Sunday, August 31, 2014

G/1672 Private John Henry Oliver, 10th Royal Sussex Regt

John Oliver of Chailey died on the opening day of the Battle of Loos, 25th September 1915. This is his story.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s (CWGC) Debt of Honour register, John Oliver was a native of Chailey. This is not born out by the 1891 census however, which notes his place of birth as Lewes. John Oliver was a one year old infant when the census was taken and was living at 55 Bevenbridge, St Johns, Lewes, with his family. The family comprised John Henry Oliver (senior) aged 33, working as an agricultural labourer; his wife Mercy Oliver (aged 43) and their three children: Rebecca Oliver (aged five), Mary Oliver (aged three) and John Henry Oliver (junior). Ten years later, the 1901 census notes the family still living at Bevenbridge Cottages. John Henry Oliver (senior) is aged 44 and working as brickmaker. His wife’s age is noted as 52. John and Mary are noted as 11 and 13 years old respectively. Rebecca Oliver (aged 15) was working as a general domestic servant in East Chiltington.

Soldiers Died in The Great War further adds to the confusion over John’s place of birth by noting it as Hamsey, Sussex but it does also tell us that he enlisted at Lewes. His connection with Chailey could be through work. His father, as mentioned already, was working as a brickmaker and it is possible that he was working at the Chailey brickyards and that his son followed him there. There is also some confusion over his name. The Debt of Honour register and the tablet inside St Peter’s church Chailey refer to him as Henry J Oliver. All other reference point to the Christian names the other way round.

Chailey Parish Magazine notes in November 1914 that John Oliver is serving his King and Country, adding in October 1915 that he is serving with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in France. In July 1915 Chailey Parish Magazine reported news of his father’s burial (on June 7th 1915) and before the year was out, Mercy Oliver would lose her only son as well when G/1672 Private John Henry Oliver died of wounds on the opening day of the battle of Loos.

News of his death (“the only son of the late Harry Oliver”) was reported on page 12 of The Sussex Express (October 22nd 1915) and again on 3rd March 1916; a photo accompanying the 1916 article. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his battalion as the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment whilst Chailey Parish Magazine, The Sussex Express and Soldiers Died, all quote the 10th Battalion. John Oliver is buried at Verquin Communal Cemetery, France. His somewhat chipped headstone carries the inscription, WE MISS THE HAND CLASP / MISS THE LOVING SMILE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that he was the son of Mrs Mercy Oliver of 17 St John’s Terrace, Lewes. In the space of four months she had lost both her husband and only son.

My thanks to Jon Miller for the photograph of John Oliver's grave.

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