Joseph was a regular soldier who had spent most of his early life in Liverpool, where the family home had been at 82 Leadenhall Street in the Everton area. At some point, they moved east and are thought to have lived in Levenshulme before settling at Ince Street, Heaton Norris. It's probable that Joseph had joined up as soon as he was old enough and, almost certainly, by the time he was 18.
When War was declared, Joseph and his comrades were on garrison duty in Jullundur, India as part of the 3rd (Lahore) Indian Division of the British Army. They made hurried arrangements to pack up, leaving on the 29 August, arriving at Marseilles a month later. Over the coming weeks, the men would spend very long tours of duty in the trenches, mainly south of the Belgian town of Ypres (now Ieper). There were many casualties and, for those who were still surviving, conditions were miserable. The trenches were makeshift and often flooded; they had inadequate winter clothing and, increasingly, German numerical superiority was starting to tell.
Orders were given for an attack to harass the enemy around the French town of Givenchy and this started in the early morning of the 19th December. At that time, the 1st Manchesters were in reserve billets in the nearby town of Bethune and were not called until the next day. At 11am on the 20th, they were ordered to move off to march to Gorre, to support the Sirhind Brigade. They left an hour later and, on the march, the orders were changed and they were to move to the Pont Fixe. Here they received instructions to attack the enemy positions east of Givenchy.
Their attack began at 3pm and they immediately found the village strongly held by the Germans. The Regimental History records
"Rough and tumble hand-to-hand fighting took place, the Germans holding their positions house by house and they were not cleared out until it became too dark to distinguish the features of the country or locate the position of the hostile trenches. The desperate nature of the fighting can be gauged from the fact that only 12 prisoners were taken."
The village was held all night and, at 6.30am, a renewed attack was launched. This immediately came under a withering fire from rifles and machine guns "which proved particularly deadly as every movement of our men was clearly shown up by the blaze of two haystacks which were burning behind them. For over an hour, they made desperate efforts to reach the German trenches but against the torrent of bullets and shells little progress could be effect and men were everywhere falling fast."
About 10.15, the Manchesters' positions were heavily shelled followed, some 45 minutes later, a German counter-attack was launched. It was on the verge of being repulsed but, on the left, French troops were being forced back leaving the Manchesters' flank "in the air". The Germans started to work round this flank and this gave the Tommies no option but to fall back to the village. The Germans then attacked in the centre and on the right and this caused a general withdrawal of the whole British line.
At about 2pm, the Manchesters charged the Germans with fixed bayonets and were able to re-occupy the original gains. This was to be short-lived as, only an hour later, an even stronger German counter-attack was launched supported by machine guns. "There was nothing for it but to retire. The casualties had been very heavy and the men utterly done."