Tag Archives: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 1 to 31 July 2021 Additions

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.

St Mary of the Angels Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

In the past month I have added six new pages. These include five weekly newspaper summary pages. I have accordingly updated the surname index to these During This Week newspaper pieces, so you can easily identify newspaper snippets relevant to your family.

There is one new War Memorial biography – that of Herbert Booth.

Finally for this month, more men who served and survived have been identified. I have also updated that page. The biographies of these men will follow in due course.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out. Click on the link and it will take you straight to the relevant page.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who Are Not on the Memorial 
3. Reginald Roberts
4. William Frederick Townsend

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
5. Herbert Booth *NEW*
6. Edmund Battye
7. Michael Brannan
8. Martin Carney
9. Thomas Curley
10. Thomas Donlan
11. Michael Flynn
12. Thomas Foley D.C.M.
13. Michael Groark (also known as Rourke)
14. James Griffin
15. Michael Horan
William McManus – See William Townsend below
16. Thomas McNamara
17. Patrick Naifsey
18. Austin Nolan
19. Moses Stubley
20. William Townsend, also known as McManus

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
21. James Delaney
22. Thomas Donlan (senior)

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
23. Cemetery and Memorial Details
24. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
25. During This Week Newspaper Index *UPDATED*
26. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
27. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
28. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
29. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
30. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
31. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
32. 1914, 19 September – Batley News
33. 1914, 26 September – Batley News
34. 1914, 3 October – Batley News
35. 1914, 10 October – Batley News
36. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
37. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
38. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
39. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
40. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
41. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
42. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
43. 1914, 5 December – Batley News
44. 1914, 12 December – Batley News
45. 1914, 19 December – Batley News
46. 1914, 24 December – Batley News
47. 1915, 2 January – Batley News
48. 1915, 9 January – Batley News
49. 1915, 16 January – Batley News
50. 1915, 23 January – Batley News
51. 1915, 30 January – Batley News
52. 1915, 6 February – Batley News
53. 1915, 13 February – Batley News
54. 1915, 20 February – Batley News
55. 1915, 27 February – Batley News
56. 1915, 6 March – Batley News
57. 1915, 13 March – Batley News
58. 1915, 20 March – Batley News
59. 1915, 27 March – Batley News
60. 1915, 3 April – Batley News
61. 1915, 10 April – Batley News
62. 1915, 17 April – Batley News
63. 1915, 24 April – Batley News
64. 1915, 1 May – Batley News
65. 1915, 8 May – Batley News
66. 1915, 15 May – Batley News
67. 1915, 22 May – Batley News
68. 1915, 29 May – Batley News
69. 1915, 5 June – Batley News
70. 1915, 12 June – Batley News
71. 1915, 19 June – Batley News
72. 1915, 26 June – Batley News
73. 1915, 3 July – Batley News *NEW*
74. 1915, 10 July – Batley News *NEW*
75. 1915, 17 July – Batley News *NEW*
76. 1915, 24 July – Batley News *NEW*
77. 1915, 31 July – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
78. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
79. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
80. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems
81. A St Mary’s School Sensation

Population, Health, Mortality and Fertility
82. 1914: The Health of Batley School Children Generally, with a Particular Focus on St Mary’s School Children

St Mary of the Angels War Memorial: Thomas Curley

This is another updated mini-biography of one of the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley: Thomas Curley. Significantly more records and information are available for him since my initial research, which I started over a decade ago.

Thomas’ parents, Anthony Curley and Mary Rush, originated from County Mayo but married locally in 1895 [1]. Anthony is shown in various records working as a labourer [2], with Mary’s employment (when mentioned) a rag sorter [3].

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas was born on 28 July 1896 and baptised at St Mary’s less than a fortnight later [4]. I have not obtained his birth certificate, but some sources indicate a Batley birthplace, others Heckmondwike. It is clear though that the family lived in Heckmondwike by the time of the 1901 census [5]. Given that sons John (born 12 January 1898 [6]), Anthony (born 8 August 1899 [7]) and Willie (born 1 May 1904 [8]) were not baptised at St Mary’s, but at St Patrick’s in Heckmondwike, (now the Holy Spirit parish), it is likely the move to this neighbouring town took place before John’s birth.

By 1911 the family had returned to Batley, living at what would be their home for life, 25 Villiers Street [9]. This was in the well-known Skelsey Row vicinity of town, popular with the Irish Catholic community. This census also indicates Anthony and Mary had another child, as yet untraced, who died at an early age. Mary though was once again pregnant when the family filled in their census form. The the couple’s sixth child, James, was born on 26 July 1911 [10]. No further children are recorded.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SE, Revised 1905, Published 1908 – Shows the location of Villiers Street

By the time of this 1911 census, 14-year-old Thomas had put school well behind him and was already working as a coal mine hurrier. A working life down the pit all changed with the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.

Thomas enlisted in Dewsbury as a Private with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. His Service Number, 3/1578, indicates he joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, a depot/training unit. They were based at Pontefract at the outbreak of war, subsequently moving to Hull. Although his service papers have not survived, his number indicates he enlisted around the mid-point of August 1914, at just 18 years of age. He was clearly keen to do his bit.

His disembarkation date overseas, in the France and Flanders theatre of war, was 26 January 1915. Technically, at 18 years of age, he was too young to serve overseas – the minimum age being 19. His Medal Index Card or Medal Award Rolls do not indicate which King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry battalion he first went out to serve with. However, investigating others with similar service numbers and medal qualifying entitlement dates, does give clues. Pte. James William Bollington, Service Number 3/1577, had the same disembarkation date and died on 1 April 1916. He served with the Regiment’s 2nd Battalion. It was based at Bailleul, on the French/Belgium border at the end of January 1915. It received drafts of 98 and 72 men respectively on 28 and 30 January [11]. Perhaps Thomas was amongst these men.

Confirmation that this was indeed the battalion Thomas served with overseas comes in the form of a Daily Casualty List. The War Office produced these grim rolls. A version of these was also published in the newspapers, in particular The Times. Column upon column, densely packed with the names of the dead, missing and wounded, appeared day after day after day. Although published some time after the event, these lists would be poured over by families up and down the country, checking to see if relatives, friends and neighbours were listed, praying they were not. In the 4 October 1915 list Pte. T Curley, 1578, of the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was reported wounded.

This battalion’s Unit War Diary is scant on casualty details, with lots of ‘Quiet Day’ reports. In the weeks leading up to this 4 October list, the men rotated their time in trenches, or supplying digging and mining parties, around the Bray and Carnoy areas of the Somme. The only significant activity was the Germans detonating two mines on 4 September, blowing in some of the British listening posts [12].

Looking at Commonwealth War Graves burials for the battalion in the period 1 September to 4 October 1915, there are only six recorded. Five of these are in Carnoy Military Cemetery, the latest being 18 September, again indicative of nothing dramatic or large scale. Neither is there any report in the Batley News for the period to shed any further light on how Thomas sustained his injuries [13].

Thomas returned to action, possibly by now with the 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. For it was with this battalion that he sustained wounds which proved fatal.

Their Unit War Diary does not provide specific name details about Other Rank casualties; and again neither the Batley News or Batley Reporter and Guardian carried any report of Thomas’ injuries or subsequent death.

In terms of major action, the nearest time-wise to when he died was the Somme Battle of Le Transloy. Taking place between the 1-18 October 1916, the 23rd Division, which included the 8th KOYLI, assisted in the capture of Le Sars. This is a possibility. But in terms of it definitely being when Thomas was injured, it is speculation on my part.

The circumstances surrounding the 8th KOYLI involvement here is detailed in their Unit War Diary.

On 1 October, when in trenches near Martinpuich, the 8th KOYLI were tasked with the capture of two lines of German-held trenches. The diary account of the attack reads:

Battalion took up its position in assembly trenches behind DESTREMONT FARM just before dawn. The attack was timed for 3.15pm and the objective was the two lines of German trenches over a frontage of 300 yards in front of LE SARS. The advance was across 600 yards of open ground. At dawn our position was revealed and the assembly trenches were shelled continuously. About 25% of strength were then lost in casualties before the attack. At 3.15pm our artillery put up an intensive barrage and A. & D. Companies left their trenches clearly followed by C. Co[mpan]y in support. B. Co[mpan]y remained in reserve. The objective was gained easily despite a counter barrage by German artillery and work of consolidation on the two lines began. The objective was held all night against small counter attacks and at 2am B Co[mpan]y reinforced. At 4 am two companies came up from Brigade Reserve and took over O.G.2. While the remainder of the 8th K.O.Y. L.I. were withdrawn to O.G.1. [14]

By the time the O.G.1 contingent were relieved the following day, the battalion’s casualty count stood at 1 Officer killed, 2 missing, 8 wounded, along with 248 Other Rank casualties.

Despite this the operation was deemed a success. Major General Babington, the General Officer Commading the Division, sent his personal congratulations to them, writing as follows:

My dear Colonel. Will you please tell all ranks of your battalion how very pleased I am at their behaviour on Oct[ober] 1st. I congratulate them most heartily on their success which was due to their gallantry and the fine spirit they showed. Good luck to you all.
Yours Ever (Signed) J. M. Babington [15]

Additionally, a number of officers and men of the 8th KOYLI collected gallantry awards for the parts they played.

There then followed a period of quiet days resting, and undertaking working and carrying party duties before moving to billets prior to heading up to Ypres in mid-October. The only casualties mentioned in the period after 1 October are an accidental one on 19 October in the line at Zillebeke; and 1 Other Rank wounded at Ypres on 24 October 1916, where they were either bathing or assigned to working parties. But Thomas’ burial location makes these less likely options.

Wherever sustained, his injuries were sufficiently serious for him to be moved down the line to Rouen. The southern outskirts of the city had a number of military camps and hospitals. These included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. The great majority of those who died in these hospitals were buried in the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, and it was here that Thomas was buried when he succumbed to his wounds on 28 October 1916.

Thomas Curley’s Headstone, St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen – Photo by James Percival

Thomas was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. In addition to his parish church of St Mary of the Angels in Batley, he is also remembered on Batley War Memorial.

The family remained in the 25 Villiers Street home in the years following Thomas’ death. This is Anthony and Mary’s recorded home in Batley cemetery’s burial registers when they died in 1937 (Anthony was buried on 29 March, and Mary on 21 November). It is also where William and James are living in their 1939 Register entry. The streets went in Batley’s slum clearances in the 1960s period.

