Bewdley casualty at the close of the Somme: Joe Stokes of Rock.

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Private Joseph STOKES

1/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment 5101
Killed in action 4th November 1916

Joe Stokes was a young soldier from Rock who was killed by shellfire in the very final stages of the Battle of the Somme. He is also commemorated on the Callow Hill memorial.

Joseph Stokes was born in 1896 in Rock. He was the son of James Stokes (born 1864) and Agnes Stokes (neé Cook, born 1868) who married in 1892. James Stokes was a general labourer by profession. ‘Joe’ was the youngest child of the family, with his elder brother James born in 1892, and elder sister Elsie born in 1894. By 1901, the family were living at Callow Hill. By 1911 the family are living on Long bank, and at the age of sixteen, he was employed as a general labourer like his father.

Joe joined 1/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, one of the territorial battalions that drew from the Bewdley area on the 17th February 1916, under the Derby Scheme, a method of avoiding conscription by volunteering, and deferring service for some months. Joe’s height at attestation was 5ft 4¼ inches. His formal service in the Army began on the 27th March 1916, and he crossed to France in early August. After some time in hospital for a minor medical condition, he joined the 1/8th on the 3rd September 1916.

By the end of 1916, the territorial battalions of the 48th Division completed a period of training before moving back to the Somme during early October, with the 1/7th and 1/8th Battalions in the trenches at Hebuterne before being moved into reserve. The Somme campaign was centred on the Transloy Ridges, and the 1/7th were detached from their brigade on the 28th October, and sent to the devastated area near Contalmaison as reinforcements and carrying parties. The rest of the 144th Brigade followed them on the 30th, spending the night of the 1st November in the ruined village, and subsequently moving through Martinpuich to the line at Le Sars, occupying trenches astride the Bapaume road.

butte-nov-16
‘B’ to ‘B’ positions of 1/8th Worcs 4/11/1916: (Stacke)

The weather was wet and drizzling. Dawn on the morning of the 3rd November showed how the trenches of the 1/8th Worcestershire overlooked ground which sloped down to the village of Warlencourt, with the famous earthwork the Butte de Warlencourt on the right of the Battalion’s line. The ground was shattered and scarred by the failed attacks against the German positions on the Butte. A fresh attack was made to the right of the 1/8th by the 50th Division on the 5th November, with the Butte being captured temporarily, and then recaptured in a German counter-attack. The Worcestershires supported the attack with rapid fire delivered under a very heavy German artillery bombardment. The Germans counter-attacked and re-established their original line, and at midnight on the 5th, the 1/8th Worcestershires were relieved by the 1/6th Gloucestershire. The Battalion made their way over the sodden mudscape of the Somme under artillery fire once more, to
reserve positions behind Contalmaison. The two Worcestershire Territorial Battalions remained in the Somme battle area as carrying parties or holding support trenches until the 23rd November when they were rested at Contalmaison.

 

The attacks on the Butte marked the final act of the Fourth Army’s Somme offensive, and the efforts of the British and Empire forces were turned to maintaining the ground they had gained at such terrific cost. The casualties of the 1/8th Worcestershire Regiment on the 5th November 1916 were 12 killed and 64 wounded. Joe Stokes was killed on the previous day, as the Germans shelled the positions overlooking Warlencourt.

The Kidderminster Times published letters to his parents from his Captain, JR Blake:

It is with very deep sorrow and regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, Private Joseph Stokes, of this regiment. He was killed in action on the night of 4th November by a shell, during a bombardment of our lines. He was buried close to where he fell, and his grave has been marked. I find it very hard to express my sympathy with you in your terrible loss. It may console you in some small measure to know that he was killed instantaneously, and died doing his duty as a soldier. He was a good man and a good soldier, and will be greatly missed by myself and his comrades, who had a great affection for him. Although he had only been with us for a short time, in my position as officer commanding his company, I had come to know him as a brave man, who set a good example by his determination.1

His platoon Sergeant H Russell also wrote:

I cannot of course, tell you exactly where he fell, but may say that it was in front of a village until quite recently occupied by the enemy. He was on a bombing post some considerable distance in front of the main part of the platoon, and directly supporting a Lewis gun team. Both our own and the enemy’s artillery had been active all day, and towards evening their shelling became so heavy that I myself thought they were preparing an attack, but after a short time things became much quieter – in fact normal. It appears that your son had just been sent down the trench to report to the Lewis gunners and was returning when a light shell entered the trench, exploding just behind
him. A fragment caught him in the small of the back, and word being immediately sent up to me that he was wounded, he was found in the trench a few minutes later. However, before either the stretcher-bearers or myself arrived he had breathed his last.
You will be glad to know he suffered no pain at all, and he was buried just beside the trench, a small cross marking the grave. His personal belongings were collected and have perhaps already reached you. I may say he was one of the most reliable and cheery men and he was very generally missed in the platoon. I trust this letter will prove some comfort to you in your loss.’

Joe Stokes is buried in Adanac Military Cemetery, near Miraumont on the Somme, in
grave IV. H. 17. He was 21 years old.

1 Kidderminster Times 23rd December 1916 p.5; Kidderminster Shuttle 3rd November 1917
p.4

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