Joe Bannister was born in Hazel Grove, the youngest child of Joseph, a coal miner, and Sarah. He had three siblings, Amos, Fred and Grace. For most of the 1890s, the family home was at Beatrice yard in the village but by 1901, they had moved to 195 Mersey Street in the Portwood area of Stockport. Amos had married in the latter part of the decade and lived with his wife, Mary, at Beatrice Yard.
Nothing else is known of Joe’s life, except that he worked as a navvy for a Mr Worthington, a builder and contractor in Manchester. He enlisted into the army on 8 May 1915 and asked to be posted to the newly formed 19th Middlesex. The 19th Battalion had been raised the previous month and was originally known as a Public Works Battalion and later, with a more official title, as a Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneer units were comprised of men trained to fight as infantry but whose main job was in the construction of defences and strongpoints, Effectively they were labourers with rifles.
Joe’s service papers survive at the National Archives and show him to have been just over 5’ 9” tall with a chest of 37.5 inches. Clearly a well built man who was, no doubt, kept physically fit by his work.
He would not have a good record of discipline in the army. His fiorst offence, for which he was only admonished, was on 18 September, when he overstayed his leave pass and as arrested, drunk, by the civilian police. A similar offence of being drunk and disorderly in town occurred on 6 November.
On 19 January 1916, he again overstayed his leave pass and was sentenced to 10 days Field Punishment No. 2. It was a fairly harsh punishment – James would have had to undertake tasks of “hard labour” but he was also shackled for much of the day, including when he was doing his tasks. He would commit another, now unknown, offence in June of 1916 and, this time, received 28 days Field Punishment.
On 21 February 1917, Joe suffered a minor injury but he was admitted to the Field Ambulance on that day and remained a patient for a week before returning to duty
In the Spring of 1917 fierce fighting was going on around the French city of Arras. However, to the north in Belgium, it was relatively quiet. Troops were preparing for a major attack which would come in June at the village of Messines and the pioneers were being kept busy. They were based at Micmac Camp. This was a hutted camp between Dikkebusch and Ouderdom and the men would go out on working parties each day. The Battalion’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, contains no real detail of these days stating only that the men worked on communication trenches, roads and tramways. There are no details of daily casualties but it will be reasonable to assume that Joe was killed by enemy shellfire.
Further information about Joe, including a photograph, can be found in the book “Hazel Grove to Armageddon” by John Eaton.