Villiers Street – unknown source

[1] GRO Indexes, September Quarter 1895, Dewsbury, 9B, Page 1182, accessed via Findmypast;
[2] 1901 and 1911 Censuses England and Wales, Labourer for Building Contractor in 1901 and Mason’s Labourer in 1911 Censuses, accessed via Findmypast, originals at The National Archives (TNA), References RG13/4261/141/28 and RG14/27245;
[3] Rag Sorter in the 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[4] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010;
[5] 1901 Census England and Wales, as above;
[6] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 19 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/22 Letter Code: KMEX
[7] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 91 New Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608A/011/44 Letter Code: KMEW; and GRO Death Indexes January Quarter 1984, Dewsbury, Register 384 Volume 4
[8] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 25 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/32 Letter Code: KMEX; and GRO Death Indexes, January Quarter 1970, Bradford, 2B, Page 735;
[9] 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[10] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010, also his GRO death registration in 1974. Note the 1939 Register gives the date as 27 July;
[11] 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1914 – 31 December 1915, TNA Reference WO95/1551/1
[12] Ibid;
[13] The Batley News editions between 9 to 30 October 1915 have been checked to date. Earlier dates and the Batley Reporter for the period have not been examined;
[14] 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1915 – 31 October 1917, TNA Reference WO95/2187/2
[15] Ibid

Sources (other than mentioned in the notes):
• 1905 OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, https://www.cwgc.org/
Daily Casualty Lists, The Genealogist website;
History of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War 1914-1918 ; Bond, Reginald C. London: Lund, Humphries, 1929.
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers’ Effects Registers, accessed via Ancestry, original record
National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 367001-368500; Reference: 197;
• WW1 Pension Ledgers and Index Cards 1914-1923
, accessed via Ancestry and Fold3, original record Western Front Association; London, England; Pension Record Cards, Reference: 055/0235/CUN-CAR and PRC Ledgers, Reference: 687/04D;

Pro Patria, Pro Rege, Pro Familia: WW1 Centenary Visit

Last weekend I returned to Ypres. A visit I felt compelled to make. 19 September marked the centenary of the death of my great grand uncle, Jesse Hill.[1] So it seemed appropriate to visit his grave in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

It was a weekend full of coincidences. And an unforgettable one. The events of 100 years ago still resonate emotionally with many today.

I visited Jesse’s grave on Friday evening, the eve of the anniversary. The headstone is beneath trees and as a result every time I’ve visited it’s rather mud-splattered. Friday was no different. However when I returned first thing on Saturday morning, the anniversary of his death, the headstone had been cleaned!

There was only one other person in the cemetery at 9.30 that morning – and it was someone I know from home! He was visiting the graves of Dewsbury men from 6th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), comrades of Jesse, who died at around the same time. So a huge coincidence that we’d both travelled 350 miles and turned up in that cemetery at the exact same time.

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Before I left I placed a poppy cross, brought all the way from Batley, on Jesse’s grave.

From Unit War Diary maps, I’d located the area occupied by the 6th KOYLI the morning Jesse died. So on Saturday afternoon I walked around Railway Wood and what was the vicinity of the ‘H’ Sector trenches. Walking the ground brought home the frighteningly close proximity of the British Front Line to the German trenches in a way maps cannot. And it made the concept of “friendly fire” incidents far more understandable.

RE Grave, Railway Wood

RE Grave, Railway Wood

On that walk my husband found two pieces of shrapnel. It’s not unusual, but then again in all my many visits it’s only happened to us on two previous occasions – so it did feel incredible that this find occurred on the 100th anniversary and in that very location.

On Sunday morning I returned to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Unbelievably a second poppy cross lay on Jesse’s grave. A look I the visitor register confirmed that another Hill descendent also had the urge to pay an anniversary visit Jesse’s grave.

Jesse Hill's headstone

Jesse Hill’s headstone

Later that morning I attended a Rededication Service at Birr Cross Roads cemetery. Thanks to the patience, perseverance and unstinting efforts of Australian volunteer researchers, three soldiers’ headstones previously carrying the “unknown” epitaph now have identities; and the families of these three Australian soldiers, Pte Huntsman, Pte Eacott and Pte Neilson, now have named graves to visit. It speaks volumes of the emotional pull of the events so long ago that families of all three soldiers travelled halfway across the world to be at the service. It was a privilege to be there too.

Birr Cross Roads Rededication Service

Birr Cross Roads Rededication Service

Other visits that day included Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial. The sheer size of the cemetery even after many visits is difficult to take in with 11,956 First World War servicemen buried or commemorated here, of which in excess of 8,000 are unidentified. The list of almost 35,000 names on the memorial is equally staggering.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial

I returned home on Monday. On the way back to Calais I stopped off at the first CWGC site I ever visited: the majestic, lion-flanked Ploegsteert Memorial. Although I’m a Rugby League fan, as it’s the Rugby Union World Cup it seemed appropriate to pop across the road to call by the grave of England Rugby Union captain Ronald Poulton Palmer at Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery.

