On the 5th November 1914, private L/15567 Percy Richard Jones, 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, was in the trenches in the area of Fleurbaix/Rue Petillion to the south of Armentieres. He had been there for nearly two weeks. The Germans were similarly dug in a few hundred yards away. There had been no major attacks in this time, but sniping and shelling resulted in a small but mounting number of casualties.
2ND SCOTS GUARDS IN THE TRENCHES AT RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX© IWM (Q 57397)
The weather had already turned cold and wet, with the trenches ankle or knee deep in mud. Fighting a mostly unseen enemy from a stinking hole in the ground had probably not been what Percy expected when he joined the Army some eighteen months ago in the spring of 1913. His nineteenth birthday was just a few weeks away, but this would be his last day of active service.
Percy Jones was born on 2nd December 1895 in Tooting, the youngest of John and Mary Anne (nee Wilson) Jones’ ten children. Like many youngest he probably felt fussed over and ignored in equal measure. His parents had been upholsterers, but John Jones earned his living as a cab driver in later life. At the turn of the century the family were living in Longley Road, Tooting Graveney, close to the Baptist Church on the corner with Bickersteth Road.
Percy, still only five, was not yet at school, unlike his brother Edwin, who was 12, and his 9 year old sister Emma. His other older siblings were already working and would soon leave home and marry. There would have been a ripple of excited interest when the Jones family hear news that the famous music hall performer Harry Lauder had bought a double-fronted villa at the other end of Longley Road. This was in 1903, and Lauder would live there until 1911. By this time, the Jones family had move to Boyd Road , Colliers Wood. Percy, now fifteen, was working as an errand boy, and was the only one of the ten children still living with their parents. Percy’s father John, now 61, was still working as a cab driver. His mother Mary, now 58, was no longer working.
There are no Army records for Percy Jones, but his number L/15567 falls in a sequence of men joining the Royal Fusiliers as regulars early in 1913, and who were posted to the 1st Battalion – private 15558 Edward Armitage joins at Hounslow on 28/4/1913 , private L/15737 George Victor Herbert joins at Hounslow on 1/9/1913, private L/15765 Colin Gordon Tucker joins at Hounslow on 11/9/1913. In the spring of 1913, Percy is still only 17, but he enlists in London and joins the Royal Fusiliers.
At the outbreak of war the 1st Royal Fusiliers were in Ireland when the mobilisation order came at 10pm on the 4th of August. They formed part of the 17th Brigade of the 6th Division. By the 18th August they were in camps around Cambridge and Newmarket and in hard training until the Division moved to France, crossing from Southampton to St. Nazaire early in September.
By the 21st of September the 16th Brigade had reached the Aisne and took over part of the front that stretched between the canal at Fort de Metz and the road at La Cour de Soupir.
The 1st Royal Fusiliers were here until 2nd October and there would have been little action if “higher powers” had not ordered both a night, and second, day patrol to test the German positions opposite which the Battalion were already sure of.
“On the night of the 22nd Captain Howlett was wounded, and 2 other ranks were killed, 13 wounded, and 3 missing after one of these feelers. A daylight on patrol 27th resulted in 17 O.R. being killed and 12 wounded.”
The 1st Royal Fusiliers leave the Aisne and reach Flanders by the second week of October. The battle of Armentieres develops and BEF is gradually driven back in this sector. By the beginning of November the situation is becoming more static.
According to the history:
“On the 23rd of October the 1st Royal Fusiliers had moved to Fleurbaix, arriving at 6 a.m. very tired and sleepy, and on reaching Rue Petillon they were accommodated, some in houses and some in ditches. Their orders were to support the right of the Welsh Fusiliers; but some Indian troops had arrived there first. The Sikhs lost their two British officers on the 25th, and the Fusiliers found them jumpy neighbours. A good deal of firing went on, especially during the night, and the 1st Battalion, after being compelled to stand to night after night, at length took over the bulk of their trenches. There were losses from the German heavy bombardment. But the rhythm of the struggle changed to that of trench warfare ….”
The end of October was wet and miserable, with ankle deep mud in the trenches. But the first days of November were bright and fine at Rue Petillon. More men are wounded by sniping and intermittent shelling. The fog and rain of the 4th of November had cleared by the following day. The 5th November was another “beautiful day”, but the calm was broken around 11am as the line held by the 1st Royal Fusiliers was heavily shelled, the bombardment continued to dusk. Three men were killed and 17 wounded. L/15567 Percy Richard Jones, 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, had just become another casualty in France.
Percy Jones is recorded as being killed in action, and he was taken to the aid post at Le Trou, a relatively short distance behind the front line.
MAKING A CEMETERY BEHIND THE FIRING L;INE, RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX© IWM (Q 57403)
He was buried there, and his grave identified when the IWGC cemetery was created in the 1920s.
It is not known if Percy’s parents were still alive by the war’s end. But his family ensures his name appears on the Mitcham War memorial when it is unveiled in 1920.
In the same year the family is contacted by the IWGC requesting details for Percy’s official headstone. It is Percy’s older sister Charlotte Mary, now Mrs C.M. Woodcock of 98 Boundary Road, Colliers Wood, who asks for the simple headstone inscription, “R.I.P.”
Footnote 1: The position of Le Trou aid post can be seen here on a 1917 trench map side by side with a modern satellite view.
Footnote 2: By the end of the war, the Royal Fusilier had raised 45 battalions, of which 35 served oversea. A memorial was erected in 1922 at High Holborn, London, dedicated to the nearly 22,000 soldiers of The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.