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Quorn WW1 Roll of Honour - Joseph Fewkes

Died 26th September 1916, aged 48
The Somme, France

A very old Quorn family

The Fewkes family can trace its roots in Quorn back to the early 1600s, and there are still descendants in the village today. Their history has been well documented by family members, but despite this, Joseph’s particular line seemed to be on the periphery, which made researching him difficult - and was not helped by a lack of records and the odd white lie.

Tracing Joseph through census returns
Joseph was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, on 7th January 1868, but his father, William Pywell Fewkes, was born in Quorn, and by 1871 the family had returned to the village and were living on Station Road, near Quorn Cross. At this time Joseph was just 3 years old, and his brother Robert was 8.

By 1881, 13 year old Joseph was working at Wright’s elastic webbing factory as a weaver, although he later left there and the 1891 census shows the family still living in Quorn, with Joseph having joined his father as a painter and glazier. Robert (Joseph’s brother), died in 1889 aged just 26, and the 1891 census records Robert’s young widow, Alice living next door to her in-laws on Station Road, then often known as Barrow Street. Her youngest daughter (also Alice) was living with her and at that point, the older daughter, Ethel, was staying with her grandparents.

Susannah (Joseph’s mother) died in 1898 and was buried with her son Robert in Quorn Churchyard.

Strangely, Joseph cannot be traced in the 1901 census, although his father William was living in Wigston, with his daughter-in-law Alice who had remarried. Her and her new husband, William Gardner, not only had Alice’s two daughters living with them, but had also had their own child, Lilian May Gardner, born in 1894.

In 1909 it is possible to catch up with Joseph again, when he registered his father William’s death in Brighton. Father and son were both recorded as living at 5 Kensington Street in Brighton.

The next record is the 1911 census, when Joseph was included as a lodger in a house in Dorking in Surrey, apparently with a wife of two years, called Mabel, however no trace of any marriage can be found.

Joseph’s army records
In November 1915 Joseph enlisted into the Middlesex Regiment, and his attestation papers are interesting. His address was 19 Fairbourne Road, Tottenham and he stated that his age was 39 years and 10 months, when he was actually eight years older than that at 47 years and 10 months. He also filled the forms in saying that he was single and initially his next of kin was given as his niece, Mrs Finemore, 118 King Street Toronto, who was Ethel Jenkins Finemore née Fewkes, his brother Robert’s eldest daughter, who had emigrated to Canada. Later forms were completed stating that his next of kin was Mrs Eliza Mabel Davis, described as a ‘friend’.

Killed in action
Joseph was killed in action on 26th September 1916, when the 12th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment were involved in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. He had survived less than a year’s service and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France. At 48 years old he was the oldest man in Quorn to lose his life in WW1, and although all his immediate family had either died or left Quorn, many members of his extended family still lived in the village, and he was not forgotten. In November 1916 an item appeared in Quorn Parish Magazine:
“We regret to hear that Pte Joseph Fewkes of the 12th Middlesex Regiment was killed in action on the Somme front on Sept. 26th. He was the son of Mr William, and the nephew of Mr Ben Fewkes.”

Like most soldiers, before he left for the front line, Joseph had made an informal will in the back of his Army paybook. This would have usually been with him at all times. Generally the only informal wills that survive are where bodies were retrieved, and the paybook recovered before the soldier was buried. Because Joseph is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, it seems to indicate that his body was never identified, and yet his will was recovered. It is possible that he was found and buried immediately after his death, but that his grave was later destroyed by further action.

Who is Mabel?
In his will he left everything to Mrs Davis of 5 Kensington Street, Brighton – this is the lady he named as his next of kin and the same address as where Joseph was living with his father in 1909.

Filed with his Army papers, are two receipts for his medals, both signed for by ‘E M Davis’, but on the receipt for the British War Medal, she signs ‘Mabel Davis’, indicating that she was usually known by her middle name of Mabel. It is a reasonable assumption to conclude that this is the same lady that he declared (albeit inaccurately) as his wife on the 1911 census. Next to her name on the will it seems to say née Strudwick, but despite extensive research no trace can be found of either a marriage, or her life before or after 1909 to the 1920s.

Contact with a descendent of Joseph
In July 2015 a lady got in touch, who was Joseph’s great great niece, a descendant of Joseph’s brother Robert, and Robert’s youngest daughter Alice. She not only had a photograph of Joseph, but was also in possession of Joseph’s British War Medal and had the letter which accompanied the Victory medal, although she hadn’t got the Victory medal itself. This indicates that Mabel, whoever she may have been, was known to and in touch with Joseph’s family.

1) Joseph Fewkes.
2) Joseph’s will from the back of his Army paybook
3) Joseph’s British War Medal, the envelope it came in and the letter which accompanied his Victory Medal.
The writing will be clearer if you click ‘Enlarge’, below the image.

 view larger image
 Submitted on: 2020-01-13
 Submitted by: Sue Templeman with many thanks to Ruth White
 Artefact ID: 2318
 Artefact URL: www.quornmuseum.com/display.php?id=2318
 Print: View artefact in printer-friendly page or just on its own (new browser tab).

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