Rowley, John Thomas

Screenshot 2016 12 26 11 09 38Advertiser 18 Dec 1915

Advertiser 25 Dec 1915

Screenshot 2016 12 26 11 13 02


On Tuesday Private John Thomas Rowley, 1/5 S. Staffords, died in the Military Hospital, Wordsley, from diabetes. He was the son of Mr T Rowley, 37, Albion Street, Brierley Hill. The funeral is today at Brierley Hill Church.

County Express 18 December 1915


Parade today (Saturday), at 3pm, at headquarters, full dress, for duty at the funeral of the late Pte. T. Rowley, 1/5 South Staffs. Regiment.
Parade next Thursday, at 7.30.
Divisional Superintendent.

County Express 18 December 1915

Thomas Rowley: Wesleyan Roll of Honour County Express 23 June 1917

War Memorial preservation – Wordsley School offers to raise funds.

It’s good to see some work has been done to replace the bayonet on Brierley Hill war memorial as well as painting some of the rails adjacent to it.

There’s more good news too.

Recently Wordlsey School indicated that they would like to adopt the memorial as their commemorative project for the Great War. One idea is that their students could raise money to restore it over the next four years whilst the commemorations are taking place across the country.

Two weeks ago we had a meeting with the council’s conservation officer at the Memorial.

The figure of a soldier on top of the memorial is looking tired to say the least. This was made from Sicilian Marble and has struggled to stand the test of time. It is, after all, located in one of the most exposed positions in Brierley Hill.

Of the four scenes depicted beneath the figure, one on each side of the memorial, three are in fairly good condition. But the one depicting the sinking of the Arethusa and the rescue of German sailors is in very poor condition. If you didn’t know what the scene was supposed to be you’d never guess.

All of which resulted in a fascinating discussion about what ‘conservation’ and ‘restoration’ actually meant.

Is it best, for example, to commission a copy of the original panel as a replacement and store the original elsewhere? Or is it better to coat the panel with a chemical to prevent further deterioration? Or should we leave it to weather with time and produce interpretive materials instead?

And then…who is it who should decide?

In the end we thought it would be best to meet in September to determine a way forward and perhaps to hold a town meeting. Watch this space.

The day Lord Ednam unveiled Brierley Hill war memorial

Opening ceremony
The unveiling of Brierley Hill war memorial, 12th November 1921

The following article is from the County Express 19th November 1921 and describes the unveiling ceremony of Brierley Hill war memorial. The article includes a list of those commemorated on the memorial.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The photo, which has had to be cropped for the web in the article above, is shown below:


How Stanley Harley won his DCM in 1917

On being honoured by Brierley Hill District Council in September 1917, Lance Corporal Stanley Harley modestly accepted a gift of a watch.  He didn’t give a full story of his achievements though – this would have been a breech of duty given the secretive nature of war.

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Following the war a book “The Worcestershire Regiment in The Great War” by H. Fitm. Stacke was published. The volume is available to view in the reference library in Stourbridge. It gives details of the “Action of Bouchavesnes” on 4th March 1917 where Harley won his medal.

As dawn broke (5.30 a.m.) on March 4th the British artillery opened a barrage fire. The opening crash of the bombardment served as signal (This was a variant on the usual method of synchronised watches) to the battalions detailed for the attack, and all along the front of the British trenches troops swarmed out and poured forward in a series of waves. The 1st Worcestershire were in the centre of the attacking line, with the 2nd Northamptonshire on the left. The right flank of the Worcestershire was on the road from Bouchavesnes to Moislains; south of the road the 2nd Royal Berkshire continued the front of attack.

The attack was immediately successful.

The German front line,”Pallas Trench,” was easily overrun and the attackers swept onward to their further objective, “Fritz Trench,” the German second line.

Led by Captain N. H. Stone, Lieutenant R. A. O’Donovan and 2/Lieut. J. A. Smithin the Worcestershire platoons charged “Fritz Trench.” These three officers were awarded the M.C.

There was a short but desperate struggle. The enemy resisted to the last, but the attackers were not to be denied.

For a few minutes a German machine-gun held up the onslaught, but the gun was rushed and captured by a party headed by Sergeant T. Guest. Sergeant Guest was awarded the D.C.M. for his actions.

