Thursday, August 03, 2006

16880 Pte Joseph French, 9th Essex Regiment

16880 Private Joseph French was probably a patient at Beechlands in 1916 when he left his mark in Nurse Oliver’s album. His entry comprises a pencil drawing of the Essex Regiment badge and the following text (which has been over-written in later years in black ink):

Pte J French No 16880
3rd Essex Reg
Dovercourt, Harwich, Essex

He shares this page with an entry from 2605 Corporal John Dicks of the 9th Essex Regiment and a group photo of convalescent soldiers. Thanks to Clive Manning, we can date his wound quite accurately as he appears in a list of wounded soldiers published in the Times newspaper on 24th June 1916.

I have been unable to locate either Joseph’s birth registration details or his entry on the 1901 census. He does however appear on the census returns for 1881 and 1891.

He was born in 1881 and was the son of Joseph and Polly French of London. He appears on the 1881 census as a three week old baby, living with his family at Bishopsgate, London. Joseph is recorded on the census as James. The other family members comprised Joseph (head, married, aged 24, a carman born in Bishopsgate), his wife Mary Ann (aged 23, also born in Bishopsgate) and their three children: Mary Ann (aged five, born in Lever Street), Rose (aged two, born in Spitalfields) and Joseph (or James), born in the City of London.

By the time the 1891 census was taken, the family was living at number 2, Artillery Street, Whitechapel, London. The household comprised: Joseph French (head, married, aged 33, working as an ostler), his wife Mary Ann French (also aged 33 and working as a charwoman) and five children: Mary Ann (aged 15, working as a book folder), Rose French (aged 12), Joseph (aged ten), George (aged eight) and Harriet Emily (aged three). The parents and their five children are all recorded as having been born in Bishopsgate, London.

Joseph’s enlistment date is unclear but his medal index card shows that he arrived in Gallipoli on 2nd September 1915. The 1st Essex had already been there since 25th April 1915 and would leave on 8th January 1916, so Joseph French must have arrived with a draft. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album either pre-dates his Gallipoli posting (which seems most likely as there is no mention of Gallipoli in it) or comes as result of sickness or a wound sustained there.

At some point in time Joseph must have been posted to the 9th Essex Regiment because it was whilst serving with this battalion that he was killed in action eighty nine years ago today on 3rd August 1917. He was 36 years old and was one of four 9th Essex Other Rank fatalities that day, the other three men dying of wounds. The battalion was at Monchy Le Preux during July and August of that year and on the 2nd August, the Germans had attacked Hook Trench, the fighting continuing through the following day. There is no mention in the divisional history of casualties amongst the 9th Essex on the day but Joseph French and three others paid the ultimate price.

Joseph is buried in Monchy British Cemetery, grave reference: I.F.37. The inscription on his gravestone reads: “THY WILL BE DONE”.

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

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