Ploegsteert Memorial

Ploegsteert Memorial

Ronald Poulton Palmer's Grave

Ronald Poulton Palmer’s Grave

Final stop was Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. I wanted to visit the graves of three men whose lives I researched and who have connections to my home Parish of Batley St Mary’s: John Collins, Henry Groa(r)k and Patrick Lyons. The cemetery has an excellent visitor centre with information about the soldiers buried there. I’ve supplied information about the St Mary’s men, and there is a webpage if others wish to do the same.[2] There is also a wall containing some of their images. The first one I noticed was remarkably familiar – the photo of Patrick Lyons. It seemed a fitting end to my latest visit to Belgium.

Lijssenthoek Visitor Centre

Lijssenthoek Visitor Centre

[1] See blog post https://t.co/JcKGrZVh7t

[2] http://www.lijssenthoek.be/en/page/160/visitor-centre.html

Pte Jesse Hill, 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry): 13 November 1895 to 19 September 1915. Never Forgotten

I’m hoping to travel to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery again soon. I’ve been several times over the past few years. But this will be a particularly poignant visit. It will mark 100 years since the death of my great grandad’s youngest brother Jesse Hill, killed in action in WW1.

Jesse was the son of Joseph Hill and his second wife Mary Ann Simpson. He was born on 13 November 1895 at Rouse Mill Lane, Soothill and grew up in the family’s home on Spurr Street, just across the road from Batley railway station and all the grand cloth selling houses which lined Station Road.

An extremely popular boy, he attended Mill Lane Council School where he was a prominent member of both the school cricket and football team.

After leaving school he joined the finishing department at Messrs Wrigley and Parker’s Greenhill Mills minutes down the road from his home. This was one of the many mills upon which Batley’s fortunes were built upon.

Whilst Jesse was in the early stages of his working life older brother Charlie enlisted in the Army. Jesse therefore had direct contact with a serving soldier and first-hand accounts of military life.

When war was declared on 4 August 1914 the persuasiveness of the recruiting sergeant’s triple-pronged seduction techniques of a general appeal to patriotism, the more specific exhortation of defence of your country and women-folk from the barbaric Germans and the desperate desire to avoid accusations of shirking duty and the accompanying dreaded white feather of cowardice kindled a response in Jesse.

Swept along with a tide of emotion and the fear of missing out on adventure because, after all, it would be over quickly, Jesse was one of those young men who in their thousands gathered in the Dewsbury recruiting office and recruiting offices the length and breadth of the Kingdom to take the King’s Shilling. Jesse even added a year to his age in order to ensure he would be accepted. And with a cursory medical and a few swift pen strokes on 7 August 1914 Jesse was in the Army for the duration, duly assigned to the newly formed 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), (KOYLI).

Pte Jesse Hill, 11598, 6th Bn The King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)

Pte Jesse Hill, 11598, 6th Bn The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)

From Pontefract the Battalion moved initially to Woking and then in November 1914 to Witley Camp, Surrey one of the many temporary army training camps flung up in those early months of the war. In February 1915 they moved to Aldershot for their final preparations prior to deployment overseas.

It was whilst at Aldershot and with embarkation for France and the Front Line looming that Jesse wrote his will. He used the standard Army Form designed specifically for the purpose. The harsh reality that he may never return may have struck home by filling in this one basic form. His will, dated 17 March 1915, was witnessed by two Birstall men, Thomas Kelly and John W Learoyd. He named his now married half-sister Nellie Armstrong, daughter of Mary Ann Simpson, as Executor.

The will stated that in the event of his death and following discharge of debts and funeral expenses, everything was to go to his sister Martha, a testimony to the closeness of Jesse and his youngest sister.

On 20 May 1915 an advance party from the Battalion were sent from Aldershot to Southampton in preparation for departure to France. On 21 May 1915 the main body of men split into two groups and, accompanied by music played by the band of the 8th Devon Regiment, marched to the railway station at Aldershot ready for departure to Folkestone. By 11pm that night they arrived in Folkestone where they embarked on a cross channel steamer and, after a calm crossing, arrived in Boulogne in the early hours of 22 May. From there they marched the two miles to Ostrohove Camp where they remained for just one night before moving up the line and into Belgium by the end of the month.

Belgium was the sector which was the focus of sustained fighting at this point of the war. Only a month earlier the first gas attack on the Western Front, perpetrated by the Germans, took place initiating the 2nd Battle of Ypres. 2nd Ypres ended on 25 May pushing the Allies back, compressing the Salient and bringing the Front Line closer to Allied held Ypres. Reinforcements were urgently needed, and it was to this “hot spot” that the 6th KOYLI and Jesse Hill were sent.

This is where they remained for the next few months, undergoing the rotational routine of trench warfare. Typically most men spent five days in the frontline, five in reserve, five back at the frontline and finally five in reserve. However, this was not fixed because, if circumstances demanded it, they could spend anything between four and eight days in the frontline trenches. While some men were in the front fire trenches, others would occupy the support lines, ready to provide reinforcement when hard-pressed in an attack or a raid. Finally the battalion was removed from the frontline trenches and taken to the rear areas, a process known as relief and carried out at the dead of night via the communication trenches. But even when in reserve trenches they were kept busy and still at risk, undertaking sentry duty and providing digging, wiring and ration parties.

This became Jesse’s daily routine in the areas around Ypres, Vlamertinghe, Hooge, Sanctuary Wood areas, frequently negotiating the Menin Road and Hellfire Corner to get from Ypres to the frontline trenches.

