Two Bancroft Brothers killed in WW1

Temple Street Chapel WW1 Plaque

Following on from the previous story about the finding of a long lost WW1 memorial plaque which can be read by clicking here, and to coincide with Remembrance Day, here is the story of the two Bancroft brothers, James and Robert, who were listed as the first two names on the plaque.

James Mitchell Bancroft was born in Keighley in 1888 and initially worked as at a drapers shop in the town, before working as a clerk in the Keighley Educational Offices. The local newspaper said he ‘had an unassuming disposition and was very popular with his colleagues and friends’. He was closely involved with the Temple Street Chapel Sunday School as a teacher and secretary there.

Medal Index Card

He signed up as a Private in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and spent about 12 months serving on the front in France. At that time the family had three sons servicing on the front, and another working in munitions, after having served on the front for 12 months.

 The circumstances of James’s death are outlined in the following War Diary, which states that the Regiment were camped on the Mory East Road and received heavy shelling to the A and D Companies with a list of deaths and injured. At the bottom of the page, dated 26th April 1917,  is says:
 “ 267111 Pte JM Bancroft died in hospital of wounds received on April 18th

War Diary-April 1917
This terrible news that the family must have been dreading, was in a message received by them on 27th April 1917, when the Army Chaplin wrote:
“ Your son was brought into the hospital a few days ago, badly wounded. I saw him twice and he seemed very cheerful, and spoke about his home and church etc. I thought he would recover, but yesterday he took a turn for the worst and passed away last night. Everything was done for his comfort, and I don’t think he suffered very much. I buried him today in the ……. military cemetery. Please accept my sincere sympathy. He had laid down his life for his friends. May you be comforted and strengthened through this awful trial.” [The exact location of the military cemetery was purposely left black presumably for security reasons.]

A second message from a Second-Lieutenant K Chapman, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, wrote to his father:
“ I wish to let you know that you have the deepest sympathy from myself and all your son’s comrades in your sad bereavement. His loss will be keenly felt be all, for he was always cheery and an excellent soldier. I personally felt it very much indeed, for I have known him all my life. It will perhaps comfort you to know that he will be laid to rest alongside others of his brave comrades, who died doing their duty.”

The following notices then appeared in the Keighley News, which sum up exactly what a desperate time it must have been for the family.

Keighley News notices
James was buried at the Achiet Le Grand Cemetery on 26th April 1917, and here is his grave, together with a view of the whole cemetery….James’s grave is on the front row.


Robert Edgar Bancroft’s story is a bit more of a mystery, because nothing of the circumstances of his death seems to have been reported in the local media, and no picture of him seem to exist.

We know he was born in 1893 in Keighley and prior to joining up was an assistant to his father, James, in his second hand furniture shop in the town.

Medal Index Card

Records show that he initially signed up at Halifax in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on 10th December 1915 at the age of 22yrs 4 months as a reservist, and was mobalised on 20th October 1916. Strangely, although he signed up in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment his posting was with the Highland Light Infantry, with his army number stayed the same as 42142.

Army Service Record
He obviously must have had some home leave because he married Carrie Goodwin at St Mary’s  Church, Keighley on 9th January 1917, shortly before he was posted abroad to France on 26th February. Their first and only child, Ethel Rose, appeared very shortly afterwards on 7th June 1917.

The circumstances of Robert’s war details are somewhat sketchy, but it seems that he was then reported ‘missing’ on 25th March 1918 on the Somme battlefields, near the French village of Maricourt, where the Highland Light Infantry's 12th Division were involved in prolonged heavy fighting. The war diary for that day show no mention of Robert by name, but during that week they reported 33 killed, 183 wounded and 110 missing so it is not surprising that he is not named in the records at the time, due to the heavy casualties.

Robert being reported as 'missing', must have left his wife Carrie and baby daughter in difficult circumstances, because the following  desperately sad document shows her applying for a pension to support herself and her child on the 18th November of that year, seven months after him being declared 'missing'....presumably the delay in her being able to claim a widow's pension was due to the fact that he was in initially declared 'missing' rather than 'dead'. 

