Company Serjeant Major John Percy Batey

Researched and written by Anne Wright

CSM J P Batey, DCM
Royal Engineers
106517
Killed in action, 9.4.1918
Age 29

In 1911 John Percy Batey lodged with Arthur and Annie Baynes at 1, Oak Villas, Dorchester Road in Weybridge. He was a research chemist and his fellow lodger William Shapland, a teacher. By the time he enlisted in January 1915 he had moved to 3, Minorca Road, also in Weybridge. His career had brought him south from his native Lancashire. John was born on 22 March 1889 to Robert and Georgina Batey in Chorlton cum Hardy. He had three older siblings Henry, Robert and Margaret but he was the youngest by seven years. John was baptised on 5 May 1889 at St. Clements’s Church in his home town. His father was a bank cashier and the family was able to employ two domestic staff.

John was educated at Manchester Municipal Technical School and Manchester University from where he graduated as a B.Sc. and M.Sc., the latter in Applied Chemistry (1908). He was then awarded a Schuster Research Fellowship and became a member of the Chemical Society. In 1912 he and a colleague, Edmund Knecht, published a paper on ‘A Modification of Beckmann’s Apparatus’ in the Society’s journal. A promising professional career was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914; John enlisted at Woldingham on 2 January 1915. At almost five feet and ten inches in height he was taller than many of his contemporaries. He was sent initially to the 16th Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment (1331) but was transferred to the Royal Engineers (RE) in May 1915.

Shortly after joining the RE John did a period of training at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. On 22 April 1915, at the second battle of Ypres, the Germans used poison gas (chlorine gas) for the first time on the Western Front. In response Lord Kitchener decided to create companies of technically skilled men to facilitate Britain’s retaliation and defence against such methods. John went to France in August 1915 and joined the 188th Special Company; his expertise qualified him well for the task at hand. The Special Companies (only four at this early stage) had a depot and laboratory at Helfaut near St. Omer (France) as well as research facilities in Britain. The first British use of poison gas was at the Battle of Loos in September, 1915. Work continued to produce more effective gas masks to protect the soldiers involved. After Sir Douglas Haig became Commander in Chief in December, 1915, he authorised the expansion of the RE Special Companies and a Special Brigade was created; it eventually totalled 208 officers and 5,306 men. John was part of the 5th Battalion in 1917 and by the time of his death in 1918 he was serving in the 3rd Special Company. He had been promoted to Corporal in August 1915, to Sergeant in April 1916 and to Company Sergeant Major in September 1916. John had his last home leave in December, 1917.

By the final year of the war he was an experienced soldier and received two bravery awards: a Belgian Croix de Guerre (London Gazette, 15.4.1918) and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (London Gazette, 21.10.1918). The citation for the latter reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He volunteered on no less than eleven occasions in one month to conduct parties carrying rations and supplies over a very much exposed area that was being heavily shelled by the enemy, to …. emplacements in the front line. The fine example of courage and devotion to duty of this warrant officer had an excellent effect on the NCOs and men of his company.

John Batey was reported missing and wounded on 9 April 1918 near Armentieres. This was the first day of the Battle of Estaires (first stage of the Battle of Lys, 9-29 April), the third phase of the German Spring Offensive, Operation Georgette. The enemy bombardment began on the 7 April and included gas attacks. The Germans launched a massive onslaught with eight divisions against the front from Armentieres to Festubert; they made spectacular gains on 9 April breaking through over nine miles of the line. This day marked the beginning of an agonising period of waiting, hoping and fearing for John’s family. In August they were informed that there was no further news of him in the RE’s records. His death was officially confirmed in October 1918; it was considered that he had died on 9 April. He had served for three years and ninety days.

In early 1921 John’s brother Robert wrote to the military authorities concerning the fact that the family had not yet received the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ (a plaque issued to commemorate the dead) writing that it caused ‘sorrow and anxiety’ to his mother. The reply explained that the delay in despatching the Plaque was due to the huge number required (over 700,000). John has no known grave but is commemorated on Ploegsteert Memorial (Panel1) with over eleven thousand others, in Berks Cemetery Extension, 12.5 km south of Ypres (now Ieper). He is also remembered by his University as well as by Weybridge, which was briefly his home.

Sources:

J P Batey & Edmund Knecht, ‘A Modification of the Beckmann Apparatus’, Journal of the Chemical Society, 1912 (vol 101), pp. 1185-1189
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – The Special Companies of the Royal Engineers (poison gas), www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
C N Trueman, ‘The Battle of Lys’, www.historylearningsite.co.uk
Stockport Soldiers Who Died in the Great War, www.stockport1914-1918.co.uk

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