Gunner 31612 Joseph Parsons

Parsons Joseph full 96 326x700 Parsons Joseph 96 467x600
Photograph courtesy of Joseph's great-grandson, Malcolm Parsons.

Died on Friday, 24th November 1916, age 26.
Commemorated on Pier and Face 1 A and 8 A of Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

Royal Field Artillery, 46th Brigade, "A" Battery. 14th Division.

Son of John and Sarah Ann Parsons.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Wolverhampton, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, post 31st December 1915.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library Memorial.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/808443/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
4 House 14 Court, Horseley Heath, Tipton, Staffs.
John Parsons (38, Bricklayer's Labourer, born Tipton), his wife Sarah (39, born Tipton), and their 2 children: William (11, born Tipton), and Joseph (9, born Tipton).

1911 Census
5 House 24 Court, Dudley Port, Tipton, Staffs.
John Parsons (48, Bricklayer, born Dudley Port), his wife Sarah Ann (48, born Horseley Heath), and 1 of their 2 surviving children of 8: Joseph (20, Coal Miner, born Beverley).

Personal Data

Joseph Parsons married Annie Dudley in June quarter 1912, the marriage was registered in Dudley. Their first son, Joseph, was born in September quarter 1912, and their second son, Arthur, was born in March quarter 1915.

After Joseph's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £1/6/2d (1 pound, 6 shillings and 2 pence), this was paid to his widow, Annie, in November 1917. His War Gratuity was £8/10/0d (8 pounds and 10 shillings), this was also paid to his widow in November 1919, although by this time she had re-married and was Mrs Annie Masters; this marriage produced a further 11 children. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Joseph had enlisted in approximately November 1914.

Both of Joseph’s sons served in WW2, Joseph in Burma and Arthur in Africa and Italy. Arthur was killed in an industrial accident 6 months after his army service ended.

Joseph’s descendants, now extending to a great great great grandson, continue to remember his name and his sacrifice with pride.

Action resulting in his death

Joseph Parsons arrived in France at an unknown date in 1916, and was posted to the 46th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. The 46th Brigade was one of the Artillery Brigades belonging to the 14th (Light) Division. If Joseph had been in France during August and September 1916, he would have seen action at the Battle of Delville Wood and the Battle of Flers/Coucelette. By 24th November 1916, the Battle of the Somme had drawn to a close, and the troops prepared to hold their lines during the winter.

‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ records Joseph Parsons as ‘Died’; this generally means that death was due to illness or accident, rather than military action. Joseph Parsons’ family believe that he was killed in a train accident, a story which has been passed down the generations.

There was indeed a serious rail crash on the day of his death, 24th November 1916. This was at Gézaincourt when an accident with the ‘Leave train’ en-route to Boulogne led to the death of approximately 20 officers and men. This occurred less than ½ mile from No. 29 Casualty Clearing Station who were able to give medical assistance.

Gézaincourt Communal Cemetery Extension has 11 identified burials in Plot II Row D for the 24th November; these are believed to be the men killed in the crash who were identifiable. 7 men are reported to have been so badly burnt that they were unidentifiable (source quoted below), this would seem to include Joseph Parsons.

Plot II Row D has 3 graves (4, 6 and 10) where the soldier is unidentified: ‘known unto God’. It would seem logical to conclude that these were the men who were unidentifiable after the crash due to the subsequent fire – this means that Joseph Parsons is likely to be buried in one of these 3 graves.

War Diary of 29th Casualty Clearing Station at Gézaincourt
24th November 1916
Serious railway accident occurred about ¼ mile to West of camp, at 4.30 a.m. Trucks from preceding coal train broke away and ran down incline into Boulogne Leave train. Many coaches and trucks were de-railed. Five coaches were set on fire. The Unit turned out and got injured out of train, then brought them to camp. Several of the wounded were burnt to death being pinned down by beams. Major Gordon, 43rd Cameron Highlanders of Canada was Officer-in-charge of the train.
Casualties: 3 officers and 14 other ranks were dead or died almost at once when got out of fire.
15 officers and 49 other ranks injured and attended to in this camp and Officers Hospital.
2 French civilians injured and brought in here.

