“Uncle Herb” was born in 1896, the younger of twin boys (the other being christened William). There were two older sisters, Florrie and Hilda, and one younger, Laura. After giving birth, their mother was soon returned to work in the family shop which was the local ironmongers. The family story is that both boys were placed inside an open drawer whilst mother continued to serve the customers.
On leaving school Herb started to work with the pit ponies at Victoria Colliery. Bill, his brother, started work with his father as a blacksmith at the Red Cross Smithy. Sometime later Herb left the colliery, joining the rest of the family at the smithy, where all three worked together.
Red Cross Smithy circa 1916
In 1916 both of the twins wanted to join up, as had so many of their friends before them. Being a blacksmith meant that you were in a reserved occupation and had to attend a tribunal, not to be excused but to be allowed to volunteer. At a family meeting it was decided that the younger of the twins would have his way and be allowed to join up.
Just in case minds were changed, Herb awoke early next morning, walking to Burslem at five o’clock to be at the front of the queue for his shilling.
Herb became shoeing-smith J.H. Taylor 681009 of the 277th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, attached as a territorial to the 55th West Lancashire Division. In 1917, after serving in the Ypres area the Brigade were stationed in the Loos area. On November 11th orders came that they were to move southwards forty miles to support the upcoming attack on Cambrai. They were to march over the space of four nights to the village of Bussu, close to Peronne.
The following week the wagon lines were moved up to the hamlet of Beaucamp, about five miles south-west of Cambrai. They were to support the 1/5th South Lancashire Regiment.
At 7 a.m. on November 30th the Germans started their counter-attack with a fierce artillery bombardment, targeting not only the surrounding roads but the wagon lines at Beauchamp as well. Eight ORs (other ranks) were wounded and twelve horses killed. Later in the day, in order to protect the village of Gouzeaucourt, the Brigade was withdrawn to the village of Fins.
Herb was wounded that morning, probably by shellfire, and taken back to one of the casualty clearing stations near to the village of Ytres (21st or 48th CCS). Later that evening he died. He is buried in Manancourt cemetery close to the Rocquigny to Equancourt road. By a strange coincidence the soldier in the adjoining grave carries the same name as his twin brother, W. Taylor.
Left: Original cross marking the grave of John Herbert Taylor.
His parents, Herbert and Elizabeth, received two telegrams in the weeks that followed. The first was to say that he had been wounded and the dreaded one, informing of his death, a few days later. His mother, a staunch Station Road Methodist, never went to Chapel again.
The Chronicle reported on his death: “Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, High Street, Biddulph, have received official news this week of the death from wounds of their twin son, Sergt. John Herbert Taylor (right), shoeing smith, R.F.A. A few days ago Mr. and Mrs. Taylor received a telegram, informing them that their son was wounded on November 30th, on which day Sergt. Taylor had written home to say he was quite well, but very busy and might not be able to write again for a few days, as they were moving. Sergt. Taylor, previous to being called to the colours, was a smith employed by his father, along with his twin brother, at the Red Cross Smithy, Knypersley. At a meeting of the Tribunal early in 1916 it was decided that one of Mr. Taylor’s sons should answer the call, and as Sergt. Taylor had not worked at the Smithy as long as his brother had, he volunteered, and had been on active service since February. He was 23 years of age.”
Three weeks later his sister Hilda gave birth to a girl. I am sure that had she had a boy then he would have been called John Herbert. As it was, the baby was christened Flora, the name of Herb’s fiancée. For the next twenty years Flora visited the family regularly.
Over the years his death must have affected his twin brother. As children we were frequently told not to upset Uncle Bill as he was a ”funny-so-and-so”! With age it is easy to understand why this should be so. There but for the grace of God go I.
“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”