major battles in this sector during the period Martin served here, it was not without risk. Hostile shelling, combined with the constant threat of snipers, rifle grenade attacks and machine gun fire meant the casualty count inexorably crept up. Entries from the Unit War Diary illustrate this:
18/7/15 …Hostile guns shelled canal line at intervals during day. Casualties: 2 killed, 4 wounded.
19/7/15 Heavy bombardment by artillery on both sides all along line up to and south of YPRES…Casualties: 1 killed, 5 wounded.
2/8/15 Trenches shelled considerably by enemy. Casualties: 2 killed, 2 wounded.
15/8/15 Enemy very quiet, except a few burst of shrapnel near Canal. Casualties: Wounded 2.
6/9/15 Enemy shelled front line at intervals. Casualties: 3 killed, 3 wounded, 2 sick.
25/10/15 Usual rifle and machine gun fire at night….Casualties: Died of wounds – one O.R., wounded one O.R.
29/10/15 On the 29th instant, CAPT & ADJT. A. C. CHADWICK was shot through the head by an enemy sniper while looking round the front line trenches prior to the Battalion taking over.16
This is only a selection of entries. Pick any day in the trenches and, more often than not, low level casualties were incurred.
In between time in the trenches the 1st/4th KOYLI were supplying working and ration carrying parties. Evidence of the 49th (West Riding) Division’s posting in this area can be seen by the names given to the trenches – familiar local names, a reminder of places back home. This included Barnsley Road, Colne Valley, Skipton Road, Huddersfield Road, Halifax Road, Vicar Lane and Mirfield. And it was of home Martin’s thoughts were turning in his last letter to his wife, when he told her he had applied for leave.
He never made it back to Batley. It was whilst in trenches in the vicinity of Skipton Road that Martin Carney was killed. In terms of present day locality, it is now part of the industrial estate near Colne Valley CWGC cemetery, a location I wrote about here. Boesinghe village is now known as Boezinge.
The Unit War Diary for the period reads:
Nov. 1 to 6 – Battalion on Canal Bank in Brigade Reserve. Furnished working and ration carrying parties for front line Battalion. Casualties 7 O.R. wounded.
Nov. 7 – Relieved 4th (H) Y & L. Regt in SKIPTON ROAD position. Casualties 2 O.R. wounded.
Nov. 8 – Enemy was fairly active sniping both by night and day, otherwise situation quiet. Casualties: O.R. 2 killed; 3 wounded.
Nov. 9 – Enemy more active with rifle and machine gun fire. They put a large number of rifle grenades and whizz-bangs in front trench. Retaliation silenced enemy. Casualties: O.R. 1 killed.
Nov. 10 – Enemy has been much quieter. No shelling. Casualties: 2 O.R. killed.
Nov. 11 – Our machine gun engaged enemy machine gun and after 3 minutes duel silenced enemy gun. Enemy working parties were fired on by our artillery. Battalion relieved and proceeded to Divisional Rest. Casualties: 1 O.R. killed.17
November therefore followed the pattern of previous weeks and months. No major action, just a day-in day-out period of attrition. And, crucially, as hinted at with the death of Captain Chadwick at the end of the previous month, German snipers remained active in the area. In the same spell in the trenches as Martin died, a sniper accounted for another St Mary’s man of the 1st/4th KOYLI, Thomas Donlan.18
As with Thomas there is some confusion over the day Martin died, although not to the same extent. The official date is Thursday 11 November 1915, but one source (a letter from the Battalion’s second in command to Martin’s widow) indicates it took place on Wednesday 10 November 1915. On balance therefore it is probable, unlike with Thomas, that the official date in Martin’s case is correct. In which case he was killed on the day the Battalion came out of the trenches.
Just before his death his family received a reassuring field-card from him stating he was in good health. But any optimism this brought as to his wellbeing, and hope that they would meet again soon, was dashed days later.
The first indication of his death came in the form of a letter to Winifred from his ‘pal’, Pte Michael Kennedy. She received this on Tuesday 16 November. This was followed up by official notification on Thursday 18 November from Major H Moorhouse, second in command of the Territorials. He wrote confirming the sad news, saying:
I regret to inform you that your husband No 3419 Private M Carney of the battalion under my command was killed on the 10th inst. He was shot through the heart by a German sniper.19
The officer went on to express the profound sympathy of himself and the Battalion.
Martin Carney is buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery in the West-Vlaanderen region of Belgium, alongside his fellow parishioner Thomas Donlan.
Martin left a widow and three children – step-son Leonard, daughter Rose Ann, and infant son Martin. This was soon reduced to two, when baby Martin died on 18 March 1916, bringing yet more heartache to the already grieving family. Winifred never remarried. She was buried in Batley cemetery on 3 July 1935.
Martin was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the War Memorial at Our Lady and St Paulinus RC Church, as well as the Dewsbury and the Batley War Memorials.
At the time of his death, Martin’s two brothers, George and Michael, were training with the KOYLI. They survived the war. However, St Mary’s War Memorial man Lawrence Carney was the son of Martin’s half-brother Andrew Carney.
1. This is Martin’s official date of death. The letter from Major Moorhouse, second in command of the 1st/4th KOYLI, gave the date as 10 November 1915;
2. Their are various iterations of Kate’s surname, including Gillon, Gillan, Gillins, Gilan, and even Dillon;
3. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 23 August 1884;
4. Batley News & Birstall Advertiser, 25 July 1885. Note that Kate’s surname is given as Dillon, a corruption of her name which does appear in other records;
5. The station was located near Dewsbury market place, and opened to passengers in March 1880. Prior to that the Great Northern Railway a temporary terminus which opened for goods and passengers in 1874;
6. Batley News and Birstall Advertiser – 22 December 1883;
7. Batley News and Yorkshire Woollen District Advertiser, 28 April 1899;
8. According to Gregory Clark’s paper Average Earnings and Retail Prices, UK, 1209-2017 the average annual earnings in 1900 was £69.5. A pound was 20s. https://www.measuringworth.com/datasets/ukearncpi/earnstudyx.pdf;
9. Batley News and Yorkshire Woollen District Advertiser, 28 April 1899;
10. Batley News and Yorkshire Woollen District Advertiser, 17 August 1889;
11. Wakefield Prison Registers, West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference Number: C118/231;
12. Wakefield Prison Registers, West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference Numbers: C118/238 and C118/162;
13. Batley Reporter and Guardian and Batley News and Yorkshire Woollen District Advertiser, 3 May 1901;
14. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 October 1901; and Batley News and Yorkshire Woollen District Advertiser, 26 October 1901;
15. Wakefield Prison Registers, West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference Numbers: C118/194;
16. 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, The National Archives (TNA) Reference WO 95/2806/1;
18. Thomas Donlan’s official death date is 9 November 1915, although letters reaching home indicated it was in fact the 10 November 1915;
19. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 19 November 1915; and Batley News, 20 November 1915.
• Batley Cemetery Burial Registers;
• Boesinghe: The Forgotten Battlefield, Paul Reed, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/familyhistory/get_started/boesinghe_01.shtml;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
• Dewsbury Sacrifices – http://www.dewsburysacrifices.org/;
• Chasseaud, Peter. Rats Alley: British Trench Names of the Western Front, 1914-1918. Spellmount, 2006;
• England and Wales Censuses, 1871 to 1901, TNA, various references;
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes;
• Long, Long Trail, https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/;
• McGreal, Stephen. Boesinghe. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2010;
• Medal Award Rolls;
• Medal Index Card;
• Newspapers – various editions of the Batley papers;
• Parish Registers – various;
• Pension Index Cards and Ledgers, Western Front Association;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War;
• Soldiers’ Effects Register; and
• West Yorkshire Prison records, various.