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

Brierley Hill WW1 hero’s story which inspired painting

Last year it was revealed that Dudley Council had lost the historic painting of Sg William Jordan’s act of heroism in saving a wounded colleague. The painting was by Francis Gibbons, an artist of some renown who had exhibited at the Royal Academy and had also started the Gibbons and Hinton tile works at Buckpool. Now a trawl through Dudley archives have a revealed and article in The Advertiser of 21st August 1915 in which Sgt Jordan told of the exploits which were to inspire the painting.

It is interesting to compare the scenes depicted in the painting with the words of Sgt Jordan.

IMG 2164

Here are the words of Sgt Jordan:

During the battle of Festubert, which took place on 16th, 17th and 18th of May last, the 2nd Brigade to which I am attached received orders for attack, ands successful were we that the enemy opposite us were completely demoralised and two lines of their trenches fell into our hands.

A flanking movement led by myself was chiefly responsible for this, but whether I was commended for the brilliance of this manoeuvre or for what ultimately happened I cannot say.

It appears that part of the German line had been cut off, and whilst my platoon was in the enemy communication trench we discovered we were being fired at from the rear.

Observations discovered a German maxim gun on the bridge of a trench, and we doubled towards it.

I was then with a Corporal of the Welsh Fusiliers, and on driving the Germans from the maxim gun I tried to break it with my rifle.

We advanced down the trench, and six gas bombs were thrown at the Corporal and me, and I just had time to clap my mouth pad on.

I got a whiff of the gas, and I can tell you it was nasty.

Soon after the Corporal was hit in the head whilst on the parapet of the trench.

After that I held the trench till reinforcements came. Still we bagged about 98 prisoners, and we found fifty in one dug-out. I shouted to the Germans to surrender as soon as I got there, and some threw up their hands but others opened fire.

The were bags of German Helmets in the trenches belonging presumably to the Prussian Guard.

After that we held the 1st firing trench and the communication trench for two days, and we were shelled the whole of the time, our artillery effectively responding. We then made an advance in order to re-build the parapets of the trench, and whilst there we were warned that the enemy were coming to attack us in large numbers. Naturally we had to retire on account of superior numbers.

A Valorous Deed

The Germans hoping to recapture the trenches we had taken, submitted us to a galling fire.

In these trenches lay a poor lad of the Royal Welsh, wounded in three places and who much have been there two or three days.

My officer having been wounded, I was left in sole charge of my platoon, and on Monday, May 17th, with a number of my men, I went into the trenches in search of any equipment that had been left behind.

A lad named Beresford, of Hart’s Hill, was with me, and pointing to something said “That fellow is alive.”

I ran up to him, and after chafing his hands succeeded in getting him round.

The poor lad was wounded in the eye, breast, and leg, and I asked him if he thought he would be able to move.

I began improvising a stretcher in order to carry him to safety, when the Germans bombarded us.

At this juncture I thought our own battalion were attacking again and my captain would be needing me.

But something told me not to leave the lad, so I asked him if he could get on my back, and I would carry him. He said he would try, and as I got him on my should the poor fellow called out with pain from his wounds.

I had to carry him a distance of 500 yards, and in some cases across open ground.

I do not wish to appear egotistical, but I can tell you the task was far from easy, for the ground was all blown up, and the wire entanglements caught my clothing added to which was the danger of being hit any moment, for a regular battle was now raging.

Still, I carried the lad to safety and gave him over to our first Company, where he had something to drink.

So parched and thirsty was he that he drank the tea boiling hot.

He blessed me for what I had done and said he should never forget me.

Nor shall I forget him.

Next day I saw him carried away, and thank God he was still living although I have not seen or heard anything of him since, I believe he would pull through, for he was a cheerful lad.

As soon as I could I quickly found my captain, and he learned the story he said: ‘I am quite proud of you.’

One thing I have forgotten to relate.