During these months he had a couple of narrow escapes. On one occasion he and four others were buried by shell wreckage; on another time a “motor char-a-banc” in which he was travelling overturned and Jesse sustained what were described as comparatively slight injuries.

On the evening of 15 September 1915 it was the 6th KOYLI’s turn to have another spell in the trenches leaving Ypres through the Menin Gate, up the Menin Road and into the frontline. It appears that Jesse was in “A” Company in H16, H17, S17, H16A and H15A trenches.

The Area Around the

The area around the 1915 “H” Sector Trenches, taken on one of my earlier visits to Belgium

It was all fairly standard stuff. During the relief, always a dangerous time, the Battalion lost a Machine Gun Sergeant and four men just after arrival in H14 to a large shell. On the 16 September 1915 the diary notes continuous shelling from their own guns behind the lines, as they were trying an experimental shell. The German reply was not vigorous. All in all the 16 September was a fairly quiet night, with 60 more men coming up from base as the Battalion had been allocated far too much work and were having to carry their own rations. 17 September followed a similar pattern. Shelling increased from both sides on 18 September and six men from “B” Company were killed as a result, but overall once again the night was described as “peaceful comparatively”.

Friday 19 September dawned with heavy bombardment from the Allied guns at 4.50am. These rounds fell short of the German Lines and gradually became shorter and shorter until they were raining rapidly on the British held trenches, mainly around H18 and H19. However, because the telephone was out and the Forward Observation Officer had been killed, the Officer Commanding in the trenches could not report back to the guns. Shells were now hitting H18, H17A, the bombing post at H18A and H19 and casualties sustained – both dead and wounded.

19 September is the day that official records, both CWGC and his Army Death Certificate, state Jesse died. If so, he was killed by this so-called friendly fire.

However, there is a small question mark. On the first anniversary of his death in September 1916 an “In Memoriam” notice appeared in the local newspapers. This indicates that the family believed his death occurred on 20 September.

In Memoriam Notice from

In Memoriam Notice from “The Dewsbury District News” of 30 September 916

The Unit War Diary for 20 September notes that at 4.55am High Explosives from Hill 60 landed at Charing Cross killing six men.

Pte Healey wrote to Jesse’s family and the details appeared in the local papers in mid-October. The newspaper article puts it bluntly as follows: 

“A companion named Private Healey wrote to the relatives a few days ago informing them that Private Hill met his death suddenly, both legs and part of his body being blown off, and an official intimation confirms the sad news”.

So, although official records state Jesse’s death took place on 19 September, it may conceivably have been 20 September.

CWGC records show that after the war Jesse’s body was recovered in June 1919. The trench map reference appears to relate to the Ypres area.  I initially believed he may have been buried in what was known Ypres Reservoir Middle Cemetery, (also called “Prison Cemetery No.2” and “Middle Prison Cemetery”), which was located near the prison and reservoir. It was used in August and September 1915, and rarely afterwards. It contained the graves of 107 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 41 of which were from the 6th KOYLI.  However a further analysis of CWGC records appears to discount this theory. After the War the graves from Middle Prison Cemetery, other small burial grounds around Ypres and graves from the Salient battlefields were brought together in one cemetery, Ypres Reservoir. This is Jesse’s final resting place.

Jesse Hill's Headstone - Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Jesse Hill’s Headstone – Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Jesse was awarded the awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. He is remembered on the Batley War Memorial and the Soothill Upper War Memorial at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton.  The UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects show following his death that the Army owed his sister, Martha, as next of kin, £1 13s 3d and a £3 10s war gratuity.  

Jesse Hill Batley War Memorial

Batley War Memorial Inscription – Jesse’s name, along wit the name of his nephew Percy


  • Ancestry.co.uk – British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929: http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
  • “Batley News” – 9 October 1915
  • Birth Certificate
  • CWGC: http://www.cwgc.org/
  • Death Certificate
  • “Dewsbury District News” – 16 October 1915 and 30 September 1916
  • FindMyPast – Census information, Soldiers Died in the Great War: http://www.cwgc.org/
  • Gov.UK Website – Find a Soldier’s Will: https://www.gov.uk/probate-search
  • The National Archives – Unit War Diary, 43 Infantry Brigade: 6 Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. WO 95/1906/1: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
  • “War Register and Records of War Service 1914-1920 Urban District of Soothill Upper” – Rev W E Cleworth MA
  • Photos of Jesse Hill, “H” sector trenches, headstone and Batley War  Memorial inscription – my own


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Three Men; two towns; one Parish (Batley, Poperinge and St Mary’s in WW1)

This is the story of three men, a series of coincidences and a twist of fate linking the West Yorkshire town of Batley, its Roman Catholic Parish of St Mary of the Angels and the Belgian town of Poperinghe[1] during World War 1.  The men are Michael James Flynn, Thomas Foley and Julien Cornelius Kestelyn[2].  Michael Flynn and Thomas Foley, whose lives followed remarkably similar patterns, were Army Reservists who re-joined their regiments at the outbreak of war. Julien Kestelyn was a Belgian priest.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley

Michael Flynn was born in Batley on 17 December 1879 and baptised at St Mary’s in January 1880. His parents Thomas Flynn and Ellen Egan came from County Mayo, the area where the majority of the Irish population of Batley originated. By 1871, when Thomas and Ellen married, Irish born families and their children made up around ten per cent of the town’s population. Michael was one of the Flynn’s seven children.  Thomas Flynn supported his family by working initially as a coal miner and then as a pit banksman, the mine surface worker responsible for raising and lowering the cage.  In  1911 he was a night watchman in the employ of Batley Corporation.

