What this is about

To mark the centenary of the Great War, I am researching the WW1 histories of my ancestors. This blog documents my progress.
To read a summary of what I've discovered so far, select an ancestor/family member from the list on the right-hand side.

John Lee Price (aka Gwilliam)

My great-uncle (older brother of my grandfather Walter) was born John Lee Gwilliam on 14th March 1889 at Little Cowarne, Herefordshire, to agricultural labourer Joseph Gwilliam and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Blizard). Mary died when her children were young, and they were raised by their elder sister Lizzie.

Joseph was the illegitimate son of Eliza Gwilliam and a currently unknown father. Eliza later married one Thomas Price, and by 1911 (possibly as early as 1905 when Mary died) most of Joseph's family had taken this surname.

John as a young man, presumably pre-war

By the mid 1900's John had left Herefordshire and the family home at Rose Cottage, Preston Wynne to work as a domestic servant under the employ of Councillor William Merrett and his wife Sarah, at Ellenborough House private hotel (near promenade, spa, baths & electric trams), Oriel Road, Cheltenham. 

John in the 1911 census (bottom row)

He was to work at Ellenborough House for some 12 years before answering the call to arms when war broke out in 1914.

John's WWI service record is among the 60% that were destroyed during WWII, so we cannot trace his movements exactly. I knew that he had died during the Great War, so a visit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website gave me his rank, service number and regiment - Private 12934 Price JL, 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment - died 01/09/1918.

This was backed up by a visit to the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum website, which states that Pvt 12934 Price was born in Herefordshire and confirms that he died on the 01/09/1918 in Salonkia, Greece with the 2nd Gloucestershires - more of which later.

Knowing his service number gives us access to his Medal Index Card, via Ancestry.com, which is slightly different in that it has him in the 9th Gloucestershires, embarking for France on 20/09/1915, also noting that he was killed in action:

John's Medal Index Card

This disembarkation date means that he was eligible not only for the Victory and British war medals but also the 1914-15 star.

The waters are further muddied when ordering a copy of the Medal Rolls that are referred to in the Index Card from the National Archives:

Medal roll for Victory and British war medals

Medal roll for the 1914-15 medal

While confirming his death as killed in action on 01/09/1918, there is no mention of the 2nd battalion, but it is stated that he transferred from the 9th battalion to the 8th! 

By now I had posted a thread on the Great War Forum and was lucky enough to have a response from one of the authors of 'Leaving All That Was Dear', which details the men who are commemorated on war memorials in the Cheltenham area. He very kindly attached a scan of John's section, complete with a contemporary photograph, taken from the archives of the Cheltenham Graphic. I was later able to obtain a copy of the original Graphic article (see below).

Soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment

We can trace his early military career with some certainty, as in addition to the medal rolls, there are a small number of service records for soldiers of the 9th Battalion with similar service numbers still in existence. From these it is reasonable to assume that John attested on 11/09/1914, before being posted to the 9th Battalion on 01/10/1914. 

The 9th (Service) Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment was raised at Bristol in September 1914 as part of Kitchener's Third New Army (K3) and joined 78th Brigade, 26th Division. They trained at Codford St Mary, spending the winter in billets in Cheltenham. In April 1915 they moved to Longbridge Deverill for final training.

As stated on John's 1914-15 medal roll, he and the rest of the battalion embarked for France around 20/09/1915. The war diary, covering the period of September-October 1915, for the 9th Gloucestershires is available to download on the National Archives website, and tells us the journey they would have made (assuming he hadn't already transferred to the 8th).

On 18/09/1915 the battalion received orders at Sandhill Camp to embark for France on the 20th, although this date was put back to the 21st later that day. By the 21st an advance party had already left, and the remainder, split into two groups, entrained at Warminster for Folkestone. Travelling on the RMS Queen, they arrived at Boulogne the next day, entraining for Saleaux, near Amiens before marching to, and billeting at Ferrieres (meeting up with the advance party) by the 22nd. The next day they witnessed a dogfight between French and German aircraft.

A section of the 9th Gloucestershires' war diary for September 1915

On the 25th the battalion marched 18 miles east to Fouilloy, after which their brigade was complimented on their appearance by the corps commander, who saw them passing at Aubigny. The next few days saw them training and repairing clothing and equipment. On the 28th they marched to join the 5th Division at Chipilly, relieving the Queen Victoria Rifles at Bronfay the next day, with two companies occupying dug outs at Billon Wood and two companies dug outs at Carnoy. It was in this area that the battalion suffered it’s first casualties of the war as 9th Gloucestershires manned the fire trenches of the front line.

On the 08/10/1915 the battalion was relieved by the KOYLI and made their way back to Fouilloy via Chipilly and, having being marched through a cloud of gas wearing smoke helmets, continued training during the 10th to 13th October. Meanwhile an advance party was dispatched to a wood near Morcourt to prepare a camp for the battalion, where they were tasked with establishing a second line of defence. 

By the 21st they were back at Fouilloy, before marching for nearly 7 hours into billets at Monton-Villars on the 23rd, being joined by the 102nd Trench Mortar Battery the next day. They shipped off on 11/11/1915 to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Salonika, where the Allies had opened up a front in the grim mountains of Macedonia against Germany's allies Bulgaria in support of the shattered Serbian army.