Whilst the lad was lying in the trenches a shell carried a part of the trench by him right away, leaving him exposed to fire, and it is a miraculous thin he was not shattered.

Brierley Hill on the day war broke out and the departing of the first troops

On 4th August 1914 war was declared on Germany.

Two notices were placed in the Brierley Hill Post Office window (the building still exists and is now a cafe) – ordering the men to report for dutry.

Post Office
Caption: the post office building is still there today, and is now a cafe. The building to its right is the magistrates court and police station – where a special watch was kept for Zeppelin attacks.

The Brierley Hill, Brockmoor, Pensnett and Quarry Bank men of the Territorial army(E Company, 1st/5th Battalin, South Staffordshire Regiment) were summoned by a bugler being sent round the street and by cycle to the outlying areas. These were, afterall, the days when telephony was in its infancy and there was no radio and tv.

The response was strong. At the Drill Hall in Pearson Street (now part of ASDA car park) the men assembled.

As the night wore on crowds gathered at Five Ways and at the Junction of Pearson Street and High Street – illuminated by the hissing glow of the gas lights in the street.

“Rule Britannia” and other patriotice songs were sung, and kit was issued to the men – including entrenchment trowels, described by the County Express as “very handy little instrument” as if aware of what lay ahead.

By the following morning, 5th August, the men were ready to depart.

At the orders of their commander and with the good wishes of their townsfold the soldiers marched away. Many were never to return.

The rain drizzled down.

Here is the County Express article describing the incredibly moving events of 4th and 5th August 1914.

Brierley Hill Territorials

A Magnificent Response

The shrill blasts of a bugle in the principal streets of Brierley Hill summoned on Tuesday night the members of the local Territorial force (E Company) to arms.

At about eight o’clock there were posted in the windows at the post office two announcements issues by the authority of His Majesty the King, the one ordering the mobilisation of the army reservists and the other the embodying of the Territorials.

The orders were not altogether unexpected; indeed, before the men were dismissed to their homes following their return from camp at St. Asaph on Monday, there were told that the must hold themselves in readiness.

In addition to the publication of these orders there were despatched through the post summonses to all men, but in some cases these were not due to reach the men until first post on Wednesday morning.

Within half an hour of the posting on Tuesday night of the King’s orders at the post office Territorials were seen proceeding towards their headquarters, the new Drill Hall in Pearson Street, carrying their haversacks and other equipment on their backs.

At the hall, pending the arrival of the officers, the men were met my Sergt-Inst Smith and Colour-Sergt Bird, who, it will be remembered, was one of the many Brierley Hill Volunteers who went to the South African War.

As time rolled on more and more men presented themselves. Soon after nine o’clock Lieut. Allden arrived, and he was quickly followed by the commanding officer, Capt. W.E. Moore, who motored from his home in Sutton Coldfield.

John Allden
Caption: Lieut. John Allden died in 1918 and never saw the end of the war. A compassionate man, there is a memorial to him inside St Michael’s Church and his name is on the Church Hill war memorial

The movements of the Territorials and the intermittent blasts of the bugle in the streets drew large crowds from their homes. There were many at the Five Ways and a dense crowd assembled at the corner of Pearson Street, and also in the vicinity of the Drill Hall.

In the absence of orders for their immediate movement, the men were permitted, after reporting themselves, to mingle with their relatives and friends in the streets.

Steadily the flow of incoming men continued.

Some of the Territorials in E Company are resident in the districts, considerably removed from the town, and with a view of facilitating communications with them special messengers were despatched on cycle and by foot.

The response was in every case almost instant. Soon after eleven o’clock there were some 90 men present – a truly remarkable response to the call.

The Scene at Midnight

At midnight the company officer still awaited orders. Messages with the headquarter staff at Walsall were frequent.

Soon after midnight there was very great activity. The men drew their blankets and socks from the stores, and also their entrenching tools – very handy little implements.

At one o’clock 100 men were at the Hall, so that in under five hours five-sixths of the total strength were under orders. Capt. Moor expressed to our representative his gratification at the splendid manner in which the company had come in.

