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Two cousins died WW1

  • 9 May 2015

A blog post by Wolverhampton Archives made me realise that I had two men by the name of Joseph FERN in my family tree who were both killed in the First World War. The two men were second cousins – their grandfathers were brothers.

Joseph Fern (1887-1915)

The first of the cousins to be killed was my great-great uncle (my great-grandfather’s brother). Joseph was the sixth of the seven sons (out of ten children) of my 3x great-grandparents, Timothy Fern and his wife, Selina (née Moore). He was born in Heath Town in 1887 and is listed on the 1901 census, aged 13, working as a shovel grinder. He married Hilda Mary TYRER at St Luke’s Church, Wolverhampton on 4th September 1910 and they went on to have three children. However, the two youngest – Alfred James (born 1912) and Hilda Mary (born 1915) – both died in 1915, just a few months before their father was killed.

According to his Army service papers, Joseph was a polisher by trade before he enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment on 28th August 1914, aged 28, joining the 6th Battalion and having the service number 9121.  On attestation, his height was given as 5ft 4¾in, and he was recorded as having grey eyes, brown hair, with a scar on his right forearm. His religion was listed as Presbyterian. On 13th July 1915 he was transferred to the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment and was posted overseas with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. He was listed as missing in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915. So, in the space of  seven months, his widow had lost her two youngest children and her husband, and she was left on her own with her four-year-old son, Joseph Harold Fern (1911-1997).

A board of enquiry in February 1916 declared that Joseph Fern was killed in action on 6th August 1915. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial. When Joseph Fern’s medals were sent to the family, they were signed for by A. Tyrer, “guardian to the only son of the late soldier”. A memo dated 1920 included amongst the service papers indicates that the guardian was Mrs Annie Tyrer (1858-1934), the child’s grandmother, listed as living at 97 Green Lane, Wolverhampton. It was made clear in the memo that the medals were the property of Joseph’s son, to whom they should be handed when he achieved an age to appreciate their value.

Joseph’s widow, Hilda Mary Fern, remarried two years after her first husband’s death. She married 18-year-old Harold Sherwin, a Private in the Lincolnshire Regiment on 1st July 1917, and they went on to have a daughter, Hilda May Sherwin who was born on 11th May 1918. Tragically, Hilda (mother) died ten days later, aged 31, on 21st May 1918 of “parturition” [i.e. childbirth] with a secondary cause of  “pulmonary emobolus” [blood clot on the lungs]. She was buried in Merridale Cemetery, Wolverhampton. A transcript of the cemetery register records her husband as James, a soldier. The husband’s name is believed to be an error, as Harold’s Army service record clearly shows his marriage to Hilda Mary Fern and includes a copy of her death certificate. The informant of the death was a Mrs E. L. Lockley of 137 Green Lane, Wolverhampton who was present at the death. The service papers also include a letter from Mrs E. Lockley, asking for the birth certificate of Hilda Mary Sherwin, the baby she has taken in. Sadly, it looks as if the baby died in February 1920, aged 20 months, although the entry in the burial register of Merridale cemetery records her father as John, a roofer. Harold Sherwin survived the war, remarried in 1920, and died in 1945, aged 46.


Joseph Fern (1889-1916)

The second of the cousins to be killed was my second cousin three times removed (the nephew of my great-great grandfather, Timothy Fern, father of the other Joseph listed above). This Joseph was the fourth son and sixth child (out of nine) of Joseph and Susannah Fern (née Thompson) and was born in Wolverhampton in 1889. By 1911, when he was 21, he had become a shop assistant in a grocer’s shop and was living with his widowed mother and four of his siblings at 10 Harrow Street, Whitmore Reans. His father had died in 1902.

Unfortunately, Joseph’s service record appears to be one of the approximately 60 per cent that were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, so there isn’t much information available about his service. His medal index card does not include a date of entry into a Theatre of War, but shows no entitlement to a 1914 or 1914/15 Star, indicating that he didn’t see any overseas service before 1916. He is known to have become an Acting Corporal with the 10th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, having previously served with the South Staffordshire Regiment.

He was killed in action on the Somme on 18th November 1916 and is commemorated at Grandcourt Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, France. The Commonwealth War Graves register gives the additional information that he was the son of Susannah Fern, of 11, Gorsebrook Road, Wolverhampton, and the late Joseph Fern.

Letters of administration were granted in January 1918 to his mother, Susannah, to enable her to administer his estate, listed as being £72 2s 3d.


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