In civilian life Michael followed his father’s coalmining footsteps, working as a coal hewer. This was the man who extracted the coal from the coal face.  He plied his trade in the coal mines of Batley and Barnsley but at the outbreak of war he was back in Batley and employed at Howley Park Colliery.

In addition to his mining job Michael also served in the Militia for six years.  In March 1902, at the tail end of the 2nd Boer War, he joined the 3rd King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). His attestation papers describe him as 5’5½” tall and weighing 130lbs.  He had a ruddy complexion, dark grey eyes and dark hair.  He had five scars on the small of his back down his spine and his left little finger had been deformed as a result of an accident.

At the time Michael enlisted, the Militia was a volunteer force, seen as an alternative to the Regular Army.  After volunteering and undergoing basic training, men returned to civilian life but reported for regular periods of military training. They were not normally obliged to serve abroad, although some did during the South African War (1899 -1902).   In 1908 as a result of the Haldane reforms, the Militia battalions were turned into Special Reserve battalions, which trained part-time just as the Militia had, but would provide drafts to reinforce the regular battalions of their regiments in the event of war. It was in the midst of these changes that Michael was discharged as time-expired in March 1908, returning to his hometown and parish.

Thomas Foley was from a remarkably similar background to Michael Flynn. Two years Michael’s junior, he was born in Batley on 10 December 1881 and baptised at St Mary’s later that month.   His parents, John and Bridget Foley (neé Cafferty) were, like Michael’s, from County Mayo. Like the Flynn’s, the Foley’s had seven children.  And, in another similarity, Thomas’ father also undertook a number of different jobs to provide for his family, though these were far more disparate than the ones carried out by Michael’s father.  John Foley’s jobs included a mason’s labourer, gas stoker, coal miner and latterly a willeyer in the shoddy industry of Batley.  This job involved feeding the willeying machine used to break down the rag and wool, thus separating and cleaning the fibres.  Employed at J T & J Taylor’s Blakeridge Mills, he was described as an industrious and well-respected employee.

Like Michael, Thomas was a coal hewer who enlisted with the Militia.  At the time of his enlistment he was employed by Critchley’s.  He signed up slightly earlier than Michael, in November 1899, just before his 18th birthday. According to his attestation papers the 5’4½”, 112lbs, fresh complexioned, blue-eyed, red-headed teen joined the 3rd West Riding Regiment.[3]  Whereas Michael’s Militia service was home-based, Thomas did serve overseas as his military service coincided with the 2nd Boer War. The mobilisation of Militia needed an official order of embodiment into the Army and this was announced in November and December 1899. Thomas’ record shows that he was “embodied” with the Regiment on 22 February 1900 and “disembodied” on 10 May 1902.

His experiences in the Militia must have given him a taste for Army life, because in March 1903 he enlisted in the Regular Army, joining The Cheshire Regiment.   He signed up for 12 years – three years in the Regulars followed by nine years in the Army Reserve.  By now he was a shade over 5’6”[4] weighed 130lbs and had a heart tattoo on his left forearm.   His conduct whilst in the Army was described as good. However his records do show the occasional instances of drunkenness (especially in his early days around Chester), violently resisting escort, attempting to damage Government property, absenting himself and using threatening language towards a NCO.   Interestingly, given his Irish background, one occasion was on St Patrick’s Day 1904 when he absented himself from Tattoo until he was found drunk and creating a disturbance in barracks at Aldershot.

In terms of skills, his musketry classification was 1st Class and he passed instruction classes in swimming. The latter is no surprise. His old school of St Mary’s was renowned locally for its excellent swimmers, regularly winning local inter-school competitions.

Thomas went onto the Army Reserve in the spring of 1906, returning to Batley to work as a miner, this time at Messrs Crawshaw and Warburton’s Shaw Cross Colliery.  And whilst living in the town, like Michael, he became a member of the St Mary’s (Batley) Branch of the National Catholic Benefit and Thrift Society, a Catholic insurance organisation.

He remained in Batley for around seven years before deciding to seek better wages abroad. On 24 April 1913 he set sail from Liverpool on board the “Arabic” bound for the port of Halifax, intending to make a new life in Canada. Some reports indicate he settled in St John, New Brunswick. Others state Kensington.

Britain’s entry into the War on 4 August 1914 was to change everything for both men. As Reservists, Michael and Thomas were re-called to the Colours: The former to the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry); the latter to the 1st Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment.

Thomas was one of many British Army Reservists who returned to England from Canada on-board the “Corinthian”. The ship sailed from Montreal and Thomas embarked at Quebec, docking in the port of London on 4 September 1914.  He enjoyed an unexpected four days furlough at the end of September 1914 which enabled him to visit his family and friends in Batley for a final time, before re-joining his Regiment.  He also left his medals, including from the South Africa campaign, with his family for safe-keeping.

