A/Cpl John Richard Barnes (1888 – 1917)

John Richard Barnes was born on 28 March 1888 in the small village of Freiston which is approximately 2 miles east of Boston, Lincolnshire. He was one of eight children of a cottager named William Barnes, and his wife, Mary Ann (née Shaw) and baptised in the village church on 2 September. When old enough, John attended Butterwick Old Boys School – after which he became a policeman. At the time of the 1911 census, he was lodging at a Victorian terraced house on Nelthorpe Street in Lincoln and at some point over the next five years he moved to London and took up residence at 9 Mallord Street in Chelsea.

It’s not known exactly when John met a domestic servant from Platt named Millicent Mabel Parris, however, they married at the Chelsea Registry Office on 9 January 1917. At the time, Millicent’s family lived at 15 Whatcote Cottages and she had already lost her brother Len to the war (and would lose another, George, in 1918.) Before moving to London she worked as a kitchen maid in West Malling and it is assumed she left Kent to take up a new position. Three days after the wedding John made his way to Windsor where he joined the Household Battalion which had been formed of reserve units of the Household Cavalry the previous year. He probably registered in 1915 under the Derby Scheme (Group 35) and it seems likely John received his mobilisation papers just before the marriage.

After a period of training Trooper Barnes was posted to France on 22 April and left the base depot on 11 May in one of three drafts that were subsequently taken on strength of the battalion (who had just been in action at Rouex) at Houvin-Houvigneul. On 6 June John was appointed the rank of lance corporal and spent much of the summer rotating in and out of the front lines in the Arras sector. Towards the end of August the Household Battalion moved into Belgium and at the start of October were based near Elverdinghe at Soult Camp where they began making preparations for a forthcoming advance near Poelcappelle.

At 4 am on 12 October John’s unit assembled in their assault positions with the 1st Royal Warwickshires on their left and the 7th West Kents on their right. As they waited for zero hour (which was 5:25 am) enemy shells hit the trenches causing 50 casualties, though it is unknown if John was among them. In the battle, the battalion (who attacked along a two company frontage) were tasked with capturing several pillboxes and machine gun posts marked on the map as Requette Farm – which was east of Poelcappelle. The men soon came under heavy fire from the village and after crossing difficult terrain, part of one company was able to take the farm and hold their position. Unfortunately, the 18th Division, who were fighting in Poelcappelle itself, was held up, leaving the Household Battalion unable to advance much further and by late morning orders were received to hold the farm until being relieved after nightfall. Throughout the remainder of the day, the battalion came under intense enemy fire and by the day’s end had suffered the loss of almost 400 men. John was recorded among the 40 who were listed as missing, and his death not officially notified as such until 10 April 1918. At the time John’s wife had returned to Platt and was living at Forest Villas, though it appears by 1919 she had returned to London.

John’s body was either not recovered or later identified, and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. In addition to the Platt War Memorial, John’s life is also honoured on the Freiston War Memorial and on a Roll of Honour in his old school. It is highly likely he was remembered in Platt due to his connection to the Parris family, who suffered heavily in the war.