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Wednesbury uncle's link to wartime murder

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 21, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Hayes family gravestone with the name of CSM Hughie Job Hayes, shot by his own men in WWI

  • Robert Graves wrote about the murder in his memoir Good-Bye to All That

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GENEALOGY can be a fascinating hobby that leads those that follow it on a journey of discovery into the past.

Like most of us, Peter Finch of Wolverhampton knew next to nothing about his maternal grandmother's uncle. But after carrying out research into the available records he has discovered a long and varied career in the army as well as a link to a First World War soldier who was killed by his own men in an incident that was written about by the poet Robert Graves.

Peter writes, "My Nan Morgan knew very little of her two soldier uncles, except that John Lawrence eventually became a postman in Kingston-on-Thames. This chance remark led me to trace his army records and family history, revealing a fascinating story.

"John Lawrence was born in Wednesbury about 1855 and in 1861 was living with his father George, born in Chelsea about 1825, a cabinet-maker by trade, and his mother Elizabeth, née Fletcher, at 85 High Street. On his retirement it is said that George made coffins in a shed at the bottom of his garden.

"By 1871 the family, now including George, the other soldier-to-be uncle, was living at 30 Bridge Street, Wednesbury. No occupation was shown for John but he must have left home soon afterwards as on enlistment in the 10th Hussars at Walsall on July 23, 1875, he was described as a sailor and has having a sailor tattoo on his chest.

"Between 1876 and his demob from the 17th Lancers at Ballincollig, Ireland, in 1902, he served in several theatres of war.

"From 1876 John served abroad, being stationed at Lucknow and Rawalpindi in India and was awarded the Afghanistan Medal (1878-80).

"By 1883 he was serving in Sudan and was awarded the Sudan Medal and the Khartoum Star. A year later he was back in the UK, stationed at Shorncliffe, Kent, and then posted to the first class army reserve.

"Clearly not able to settle to civilian life, he re-enlisted at Worcester for a limited engagement, being medically examined in Dudley on February 6, 1886, before joining at Canterbury, February 10, under the false name of John Fletcher. He gave his next-of-kin as John George Fletcher of Barracks Street, Barbourne, Worcester, and he gave his age as 24 years and 8 months when he was really 31.

"Eventually, he was found out and court martialled and was posted to India until November 1890. Home again he was posted to Egypt and Sudan between 1893 and 1898, returning briefly to England before going to serve in South Africa 1899-1901 and the Boer War.

"With the outbreak of the First World War he re-enlisted at Surbiton, November 5, 1914, in the 2/6 East Surrey Regiment, later being transferred to the Royal Defence Corps, being discharged as no longer fit for military duty. The role of the RDC was to provide troops for security and guard duties inside the UK, guarding important locations such as ports and bridges; it was never intended to be deployed overseas.

"On December 20, 1891, John married Mary Hayes, a widow previously married to another soldier, Edward Hayes, a private in the 77th Regiment. Widowed in 1887, she was living at 10 George IV Lane, Jolly Gardens Beer House, Hounslow.

"In marrying Mary, John became stepfather to her three children, Edward (1881-1919), Hughie Job (1883-1915) and Margaret (1885-1939?).

"Edward started a military career as a Chelsea boy drummer before serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment in South Africa during the Second Boer War. On demobilisation he, too, became a postman, in 1909, and later served in the Royal Defence Corps. Records show he spent 14 days in hospital in Lichfield.

"The photograph of the Hayes family grave in Heston, Middlesex, was sent to me by the church archivist who had noticed the Hayes family connection on our family tree. Colour Sergeant Major Hughie Job Hayes was previously unknown to me because the 1901 census incorrectly listed him as Isaac Job Hayes. With current interest in the Great War, his story is particularly poignant.

"Born in Hounslow in 1882, he entered the Duke of York's Royal Military School in 1892, going on to serve in South Africa.

"He is recorded in official records as having died of wounds, January 21, 1915, having, as the picture shows, been shot the day before. He was buried in Bethune Cemetery, the day after. Was CSM Hughie Job Hayes of the 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment the victim of enemy action?

"In his book Good-Bye to All That, first published in 1929, Robert Graves, who also wrote I Claudius and served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, wrote that two young miners in another company disliked their sergeant so much that they decided to kill him. He had a down on them and gave them the most dirty and dangerous jobs, as well as blaming them for other things as well. They later confessed to their adjutant that they had shot their CSM by mistake. Both were court martialled and shot by firing squad, on February 15, 1915, against the wall of a convent in Bethune. Their last words were supposedly 'Stick it, the Welsh', the battalion rallying cry.

"Both are buried, side by side, in Bethune Town Cemetery. I have a photograph of the grave showing their age as 41. Anyone wanting to find out their names can easily do so, but, as with Robert Graves, I prefer not to name them; Graves did not wish to be insensitive to their families. I don't think that they are commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in the Shot at Dawn area near the River Tame because mutineers and murderers are excluded. Other internet references to CSM Hayes show him shot by accident by two drunken soldiers.

"And why should John's sister Margaret find her way to Wolverhampton, where she is shown on the 1911 census working as a domestic servant for the Reverend John Creswell at St James' Vicarage? Perhaps her stepfather's Wednesbury connection was the influence, who knows? The church in Horseley Fields was demolished in 1956. Margaret married Arthur Bowen in 1914.

"Such are the fascinating facts thrown up by a chance remark about an uncle becoming a postman in Kingston-on-Thames."

Have you uncovered an interesting tale in researching your family tree? Is there an unsung hero or a black sheep among your ancestors? Please tell us the story and share any pictures you may have, contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk, call in and see us or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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