John Edmund Bailey was born in Thornton Heath on 13th February 1891, the first of two sons born to John and Emmeline Bailey. Young John was known as Jack to his family.
His father, John, was a police constable at Thornton Heath police station but transferred to Banstead, in ‘W’ Division of the Metropolitan Police, in the mid-1890s. The young family lived in a cottage next to the police station, which in those days was on the opposite side of the High Street to the current station. When the new station was built in 1906-7, John resigned from the Force and the Baileys moved to 2 Elm Cottages (now number 10), Ferndale Road.
Jack was a member of the choir at All Saints’ but was baptised at the unusually late age of 16, on the same day as his brother Stanley, 30th May 1907, at All Saints’. He was confirmed the next day by the Bishop of Dorking at Ewell.
Jack must have attended school in Banstead (no school records survive from that time) and later became a gardener working at the Colman family’s Nork Park. He lived with another gardener in Concertina Lodge, probably near the crossroads of Tattenham Way and Reigate Road. In April 1914, Jack changed jobs and became an attendant at the London County Asylum on Banstead Downs, living on site in one of the accommodation blocks for unmarried attendants.
When war broke out, the men of the asylum were encouraged to join the Armed Forces by their employer, with their salaries being paid to their dependents. Jack (5ft 10¼in tall, grey eyes and brown hair) attested with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Wrexham in May 1915 following a medical in Shoreditch, London. On top of his shilling-and-sixpence daily Army pay, his £35 county council salary was paid to his mother. He was posted to the 3rd (Depot) Battalion for training and appointed unpaid lance corporal. Arriving in France on 1st October 1915, he joined the 1st Battalion and was soon promoted to sergeant.
Injured in the forearm by a grenade during a raid on a German trench in May 1916, Jack was evacuated to hospital but rejoined his battalion on 30th June, the eve of the Battle of the Somme. The next morning, the Welsh were to attack the trench system between Mametz and Fricourt. Their attack was delayed and they did not go into action until 4:20pm, hours after most troops went over the top. Jack was probably with a grenade squad that were sent to seize and block two trenches at 7:45pm. Entering the fray late in the day, the Welsh casualties were light. The attacks in the south were a success but the Germans were able to regroup and the next 2 weeks saw hard fighting for small gains. It was probably during this period that Jack earned his Military Medal, although sadly the citation has not survived and there is no record of it in the Battalion’s war diary.
On 14th July, a renewed general attack began on the German second line at Bazentin Ridge. A breakthrough was made early on but the Germans counterattacked from High Wood. The Welsh were sent forward to help resist the attack. They advanced from Mametz Wood in artillery formation, over high ground and through heavy shellfire. Jack was hit by shrapnel in the left leg and evacuated once more. His wounds were serious enough that he never left hospital. Bits of metal remained lodged in his leg and, on 9th January 1918, he died at the Haig Lawn Red Cross Hospital, Cheshire, from complications following several operations. He was 26 years old.
Jack is buried at All Saints’ and is commemorated on the Banstead War Memorial, the Garton Memorial in the churchyard, on the panels in the Lady Chapel and on the Banstead Mental Hospital memorial plaque in HMP Highdown. His name is inscribed in the All Saints’ Book of Men Who Served Overseas and printed in the London County Council Record of War Service.
Jack was researched as part of Banstead’s WW1 remembrance project. On Tuesday 9th January 2018, the All Saints’ churchyard flag will be flown at half mast and a memorial service will be held at 11:50am, during which a bell will be tolled 100 times at noon. If you are related to Jack and have any stories or photographs then we would love to hear from you in the comments section below!