Within a quarter of an hour from the start “Fritz Trench” had been secured.

In many places the trench had been so battered as to be unrecognisable; the attackers passed over it and pushed on down the slope to “Bremen Trench,” the enemy’s third line.

There they bombed dugouts and roped in prisoners until it was realised that our own shells were falling closely around. Recognising from this that they had gone too far, those foremost of the victors fell back and rejoined the main body of the Battalion, who were busily working to prepare the captured positions for defence, under the personal direction of Colonel Grogan.

The Colonel was everywhere, controlling the dispositions and the entrenchment, inspiring all by his own cheerfulness and courage. Colonel Grogan was awarded the D.S.O. for his gallant leadership.

From “Fritz Trench” good observation could be obtained over the whole of the Moislains Valley. The captured position was in fact very important, and the whole weight of the enemy’s artillery and infantry was at once thrown in to regain it.

The work of consolidation was continued under an ever increasing bombardment from all directions, and soon the enemy commenced a series of violent counter-attacks. Most of those counter-attacks were made against the flanking Battalions and a fierce bombing struggle raged all the morning around “Fritz Cut,” immediately to the left of the Worcestershire line; but presently the enemy began to dash forward in increasing numbers up the open slopes.

The Worcestershire platoons opened a hot fire. Lance-Corporal F. H. S. Harley, in particular, did notable execution with his Lewis-gun, and the remnant of the attacking enemy were driven to cover. L/Cpl. Harley was awarded the D.C.M.

All day the enemy’s shells beat against their lost trenches, but by nightfall “Fritz Trench” was securely in our hands and the firing died away.

Later the 2nd West Yorkshire came up to take over the captured ground, and the 1st Worcestershire, weary but triumphant, tramped back to “Asquith Flats.”

The casualties, nearly all due to the enemy’s shell-fire, had been very heavy—over 200, including ten officers. Killed, 6 officers (Capt. R. P. Birtles, Lieut. R. M. Ross, 2/Lts. W. E. Deakin, F. M. Marrs, A. P. Rosling and W. Ward) and 44 men. Wounded 4 officers and 358 other ranks. Missing 11.

Further details can be found at


Brierley Hill war memorial: a seismograph of war

Mapping the numbers of deaths against dates produces a graph which reminded me of a seismograph: highlighting some of the most awful days and an awful awful war.


Clusters on the graph would represent periods of activity by a regiment. The peaks highlight some of the worst battles of the war.

The Spring Offensive

The greatest peak occurs on 21st March 1918.  This say was the launch of the German Spring Offensive.

“The (german) artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on March 21st. The bombardment hit targets over and area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours…”

The Germans made significant advances on this foggy morning.  By the end of the day the British had lost nearly 20,000 (twenty thousand!) dead and 35,000 wounded,

Reuben Chilton was serving alongside Brierley Hill men with 2/6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment.  The excellent website gives his description of that day:

The morning of March 21st was marked by the normal morning bombardment and an abnormally thick mist, making it impossible to see more than fifty yards ahead.

The first symptom of the coming evil was the fact that the normal bombardment did not diminish and cease in the normal way. On the contrary, it increased steadily, and eventually it became terrific, covering the whole area of our lines as far back as the transport.

Everywhere were heavy casualties, and notwithstanding the fact that through the mist the first small groups of the enemy were seen to be approaching, ” C ” Company could not go forward to support the others, because of the great gulf of impassable shelling between them. Of the fate of “A,” ” B ” and ” D ” Companies there is little to be said.

They were overwhelmed in the mist by the great advance, as a village lying at the foot of a volcano is completely submerged beneath the great stream of down-pouring lava.

” C ” Company was ordered to hold Railway Reserve Trench to the last, and there, under the command of Captain Jordan, it made its stand. The mist at the time (about a quarter-past eight o’clock) was rising slightly, and the sight it revealed was not a comforting one—masses of the enemy, south-east and soon directly south of Battalion Hqrs.