Was John with them when they travelled to Greece? We do not know for sure as the 8th (Service) Battalion remained in France. Possibly he was injured or fell ill, and was posted to the 8th Battalion after recovery, or he may have been transferred to make up the losses after the action at Pietre (a diversionary action supporting the Battle of Loos). It is also possible that he was erroneously listed as serving with the 8th Gloucestershires (the 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' list mistakenly has John killed in action in France & Flanders with the 8th, which we know to be untrue).

John listed in the Gloucester Journal

An edition of the Gloucester Journal, dated June 2nd 1917, gives us a clue as to whether John went with the 9th Glosters to Salonika. It has him among a list of killed and wounded Gloucestershire Regiment men (John is among the wounded). There was a gap of some 6 weeks between a man being wounded and appearing in the newspapers, so it was necessary to look up the other men in the list.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows that most of the men listed as killed in the article died on 25/04/1917. The few remaining service records of those wounded have them receiving that wound on the same date. Most of these are listed as being with the 9th Glosters. As such it is somewhat reasonable to assume that John was also wounded on this date, with the 9th.

The First Battle of Doiran

This date would place him at the First Battle of Doiran in Salonkia, where the 9th Gloucestershires, after spending some time preparing the defences of the 'birdcage' around Salonika and enduring terrible winters and malarial summers, had moved up to the mountainous front line. Here the British were to assault the Bulgarian defences west of Lake Doiran. Fighting in the 26th Division their task was to support the 11th Worcestershires in their attack on enemy positions between Petit Couronne and Hill 380. Advancing across steep ravines against an opponent well dug in behind concrete bunkers, the British managed to gain a number of toeholds, but Bulgarian counter attacks forced them back. Superior enemy artillery, searchlights and difficult terrain confounded any attempts at bringing up reinforcements and the battle ended up as a costly defeat for the allies.

John's Will

A copy of John's will, available from the Government Probate Office website, provides us with a further clue, for it is dated on March 9th 1918, and lists his regiment as the 9th Gloucestershires.

Considering these facts, it is almost certain that the medal roll is wrong in listing him as serving with the 8th Glosters, for it is unlikely that during the period between March and September 1918 he would have been moved from Salonika and the 9th to France (8th Glosters) and then back to Salonika again to join the 2nd. More likely he was wounded again, or fell ill (possibly due to the ever present threat of malaria in Macedonia) when the 9th Glosters were due to depart for France and stayed behind, joining the 2nd Glosters when he recovered.

British troops wind their way up the mountains in Salonkia

The 9th Battalion, part of the 78th Brigade, 26th Division, was transferred back to France in July 1918. 
Instead of returning to France with them, John was posted to the 2nd Gloucestershires, who, after sailing from China to France via England in 1914 with the the 81st Brigade, 27th Division (fighting at St. Eloi and Ypres), embarked for Salonika from late November 1915. 

Now with the 82nd Brigade, they participated in the Monastir Offensive, and then the Vardar Offensive in 1918 - taking part in a diversionary assault on strong Bulgarian positions on the Roche Noire salient.

The attack on the Roche Noire Saient

A good overview of the battle can be found on a website dedicated to the men from Hurst Village who fell in the Great War and some of whom also fought in Salonkia. 

Suffice to say that it was during the assault on the Roche Noire salient that John Lee Price met his end. On 01/09/1918 John Lee Price was wounded during the assault, and died later from his wounds. He was 29 years old. 

The Vardar Offensive broke the Bulgarians' will to fight and they requested an armistice. Fighting along the Salonika Front ended 30/09/1918.

John's obituary in The Graphic

John was buried at 
 Karasouli Military Cemetery, located on the edge of the town now known as Polykastro, in plot C. grave 676.

John's gravestone, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

As noted above, John was awarded the Victory medal, British medal and also the 1914/15 Star. These medals were passed down to a distant cousin; one of Lizzie's grandchildren, but unfortunately this person passed away recently and the medals were not found among their effects. It was apparently one of Lizzie's biggest regrets that she was never able to journey to Salonika to visit her brother's grave and pay her respects.

Register of John's final effects

John named his father Joseph as the sole beneficiary in his will, and his final effects amounted to £19 6s 10d. A further £19 war gratuity was also awarded.

Cheltenham War Memorial (remembering.org.uk)

John is commemorated on Cheltenham War Memorial, and also the memorial in St. Luke's Church, Cheltenham. (Thanks to remembering.org.uk for permission to use the following photos).

St. Luke's Church Memorial (remembering.org.uk)

However John's story does not end there. 

On May 23rd 1924, the Cross of Sacrifice, erected in Cheltenham Cemetery to commemorate Cheltonians who fell during the Great War, was dedicated in a special ceremony. Accompanying the cross were 90 wooden crosses - original grave markers which were used to temporarily mark the resting places of the dead before more permanent headstones were put in place.

These 90 crosses, the first tranche of some 300, were sent back to England at the behest of the Cheltenham Remembrance Committee, and John's grave marker was one of them. 

Newspaper clippings

Today only 22 wooden crosses survive at the Cemetery, restored in 1987 by the Royal British Legion. A handful are unmarked, so it is just possible that John's could still be among them. At any rate John Lee Price had finally returned home, metaphorically speaking, to the city he had adopted and, through remembrance, the city that had adopted him.

The surviving grave markers

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