Two local officers died on 15th August 1917 – Lieutenant John Howard Banks, 176th Company, Machine Gun Corps and Lieutenant Holroyd Birkett Barker, 134th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.
John Howard Banks was born in Birmingham on 11th September 1890 and was the youngest of the six children of parents John Millward Banks (a manufacturing jeweller) and Alice Mary Houghton, who had married in Oxford in 1876. The couple living in Birmingham for most of their married life, but moved to Broadmeadow, Warwick Road, Solihull sometime between 1901-1907.
John Howard Banks was educated at King Edward’s High School, Birmingham, where he was a promising athlete, winning the high jump championship for all England, as well as the Midland Counties championship. It seems likely that he was following his father into business as, aged 21, and recorded as a visitor to the Great Western Hotel in Newquay on the 1911 census, his occupation was listed as manufacturer, and his birthplace (incorrectly) as Solihull. His father had actually died two months earlier and John’s elder brother, Francis Millward Banks (1880-1956) appears to have taken over the business, listing his occupation as “jeweller” on the 1911 census.
On the outbreak of war in August 1914, John immediately enlisted in the ranks, joining the City of London Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, before being commissioned with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment four months later. He transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in 1915, and went to France in July 1916.
The Battalion War Diary describes the unit as being at Pilkem training on 15th August when, at about 5pm, an enemy high velocity shell struck the officers’ mess, killing two officers and wounding five more. Two of the wounded, including John Banks, later died. He is buried at Canada Farm Cemetery and his effects went to his widow, Mabel Wilhemina Banks. Probate records indicate that John’s address was 2a Market Place, Grantham, although it seems that his widow subsequently went to live in Birmingham. This may explain why John’s name doesn’t appear to be recorded on war memorials in Grantham or Solihull.
Lieutenant Holroyd Birkett Barker was the eldest of the four sons and one daughter of Councillor Tom Birkett Barker JP MIME and his wife, Marianne Martha (née Allen), of The Croft, Lapworth and the first of two of them to die during the war. The other two sons were injured.
His younger brother, Allen Noel, the third of the four sons, was killed in September 1918. The second brother, Fred Ronald, was farming in Manitoba, Canada when war broke out but returned to serve with the Warwickshire Yeomanry and was then invalided out in January 1916 suffering from partial paralysis and neuritis. The youngest brother, Greville, volunteered soon after the outbreak of war and spent six months in the trenches with the 6th Warwicks, before being commissioned in 1916 and then serving with the Royal Flying Corps. He was shot down while flying at the front and, according to a report in the Birmingham Daily Post 20th April 1917, was in a London hospital suffering from shock and wounds.
Holroyd, known as Royd, was born in Acocks Green in 1886 and entered King Edward’s High School with a scholarship in 1896. He went to Malvern College with a Greek scholarship three years later. After completing his education at the Ecole Technique, Brussels, he practised as a solicitor in Birmingham. He was a prominent golfer and, playing at Olton Golf Club in 1907, he holed the sixteenth hole in one stroke, the first time this had been done in the history of the club.He also won the gold medal for Warwickshire in 1912-13-14. In 1914 he lost the Midland Counties Championship by one stroke, and in the same year competed in the Amateur Championship at Sandwich. He volunteered for military service in 1915 and was gazetted Second Lieutenant (on probation) 1st December 1915. He first saw overseas service in August 1916, a year before he died of dysentery in a military hospital near Salonika.
He is buried at Mikra British Cemetery, Greece and is commemorated locally on war memorials at Hockley Heath, Lapworth and Olton Golf Club, as well as on the Roll of Honour of King Edward’s School.
His father, Tom Birkett Barker, died in 1924 and condolences were expressed by members of Solihull Board of Guardians. He was described as a “former active and very conscientious member of Solihull District Council and Board of Guardians” with Rev. Dr. R. Wilson calling him:
a very intimate and charming friend who had gathered great knowledge and culture in travel. Always a sensitive man, he felt the loss of his two sons in the war very deeply, and had never been the same man since. Then another of his sons was almost broken to pieces. Mr Birkett Barker and his family had indeed paid a heavy debt to the country. (Birmingham News, 8th March 1924)
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