At the beginning of October 1914 Thomas went to France. The 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment was desperately in need of re-enforcements. According to the Unit War Diary, it had lost 78 per cent of its strength in the retreat after the 24 August 1914 Battle of Mons.

Michael arrived in France a couple of months later in early December 1914. His Battalion had also taken part in the retreat from Mons.   Their War Diary shows that they incurred 600 casualties following the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August 1914. In common with all other Battalions on the Front, a steady leach of men was maintained thereafter so reinforcements were continually required to feed the beast of war.

By the New Year both men were in Belgium.  In the meantime an influx of Belgium refugees were arriving in Britain.  It is estimated that 250,000 made their home here during the course of the war affecting all areas, including Batley.

There was much sympathy for the plight of “Plucky Little Belgium” and widespread horror at the atrocities inflicted upon it by the invading Germans. This translated into an outpouring of offers of accommodation and a network of voluntary relief work across Britain, with Belgian Relief Funds established countrywide to support the refugees.

At the beginning of October 1914 the Citizens’ Sub-Committee for Belgian Relief accepted Batley’s offer of accommodation at Shaftsbury House, Upper Batley.  The doctors of Batley also undertook to provide their services free of charge for the refugees.

The first batch of 25 Belgians arrived in the town later that month. They were greeted at the railway station by a Mayoral welcoming party and cheered on by thousands of townsfolk as they made their way to their new Batley home. The full complement of refugees was listed in the local paper, accompanied by selected photos and tales of frightful brutalities suffered at the hands of the German invaders, all serving to whip up public support for the war.

List of  Belgian refugees arriving in Batley in October 1914

List of Belgian refugees arriving in Batley in October 1914

By early November the Batley Belgian Relief Fund stood at £141 5s 10½d.  At the end of the month with offers of more accommodation, the town had around 50 refugees in a number of locations with the papers continuing to provide details of the names, ages, abode and occupations of what were paternalistically referred to as “our refugees”.

One month later the Relief Fund had doubled, standing at £282 12s 8½d, including a 5th donation from St Mary’s RC Church. The latest sum contributed by parishioners amounted to £3 12s 10d.

The papers provided regular progress updates of the “Belgian guests,” including employment, illnesses suffered, hospitalisation, deaths, day-to-day activities, news of further arrivals and departures and information about funds raised to support them.  All of which ramped up sympathy and a willingness to assist.

Fundraising and helping Belgian refugees was a way for the people of Britain to feel as if they were contributing to the war effort whilst their husbands, sons and fathers were away fighting for that plucky little country. This included the families of the military men of Batley St Mary’s, who may have had an added incentive to donate given the Catholicism of Belgium.

Thomas Foley’s last letter home, which his parents received on 3 March 1915, was described as “cheerful” and intimated that he was in the best of health.

It appears that on 7 March 1915 whilst in action Thomas suffered fatal injuries.   His  Casualty Form  notes that he was treated initially by the 94th Field Ambulance for what was described as a “bullet wound left shoulder, right of neck and lung injured”[5].   From there he was transferred down the line to Number 3 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) Clearing Hospital at Poperinghe. The town was well situated, being the nearest sizeable and relatively safe location to Ypres, suffering only the occasional long range bombardment.  So at this stage of the war it was an ideal position for a CCS.

The purpose of CCS’s was to treat the injured so they could be returned to duty quickly or evacuated to a Base Hospital. They moved location frequently.  According to some records Number 3 CCS was at Hazebrouck during March, the period of Thomas’ death, and did not move until April to Poperinghe. But the Poperinghe location is further confirmed in his entry in “The Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects”.

Thomas was too seriously injured to transfer to a Base Hospital. He died from his wounds at the CCS on 11 March. His Casualty Form records his burial in the military cemetery of Poperinghe and indicates that his grave was marked with a cross duly inscribed.  His family received official news of his death in early April.

Grave of Pte Thomas Foley DCM, 7114, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

Grave of Pte Thomas Foley DCM, 7114, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

It later transpired that, whilst injured, he performed acts of heroism and courage and for these actions he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).  According to the Batley News he was the first Batley man to win the coveted distinction. The full citation, which was published in the supplement to the London Gazette on 30 June 1915, said:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, notably on the night of March 7th, 1915, when he went out in front of our trenches to bring in some stretcher bearers who had lost their way.  Subsequently he went out three times under heavy fire to bring in wounded men, and although wounded more than once himself he continued to carry out his duty.”

The medal was forwarded to his father in September 1915.  Along with the medal came a letter from Major Parr from the Infantry Records at Shrewsbury, on behalf of the Colonel of the Regiment.  Major Parr wrote:

“In forwarding the medal I trust you will allow me to add my sympathy in the loss of your son, and trust that the decoration for his gallant conduct may be some consolation in your trouble”.

John Foley said of his son, ‘Although I am his father, I do not hesitate to say that a finer, straighter, or cleaner lad has not set foot on the fields of France’.  Only a month later, on 15 October 1915, Thomas’ mother, Bridget, died

A month after Thomas’ death, Michael Flynn died from wounds in the same CCS on 12 April 1915.  His last letter arrived home on the day he died.  In it he said that they were having a rough time.

