Two local men died on 24th October 1918 whilst on active service – Sapper John Bertram Harris, 3rd Special Company, Royal Engineers and Private James Powers, 2nd/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
John Bertram Harris was born on 7th May 1893 at Lapworth, and was the fifth of the seven children (six sons, one daughter) of Alfred (a farmer) from Dorset who had moved to Warwickshire between 1875-1881. Alfred married twice – his first wife, Annie Elswood (1851-1884) died aged 34, leaving Alfred with three young sons – Robert Cyril (born 1879), Alfred Reginald (1880-1931) and Francis George (1883-1919).
Alfred married again in 1888, and went on to have four children with his second wife, Sarah Ellen (“Nellie”) Squire – William Greening (1889-1971), John Bertram (1893-1918), Edgar Squire (1896-1970) and Agnes Muriel Mary (1904-1986). All three sons from the second marriage served in the First World War, as did the youngest son from the first marriage, Francis George, who died in 1919 after contracting malaria in Salonica. Eldest son, Robert Cyril, seems to have served in the Boer War as a Private with 5 (Warwickshire) Company, 2nd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry.
Sometime between 1901-1911, the family moved from Lapworth to “Roslyn”, Earlswood Road, Dorridge, where they remained until at least 1917 when Alfred died. All three sons from the second marriage were educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Camp Hill.
On the outbreak of war, John volunteered for active service but was rejected three times before being accepted for service with the Birmingham Pals. He enlisted in the 16th (3rd Birmingham) Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in October 1914 and was subsequently transferred to the Royal Engineers. He served continuously in France and Flanders from January 1916, dying in No. 56 General Hospital, Etaples of pneumonia, supervening on accidental gas poisoning.
He is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery and is commemorated locally on war memorials at Knowle, Packwood and Hockley Heath. He also appears on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church, Barnsley, which was the home parish of his mother.
James Powers was born in Shirley in 1899 and was the youngest of the five children (four sons, one daughter) of parents Eli Wells Powers (1856-1944), a builder, and Eliza (née Pittaway) who had married in Solihull in 1890. One of the children – Eli (1895-1898) – died as a child.
The family appear to have lived in Longmore Road, Shirley for over 50 years until Eli’s death in 1944, aged 87. James and his surviving brothers – Fred (1891-1985) and John Robert (1896-1963) – worked on the railways. James was a porter at Shirley Station.
We don’t know when James first saw overseas service, but he is likely to have been called up around the time of his 18th birthday in 1917. He was 19 years old when he was killed in action. He is buried at Canonne Farm British Cemetery, Sommaing, France and is also commemorated locally on Shirley war memorial.
If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977