Pension Application

There is no grave of resting place for Robert, presumably because his body was never recovered from the conflict, but he is mentioned on the inscriptions at the Pozieres Monument, where 97 panels are inscribed with the 14,655 names of the missing casualties. These panels are incorporated in the southern, western and northern boundary walls surrounding Pozières British Cemetery.

Pozieres British Cemetery.

Pozieres Inscriptions

 The inscription of the cemetery gates reads:
"In memory of the officers and men of the Fifth and Fourth Armies who fought on the Somme battlefields 21 March – 7 August 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave"

After the end of the war in 1924, Keighley's War Committee had decided to erect a war memorial  in the centre of the town, and at the same time decided that a record of names should be compiled of those who had fought and fallen in the Great War so a 'Roll of Honour' book was compiled and placed in Keighley's Public Library as a lasting tribute to their sacrifice. Both James and Robert's names  appear in the book.

[I am grateful to the Men of Worth project for help with this article . Their website is here]

Isaac Bancroft drowned alongside Lord Kitchener

Usually when I research an article about casualties in WW1, it involves Bancroft soldiers in the Army, but here for a change is a story of a Bancroft man  who enlisted in the Royal Navy, as an Able Seaman during peacetime, and who later drowned on a ship carrying the famous Lord Kitchener on his journey to Russia to take part in a military meeting during WW1.

 Isaac Bancroft was born on 27th June 1886 in the Ovenden area of Halifax, West Yorkshire, the son of Robert Bancroft and Ann Broadbent, who had married shortly before the birth of their son earlier on 23rd May 1886 at Halifax Parish Church

Isaac looks as though he had a poor start in life, because within two years of his being born, his father Robert died, leaving his mother Ann to bring the child up single handed, as the following 1891 census shows.

It looks as though life didn't improve much for young Isaac because by the time of the next census in 1901, he was now living with his maternal Grandmother, Fanny Broadbent, still in the Halifax area, and at the tender age of 14 years was now working as a labourer. There seems no trace of his mother Ann, so it's possible she had either remarried or died.

 It is therefore not surprising that, given this poor start in life, at the age of 18 years  he decided to join the Royal Navy on 24th June 1904 and seems to have signed up for a 12 year period, as the following navy record shows.Interestingly it also gives a brief description of Isaac's height, eye and skin colour etc, and even details of a tattoo he had!

The records show that after joining up, he was allocated initially to a ship called the 'Caladonia' and then served on a variety of vessels before joining the crew of the ill-fated ' HMS Hampshire' on 5th June 1915. It appears from his record that he tried to leave the Royal Navy and transfer to to the Canadian Navy on 23th July 1915, but this request was turned down because he was not a volunteer, and was still bound by his peace-time agreement to serve a full 12 years with the Royal Navy from when he originally signed up in 1904.

Navy Record

 Shortly before transferring to the Hampshire, Isaac married Edith May Oakshott in Portsmouth in February 1915 and their address was given as 41 All Saints Road, Landport, Portsmouth at that time. They had a son, Robert G Bancroft, who was born in early 1916, a few months before his father's death.

Had Isaac survived the war, the records show that he would have been entitled to the 1914-19 Star, the General Service and Victory medals.

Lord Kitchener, the famous Colonial and Boer War veteran - and a Cabinet Minister during WW1, was a prominent figure of the time and had been the face of the early wartime recruitment drive in the  famous "Your Country Needs You!" recruiting posters, [as shown at the beginning of this article.] In June 1916 he was on a mission to meet Russian war chiefs at the invitation of the Emperor on the matter of the reorganisation of the latter’s military forces and discussion of a scheme for the increased output of munitions. His colleagues tried hard to persuade him to postpone his visit to Russia because beyond the land-locked harbour, in which lay the Hampshire, the seas around the 0rkneys were raging at that time.

