Category Archives: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

“Ley Lines” of the Somme: an amazing Somme 100 experience

Do you believe in fate? Of hidden forces drawing people together? I do after my latest Great War pilgrimage.

I recently went over to Belgium and France and timed the visit to coincide with two of my Hill family death anniversaries. Jesse Hill, who died on 19 September 1915 and is buried at Ypres Reservoir; and Percy Hill who died, according to soldiers’ effects records, at 2/1 South Midland Casualty Clearing Station on 30 September 1916. Percy is buried at Warloy-Baillon Community Cemetery Extension, just to the west of Albert.

Last year when visiting Jesse, on the centenary of his death, I narrowly missed meeting a relative for the first time. Two poppy crosses and the visitors book showed we’d paid our respects at Jesse’s grave within hours of each other. That was coincidence enough, but nothing in comparison to what happened this year.

Two Poppy Crosses by Jane Roberts

Chris (my husband) and I spent a few days in Ypres before driving to Avesnes Le Sec, near Cambrai, to stay with an “old” school friend for the weekend (sorry about the “old” Anne, but it applies to me too). We finished the final leg of our visit on the Somme, initially at the wonderful “No 56” b&b then at the “Royal Picardie” hotel in Albert for the last two nights. The only reason we transferred to Albert was because the b&b only had availability for three nights.

The early evening of 28 September we finished another long day of walking by stopping off at the beautiful Authuile Military Cemetery, in the village of Authuille (note the spelling difference). 

I love this tranquil cemetery with its feeling of peace and calm, and its eye-pleasingly curving layout of headstones sloping down to the river Ancre. An odd thing to say, but it’s probably my favourite cemetery. It is also the final resting place of Pte Willie Barber of the 1/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) one of the parishioners at Batley St Mary’s who I spent so much time researching.

Authuile Military Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

As we wandered down to the bottom slopes of the cemetery I noticed another visitor. This was unusual, as it was getting on and the cemetery isn’t one people normally beat a path to the door of. By the time we got to the top she had gone.

I sort of wondered if she was here to see Willie, one of those flights of fancy about impossible coincidences. I’m always a bit over-focussed on the St Mary’s men I researched. But there was nothing in the visitors book to indicate why she’d been there. That was the end of that, or so I thought. A chance to find out lost.

The following day we checked into our Albert hotel. Whilst in town sitting outside a café drinking coffee we saw the lady again. But again never spoke.

And then on 30 September, the anniversary of Percy’s death, we went down to our first breakfast in the hotel and she was there with her mum.  This time we did speak. She was over for the centenary of her great grandfather’s death, that very day. The same day as Percy Hill. 30 September.

We talked a bit more, and amazingly discovered both Percy and her ancestor, Jonathan Pearson, were in the same battalion, 1/4th KOYLI. Both died of wounds and both received their injuries during the same period of duty in the trenches near Ulster Tower in mid-September. She had followed Jonathan’s footsteps for those few final frontline days and was on her way across to Boulogne to his grave on his death anniversary, before returning home to the south of England that evening.

She had photos of Jonathan. I had some of Percy, including group photos with some of his pals. And amazingly on one of these photos was a man who looked remarkably like Jonathan. Same colouring, same features including distinctive nose and cut of hair.

We couldn’t believe it. 100 years to the exact day of their deaths we were in a hotel in Albert staring at a picture of what appears to be both men together. It was is if some unseen force had been pulling us together for the past couple of days, starting at Authuile Military Cemetery where fellow 1/4th KOYLI soldier Willie Barber is buried, finally uniting us on the centenary of their death. An incredible, earth-stopping realisation. And if the b&b had been available for the final two days of my visit I wouldn’t have even been in the Albert hotel. A week later and I still can’t believe it.

We parted promising to pass on Jonathan and Percy’s regards at their respective final resting places, around some 90 miles apart.

And so onto Warloy-Baillon. We stopped at Ulster Tower en route and found the poppy cross Jonathan’s family had laid in the area of the KOYLI trenches of mid September 1916. We saw the Pope’s Nose, the German salient with a decaying relic of a observation post/gun emplacement, which was the focus of their trench raids in that period.

We were at Percy Hill’s grave for 1.15pm, the minute is death is recorded. And there, at around 2pm, we met with David Short and his wife Pauline, the relative I so narrowly missed meeting just over a year ago at Jesse Hill’s grave. And in a final piece of symmetry David is from the north east of England, not Yorkshire, the same area from which Jonathan hailed.

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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

Sources:

  • 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

Copyright

© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.

Sources:

[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.