The men were all in the best of spirits. In the street “Rule Britannia” was lustily sung, and in the main thoroughfare snatches of patriotic songs held sway.

Again, the bugler went out into the streets and blew his loudest and best.

Other men, chiefly from outside districts, came along, passed to head-quarters, and received their kits.

Soon after one o’clock, as no definite orders were announced, directions were given the men that they might lie down and take rest. A very few did; the bulk of the rank and file continued in the merriest of moods.

It was understood that the company would have to proceed to Walsall on foot, but it was not until four or five o’clock that Capt. Moore received definite orders that the company were to get to Walsall some time during that day.

At five o’clock the commanding officer wisely informed the men that they could have three hours’ leave, in which they might proceed to their homes for breakfast and for a wash, and to return to the Hall at 8 a.m. Those whose homes were sufficiently near to permit this availed themselves of the opportunity, but all had returned by the stipulated time, anxious to learn more news.

A Magnificent Response

Several other men came in, and at nine o’clock 117 out of a total of 121 were paraded – a remarkable reply to the King’s request.

Of the four absentees one was away on sick leave, another was, by permission of the colonel of the battalion, away, but was re-joining during the day, and the other two were Wallheath Territorials, who would not receive their mobilisation orders until that morning at probably eight o’clock.

At nine o’clock the men were formed up by the sergeants in sections in the Hall. Afterwards they received their rifles from the stores, and the sergeant instructor then served out packets of ammunition, which the men unwrapped and fitted in their bandoliers.

Again the men were formed up and their roll called. Every man made a smart reply to his hame.

Capt. Moore addressed a few words to them, urging that on their march to Walsall they would acquit themselves as he expected they would.

The Departure

“Company! Right,” called Capt. Moore.

The sections responded with alacrity.

With their refills on their shoulders the company awaited “quick march”!

The order was given, and away they went. Capt. Moore led his men. Outside the Drill Hall large crowds greated the King’s Territorials, and at the junction with the main road it was with some difficulty that the Territorials squeezed their way through the space afforded them.

Rain was as the time falling in a drizzle, but it in no way abated the enthusiasm of the crowd.

High Street was reached, and the ten miles march to Walsall was commenced.

At many points relatives and friends wished a cordial “good bye” to those in the ranks.

The most remarkable thing which struck the looker-on was the extraordinary optimism which pervaded everybody – crowd and soldiers alike.

The route to Walsall was by way of Dudley. At Walsall, where they arrived soon after mid-day, the Brierley Hill Territorials were billeted at the Town Hall, pending the receipt of orders for their departure, on Thursday, to they knew not where.

The following were the officers and non-commissioned officers who left with the company:- Capt. W. E. Moore, Lieut. Allday, Sergt-Inst. Smith, Colour-Sergt. H. E. Bird, Sergts. Cook, W. Pargeter, J. Harper, Bretherton, and Hollings, Corpls. Vale, Skelton, Cox and Roberts, together with 104 rand and file, a total of 117 out of a strength of 121.

County Express 08 August 1914

Caption: Unfortunately the only photograph of the drill hall I have is this 1964 aerial shot of Brierley Hill. The Drill Hall is the white building in the lower left of the picture, next to the football ground. The area is now part of ASDA’s car park

Council in hunt for ‘priceless’ lost WW1 painting of Brierley Hill hero

Jordan Painting Web

Librarians in Brierley Hill are contacting their colleagues in Archives after a ‘priceless’ Great War Painting disappeared from its collection.

Depicting local Brockmoor hero Sgt William Jordan – a resident of Campbell Street and a former pupil of Brockmoor School – rescuing a wounded comrade in May 1915, the painting was by award winning artist Francis Gibbon and was presented to the council in July 1917.  For   many years it hung in the reading room of the old library in Moor Street.  Sgt Jordan was promoted for distinguished conduct in the field and was mentioned by Sir John French in his final dispatch before relinquishing his office of Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915.

