Private Edward Richards died of wounds on 21st December 1917. Aged 42, he had been called up in June 1916 and, although expressing a preference to serve in the Artillery, he was posted to the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He was then transferred to the 87th Company, Labour Corps. 18-year-old John Shirley, lately a Private with the 7th Reserve Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died of rheumatic fever on the same day.
Edward was born in Olton c.1876 and was the eldest of the four children of parents, John (a general labourer) and Mary Ann (née White) who had married at Solihull in 1873. Edward was the couple’s only son. His three younger sisters – Mary Ann, Alice and Florence – were all born between 1880-1887.
Edward became a gardener and, in 1901, he married Edith Mary Jones at St Luke’s Church, Bromley, Kent. The couple are known to have had three children – Edith Alexandra (born 1902), Percy John Edward (1905-1989), and Margaret Elenor (1909-2003).
In June 1916, Edward was called up to serve in the Army, and he enlisted in Warwick. He seems variously to have served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Labour Corps.
He received a gunshot wound to the head on 25th November 1917, and was taken to the 16th General Hospital at Le Treport, France. His service record survives, and includes letters from his widow, Edith, that give additional information. She was living temporarily in Whitchurch, Shropshire, when her husband was wounded. She travelled from Whitchurch to Folkestone on Sunday 23rd December, having received official notice from the Army to travel to France to see her husband. However, on arrival in Folkestone, she was told that it was too late and that he had passed away. She was given a return railway ticket home.
In her letters to the Labour Corps, written on 5th and 9th January 1918, Edith Richards requests reimbursement for her railway fare from Whitchurch to Euston, and from Victoria to Folkestone, amounting to £1.9s.8d. She explains that she has no income other than the allotment from her husband’s Army pay, and so the money was “a considerable amount” to her.
Private Edward Richards is buried at Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport and is also commemorated locally on the war memorial at St Margaret’s Church, Olton. The memorial at St Margaret’s lists his regiment at Royal Berkshire.
John Shirley was born in Berkswell in 1899, and baptised at Kenilworth on 11th June 1899. He was the fifth of the eight children of parents, John (a farm labourer) and Flora (née Carter) who had married at Berkswell in 1892.
In 1911, John caught scarlet fever and, at the time of the 1911 census, was a patient in Catherine-de-Barnes Isolation Hospital. After spending about four weeks in the hospital, he developed rheumatic fever, and was confined to bed for about ten weeks. When he recovered, he was permanently short of breath, and suffered three more attacks of rheumatic fever before he joined the Army in 1916. Each attack left him in bed for about a month. His last attack was in November 1915, and he joined Catterick Camp in January 1917, before being admitted to hospital on 20th April 1917, suffering from rheumatic fever.
John Shirley was discharged from the Army on 9th September 1917, with his character described as “very good”. He had not seen any overseas service. A report of the Medical Board in August 1917 declared that he was permanently unfit for service and that, although his disability was not caused by war service, it was aggravated by “ordinary military service in one unsuited.”
Having been discharged from the Army, John Shirley died on 21st December 1917 and was buried at Berkswell on 26th December. He is commemorated on Berkswell War Memorial.
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