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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 28601
15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Who was Killed in Action on Monday, 26th August 1918
Age 30

No Known Grave. Panel 3
Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Vis-en-Artois Memorial

Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France1

John Robert Clifford was born in Beeston in 18882, the youngest of seven children of William (b. c1849, Beeston) and Sarah Clifford (b. 1851, Ardwick, Manchester née Gore)3. By the time that William and Sarah married in 1874, William was well established in the lace trade and remained a lace maker for the remainder of his working life. By 1891, they and their seven children were living at Wollaton Road, Beeston4. By 1901, they had moved to live at 29 Enfield Street, Beeston5. Although we have no specific evidence, it does seem that John Robert started work at the Humber cycle company after he left school in about 1902 as it appears that he moved to Coventry with the company when it moved there in 1908. In 1911, he was boarding there with a colleague's parents, aged 23, described as a bookkeeper for a cycle and motor manufacturer6.

It seems likely that it was while working there that he met Phoebe Elizabeth Magdalen Bigwood who was, it seems, a clerk in the same offices7. By the time that war came in August 1914 it is likely that the couple - then aged about 26 and 23 respectively - were thinking of marriage so it is perhaps understandable that he was not amongst those who enlisted so enthusiastically in the early months of the war. By 1916, however, the number of men volunteering for service was diminishing and was not meeting the relentless demand from the Western Front and the Government was looking for ways to fill the gap. The Derby Scheme, which introduced canvassing for volunteers had still not persuaded the required numbers and the Military Service Act was now enacted which meant that, from March 1916, all single men aged between 18 and 41 (with some exceptions) would be automatically conscripted. Although the couple married at some point in the first three months of 19168 - and, depending on timing, he may have been then exempt - it seems that John Robert enlisted at Coventry with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in March, 1916 and initially joined 1/7th Battalion for training.9

Although we have no record of the date on which Private Clifford arrived in France, it is likely that it was towards the end of 1916 when he joined 15th Battalion in France then part of 13th Brigade in 5th Division. The battalion had originally arrived in France in November 1915 and had seen action during the Somme battles in 1916 and were to see much more action over the next two years10.

During 1917 it was part of the Arras battles - at Vimy Ridge and the Third Scarpe - and then in many of the terrible encounters of the Third Battle of Ypres - known as Passchendaele. Then, in November/December 1917, the battalion moved to Italy as part of reinforcements to the front there, after severe setbacks by the Italian army. After the German army withdrew from Italy to concentrate on its Spring Offensive on the Western Front, the battalion returned to France at the beginning of April 1918.

On 26th August 1918 the battalion took up a position in the trenches at Maurepas, south of Bapaume as part in the Second Battle of Bapaume which had began on 21st August. This was the second phase of the Battle of Amiens, the British and Commonwealth attack that was to become the turning point of the First World War on the Western Front and the beginning of the Allies' Hundred Days Offensive. But this was the early stages and there was still much fighting to be faced starting with a big offensive which was scheduled for the 29th. Now, as they prepared, the men faced difficult conditions in partly dug trenches, enemy shelling, heavy rain showers and difficulties with the supply of food and other basics11. It was in this early preparatory period, on 26th August, that Private Clifford was killed.

Private Clifford's body was never identified and he is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial to the Missing which stands as the back drop to the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, situated to the west of Haucourt on the Arras/Cambrai road, about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. They belonged to the forces of Great Britain and Ireland and South Africa while the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces are commemorated on other memorials to the missing. The Memorial consists of a screen wall in three parts. The middle part of the screen wall is concave and carries stone panels on which names are carved. It is 26 feet high flanked by pylons 70 feet high. The Stone of Remembrance stands exactly between the pylons and behind it, in the middle of the screen, is a group in relief representing St George and the Dragon. The flanking parts of the screen wall are also curved and carry stone panels carved with names. Each of them forms the back of a roofed colonnade; and at the far end of each is a small building12.

Private Clifford was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal13. His financial effects of 4 8s 10d were paid to his widow on 26 November 1918 and his War Gratuity of 11 was paid to her on 2 December 1919.14.

John Robert's elder brother, Alfred Ernest Clifford, died of influenza on 15 November 1918, while serving with the Royal Army Service Corps in East Africa. Their father died in 1926, followed in 1938, by their mother. They and other members of the family, including John Robert, are remembered on the Clifford family memorial stone in Beeston Cemetery15.

After the war, John Robert's widow trained as a nurse and a midwife and worked for many years in various hospitals and nursing homes in the Birmingham area, where she died, aged 78, in 196916, having never remarried.

1The photograph of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q1/1888 (Ref 7b 178). He was baptised at Beeston Parish Church on 15 April 1888.
3The names of his parents are incorrectly recorded as 'John & M Clifford' on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. John Robert's age is also wrongly stated as 27.
4Beeston, Notts: 1891 Census, Piece 2671 Folio 3
John Robert's siblings were William (b. c1876), Mary Louis (b. c1877), Henry (b. c1879), Arthur Gore (b. 1882), Alfred Ernest (1883-1918) and Sarah Ann (1886-1902).
5Beeston, Notts: 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 45
6Coventry, Warwickshire: 1911 Census, Piece 18566 RD390 SD2 ED28 Schedule 131 - 10 Clara Street, boarding with Thomas & Elizabeth Scothern whose son, Albert Bertram appears to be then working alongside John Robert Clifford.
7In 1911, Phoebe was living with her stated parents, William George & Naomi Elizabeth Bigwood, at 160 Foleshill Road, Coventry (1911 Census : Piece 18580 RD390 SD2 ED42 Schedule 24). She was born on 21 December 1890, for some reason and apparently, registered in Huntingdon Registration District (Q1/1891 3b 27), to Naomi Elizabeth Potter who married William George Bigwood in 1894. Her birthdate was recorded as 21 December 1890 when she was baptised on 2 May 1895 at Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Church, Nuneaton, Warwickshire (Birmingham Archdiocese, Roman Catholic Baptisms - on Findmypast)
8Their marriage was registered in Coventry Registration District in Q1 1916 (Ref 6d 1314).
9As his Army Service Record has not survived, his month of enlistment has been calculated from the amount of his War Gratuity. His place of enlistment is recorded in his entry in 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'. His early attachment to 1/7th Battalion is recorded in his Medal Roll entry.
10Details of the battalion mobilisation and involvement in the war is based on its entry in the Forces War Records website at www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/316/royal-warwickshire-regiment.
11Details the battalion's deployment on 26th August is from the battalion war diary.
12This description of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial is based on that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
13Details from John Robert's Medal Card and his Medal Roll entry - available on ancestry.com.
14Details from his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929 - available on ancestry.com.
15The memorial stone may be seen here.
16Phoebe qualified as a midwife on 11 October 1921 (Midwives Roll, The Welcome Trust, London). She is recorded as an enrolled assistant nurse in 1948 (Royal College of Nursing, London : Register of Nurses) Her death appears to have been registered in Birmingham Registration District in Q3 1969 (Ref 9s 466). This records a birthdate of 14 December 1892 which appears to be incorrect, possibly reflecting the absence of any close family who would be aware of the details. Her birthdate was recorded, apparently correctly, as 21 December 1890 in two locations in the 1939 Registration - working at the Bon Accord Nursing Home, Sherbourne Road, Birmingham and at her lodgings at 1122-1124 Warwick Road, Birmingham.

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