John Henry Pierce was born in 1886. His Army Service Records have survived and much of what we have learnt about him comes from them. The papers tell us that his parents were John and Mary Pierce and that John Henry was the eldest of five brothers. Robert, David, Jesse and Edward came after him and the youngest sibling was a sister, Ann.
On 1st September 1904 when he was 18 years and 6 months old, John Henry Pierce enrolled at Abergele, in the ‘Volunteer Corps’ of the 2nd Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His enrolment form said that he lived at Nant Hill, Prestatyn where he was employed by a Mr Edwards as a Farm Labourer. There was a Medical Inspection carried out on the same day. The medical report says he was 18 years and 6 months, He was 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. His chest was 32 1/2 inches. His eyes, hearing, heart and lungs were all declared ‘Good’. His physical development was described as “Fair. Will improve”. He swore his oath of allegiance.Later that month, on the 26th September 1904, his Certificate of Adjutant was signed in Hawarden, and his name was added to the muster roll of the 2nd Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers and he was given the regimental number 258.
On the 2nd April 1908, in Penmaenmawr, Caernarfonshire, when he was 22, after serving 4 years in the Volunteer Corps, John Henry Pierce, once again signed up for further Army service with the Territorials. His Attestation Paper says that he was born in Meliden, Prestatyn and that at that time he was employed as a Labourer by Col C H (Derbyshire)? His residence was 8 Caerwaen Terrace, Penmaenmawr. His previous years’ Military Service with the Volunteers was noted. He stated that he was opting for a further one year’s service. He was declared fit and appointed to the 6th Bn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It seems, however, that on the 29th January 1909 he enlisted for a further period of 4 years.
John Henry Pierce was recorded on the census of 1911. He was still living at the same address as in 1908 and was a Boarder at the home of Mariner Mr Thomas G Davies, his wife Elizabeth and their family at 8 Caerwaen Terrace, in Penmaenmawr. His age was 24 and his occupation was Quarry Labourer. His birthplace was listed as Meliden and he was recorded as a speaker of both Welsh and English.
On the 21st October 1911, in Conway, John Henry Pierce married Elizabeth Ellen Davies. The marriage did not last and the couple separated 7 months later. The army had no records of this marriage and believed that he was a single man which led to complications after his death.
On the 10th December 1912, Corporal John Henry Pierce wrote a letter to his Commanding Officer, requesting a transfer from the 6th Bn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers to the Denbighshire Hussars Imperial Yeomanry. The address he wrote from was Church Houses, Meliden. He said the transfer would greatly please him and would be more convenient for him.
The transfer was agreed and took place in January 1913. John Henry agreed to revert to Private and to serve as a Territorial for a further 4 years. His regimental number was then 466
All his Territorial Service was in the UK. He attended annual training camps in various places in Wales. By August 1914 he was a Corporal again and in September 1914 he was promoted to Sergeant. In January 1915 he became a regular soldier. On the 3rd March 1916 he embarked from Devonport on HMT Haveford and disembarked at Alexandra Egypt on the 15th March 1916. On the 16th December 1916 he once again became a Royal Welsh Fusilier (24th Bn) with the regimental number 345062.
He was killed in action in Palestine on the 7th November 1917. He would have been due for his discharge on the 1st April 1918, having served 14 years.
The Army Records reveal quite a saga after his death. In November 1920, John Henry’s estranged wife, Elizabeth Ellen, found herself in a tricky situation. She knew that her husband had died three years previously. She had met someone else and the date had been set for their marriage. It was to take place on the 23rd November 1920. The Registrar, however, had informed her that he needed to have proof of her husband’s death before he could conduct the marriage ceremony. Mrs Elizabeth Pierce then began a frenzy of letter writing to the army and to her ex parents in law to try to get the proof she needed. She needed details of his regimental number and his death certificate. There is some evidence of her desperation in the following extract from one of her letters,
“Sir, I want nothing from no one, no money. All I want Sir is the right proof”
The army responded initially by replying that as far as they knew, Sgt J H Pierce had been a single man. They asked her to send proof of the marriage. Finally, on the 22nd November, the army informed her that her marriage to John Henry Pierce was finally registered in the army records and that they were sending to her a duplicate death certificate. Her response was immediate and she thanked ‘Sir’ for the help she had been given and added
“Sir, I wish to put in a claim for his money from the 7th November 1917 till now.”
The wedding presumably took place and she became Mrs E E Johnston.
On the 16th March 1921 an internal Army memo stated that any personal effects belonging to Sgt J H Pierce 345062 of the RWF should be despatched to Mr John Pierce (father) at Church Houses, Meliden.
On the 24th March 1921 the following items were sent to Mr John Pierce
1 cardigan, 1 scarf, 1 wristwatch (front missing) photos, 2 pairs underpants.
The parents, Mr and Mrs Pierce received the plaque (‘Death Penny’) and scroll.
In January 1923, John Henry’s brother wrote to the army. His address was 5 Delaneys Rd, Hale, Cheshire
Would you kindly let me have my late brother’s medals. Sgt J H Pierce RWF.
An early reply would oblige
In 1923 Mrs E E Johnston acknowledged receipt of the medals awarded to her late husband. She had the Victory, British War and the Territorial Force War medals.
The Register of Soldiers’ Effects in which the army calculated what moneys were owed to deceased soldiers (accessble on www.ancestry.co.uk), includes an entry for Sgt John Henry Pierce 345062 RWF. Two payments totalling £34 .. 1sh .. 3d were paid to Mrs Elizabeth Ellen Johnston.