25th Battalion northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Irish)
Killed in Action 1 July 1916, aged 29
John Foley was born in 1887 in Ballyhea, Charleville, Cork, Ireland, the son of David and Minnie Foley.
When the 1901 census was taken John, aged 14, was living with his parents, 39 year old David and 37 year old Minnie, and eight siblings, in Newtown, Ardskeagh, Cork. The family employed three servants.
By the time of the 1911 census John was boarder at 8 Allendale Terrace, Haswell, near Sunderland, the home of John and Eleanor Turner and their three children. John was working as an ‘Assistant Teacher’ with the County Council. In 1911, John’s future wife Mona was recorded as a 20 year old student teacher living in Haswell with her parents and five siblings. Her father was a 56 year old veterinary surgeon.
On 2 November 1912, at the age of 25 John, a student at the Sunderland Day Training College, attested in Sunderland into the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI), a Territorial Army unit, and was given service number 1672. He was 5 feet 7¾ inches tall, had a chest measurement of 38 inches with an expansion of 3 inches, good vision and good physical development. His next-of-kin at this time was his father David, of Ballyhea, Charleville, Cork, Ireland.
On 19 September 1914 John was promoted to Lance Corporal. Territorial Army soldiers were not compelled to serve overseas but on 10 November John signed Army Form E. 624 agreeing that he would serve overseas, and on 17 December he was promoted to acting Corporal. John was commissioned temporary 2nd Lieutenant into the 25th Battalion northumberland Fusiliers on 2 January 1915, announced in the London Gazette dated 2 April 1915, and was promoted Temporary Captain on 1 June 1915, announced in the London Gazette dated 18 June 1915.
John married Mona Emily Hunting on 4 October 1915 in the Registry Office in the St. Martins registration district, London. John and Mona were both teachers from Durham and presumably they met through their work as teachers. John and Mona had a daughter Joan born on 29 August 1916 in the Sunderland registration district, but John was destined to never see his daughter.
John’s battalion, the 25th northumberland Fusiliers was in the 103rd Brigade, 34th Division. The battalion left England from Sutton Veny camp on 11 January 1916, travelled by train to southampton and landed at Havre, France the next day. John is mentioned in the battalion war diary on 28 April when he and six other officers went on leave until 4 May.
The 25th Battalion northumberland Fusiliers attacked German trenches on 1st July 1916 just north of and adjoining La Boisselle, and the German strongpoint known as ‘Y Sap’. They were not in the first wave of attackers that went ‘over the top’ at 07-30am but were a few hundred yards further back on Usna Hill, attacking at 7-45am. The battalions of the 34th Division leading the attack had orders to capture the first and second lines of German trenches, which would allow John’s battalion to ‘pass through’ them and on to Contalmaison, a village about a mile and a half away`. Twenty officers and 730 other ranks attacked.
The German defenders were supposed to have been destroyed by the previous seven day bombardment, plus the explosion of ‘Y Sap’ and ‘Lochnagar’ mines. But the German defenders were not destroyed, and emerging from deep dugouts were able to pour torrents of machine gun and rifle fire onto the attacking battalions. John’s battalion was scythed down by the intense fire, and failed to take any of their objectives, not through lack of trying; the task was impossible.
The war diary tells us that by 10-30am the survivors were collected in British front trenches near ‘Keats Redan’, a British strongpoint, but the work of collecting wounded and stragglers went on all night. Bombing parties were posted on flanks and the trench held under a heavy fire. 16 officers and 610 other ranks were missing.
Captain John Foley was one of those killed in the attack. He is one of the many thousands whose body was not recovered and therefore has no known grave. John is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial to the missing, one of 72,000 plus men named on the memorial.
On 4 September 1916 John’s widow was granted a gratuity of £250 and a pension of £100 per year for herself. Then on 13 October her daughter Joan was granted a compassionate allowance of £24 a year with effect from 29 August, and a gratuity of £83 6s 8d.
On 16 September 1916 a few items of John’s personal possessions were returned to his widow, consisting of, 1 Flask, 1 Revolver and 1 Identity disc.
John had been working as a teacher for the London County Council (LCC) and his name appears in the book ‘RECORD of WAR SERVICE, London County Council Staff 1914-1918’, which simply states:
Foley, John (1914-1916); Captain, northumberland Fusiliers; France 6 Months; Died of Wounds, 1st July 1916.
The Assistant Education Officer of the LCC wrote to the War Office on 13 November 1916 seeking a name and address for his next-of-kin, in order that a letter of sympathy could be sent. The reply stated that his next-of-kin was his wife, living at Ivy Cottage, Haswell, County Durham.
John died intestate and on 1 May 1917 Letters of Administration were granted to his wife Mona Emily in the sum of £109 3s 6d.
John’s uncle, William Trelfall Carr, a QMS with the RGA, wrote to the War Office on 14 October 1918 seeking information about John, as letters he had sent to John were returned, ‘Present address not known’. The War Office duly replied that John had been ‘Killed in action on 1st July 1916’.
On 1 February 1921, whilst living at Ivy Cottage, Haswell, Co Durham, John’s wife wrote to the War Office:
I have been informed that a year or more ago you advertised in either one of the weekly papers or one of the dailies for the nearest of kin of Captain John Foley 25th northumberland Fusiliers who fell in action on July 1st 1916. If the above is true and it is not too late to apply I may say that I, his widow, am his nearest of kin. I you desire confirmation of this fact I shall be pleased to do so, and shall send you any other particulars you may ask for.
Mona E. Foley
John’s surviving service record papers provide no further information relating to the above letter.
John’s widow Mona married Alfred Carnot Mansfield on 5 January 1929 in Bradford, Yorkshire. On the marriage certificate Mona was described as a 37 year old widow, working as a school teacher. Alfred was a 34 year old widower, working as a manager.
A brief biography of one of the many thousands of men killed on 1st July 1916.