The picture above was snapped as part of a Great War research project for this blog in July last year.  By September the painting had gone missing and despite requests no-one at the library has managed to locate it.  Now Dudley Archives are being asked if they can solve the mystery.

Given the historical context of the painting it must be viewed as being irreplaceable and therefore priceless.  It would be a tragedy if it was lost for future generation.



More about Sgt W. J. Jordan

IMG_2877On 25th September 1915 The Country Express published extracts of a letter sent to the head teacher of Brockmoor School by Sgt Hoggart.  Headed ‘Our Position Very Favourable’ the letter said:

I have arrived back in France, and rejoined my regiment in the firing line. This last day or two we have had very cold, wet weather, I am just settling down to my work again, after having a most enjoyable time at home. Thank you very much for your welcome to me and the manner you entertained me it was the time of my life, and I shall never forget it as long as I live. I feel quite proud to belong to Brockmoor.

He added  that the position of the British is very favourable, and:

When I was at home I left some alter flags which are found amongst the ruins of a church in Flanders; if you would care to use them please ask my daughter to bring them to the school.

In a sad twist of fate Sgt Jordan was killed in action on the very day his letter  was published in the newspaper, 25th September 1915, the opening day of the Battle of Loos.

The regimental diary for that fateful day reads:

The first day of the Battle of Loos, north west of Lens. “C” Company led the attack at 6.30am from their trenches at Noyelles and were immediately hit by withering fire from concealed machine guns. The German forward and support trenches were seized along with a series of quarries behind them. No further gains were made following which the troops were heavily shelled in their captured positions. “A” and “B” Companies were pinned down only a matter of yards from their starting positions and were ordered to return to their lines. Casualties amounted to 430 other ranks killed or wounded, out of 729 who attacked, 9 officers killed, 8 wounded (1 died) and 1 gassed of the 21 who went into action.

The War Diary (in part) records,“25 September 1915 – There is very little to describe about the actual assault, but the facts stand out very clearly. The Regiment had to cross a fire zone of about 500 yards exposed to very heavy-gun, machine gun and rifle fire, and storm a powerful line of trenches protected by broad strong lines of thick barbed wire.There was a strong support line behind the front line on higher ground and behind this the famous ‘Quarries’ on still higher ground. The final objective was Cite St. Elie, behind a very powerfully entrenched and wired position.The gallant 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment rose to their feet at 6.28am on 25 September 1915 on the order to ‘advance’ being given, they advanced in extended order at about 3 paces interval between men, and moved steadily forward against this almost impregnable position. They stormed it, took the 2nd or Support Line and what remained of this magnificent old regiment moved on and with other Corps mixed up with them captured the ‘Quarries’ and some of them under the C.O. went on up to within about 50 yards of the German position at Cite St. Elie.”


By early 1916 news had arrived home of the death of Sgt Jordan.

The late Sgt WH Jordan

Sgt WH Jordan, of the South Staffordshire Regiment, whose home was at Campbell Street, Brockmoor, and who was killed in France in September, was mentioned (for conspicuous and gallant conduct) in the last dispatch set by Sir John French before his recent relinquishing of the office of Commander-In-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. Sgt Jordan’s many admirers will regret that this gallant soldier did not live to learn of this signal honour.
County Express 8th January 1916 

Later that year the offer of a painting was made to Brierley Hill Council.