It is unclear when he received his fatal injuries.  But in the period leading up to his death, from 1–10 April 1915 the 2nd KOYLI were alternating between the support and front line trenches in the Verbrande Molen area, south east of Ypres.  On 1 April the Unit War Diary notes that although the enemy’s artillery was active, it did little damage.  This changed on 5 April when they were in the front line trenches and “D” Company in Trench 35 were heavily shelled and bombed at intervals throughout the day.  They suffered 14 casualties.  The shelling and bombing continued the following day.  The 2nd KOYLI received support from Belgian artillery but unfortunately one of their shells fell short landing in 36 Trench, wounding 5 men from “A” Company.  They were relieved later that day and went to the support dugouts, with “D” Company returning to Ypres.  But even at Ypres they were not safe, a shell hitting Battalion HQ on 7 April causing more casualties.  Late on 7 April those companies in the support trenches were back in the front line trenches, relieving the Dorsets.  This was a quieter period for the Battalion, with heavy firing to the left of their positions.   They were relieved by the Dorsets on the 10 April and returned to billets to rest.

A companion, Private Matthew McDonald,   who had been with Michael at Ypres which he called “the death trap” wrote, “It is not war, but murder, out there.”

Michael was buried just one row away from Thomas in Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery and their names appear next to each other in the CWGC Cemetery Register.

Grave of Pte Michael Flynn, 15338, 2nd Battalion The King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

Grave of Pte Michael Flynn, 15338, 2nd Battalion The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

But there is one further, less transparent, link between the Parish of St Mary’s and Poperinghe.  And that link is a Belgian priest, Fr Julien Kestelyn. He was born on 12 August 1888 at Krombeke, around five miles away Poperinghe but by October 1914 he was at the town’s Catholic College of St Stanislas’.  His life too was altered by the war, bringing about his move to a foreign land. But this was a move in the opposite direction to the St Mary’s duo, from Belgium to England.

Newspaper reports in Batley indicate that Father Kestelyn was ordained a priest in the trenches in the early days of the conflict, acted as a Chaplain for the Belgian Army and also assisted in Red Cross work at the Front. Other sources state he was ordained a priest in De Panne, a coastal town in Flanders during April 1915 by the Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen.

He came to England shortly afterwards to act as Chaplain to the Belgian refugees in the Heavy Woollen District[6].  Initially, from May 1915, he was based at St Patrick’s, Birstall but by the beginning of June 1916 he transferred to a neighbouring Parish, becoming one of the priests at Batley St Mary’s.

In addition to his ministerial work within the Parish and for the Belgian refugee community throughout the district, he had a genuine interest in academia and education generally. This manifested itself in a number of areas.  According to the papers he was involved in opening a school for Belgian children in Huddersfield[7]. He produced literary papers and gave lectures on Ireland. And, in September 1918, he secured an Intermediate BA at Leeds University.

In the final months of his ministry at St Mary’s, the baptisms he conducted included that of a nephew of Thomas Foley.[8]

Fr Kestelyn left Batley in July 1919 to return home to Belgium and take up a post once again at the College in Poperinghe, teaching English amongst other subjects.

Father Julien Kestelyn

Father Julien Kestelyn

Prior to his departure he was presented with a cheque £130 and other tokens of appreciation from St Mary’s.    A few words from the farewell address by parishioners illustrate the high regard in which they held the Belgian priest. Wishing him health and strength to continue his work back home they also said:

“For your untiring care and deep devotion you have earned our loving gratitude, and your memory will be ever cherished in the hearts of all at St Mary’s”.

Sadly his health did not hold. Falling ill at around Christmas 1919 he never recovered. He died in Poperinghe on 9 March 1920.  The news was greeted with great sorrow in Batley and Birstall. A mass was celebrated at St Patrick’s, Birstall led by Dean John Joseph Lea of St Mary’s, with whom Fr Kestelyn had worked, and involving priests from across the Diocese.

So this is the story of two single men from the same Roman Catholic Parish in Batley whose lives and backgrounds followed similar patterns, who served in different Regiments, died in the same CCS just a month apart and are buried in close proximity in the same cemetery in Poperinghe.  And a Catholic priest, prior to the First World War working in Poperinghe, who moved to the Parish from which these men hailed, ministered to their families’ spiritual needs at a traumatic time in their lives and returned to post-war Belgium  only to die in Poperinghe within months of his homecoming. All were in their early 30’s.


[1] The modern spelling is Poperinge

[2] In England he was referred to as Father Julian Kestelyn.

[3] Newspaper reports state that this service was with the West Yorkshire Regiment.

[4] He had reached 5’7” when he transferred to the Army Reserve three years later.

[5] Curiously, the Field Ambulance records treating these injuries on the 6 March and transferring him to hospital on 7 March.

[6] This is the area around Batley and Dewsbury in West Yorkshire.  It was so-named because the shoddy and mungo wool industry on which the region’s prosperity was based was used to produce heavy coatings, duffels and blankets. Ironically, as a result of the War, the demand for its products soared.

[7] The priest on the left of this photo of Belgian schoolchildren in Huddersfield may possibly be Fr Kestelyn http://www.examiner.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/belgian-invasion-huddersfield-1914-6898591

[8] 16 March 1919 baptism of John Reginald, the son of Thomas’ Foley’s sister Mary Lizzie.