Joseph Marsland, Private 41417, 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Photo courtesy of York Army Museum
Joseph Marsland’s service record, like many others, has not survived, but unfortunately I cannot find his POW record either. The only evidence we have for his being in a camp is the photo, and the fact that his name appears on the Leeds Absent Voters List for 1918. This shows him living at 52 Monkbridge Road, Leeds, but no-one else is listed for that address. (Leeds City Library) No census so far has looked likely, but the 1939 Register has a Joseph Marsland at 5 Trelawn Street, Headingley, not far from Monkbridge Road. He was living there with his wife Hilda, and there is a record of a marriage to Hilda Noble in September 1915, but if this is correct I would have expected her to be on the absent voters list. His date of birth is given as 25th August 1892, and his occupation as tram conductor. There also appears to be a daughter, Jean West, née Marsland. (Find My Past)
All of this is speculation, and unless more definite evidence comes to light Joseph will have to remain as an unknown soldier. All we know for sure is that he was a fairly late recruit, possibly a conscript. After the armistice he was put on the Reserve List, and awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Ancestry)
More definite evidence has now come to light, thanks to Tim Colman, grandson of Joseph.
Joseph was born in Leeds on 25th August 1892, the elder son of Joseph senior and Jane Elizabeth Marsland. His brother Harold was born in January 1896, and in 1901 they were living in Headingley, the father being listed as a hay and corn merchant. In 1905, when Joseph was 13, his mother died. On the 1911 Census Joseph senior is given as a traveller in oils, while both boys, having left school, are working as draper’s assistants. There is also a daughter, Clara, listed, aged 24, who had not appeared on the 1901 Census, and has, so far, not shown anywhere else.
In 1914, when the war started, Joseph was almost 22, but only 5ft 3ins tall, and consequently too short to volunteer. The Leeds Bantams Battalion was formed in December 1914 to cater for men like him, but in August 1915, when Joseph married Hilda Noble, his occupation was given as tram conductor, so he was presumably still a civilian. The reason for this delay in enlisting is not known, but by September 1915 he was in the army, and training at Clipstone Camp, near Mansfield, Nottingham.
In February 1916 the battalion left for France, where they were put into trenches in quiet parts of the front, before joining the Battle of the Somme at Carnoy on 16th July. Fifteen days later they were withdrawn, having taken part in no official actions but having suffered 314 casualties, one of whom was Joe. He was sent back to England to recover, and found himself once again at Clipstone Camp. In April of the following year he returned to France, just in time for the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. In August the battalion captured Gillemont Farm, but the Germans only withdrew about 30 metres, and at first light on 31st August, when the Bantams were holding The Knoll, just north of the farm, the Germans attacked once more, and Joe was wounded again, this time in the neck, and more significantly, was captured. He was one of the fifty-three listed as missing, but luckily not one of the sixty-three listed as dead.
In October his father received an official postcard from Joe, telling him he was a POW at Cassel Camp and had been wounded, but was otherwise OK. He was later transferred to the camp at Langensalza, where he remained until the armistice, at which point the guards opened the camp gates and left the prisoners to make their own way home. He travelled through Germany and then Holland, finally reaching Rotterdam where he took ship for Hull. He arrived there about Christmas Day. En route he collected postcards of his journey, at least one of which he posted to Hilda to tell her he was nearly home.
In February 1919 Joe was discharged and put into Class Z, a reserve which ultimately was not required. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and, as noted above, he returned to Headingley and his job as a tram conductor. In May 1923 he and Hilda had a daughter, Jean, and some time after that it would appear another child, presumably Mildred, who was born in 1926, and became Tim’s mother.
Sadly Harold had been killed in September 1916 at Thiepval, another casualty of the Somme, and Hilda lost a brother and a brother-in-law.
Researchers: Jane Luxton and Peter Taylor, with additional information from Tim Colman
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
- Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.