Through Mr JJ Applebey, the chairman of Brierley Hill Council (Mr Ernest Marsh) has received from Mr Francis Gibbons, Wordsley, an offer of a gift to Brierley Hill of an oil painting depicting the late Sgt Jordan, a local man, in the act of rescuing a wounded comrade. Mr Marsh has formally accepted the gift in the Council’s name, and it is expected the picture will shortly be received and hung in the Council Chamber.
County Express 23rd of June 1917

The action of Mr Ernest Marsh, in accepting on behalf of Brierley Hill the gift of Mr Frank Gibbons of an oil painting depicting a local soldier in the act of rescuing a wounded comrades on the Western front, was officially confirmed on Monday. Arrangements are to be made for the picture to be hung in the Council Chamber.
County Express 7th July 1917

Gift of a Picture
At the General Purposes Committee Mr Marsh produced a letter addressed to him as chairman of the Council, from Mr JJ Applebey, asking on behalf of Mr Frank Gibbons, the Council’s acceptance of a picture painted by the latter gentleman. Mr Marsh said he had accepted the picture on the Council’s behalf, and it was resolved that his action in so doing be approved and confirmed, and the Council’s thanks be conveyed to Mr Applebey and Mr Gibbons for the gift.
The Chairman said the letter from Mr Appleby reached him immediately following the last Council meeting, but he took upon himself to accept the gift, and to thank Mr Gibbons and Mr Appleby most warmly. He asked the council to approve his action.
Mr Smith moved, and Mr Buckle seconded, that the Council cordially approve the chairman’s action, and this was carried.
Mr James said perhaps this acceptable gift would prove an inducement to others to present pictures of local or national interest. If so they would in turn be able to secure a collection if that building were extended, and have an art gallery on a small scale established.
County Express 7th of July 1917.

The oil painting by Mr Frank Gibbons depicting the rescue of a wounded comrade by Sgt Jordan, of Brockmoor, recently presented by the artist to Brierley Hill Council, is to be hung in the Reading Room of the Free Library. A special committee of members of the Council and outside gentlemen (including Mr Frank Gibbons) are deputed to obtain war momentoes from local heroes with a view to securing a permanent collection for the town.
County Express 28th of July 1917

Gift Picture
A letter from Mr F Gibbons was read at the General Purposes Committee, suggesting that his gift picture should be hung in the Library reading room. This was agreed to. A suggestion by him that a collection of mementos of the great war should be glossed together and placed on exhibition, was referred to a special committee consisting of Councillors Fereday, Williams, and Marsh – with power to co-opt members. It was resolved to write and ask Mr Gibbons to accept colour option on the committee.
County Express 18th of August 1917

The picture was duly displayed with 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.

It is very sad that the picture now seems to be lost.


More about the artist Francis Gibbons

An obituary published in the Country Express gives more information about Francis Gibbons:

Artist, Manufacturer, Philanthropist.

It is with very sincere regret, which we know will be widely shared, that we record the death of Mr Francis Gibbons, which occurred at his residence, Cliff House, Wordsley, yesterday evening week.

Born at Oaksey in 1852, the son of the late Mr James Gibbons, who removed to Cirencester in 1853, Mr Gibbons was the fourth son in a family, each member of which achieved remarkable success in the artistic and literary world. He spent his youth and early manhood in Cirencester, where he commenced training in art at the classes conducted in Dyer Street by Mr J Miller. He soon showed promise of high-capacity, and eventually obtained a training scholarship at the South Kensington Royal College of Art, where he studied under the talented Mr Moody for two years. On finishing his training he obtained a position as art director at Messrs Doulton’s Royal Pottery at Lambeth, where he designed many of their world renowned ceramic productions. He left Doulton’s to take the place of his brother Edward during his illness, as an art master at the Edinburgh School of Art. He relinquished this position on the latter’s return, and for experience sake he acted for a short time as artist at the Devon Where Factory at Torquay, and was also for a period manager of Messrs Allen’s Pottery in Broseley, Shropshire.

Local Work.

In 1885, in connection with his brother Owen, and brother-in-law, Mr WJ Hinton, he started a decorative tile factory at Brierley Hill, Staffordshire. Meeting with the greatest difficulty at the commencement, he with his partners, by dint of strenuous labour and artistic and technological merit made the name of the firm Gibbons, Hinton and co-, Ltd, widely known in the home and in the colonial markets. Mr Gibbons introduced many improvements in the declaration and mechanical production of tiles, and was an acknowledged expert in pottery chemistry on both empirical and scientific lines.

