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Brave Woodside men killed in the final year of the First World War

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 23, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Phares Pearson

  • Phares Pearson (seated) and his brothers

  • The Pearson family at their Woodside home – Phares, standing behind his mother, was killed in the First World War

  • Isaac Oakley Leach

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IN RECENT years the Woodside Memory and History Group have done great work in researching the lives of all the men from the old Woodside ward, Dudley, who gave their lives in the First World War. Their work has uncovered stories and pictures of the fallen and their families from the Woodside, Holly Hall, Scotts Green, Harts Hill and Low Town areas of Dudley.

The group have supplied these photographs of a family that lost a son in the final year of the war. The main picture shows coal merchant John Pearson and his wife Fanny and their 10 children at their home, 23 Cross Street, Woodside. Standing at the back are David, George, John jnr., Phares, William, Matilda, Solomon and Harold. At the front are Fanny, Beatrice, John snr. and Sarah Ann.

John and Fanny were married at St James' Church, Eve Hill, Dudley in 1887 and their son Phares was born in 1895. His unusual name comes from the Book of Genesis, Phares being the son of Judah and Tamar, the twin of Zerah and an ancestor of David.

Phares worked as a bootmaker before he enlisted and he served with the 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

He was killed, aged 22, on 17 April, 1918, during the Battle of the Lys (1918), part of the great German offensive of Spring 1918 that was their last attempt to win the war. This was the time of Sir Douglas Haig's famous "Backs to the Wall" order of 11th April, 1918, when desperately sort of men and ammunition in the face of the Germans' onslaught he wrote, "There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment."

Phares Pearson is buried at the Chocques Military Cemetery near Bethune, France, along with over 1,800 other victims of the Great War.

Another local man to be killed in the Spring Offensive of 1918 was Isaac Oakley Leach of 56 Stourbridge Road, Scotts Green, Dudley. He was a Yorkshireman, born in Barnsley in 1879, the son of coal miner William Leach and his wife Ann.

In 1904 Isaac married Eleanor Bailey and the 1911 census records Isaac and Eleanor living in Cudworth, Yorkshire, with their children Thelma, 6, and Irvine, 4.

At some point before the outbreak of the war the family moved to Dudley where Isaac worked as an insurance superintendent.

Isaac enlisted in Dudley and initially served with the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons before being transferred to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He died on 22nd April, 1918, aged 38, and is buried at the Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.

Frederick Barker was born in 1892, one of four children to labourer Samuel Barker and his wife Hannah Mary Round. The family home was in Cross Street, Woodside.

Frederick joined the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, which first arrived in France in July 1915. Through 1916 they were positioned on the Somme and the following year they transferred to Ypres. In September 1917 they engaged in the Battle of the Menin Road and in October the Battle of Broodseinde. However, in July 1918 the battle was reduced to cadre strength, with most of the men transferring to the 3rd Battalion.

Private Frederick Barker died on 16 September, 1918, aged 25, and is buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery, Germany, which suggests he may have been a prisoner of war.

Around 12,000 Commonwealth servicemen died in captivity, most from disease, particularly in the typhus outbreak of 1915 and the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The research into the lives of the Woodside fallen of the First World War has been carried out by Val Worwood, Mike Smith, Chris Smith, Don Kirby and Janette Hughes.

For more information on the Woodside Memory and History Group, contact chairman Len Hughes on 01384 565291.

Have you a story of an ancestor who served in the First World War? Contact dshaw@black countrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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