It has not been possible to establish Joseph’s true age. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records it as 37, whilst previous research into the men commemorated on the war memorial at St George’s Church, Stockport, suggests an age of 27.
His parents were William and Alice who, after the War, were living at 32 Fog Lane, Didsbury. In the spring of 1913, Joseph married Theresa Beard and they would have one child together. They lived at 32 Cambridge Street, Heaviley, Stockport.
Joseph originally enlisted into the Cheshire Regiment and his original service number, 2515, indicates this was very soon after War was declared (probably as early as September 1914). His original unit was the 1/6th Battalion – Stockport’s Territorial Battalion. He went overseas on 17 February 1915 and would reach the rank of Corporal.
At some point, Joseph was transferred to the King’s Own, and lost two ranks, reverting to Private. This was probably after recovering from wounds or otherwise absent from the Cheshires for some considerable time due to illness, but the loss of rank suggests that some disciplinary offence might have been involved. When he was able to return to duty, the King’s Own will have been in greatest need of replacement troops. This must have been in January or February 1917 (soldiers were not given six-digit service numbers until after 1 January 1917). On 9 March 1917, he was definitely serving with the King’s Own, when he undertook an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Military Medal. This award was officially confirmed in the London Gazette, in its edition of 26 April 1917.
The Regimental History describes the day. No Man’s Land was riddled with shell craters, some of which were occupied by very small groups of British troops, others by similar parties of Germans. They provided excellent cover for snipers or for men listening for signs of an imminent attack. When ever a new crater was created near the British front line, men went out to occupy it. The Battalion had parties of specialist machine-gunners and grenade throwers on stand-by, as well as those ready to repair barbed wire.
At about 7am on 9 March, the Germans exploded a mine “The ground heaved and rocked; the earth moved in great lumps to an incredible height. Then followed a dull roar, a hissing sound, a faint flash and, lastly, a long column of smoke.” The King’s Own men from “A” Company rushed into No Man’s Land, only to find Germans in a crater between them and the new one. “Indeed the Germans were in a better position to occupy the new crater and were only prevented from doing so by Lance Corporal Nichols and his Lewis Gun.” The far lip of the new crater was very close to the German lines and it was decided to only occupy the near lip. Even so, this was only 30 yards from the German trenches and casualties were inevitable in the ensuing artillery duel.
Lance Corporal Nicholls (then a private) was also awarded the Military Medal and it possible that he and Joseph were the two-man team who operated the Lewis gun.
After six weeks of rest in the reserve areas Joseph and his mates returned to the front line north east of Ypres on 14 September. By the early hours of the 20th, they were in position to act as the reserve Battalion for their brigade in a forthcoming attack that would become officially known as the Battle of the Menin Road. They left their positions at 7am, following someway behind the leading units and, by 11am, were at positions marked on the attack map as the “Red Line” in the vicinity of German trenches known as the Schuler Galleries (just east of what is now the road running between St Julien and Zonnebeke). They had suffered few casualties and dug in here and consolidated the position, but were subject to heavy sniper fire from the Galleries and nearby German strongpoint at Schuler Farm.
Joseph has no known grave and is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot Cemetery at Zonnebeke.