John Edward Joyce – from Bradford to Leeds

28312 Private John Edward Joyce MM, 15/17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment

One of the 90 soldiers who moved from the 18th Battalion (2nd Bradford Pals) to the 15/17th Battalion in February 1918

     Photo by courtesy of Rosena Hynes née Joyce 

John Edward Joyce was born in Bradford on 13th July 1892 and was the son of Joseph Joyce and Hannah Joyce, née Lloyd.  His mother was born at Barningham, Suffolk in 1861 and died in Bradford in 1898, when John was six.  His father, a plumber’s labourer, was born at Conington, Cambridgeshire in about 1861; he remarried, to Martha Moon, in late 1906.  John had four siblings, Albert, Alfred, who emigrated to Australia, Laura, who died in a school accident aged 11, and Lily.  There was also Emma who was adopted when her mother died and she later emigrated to the USA.  In 1891 and 1901 the family were living at 94 Chassum Street, Bradford.  By 1911 Joseph and Martha Joyce had moved to 65 Bridgwater Road, Bradford and later lived at 102 Salt Street, Bradford.  John was a Seal Finisher in a silk factory although he later became an Insurance Agent for Prudential and had been progressing well in his new career when war broke out.  In 1915 John married Gertrude (Gertie) Alice Riley of 125 Silk Street, Manningham, Bradford. Gertie is listed on the 1939 Register as being born on 20th January 1889 and living at 37 Thornton Road, Bradford.  Also listed at the address was Enid Bower (born 24th November 1926) who Gertie fostered when Enid’s mother died, and she remained with Gertie until her death in 1970.

Photo by courtesy of Rosena Hynes née Joyce

John enlisted in the 18th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Bradford Pals) on 7th April 1916.  The Battalion was formed in Bradford on 22nd January 1915 by the Lord Mayor and City and in June 1915 became part of the 93rd Brigade, 31st Division based at Ripon, Yorkshire.  In December 1915 the Division deployed to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal from the advancing Turks and in March 1916 it transferred to France to prepare for the Battle of the Somme.  John joined too late to experience the desert soldiering.

Little is known of John’s personal Army details as his service record has not survived although, through other Army documents such as war diaries, medal rolls and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission registers, a general outline of his service can be made. Also, his good friend Thomas Oxtoby (Tom), a fellow Bradford Pal, mentioned John in several of his letters sent home and these are preserved in the Imperial War Museum, London archives.  Unusually the date of entry into a Theatre of War, normally recorded on the Medal Index Card (MIC), is not shown so it is conjecture whether he arrived in France in time for the start of the Somme Battle on 1st July 1916, although it was probably later.

The Battalions of 93rd Brigade failed to get beyond their own front line as the assembly trenches were subject to continuous artillery bombardment and heavy machine-gun fire to the front and from the Quadrilateral Redoubt on the flank of their trenches.  On that day, the Brigade suffered more than 1,800 casualties spread evenly among its four battalions.  The 18th Battalions’ casualties of more than 400 officers and men represented some seventy per cent of the Battalion’s men who took part in the assault. Another incident at this time that deeply upset the soldiers was when two of their comrades were controversially ‘Shot at Dawn’ for desertion – they were absent and had missed the major attack on 1st July.

It is assumed that John served with the 18th Battalion from late-1916 and therefore could have been present during the later actions in 1916, in the Hebuterne Sector near Serre (October-December), which involved a fighting patrol on the night 24th/25th October. John however was trained as a signaller and Tom recorded the dangerous work they did: ‘We felt every inch of the wire along our trench, and tested it by pulling, where it was out of reach overhead, and then by touch again in another trench, where we found the break. It had evidently been cut by shrapnel, or some such thing.’   On 13th January 1917 both John and Tom Oxtoby were awarded the Military Medal (MM).  John was almost certainly with the 18th Battalion during the major action at Arras in May 1917 and remained with them until early 1918 when 90 soldiers were transferred to the amalgamated Battalion of the Leeds Pals which became the 15/17th Battalion.  This was done as part of a reorganisation of the Army which involved the disbandment of the 18th Battalion in February 1918.

John was killed in action on 27th March 1918 age 26.  His close friend Tom Oxtoby recorded when John became a casualty: ‘He was hit in the neck and though he was bleeding considerably, I have hopes of hearing that he is alive in Germany.  How anybody at all got through, I really don’t know, though I did it myself.  Of the party that I was with, at the time, I believe I am the sole survivor.’  Tom was in fact reported missing but returned to his unit two weeks laterAn extract from the Battalion War Diary 20th to 27th March 1918 recorded: During this tour of duty in the Reserve Line the Battalion suffered several casualties by Shell Fire, 4 Other Ranks killed, 14 Other Ranks wounded and 2 Other Ranks died of wounds. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. Interestingly, an entry on his MIC shows he was ‘Discharged, [King’s Regulations] 392(XVI), 8/10/17’ which indicates he was ‘no longer physically fit or having suffered an impairment’.  This was either a mistake or he recovered sufficiently enough to ‘soldier on’. For his service during the war he was awarded theMM for ‘Bravery in the field’, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and his family would also have received a bronze Memorial Plaque and Scroll. John is also commemorated in the Bradford Roll of Honour and on the Prudential War Memorial in High Holborn, London.


West Yorkshire Regiment War Diaries

Ancestry – Medal Index Card, MM Card, Medal Roll and BM&D Registers

Findmypast – 1939 Register

Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Cemetery Register

Bradford Roll of Honour

Prudential Roll of Honour

Researchers: Peter Taylor and David J Owen

Please Note:

  • 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.

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