The variety of his capacities was only excelled by his own wearying perseverance. In art he won many highly coveted rewards. Among them the Goldsmiths travelling scholarship, the Plasterers Company prize in open competition £50 awarded annually for the best design in plaster, the South Kensington gold medal (three times), and many silver and bronze medals. He was particularly expert in oil and watercolour paintings, and had exhibited at the Royal Academy. An expert amateur photography – his productions were as perfect technically as they were artistic composition. He was an enthusiastic amateur gardener and botanist, and had an intense love of music, several of his compositions having being accepted and published by prominent London music publishers.

Varied Interests.

He was president of the Wordsley Liberal Club, a member of the Wordsley Committee of Our School Managers, and of the managers of the Wordsley Church of England Schools, the Brierley Hill Temperance Council, and Brierley Hill Congregational Church.

Of almost puritanical upbringing, he was a staunch Liberal and Nonconformist, and a lifelong abstainer, but he was remarkable for his broadness of mind and generous judgement. The soul of benevolence – only his most intimate friends had any inkling of the extent of his subscription list to deserving cases and causes. Notwithstanding his high talents and merited successes he was modest and unassuming to a high degree. He never married, he devoted his energies to the alleviation of the cares of others. He was a valued and frequent contributor to these columns on a great variety of subjects.

At His Brother’s Funeral.

His illness was a very brief one. He attended the funeral of his brother Edward at Cirencester on September 26, and travelling to and from Cirencester caught a cold which accentuated chronic bronchial trouble from which he died.

Public References.

At the Temperance Hall. Brierley Hill, on a Sunday evening Mr C Wilkes (President of the Temperance Council), made reference to the loss the temperance cause have sustained to the death of Mr Gibbons, who was a trustee of the hall, and a very good worker and supporter of the temperance movement.

The Funeral.

The funeral took place at Wordsley extension churchyard on Thursday afternoon.

County Express 12th of October 1918

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.

View Larger Map

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


Stanley Harley – the man on top of Brierley Hill War Memorial – a town honours its hero


Following the end of World War One residents in Brierley Hill wished to erect a war memorial. A design was chosen and the ex-servicemen’s association was asked who should model for photographs from which the sculpture was designed.

They chose Stanley Harvey, the first Brierley Hill man to win the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the war.

The London Gazette, 11th May 1917, announced Harley’s award.  Its citation read:

“16370 Pte, (acting L./Cpl.) F.H.S. Harley, Worcs. R.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He opened fire with his machine gun at a critical time and defeated all enemy attempts to counter attach.  Later, he carried two machine guns out of action through a heavy hostile barrage.”

As the first local man to win such a high military honour the town was greatly excited.  The local newspaper wrote:

Brierley Hill DCM

Amongst those mentioned in last Friday’s “London Gazette” as having been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal is Lt Cpl F.H. Stanley Harley, Worcestershire Regiment, son of Mrs Murray,  and stepson of Mr Charles Murray, 9, Hill Street, Brierley Hill. we understand the act of gallantry which gained Lance Cpl Harley the honour occurred in our attack on March 12 last. He was in charge of two guns. Upon the battalion reaching their objective all his team were wounded, and he was left alone; but though under very heavy German shellfire, he succeeded in bringing the guns safely through. The lance Cpl is an old boy of Bent Street Council Schools. He enlisted on September 2, 1914, when only 16 years of age, and will not be 19 until next July. He expects to come home shortly, and we understand arrangements are being made to publicly recognise the honour he has brought to his native town.  Before joining the colours he was employed at the Earl of Dudley’s Round Oak Works.

County Express 19 May 1917

Lance Corporal Harley returned on leave to Brierley Hill in September 1917.  The town council, meeting in the old Technical Institute building on Moor Street, honoured him with a presentation:

“A Hero Indeed.”