The ship set sail on Monday 5th June 1916, destined for Russia but about 1 to 2 miles off Marwick Head in Orkney, by 7.50 pm H.M.S. Hampshire struck a German mine and sunk. According to official MOD records the ship's full compliment at the time of sailing was 655 men plus 7 passengers who were Lord Kitchener and his staff.

Only 12 men survived the tragedy, and one of them later described his eye-witness experience to the media in the following graphic details:

"And it was at this very moment that above the treble whine of the gale there imposed itself the deeper ominous note of an explosion. The ship lurched. There was a dreadful grating noise somewhere in the bowels of the vessel, like flints flung into the delicate mechanism of machinery. The fierce hiss of escaping steam. The sluice of rushing water. The confused trample of feet above. Shouting. Urgent shouting. There was a rather alarming slant about the floor of the messroom. There had been many that night. But this one didn’t seem to be righting itself. Then the lights flickered out. We made for the deck. It took a long time to get there. The only open hatchway was aft. The messroom was forward. There was a lot of water in the corridors,gushing water. There was a great deal of excitable congestion at the companionways. I came up on to the half deck. They were saying that the Hampshire had struck a mine. It had exploded on the port side of her foremost engine-room. A boiler had been burst. But the Hampshire was well down by the head. Heeling a little to starboard, too.  Men were hurrying to their boat stations. Some were already there. The boats were filling.  I was in charge of the Carley raft stations to starboard.I hurried to my position. There were orders being shouted. They were mostly caught in the gale and lost. There seemed to be difficulty in lowering some of the boats. Of course they were electrically controlled, and the current had failed. The wind howled. Immeasurable banks of waves burst in shivering cascades over the decks. Now they had managed to lower one of the boats. It had fifty men in it. It could not get away from the ship. Its ropes were cut. A wave sucked it sharply to its crest. Next minute it was swept against the Hampshire’s side with terrific force. Nothing but a tangled mass of bodies struggling for survival among a swirling flotsam.And then Lord Kitchener came on deck. He looked grave and calm. I had a curious thought. It was that he looked as though he might have appeared at that moment, not for self-preservation but regretfully to inspect the irreparable damage to a proud vessel. But an officer shouted, “Make way for Lord Kitchener,” and the men who stood around made a passage among themselves. He was close to my station now. He was talking in turn to two naval officers, one on either side of him. He was in khaki. He was hatless. He wore no overcoat. Closely, he looked tired and worn.The Hampshire had heeled much further to starboard. And then Lord Kitchener turned back. The captain had called to him to come up to the fore bridge. He mounted the ladder. I saw the captain’s boat being hoisted. That was the last I saw of Lord Kitchener. There was little doubt now that the Hampshire was doomed. She listed still further. Clouds of steam were emerging from her foremost engine room on the starboard side. Men were now jumping into the water from the quarterdeck.  Some of them had been badly scalded.  Others showed wounds that bled.There was a rush to my raft.  We cut the lashings and managed to launch it. Forty or fifty crowded on and several of us paddled in a frenzy of haste to get clear of the fast-sinking ship. As we drew away several of the injured leaped on the raft into our midst. I shall never forget their agoniscd screams as the salt water washed their wounds. We were fifty yards away. A hundred waist-deep in creaming surf.  Tossed hither and thither on the waves, whirled with maelstrom fierceness. A good many were almost immediately swept from the raft by the fury of the water.We were now away from the Hampshire.  Boats, still crammed with men, hung from her derricks. And then, with a fearful kind of slow lurch, the ship rolled over. I closed my eyes. It was unbearable......."

The bodies of over 100 officers and men, including that of Isaac Bancroft,  were recovered from the sea and were interred into one common grave where they now lay to rest at the Lyness Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney. The other 550 bodies were never recovered.

Lyness Military Cemetery

 Lord Kitchener's body was also never recovered, and in 1926 the Kitchener Memorial, a 48-feet high  stone tower, was unveiled on the cliffs at Marwick Head, looking out across the Atlantic from the west coast of Mainland Orkney. And although the memorial, which was paid for by public subscription, formed a fitting memorial to this important military figure, a plaque on its wall made only a brief reference to the other men lost on HMS Hampshire with him.