The German bombardment then lifted, in order to avoid its own troops. Battalion Hqrs. were rushed, and the CO. (Colonel Stuart Wortley) was killed. For as long as could be ” C ” Company held on, deprived of a platoon which had been thrown out to a flank, and reinforced instead by occasional remnants of the forward companies, men straggling back as best they could under the burden of their wounds and shell-suffering.

Against an overwhelming mass of advancing enemy, resistance could not be long protracted.

Our numbers became less and less, and, making a final stand in the communication trench, ” Tank Avenue,” the last remnant of the Company was joined from the rear by a returning stream of its own wounded bearing the news that the enemy were in force at the far end also of the trench.

When this remnant had been obliterated by death or wounds, but not until then, the resistance of the Battalion ceased, and the enemy passed through them, towards their transport lines now moved from Ervillers to Douchy.

Battle of Loos 1915

The second highest peak for Brierley Hill memorial deaths is a single day took place on 13th October 1915.  This day marked the renewal of a British offensive seeking to regain ground lost earlier in the battle.  Further details can be found on the website sates “…More than 61,000 British casualties were sustained in this batter …of these 7,766 men died”.

The website contains a chilling description of what happened at 2pm on 13th october.

6th (North Midland) Division sent 137th Brigade to attack on their right, to cross Big Willie and Dump Trench, to take Slag Alley and occupy Fosse Alley. To their left, 138th Brigade was to clear the Hohenzollern Redoubt and gain the Fosse 8 Corons. Thus the Dump itself was to be avoided and outflanked. On this front the gas barely moved, instead settling into shell holes and not reaching the enemy.

On leaving their positions, the advancing troops of 137th Brigade were immediately hit by heavy fire from machine guns concealed around the foot of the Dump and in the Corons. The attacking battalions were annihilated without achieving anything.

Of the two companies of the 1/5 South Staffords who were already holding a section of Big Willie, every single officer and man was hit as they tried to advance.

138th Brigade attacked at 2.05pm. They were to some extent sheltered from the machine-gunners at the Dump by the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and reached their first objectives in that area with fewer losses. On carrying on towards Fosse Trench, heavy fire from both the Dump and Mad Point cut across them causing very high casualties.

The attack came to a standstill within ten minutes. Isolated parties and men gradually returned to the shelter of the Redoubt. Trench fighting continued, but once again the shortage of bombs (which were of course outclassed by German ones) proved decisive.

The Division had lost 180 officers and 3,583 men within ten minutes, and achieved nothing.

It is highly likely then, that the four casualties listed on Brierley Hill war memorial died between 2pm and 2.05pm on that day.  I’ve emphasised the paragraph which points out that every single soldier of 1/5 South Staffs in action that day was hit.

A tale of heroism

Finally in this post, there is the tale of another victim of the Battle of Loos.

At the back of Brierley Hill library, out of sight and gathering dust, in one of the map drawers is a painting.

WW1 Heroism

Underneath the painting is the inscription:


Sergt. W. H. Jordan (South Staffs. Regt.) of Brockmoor, Brierley Hill, with great bravery stole out one night in May 1915. ‘somewhere in France’ and brought in a wounded comrade, who for two days had lain in an exposed position in front of our lines.
Sergt. Jordan was subsequently killed in the battle of Loos.
His widow received a letter, written in the name of the King, on recommendation of Field Marshal Sir John French, in praise of her husband’s bravery.

William Hoggitt Jordan’s name isn’t on the Brierley Hill war memorial.  Perhaps it is on the memorial of his birth place in Kingswinford (NB since writing this article Joy Marshall has been in touch to let me know that he is commemorated on Brockmoor memorial).  He died on 25th September 1915…the opening day of the Battle of Loos which was to take such a terrible toll.


Brierley Hill war memorial: the regiments and battalions

An analysis of the 134 individuals identified on the war memorial illustrates the army’s policy of recruiting into locally based regiments.  Almost three quarters of these casualties belonged to the South Staffordshire Regiment (41%) and the Worcestershire Regiment (31%).

The regiments were split into battalions.  The largest were the 1/5th (Territorial Force) and the 1st Battalion for the South Staffs, and the 10th and 3rd Battalions for the Worcestershire.

Regimental pie chart

The break down of the battalions is given in the table below:

Regimental Battalion