John Edward Speed was born in Hope, Flintshire in 1889, the fifth and youngest child of John & Ann Speed. He was baptised in St Cynfarch’s Church, Hope on 1st November 1889 by Robert Roberts, Curate at the church. At this time his father John (senior) was a labourer, and the family were living in Caergwrle. John (Snr) was born in Hope in 1852 and his wife Anne (nee Evans) in Connah’s Quay also in 1852. After marrying in St Cynfarch’s Church in 1872, they had 4 children before John Edward; William b.1875 in Hope, Evan b.1878 in Hope, Elizabeth b.1882 in Whitley, Cheshire and Mary b.1888 in Hope.
We first see John in the census in 1891 aged 1. He was living in Lower Street, Caergwrle with his parents & 4 siblings. His father is listed as a ‘ (illegible) engine driver’ and his 2 elder brothers aged 16 & 13 were colliery labourers.
In the census of 1901 the family was still living in Caergwrle, but now on High Street. John was 11 years old, and his siblings were also living there with both parents, though his eldest sister Elizabeth was not there. John (senior) was working as a ‘railway engine driver at colliery’, and the 2 elder boys William & Evan were also working at the colliery as ‘banksmen’.
By the time of the1911 census a lot had changed for the family. The second son, Evan had died in 1903 & John (senior) had died in 1907. The eldest son of the family, William, had married in 1909 and was widowed the same year. John Edward joined the 1st Battalion (23rd Foot) Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1908, enlisting at Wrexham. He was a private with the Regimental number 9982, and in 1911 was based overseas.
When war broke out in August 1914 the 1st Btn R.W.F. were in Malta and so returned to the UK. They landed in Southampton on September 3rd where they came under the orders of 22 Brigade in the 7th Division. They assembled in the New Forest, Hampshire, and were mobilised from there on 6th October 1914 landing in Zeebrugge on the 7th.
From all the articles I have read regarding the 1st Battalion RWF and their entry into WW1, the one word that is always used is that in the first 3 weeks of landing the Battalion were ‘Annihilated‘. I have summarised part of the book “1914: Voices from the Battlefields” by Dr P. Liddle & Mathew Richardson, that describes the first 2 weeks of the 1st Btn in Belgium:
“The first British formation to reach Ypres was the 7th Division. It was initially destined for the defence of Antwerp but arrived too late, so was rushed south to Ypres.
The British advance, spearheaded by 1st RWF (7th Div) continued towards Menin. On the outskirts of Dadizeele they came under artillery & infantry fire.
Some of the fire was coming from Passchendaele in the north, and was hitting the exposed left flank of the advance. Around the same time the order reached the leading formations to break off the attack and assume a defensive position.
The 1st RWF were already hotly engaged with the enemy and the battalion had suffered considerable casualties before it managed to extricate itself.”
On John Edward Speed’s Medal card, it indicates his death was ‘accepted’ on 21st October 1914. He had been in Belgium for 14 days. He was awarded the Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914 Star. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial on Panel 22.
RWF Archives say that he was first reported wounded and missing 21st October 1914 then presumed dead.