Forwarded names of Capt. Hoskyn, Sgt. Orr, Cpls. Chevalier and Heley for their gallant conduct.

War Diary: Matron-in-Chief (Emma Maud McCarthy), British Expeditionary Force, France & Flanders
THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, WO95/3989 found at: http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/54.html
28th November 1916, Havre
“Letter received from Sister in charge, 29 C.C.S., giving a description of the serious railway accident which had happened to a leave train when 18 officers and 51 men were badly injured, and 3 officers killed and 7 bodies found in such a charred condition as to be unrecognisable owing to the fact that some of the carriages had overturned and caught fire and the men were unable to get out.”

Extract from page 38 of 'Hired to Kill' the autobiography of John Morris (Charles John Morris, 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment).
"I was offered leave to go home for a week and left for Calais the same afternoon. While our train was ascending a little incline outside Doullens, a goods train in front of us broke its couplings and most of it came rushing down the hill and cannoned into us. The front part of our train was at once derailed and almost immediately caught fire. The carriages were overcrowded and escape was not possible. I was fortunately in one of the rear carriages and suffered only a few bruises. We did not at first know what had happened; but when it became clear that there was some sort of breakdown, we got out and went to investigate. By this time the whole front part of the train was well alight and we could not approach near enough to be of any assistance. The screams of those trapped in the burning wreckage horrified me in a way that sudden trench-death never did. There was something obscene about this drawn-out agony, so unlike the quick death in battle."

Honours & Awards
The 4 men commended for their gallantry all received awards:
 - Capt. Charles Reginald Hoskyn was awarded the Albert Medal
 - Sgt. 27253 James Orr, Acting Cpl. 9824 William Chevalier and Acting Cpl. 29989 Sidney Heley were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

Captain Charles Reginald Hoskyn
The London Gazette Citation, 1st January 1918 Issue 30454 Page 143
Captain Charles Reginald Hoskyn, Royal Army Medical Corps.
In France on the 24th November, 1916, as a result of a serious railway accident, a man was pinned down by the legs under some heavy girders. The wreckage was on fire, and the flames had already reached the man's ankles. Captain Hoskyn crawled into a cavity in the flaming wreckage, and after releasing one of the man's legs, amputated the other, whereupon the man was drawn out alive, Captain Hoskyn retaining hold of the main artery until a tourniquet could be put on.

Citation on John Orr’s Medal Index Card.
On the occasion of the train accident at Gézaincourt, 24th November 1916, he fought the flames without ceasing in his efforts to rescue the wounded. He showed great gallantry in endeavouring to raise a blazing mass of wreckage to extricate an injured man who was pinned down by heavy beams of timber across his legs.
John Orr was awarded a Bar to his MSM in 1917.

Citation on William Chevalier’s Medal Index Card.
On the occasion of the train accident at Gézaincourt on November 24th 1916, A/Cpl. Chevalier was most conspicuous in his efforts to rescue an injured man from the blazing wreckage. He showed great gallantry, fought the flames without ceasing having his hand severely burnt owing to his efforts to raise up the burning masses of timber in order to free an injured man.

Citation on Sidney Heley’s Medal Index Card.
On the occasion of the train accident at Gézaincourt on November 24th 1916, A/Cpl. S. Heley showed great gallantry in endeavouring to raise burning wreckage in order to free an injured man. In addition to this plucky act he displayed great resource and initiative in handling the injured who had been removed from the wreckage and were waiting to be removed to the C.C.S. on stretchers.

Newspaper Cuttings

Birmingham Daily Post 17th March 1917
Missing believed Killed.
R.F.A.- Parsons, 31612, Gunner, J., (Tipton).

Birmingham Daily Post 30th July 1917
The following casualties amongst warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men are reported under various dates:
Previously reported missing believed killed, now reported killed.
R.F.A., Parsons, 31612, Gunner, J., (Tipton).