Brierley Hill DC medallist

Publicly Honoured by District Council

L-Cpl Stanley Harley, son of Mrs Murray, and stepson of Mr Charles Murray, of Hill Street, Brierley Hill, was the first Brierley Hill man to receive the DCM decoration. 
He arrived home last weekend on a 10 days leave, and as the time was too short to enable the town authority to arrange for a public reception, they decided to invite the soldier to Monday’s meeting of the Urban Council, so that the chairman (Mr AE Marsh) might, in the name of the town, congratulate him upon the distinguished honour he had won. 

L-Cpl Harvey was accompanied by Mr Murray, and on entering the Council Chamber received a very hearty welcome.

Brave, Brilliant, and Gallant.

The Chairman said he had a very pleasant duty to perform. 

They were met to congratulate L-Cpl Stanley Harley, of the Worcestershire Regiment, who had recently received the DCM for a very brave, brilliant, and gallant episode, of which he was the hero, and which occurred on March 4th  last-(hear, hear). 
Although all the men who were with him were killed, Harley, at great personal risk, took charge of two Lewis guns and brought them out of action safely-(hear, hear). It was a very brave and courageous act, and well merited the signal honour which has been conferred upon him-(hear, hear). 

Harley, he believed, was the first Brierley Hill man who had received the DCM decoration, and it was felt that such a distinguished honour reflected credit on the town itself, and should be publicly recognised. As chairman of the Council he congratulated L-Cpl Stanley Harley, and at the same time asked him to accept a little present-a silver luminous wrist watch-as a small token of the gratitude of the town for his noble action-(hear, hear). In handing to the hero gift the Chairman said: “We are all very proud of you, and I have very great pleasure in welcoming you to this Council meeting tonight.”

A Hero Indeed.

Mr G Fred James (vice chairman) said he would like to associate himself with the appreciate reading remarks from the chair. 

L-Cpl Harley was a hero indeed-(hear, hear). Few of them three years ago thought the war would be on now. During that time anxiety is had crowded upon them. Many of the people of Brierley Hill has lost their dearest and best.  The papers has been almost daily filled with the stories of horrors perpetrated by a faux unequalled insanitary in the history of the world. 

But although they had had their terrible happenings, they had on the other hand read  of actions which had gladdened their hearts. The bravery of our men was worthy of the most distinguished honours; they were heroes indeed. And what has pleased their most was the fact that Brierley Hill boys were among them – (hear, hear). 

The Staffords and the Worcester’s has distinguished themselves on many occasions, and he hopes that the time was not far distant when the town might welcome back all those brave lads who have so faithfully fought our cause in foreign lands-(hear, hear).

Although many have distinguished themselves, perhaps when the records of the regiments came to be written they would hear something about individual doings. In the meantime we all prayed that the war might be quickly over, so that we might have the pleasure of welcoming back our brave lads. Perhaps when the proper time pain they would be able to give their heroes are more public welcome-(hear, hear).

The Town Pride.

Mr T Williams said he has known Harley’s family for many years. Brierley Hill was very proud of him-(hear, hear). Many other Brierley Hill lads had won distinctions. Several have been decorated with Militarily Medals, and he thought it was up to the Council and the town to see that these heroes were properly recognised. He thought steps should be taken almost immediately to show that the town appreciated the honours which the men had brought to it-(hear, hear).

A Modest Reply.

L-Cpl Harley, who was warmly received, thanked the Council for their congratulation, and the chairman of his very nice present. The lads of the Black Country were all doing their bit to bring glory to their native towns-(hear, hear). He was unable to give his experiences publicly, but he would be glad and proud to tell the story of how he won the DCM to any of the members of the Council should they care to hear it-(hear, hear). As to the probable length of the war, he thought that the next three years would see the finish of it -(laughter).

The Chairman said he would very much like to hear Harley related his experiences. He added that there had not been time to have an inscription engraved on the watch, but this would be done later. 

County Express 8th September 1917

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