Researched and written by Anne Wright
Cpl J O Eley, MSM
16th (Service) Battalion (City of Cardiff),
Welsh Regiment/Army Service Corps, 38th Division HQ
23415 & S4/145920
John Owen Eley and his five siblings were all born in Weybridge. He was the eldest, followed by Ada, Allan, Arthur, Victor and Cecil. Their parents, John, a native of Great Oakley, Essex and Elizabeth Sarah Ward Barker, a native of Addlestone, were married on 14 May 1894 at St. James’ Church in Weybridge. Both had humble origins, John, a labourer, was the son of a labourer and Elizabeth was the daughter of a milkman. Their first child, John, was born on 4 March 1896 and was baptised about six weeks later on 19 April, also in St. James’ Church. Five years later, John, his parents and three year old sister, Ada were living at Elm Grove Villas in Elm Grove Road. John Senior was now the foreman of drainage works. By 1911 the family was complete. They had moved to ‘Oakley’ in Holstein Avenue. John Senior was still a drainage foreman but now focussed on house drainage. John Junior, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), had just started work at a motor cycle factory as an office boy; this was probably Zenith Motors Ltd. of Church Street, motor cycle manufacturers. By the time he enlisted he was a stenographer.
As for so many others, John’s civilian life was abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of war; he enlisted in London on 18 December 1914. He stood five feet and six inches tall and was assigned initially to the 16th (Service) Battalion, Welsh Regiment which in April 1915 was part of the 115th Brigade in the 38th (Welsh) Division. In August, John and his comrades moved to Hazeley Down Camp at Winchester. Here they underwent a period of Musketry Training on the Larkhill and Bulford Ranges. By the time his original battalion was ready for active service in November, John had already transferred to the Army Service Corps (October) and was attached to 38th Division HQ to perform clerical duties. His transfer document referred to him being of ‘good’ character. He was promoted to Corporal on 25 November and embarked for France from Southampton on 2 December to disembark at Le Havre the next day. Private Link of John’s former battalion recorded what a cross Channel journey could be like:
We were packed in like sardines, and after dark sailed for France. It was a very rough night, and nine out of ten were ill.
38th Division units fought in some of the fiercest battles on the Western Front: the attack on Mametz Wood, 7 – 12 July 1916 in the battle of the Somme and in actions at Pilckem Ridge and Langemark in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917. John was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal (London Gazette, 1 January 1918), this honour, a silver medal, was usually bestowed for distinguished service or for gallantry. On 23 October 1918 he was granted fourteen days leave but shortly after his return, he died of pneumonia on 5 November at 59th Casualty Clearing Station, brought on ‘due to exposure and infection whilst on Military Duty.’ (CWGC records date of death as 6th November) John was 22 years old and had served for 3 years and 323 days. His division was involved in the final push against the Germans in Picardy – the enemy was finally on the brink of defeat.
John was buried in the British Cemetery (II.G.7) in the village of Awoingt, close to Cambrai, just south of the main road to Le Cateau. His father, sister Ada and brother Cecil still lived in Holstein Avenue in 1945 and John Senior died in Weybridge Cottage Hospital in 1951. Of his five sons, John Owen was the only one to die in the First World War.
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
Kelly’s Directory 1911, UK, City and County Directories, 1766-1946, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War of 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
16th (Service) Battalion (Cardiff City), The Welsh Regiment, World War 1, www.royalwelsh.org.uk