Kitchener Monument

WW1 Memorial Plaque nearly lost again.... forever!

 Here is the interesting story of a WW1 memorial plaque which had been presumed to be lost since the 1970’s but turned up recently, as part of a house clearance in Keighley, and was then nearly lost again.forever....thrown out with the rubbish!

The plaque had originally been on display in Temple Street Chapel Keighley, but when the Chapel closed in 1978, the plaque disappeared, and for many years was thought to be lost. Alongside the plaque in the Chapel were a pair of WW1 memorial stained glass windows, which are now on permanent display at Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley, and which helped to confirm the identity of the plaque because of some similarity in the wording.

 [Copyright- 2011 Keighley Shared  Church Ecumenical Council]


And that is how the mystery of the plaque's disappearance  was for many years until, as part of a house clearance, the it was found left outside a house on Chelsea Street, Keighley, alongside some wheelie bins and a pile of rubbish, and was saved in the nick of time before being collected with the rest of the house rubbish and lost forever. It can only be assumed that a thoughtful parishioner from the Chapel had taken the plaque home for safe keeping when the chapel closed in 1978, and it had been sat in their attic ever since.

Luckily a sharp-eyed member of the public noticed it as they were walking past the property and alerted the 'Men of Worth' project , who are a group of local volunteers who research and record details of local war heroes. After negotiation with the police to decide on ownership of the plaque, it was passed to the group and they have now donated  it to Cliffe Castle Museum, to sit alongside the Temple Street Chapel windows, already on display there.

On closer examination of the names on the plaque, the first two names refer to James Mitchell Bancroft and Robert Edgar Bancroft, who were brothers lost in WW1. They were the sons of James and Rose Bancroft, who had a total of eleven children, although two died at an early age.

WW1 must have been a worrying time for James [Senior] and the family with, at one point, four sons service in the war in France.

1911 census
A few years before the start of WW1 the 1911 census shows James [senior], who by now was a widower, having lost his wife Rose  in 1904, living at 23 Aireworth Street, Keighley with seven of his nine living children. Included on the census are James Mitchell age 23 yrs and Robert Edgar age 17 years. At that time James [senior] describes himself as a ‘Broker Furniture’ and ran a second hand furniture shop in nearby Bridge Street, whilst his son James looks to have been working in a draper's shop, and son Robert was helping his father in his shop.

Temple Steet Chapel

The family lived within a few hundred yards of Temple Street Chapel and seems to have had strong connections with it, as James [junior] is know to have been a teacher and secretary of the junior department, or Sunday School, and other family members also worshipped and were married at the chapel.

Temple St Chapel interior

As far as the history of the chapel is concerned, briefly it was opened as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 27th November 1846 with a capacity of seating 1,600 worshippers. It prospered for many years but it became increasingly difficult to continue, due to the cost of maintaining such a large building with a dwindling membership. Discussions were opened to set up  a shared agreement with the nearby Keighley Parish Church and  a sharing agreement was eventually signed, and the Chapel finally closed it's doors in 1978,

The final service at the Chapel was reported as follows in the Keighley News at the time.

 The Temple Street Chapel premises were sold to the local Council for £36,000, with presumably anything of value removed, including the plaque and stained glass windows, and it eventually became a Muslim Mosque, which it continues to be to the present time.

Temple St Memorial Plaque
Details of James and Robert's WW1 stories can be read here

[I am grateful to the Men of Worth project for help with this article . Their website is here]

As a postscript, the final chapter to this story has now taken place. This WW1 plaque was put on display recently alongside the stained glass windows from Temple Street Chapel. This story can be read by clicking here.

Early Motoring Days....the Trips to Blackpool

Here is a nice happy little story about a family holiday in the 1920's and the journey to get there.

Whilst going through some old family photos recently, I was reminded about the story of my Grandparents, John & Hettie Bancroft who were farmers near the village of Thornton near Bradford in Yorkshire, and their pride when acquiring their first motor car…a Bull Nosed Morris Oxford from the 1920’s. The above picture shows my Grandfather, John, standing proudly at the back on the car's running board, letting one of his friends sit behind the wheel, and my Grandmother, Hettie, second left in the rear seat.

Prior to getting their first car, like many local people, John and Hettie either had to use a horse and cart or the local buses to get anywhere, but when they got this car there was no holding them back! They normally lead a fairly quiet life running a mixed farm, but for a bit of excitement in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, like many other families liked to go to Blackpool, the most lively of all the northern sea side resorts.

The photograph at the top shows them all about to set off on their exciting journey to the coast…somewhat overloaded with 9 people in the car,  and below is a photo of the same party enjoying themselves on the front at Blackpool, all dressed up in their Sunday best. Note my grandfather in his suit together with watch-chain and wearing a bowler hat, not looking much like a farmer that day!

Their car, which was only the second one owned in the village was a Morris Oxford, and got its popular name, 'Bullnose', from its distinctive round-topped radiator, and was manufactured  between 1919-1926.
An early motoring review of the model in 'The Times' newspaper said: “The engine was reported to be "commendably flexible" and quiet. It seemed to enjoy being made to turn over at high speed and that happened easily, certainly it had plenty of "courage". The clutch was good. There is no safety stop for reverse but the gear box was pronounced the chief delight on the car, it is "simple, quiet and expeditious". The accelerator is very sensitive, and the brake handle was too far away. The car was easy to travel in and holds the road at any speed, and will reach 50 mph, with the same steadiness as cars of twice the weight and price.”

Motoring in those early days was not without it’s trials and tribulation, as I well remember my Grandmother saying that on journeys to the coast, the car had difficulty getting up some of the hills, and everyone except the driver had to get out and walk up the hill, to lighten the load….no doubt the fact that there were up to nine people travelling in the car had something to do with this!

They also had to keep a block of wood in the car to put under the back wheels if parking on a hill, otherwise it rolled back because the handbrake was not very good!

Another motoring task required by the passengers, was to look in shop windows as they passed them in the dark, because the rear lights worked by burning oil…my Grandfather’s  request was to look for the reflection in the windows, to make sure the lights had not blown out!

 Blackpool in the 1930’s remained my Grandparent’s favourite holiday destination, and they returned there many times. This  picture shown is another visit to Blackpool, to their favourite Boarding House, with John behind the wheel and his in-laws, my Great Grandparents, Lister and Jane Watson, in the rear.

 To finish the article, here is a nice picture showing my Grandparents with their three children, Gladys, Fred and my father Lister, on the beach at Blackpool, which does not seem that crowded at the time...possibly a bit cold as well, as they still have their coats on!

Wilfred Bancroft DCM....a local hero of WW1

Wilfred Bancroft DCM
This is the story of  a Wilfred Bancroft who died in WW1, and was a local hero in his home district of Southowram, near Halifax in Yorkshire after being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

[The only picture available of Wilfred is this rather grainy one from the Halifax newspaper of the time.]

Wilfred was the son of Arthur and Elizabeth Bancroft and was born in 1895 in Halifax, Yorkshire. His father was a tailor, and the family moved away from Halifax to Lincoln around 1900. The 1911 census shows Wilfred, with his parents and six brothers and sisters living at 58 Princess Street, Lincoln, with Wilfred’s occupation listed as a ‘Moulder’.

1911 census

However before the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, the family had moved back to Halifax, because the following attestation papers show Wilfred's address as School Lane, Southowram, Halifax when he enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment on 27th October 1914.

Attestation paper

Military records show his rise through the ranks was fairly swift, because by April 1916 he had been promoted to a Corporal, and a month later in May he was made a Sergeant.

Wilfred's early service was not without danger, as the following casualty report shows. He was hospitalised several times between August 1915 to November 1916, with a shell wound to the head and also with rheumatism....a common complaint with soldiers spending long periods in the trenches.

Casualty Report
Wilfred was official awarded the Distinguised Conduct Medal [DCM] on 14th March 1916 for what was described as ‘conspicuous gallantry’ on 14th December 1915 when, during the gas attack and under heavy fire, he went over the top from the front trench to his Commanding Officer to report the state of affairs.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal, was established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration until it was discontinued in 1993. During the First World War the concern arose that the overwhelming number of medals that were being awarded was devaluing the prestige of those already awarded. The Military Medal for bravery in battle on land was therefore instituted on 25 March 1916, as an alternative award to the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The lesser Military Medal was usually awarded for bravery from this date and the Distinguished Conduct Medal was reserved for exceptional acts of bravery. Around 25,000 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded during the First World War.

 The full details surrounding Wilfred's bravery, which merited the DCM, were described as follows in military records:

"At length Lieut Marshall decided to send a messenger to Battalion H.Q The way lay across ground which was swept by machine gun fire ; only one bridge was left over the canal and that was being heavily shelled. It required no mean courage to volunteer for such a mission. Just then Pte W.Bancroft crawled into F35 with a report from Sec.-Lieut. W. N. Everitt. This man knew well the dangers of the journey for he had been with Sec.-Lieut W. E. Hinton, when the latter had been wounded on that very ground only a few days before.Yet as soon as he heard what was wanted, he offered to take the message. He reached Battalion H.Q. unhurt delivered his message, and supplemented it with a very clear report of his own. He then returned to Lieut. Marshall with a cheery message from the Commanding Officer, and afterwards crawled back to his post in F34. Few Distinguished Conduct Medals have been better earned than the one he received for his gallantry on this occasion.”
[In the margin of my copy in pencil is written very true and the initials look like JBM]

From an article in the Halifax Courier newspaper it seems that was quite a local hero. Earlier that year on 17th February1916 , Wilfred had been home on leave and was honored by the inhabitants of Southowram, when at a gathering at the Mechanics Institute he was presented with a wrist watch, comb and case, pocket wallet, cigarette case and pipe….the gifts being in appreciation of his bravery, which marked the fact the he was the first person in Southowram to be awarded the DCM.
The paper then reported on the incident of the previous December when Wilfred 
'had taken the message to headquarters, it being an exceeding dangerous journey over a considerable distance, where he had to adopt various tactics to get through the Germans because it was daylight and he was fired upon both with rifles and machine guns.‘His perilous adventure was a means of saving the situation’.

Then later that year in September, his mother had received one of those letters all families dreaded from his commanding officer saying
“I am sorry  to be conveying the news that after taking the 1st line trench, we were driven out, but Wilfred never came back. I am strongly hoping that Wilfred had been taken prisoner,…. he had been a hero many times, and everyone thinks a great deal about him.”

Sadly Wilfred never did came back, and was not taken prisoner either. His Army Medal Index Card shows him 'pres [presumed] dead on 3/9/16'

Medal Index Card

 He died at Schwaben Redoubt, which was a German strong point near the village of Thiepval in France and had been under bombardment by British troops for some time. On the 3rd September, when the 49th (West Riding) Division attacked the area from the west in a morning fog, they crossed no man's land but were defeated, when German artillery and machine gun fire swept the British troops and German infantry counter-attacked from the flanks, using hand grenades. Wilfred was hit by one of the enemy grenades, and failed to make his way back. His body was never recovered, and he is therefore commemorated with all the other fallen at the nearby Theipval Memorial.

Thiepval Memorial

After the War ended, Thiepval had been chosen as the location for the Memorial to the missing to commemorate those who died in the Somme sector before the 20th of March 1918, many thousands with no known grave. This is the largest and most imposing of the Memorials and at the time of the unveiling in 1932 there were 73,357 names of fallen or missing soldiers.

Southowram Memorial

More locally, Wilfred is also listed in his home town at the Southowram War Memorial.