As we mark off the 100th anniversaries of the events of World War 1, many peoples’ thoughts turn to the names on the War Memorials. One of the most touching stories is that of John Samuel Knowles, the first man from the town to die.
John Knowles (he rarely seemed to use the Samuel) was born in 1882 in a cottage at the corner of Riley Lane in Pentrich, the son of Joseph, a labourer, and Martha. He had 11 brothers and sisters .
He appears to have first joined the army in 1902, enlisting in the Dragoon Guards in Leicester. However, his record shows that, 6 weeks after joining, he was discharged, “having been claimed as an apprentice”. Whoever he was apprenticed to (and it might well have been the Butterley Company) objected to him joining up, and claimed him back. He apparently joined up again later, however, since he was discharged on 11th August 1905, with a reference as “a most reliable man” and was put on the reserve list.
He became a lay preacher and wrote notes for sermons, becoming very involved with Wood Street Methodist Church. In 1909 he started a football team called the Wood Street Primitives.
He was by then a fettler, that is someone who was responsible for trimming off waste on mouldings, almost certainly at Butterley again. Later he went back to mining, at Britain pit.
He was mobilised on the outbreak of war, as a lance corporal in the Coldstream Guards, and told to report to Chelsea barracks, a railway warrant for three shillings being provided for that purpose. He even managed to obtain a photograph of his battalion parading at Chelsea Barracks.
By the middle of August, his unit had been transferred to France. He took with him to war a supply of postcards and wrote regularly to his wife from the first day of the war, August 5th, to his death. He also managed to buy a postcard of Le Havre on arrival in France.
The text read :
We are now in France at Le Havre the place you see on card its very hot here but am first class only sea voyage upset me
From loving husband John.
The postcards, eight of them, survive, and are followed by one field card, dated 9th September, an official card where the soldier crossed out alternatives. He declared himself “quite well”.
He died, aged 32, on 14th September, only 41 days after war was declared, leaving a widow and a five year old daughter.
RDHT is indebted to family member Maurice Wright for much of the information above.