The son of a church clerk, John Robert Reeves had been born in West Bromwich in 1887. His parents, Samuel and Fanny, had lived in the same street – Bull Street, West Bromwich, since the 1890s. In 1901, at the age of 14, John was already employed as a ‘roll turner’ in the iron industry and it was this skill that took him to Biddulph. In the 1911 census, John, still employed as a roll turner, is a lodger with the Caddy family at Childerplay.
The year 1914 started well for John as on January 19th he married Gertrude Caddy at St. Lawrence. In April, their son Samuel was born. With the declaration of war, John was to leave his young family at 23, New Buildings, Brindley Ford, as on September 13th he enlisted at Biddulph joining the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment.
Along with other men from the Biddulph area, John trained at Butterton Hall camp and then Luton and Harpenden. Private Reeves was made Lance Corporal on June 24th just prior to joining his pals for embarkation at Southampton on the 28th, sailing to France and to war. The draft troops landed at Le Havre and John joined his battalion on July 23rd serving in “B” company; his service records have survived to give us these details. They travelled north to the Ypres area of Belgium as part of 46th North Midland Division. By early October the division was on the move again when they were ordered south to the Loos area. Travelling aboard trucks of the French Railways, with over thirty men to a truck, they commenced their long slow journey to the battlefield.
The North Staffords arrived soon after the Battle of Loos had opened, moving forward to take up their position in the front line trenches. October 13th 1915, was a sunny autumn day, when the 1/5th North Staffords, one of the battalions of 137th Brigade, were ordered to attack the Hohenzollern Redoubt trenches of Big Willie and Fosse Alley in an attempt to retake this strong German position. This was a black day for North Staffordshire; the attack was a blind assault across no man’s land. The men left their trenches but immediately ran into horrendous machine gun fire which resulted in many North Staffords being shot down.
On the afternoon of October 13th 1915, sadly 1/5th Battalion had over 500 casualties – 219 killed in action, including eight brave Biddulph men, one of whom was Lance Corporal Reeves. Falling in battle at the age of 27 years, John Robert Reeves has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos memorial. Locally his name appears on the Biddulph memorials and also the Brindley Ford memorial.
Mike Turnock and Elaine Heathcote