Uncle Jack’s Fight in France 1915-1916
My great-uncle Jack was born in 1891 in Stone, Kent, GB to the Irish Mary Ann Meehan and the English George Richard Westcott. He was their 6th child and three years later my grandmother Gertrude Helen was born as the youngest of the lot. They later moved to Gravesend, where my grandparents used to live and where I spent many delightful summer holidays.
Before Jack enlisted on 13 January 1915, he was a grocery assistant. The ‘assistant’ makes it sound quite lowly but when I look at his face in the picture, I see a sweet, young man with a friendly countenance. He actually looks like many of the males in my family, more so than his 13-year-old brother William Alexander, who was Mary Ann and George’s eldest child.
Subscript Private Jack Westcott, January 1915
Jack went to France on 31st July 1915, so after a training of only 6.5 months! He was 23 at the time. His number was: Private, G/5489, 6th Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). For more information on Jack’s Regiment, which also fought bravely in WW2, see: Wikipedia
On 26th March 1916 Jack was appointed Lance Corporal, but he reverted to Private at his own request on 24th May 1916. He was killed at the very start of the Battle of the Somme on 3 July 1916 at the age of 24. His body was never found but he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and the war memorial in Stone, Kent. More on Thiepval Memorial in my next blog post. This is all I have on Jack’s personal struggle.
Now, for the real history buffs amongst you, I’m now going to share some inside information about the Battle of the Somme, or the Somme Offensive that lasted from 1 July 1916 until 18 November 1916 (140 days). Jack died at the very beginning of it. Here’s the military map. This map’s been on my desk all the time I was writing In Picardy’s Fields, checking, and rechecking.
Map of the 1916 Frontline in France
So, what happened at that fatal moment in Jack’s life? This is what the historians have pieced together.
Extract from Ray Westlake’s book “British Battalions on the Somme.”
And an extract from Barry Cuttell’s book “148 Days on the Somme.”
Jack’s Battalion were part of the attack by 37th Brigade shown by the ’37 Brig’ arrow at the top
This has become an exceptionally long blogpost, but I hope it’s given you an idea of what happened to my great-uncle Jack Westcott in WW1. He WAS a hero! Now my own travels to the battlefields themselves in the next blog.