1915 - John Razey WW1

Henry John Razey was the son of Jacob Razey and Caroline nee Fishlock, his birth was registered in the September Quarter of 1879 and he was baptized on the 3rd August 1879 at Wilcot.  By the time of the 1891 census his father had died and his mother was re-married to Joseph Hiscock and he was living with them and his half brothers and sisters, the youngest Albert would also die during the Great War.

On the 1901 census John was living with his sister in Essex and his occupation was given as labouring on the roads, by the following census 1911 he had moved to live with his half-brother Arthur in Wales where he was recorded on the census as Jack and was described as a Labourer below ground.  He must have returned home sometime before he enlisted as Pewsey was given as his home address.

He enlisted in Swindon as John Razey, joining the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment Service No 6107, it is possible he may have already been a serving soldier or been part of the Territorial Force prior to the beginning of the war as both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were made up of regular soldiers, and according to his medal card he  embarked with the 1st Wilts for France and Flanders on the 14th August 1914, this would have given very little time for training if he was a  raw recruit.

Because of the loss of service records it is difficult to know what actually happened next but the 1st Wilts took part in many battles between August and October 1914  which resulted in  a great loss of life and many men injured,  and on the 7th November 1914 it was reported in the Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser that 6107 J. Razey along with a long list of other troops had returned to England sick or wounded.  From other official sources it said he embarked again for France on the 11th November 1914, by this time it appears he had been transferred to the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment, it is possible this is when he was promoted as he ended the war as a Lance Corporal.

The 2nd Wiltshire Regiment became part of the 21st Brigade 7th Division and between 15th and 25th May 1915 took part in the Battle of Festubert, the battle was proceeded by a 60-hour bombardment, but it failed to significantly damage the frontline defences of the German 6th Army.  After only a few days of fighting, the British had suffered incredibly high casualties which resulted in the 2nd and 7th Divisions being withdrawn from battle.  Between 20th and 25th May the fighting resumed, Festubert was finally captured by the British Forces but John had already died of his wounds on the 20th May 1915.  The 7th Division suffered 4, 123 casualties

The Battalion War Diary for 16th to 20th May reads:

Rue De L’Epinette

16.5.15.  2nd and 7th Division assaulted enemy’s trenches.  Heavy artillery fire to both sides many shells fell round Battalion but did little harm.  Casualties 1 killed 2 wounded

17.5.15.  Moved out via Festubert under shell fire and formed up for attack under cover of German trenches taken by 22nd Brigade and held by the Wiltshire Reg, Bedford Reg on the right.  The two battalions were ordered to attack a German communication trench now used as a fire trench and some houses just east of the trench. Artillery support was asked for and received and the Batts assaulted at 7.30 p.m.  C  & D Coys in front line, A & B in support. C Coy and some of D reached and captured the trench and shot about 40 of the retreating Germans.  The Bedfords were repulsed and some of D Coy retired with them.  The houses were not taken.

The ground was intersected with deep ditches full of water and it was a very difficult matter to find the way to the captured trench.  Some of the supports never came up at all, the troops holding the trench were in the air.  Germans still held the trench to our right, and the houses and trench to our left.

The men worked all night making the parapet bulletproof and trying to block the ends against bombs, but this proved difficult as it was a winding trench without traverses.  The bombers with the battalion had lost their bombs in the ditches and when the enemy counterattacked at dawn with bombs, it was found to be impossible to stop them and the C.O. ordered retirement.  This caused some loss in crossing the open but most of the Battalion got away by working down the ditches, though many rifles were lost in the water.   The Battalion was withdrawn to their old quarters at Rue D L’Epinette.

Losses 13 Officers and 215 Men.

The Battalion was actually in billets on the day that John died of his wounds on the 20.5.1915. He may have been involved in the above engagement or been wounded at some other time, unfortunately there is no record of where he was when he died, he may have been at the Casualty Clearing Station at Bethune the town where he is buried.

John is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery Pas de Calais 1v C 19.  Lance Corporal of the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment.

The words on his headstone read Wait O My Soul My Maker Will, those words requested by his mother.

He was awarded the Bronze 1914 Star which was awarded to those who served in France or Belgium between 5th August and midnight on 22nd/23rd of November 1914 also the Victory and British Medal.

The records are again confusing because he was awarded the 1914 Star as a soldier of both the 1st and 2nd Wiltshire Regiment, the record for the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment was subsequently crossed out.

His effects were shared between his mother, brothers, sisters and half siblings.


E Wilson November 2019