Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte J W Spring
10th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
John William Spring was baptised on Christmas Day 1887 at St James’ Church, Clapham. He was born on 8 November to Thomas Edwin, a labourer, and his wife, Eliza (nee Ramsey); he was the youngest of their eight children. John’s siblings were: Thomas Edwin, Elizabeth Ellen, Ann Eliza, Sarah Ann Jane, Caroline, Edith and Louisa. His parents had married on 18 April 1870 at St Matthew’s Church, Brixton. From at least 1881 onwards the family home was in Clapham, firstly at 8, White Square, then in 1891 at 47, Nelson Row, followed by 54, Nelson Row in 1901. John’s mother died in the decade between 1901 and 1911 as in the latter year, his father, now a widower, lived with his eldest son and his family at 37 or 39 Nelson Row. John was not with them. He married Jane Hall Thomas, who was born in Middlesex in 1881, towards the end of 1913, in Lambeth. In 1911 she had been a cook at Harrow School. Prior to his military service John was a steward at St George’s Hill Golf Club in Weybridge which opened in October 1913. At one stage their home was at Hope Cottage in St George’s Road. They had one child, a daughter, Edith Jane Hall, born in August 1914.
John’s battery arrived in France on 16 February 1915. A Siege Battery was formed of 5 officers, 177 other ranks, 17 riding horses, 6 draught and 80 heavy draught horses, 3 2-horse carts and 10 4-horse wagons. A battery would usually be with three others. Their task was to destroy or disable the enemy’s artillery and to target vital points behind enemy lines such as stores, roads and railways. To do this they used heavy howitzers which fired large calibre high explosive shells and were sighted well behind their infantry lines. When the 10th Siege Battery took part in the Battles of Neuve Chapelle (March) and Festubert (May) they utilised 9.2” howitzers. The former opened with a bombardment of 35 minutes on the German front line and then one of 30 minutes on the village of Neuve Chapelle. Captain Bagot-Chester of the 2/3rd Ghurka Rifles, Gharwal Brigade left a description of what John and his comrades must have experienced:
At about 7.30 am the artillery bombardment commenced, and never since history has there been such a one, you couldn’t hear yourself speak for the noise.
The Battle of Festubert was preceded by an artillery bombardment lasting 60 hours with firing day and night. Over 100,000 shells were discharged, and yet large parts of the German lines remained intact.
John died of blood poisoning on 2 August 1915; this may have been the result of an infected wound. He was laid to rest in Bois Guillaume Communal Cemetery (I.B 9A) which is located in a north-east suburb of Rouen. Most of those buried there came from the No. 8 General Hospital which was based in a large private house in Bois Guillaume. John’s widow was employed in the St George’s Hill Military Hospital (formerly the Golf Club House) at the time of his death. She did not remarry and when she died at St Thomas’ Hospital on 28 December 1938 her address was St George’s Hill Golf Club. Their daughter Edith emigrated to Australia where she settled in New South Wales and worked as a nurse. She married Hector Dargie in 1943 and went on to have a family. Edith died in January 2014 at the age of 99. John and Jane Spring are survived by their Australian descendants.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – The Siege Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery, The Battle of Neuve Chapelle 1915, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Dargie/Spring Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Births & Baptisms, 1813-1917, www.ancestry.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1754-1932, www.ancestry.co.uk
Morris Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
Death Announcement, Surrey Advertiser, Saturday, 14 August, 1915
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk