Posted by: michaeldaybath | June 8, 2017

Private John Henry Odey, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

At the north east end of Bath Abbey are two memorial tablets for members of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers that died in both world wars. The First World War memorial has sixty names, and I have already provided short outlines of some of the people featured on it on this blog.

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The First World War memorial was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson — at that time the Abbey’s architect — and was executed by Messrs. Hayward and Wooster, with a relief of a bell in bronze created by the Birmingham Arts Guild. The memorial was dedicated on the 2nd July 1921, at the annual meeting of the association [1]. As would be expected with a diocesan memorial, the ringers came from all over Somerset. Of the sixty, three came from the City of Bath and its immediate environs. The first of these three to die was 54286 Private John Henry Odey of the 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1917

Photograph of John H. Odey published in the Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1917

John Henry Odey was born at Bath in 1882, the second son of James and Emily Odey. James had been born in Devizes and by the 1870s was working as a stonemason in Bath. The 1871 Census records him boarding at a house at Lyncombe Terrace, Bath. Ten years later, James was married to Emily and they were both living at 11, Lyncombe Place with Emily’s parents, John and Jane Tucker (John Tucker was both a mason and an employer). By 1891, the Tuckers and Odeys had formed separate households at No 11, and James and Emily had already borne six children — including the seven-year old John. A decade later, John Tucker was widowed and living alone, while the Odeys had produced another two children. In 1901, John Odey was still living at home, where his occupation is described as “journeyman upholsterer.”

Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

Detail from the Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

John’s was educated at local schools in Bath, first St. Mark’s School, then the Blue Coat School in Sawclose. In around 1897, John was apprenticed to E. A. Holoway, who was described in a business directory as a “practical upholsterer, mattress and blind maker, antique furniture dealer, &c.” with premises at 29, Broad Street, Bath. According to his obituary in the Bath Chronicle, John Odey worked for Holoway for 15 years.

In the meantime, John had married Rosie Mary Parfitt (of Henbury) at St Mark’s Church, Lyncombe, on the 1st January 1906. They had two children: Winifred Mabel and Stanley George, born respectively in 1906 and 1909. The 1911 Census records the young family living at 15, Calton Road, Bath.

Shortly after that, a “situations wanted” notice in the Ringing World of the 10th May 1912 suggested that John H. Odey was looking for a new position [2]:

UPHOLSTERER, Mattress and Blind Maker, all round hand seeks situation. Change ringer on 6 or 8 bells. Good References.– J. H. O., “Ringing World” Office, Woking.

It is not recorded whether this particular notice was successful, but John Odey and family did subsequently move to 3 Stanley Street, Swindon, where John started work as an upholsterer for Messrs. Chandler Bros.

War Memorial in St Mary's, Bathwick

War Memoral in St Mary’s Church, Bathwick

While living in Bath, John Odey must at some point have learnt to ring. In his obituary, the Bath Chronicle described him as a very enthusiastic bell ringer, noting that he had rung at almost every church in the Bath district [3]. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Odey rang regularly with a group of ringers that did a lot to progress change-ringing in the Bath district. Many of their longer performances, which were mostly rung on the eight bells of St Mary’s, Bathwick, were published in the Bath Chronicle and the Ringing World. The band also experimented with new compositions and scored some notable “firsts.” For example, on 27th September 1906, Odey rang the 2nd bell in a peal of Plain Bob Minor at All Saints, Weston called by W. J. Prescott; a performance described on a board in the tower as “the first peal of Minor rung in the Bath district.”

War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Detail from the War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Odey continued to ring after he moved to Swindon, becoming steeplekeeper at Christ Church. A posthumous account in the Ringing World comments that Odey was a highly-respected member of the Swindon band [4]:

Although he had not accomplished many peals, he was a capable ringer, and in addition to the four standard methods, was proficient in Double Norwich, Superlative, and Cambridge

After the start of the war, John Odey attested at Swindon on the 29th November 1915 [5]. He was almost immediately sent home as part of the reserve, then mobilised on the 18th September 1916. He joined No. 3 Depot Royal Field Artillery at Hilsea (Portsmouth) the following day. In November, Private Odey was transferred to the infantry, joining the 9th Training Reserve Battalion at Rugeley in Staffordshire. In January 1917, Private Odey was posted first to the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, then a few days later to its 13th Battalion. He actually joined the battalion on the 11th February 1917.

Cratered ground atHill 60, near Ieper (2007)

Cratered ground at Hill 60, near Ieper (2007)

The 13th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry were part of Kitchener’s New Army and by 1917 were serving as part of 68th Brigade, in the British 23rd Infantry Division. The Division had been based in the Ypres Salient since October 1916, spending a great deal of time in the front line, but also training for the offensives being planned for the Spring. By early June 1917, the Division was based in the sector of the Salient around Hill 60 and the Caterpillar.

The Battle of Messines started in the early morning of the 7th June 1917 with the blowing of multiple mines on the front from Hill 60 in the north to Factory Farm in the south. The 23rd Division were one of those holding the most northerly sector of the line, near Hill 60, at the start of the battle and the main advance here was to be led by units from the 69th and 70th Brigades. Most of the 68th Brigade was to be held in Divisional reserve around Zillebeke [6]. Accordingly, on the 7th June, the 13th DLI were in positions on the south side of Zillebeke Lake when the mine under Hill 60 was blown. The battalion war diary records that later on the 7th June, units of 13 DLI were sent to strengthen some newly-captured trenches [7]:

7.6.17 Weather: Fine
3.10 am The mine under HILL 60 exploded and all the guns in the salient opened fire and 69th and 70th Brigades attacked.
9.15 am A and B. Coys moved up to BATTERSEA FARM and came under orders of G.O.C. 69th Brigade.
10 pm H.Qrs., A. and B. Coys were sent for to relieve 12th D.L.I. in IMPARTIAL TRENCH.
5 am 8.6.17 Relief complete.
Casualties : 1 o.r. killed, 4 o.r. wounded and 1 o.r. missing.

The following day, the battalion would still have been in Impartial Trench:

8.6.17 Weather: Fine
Fairly quiet during the day.
8.20 pm. An aeroplane flew over our lines and dropped a white light; our artillery immediately opened a very heavy bombardment lasting till 10 pm.
Battalion H.Q. was heavily shelled.
Casualties:- 2/Lieut. J. Young killed 2/Lieut J. BRADY wounded 3 o.r. killed, 25 o.r. wounded and 1 o.r. missing

While he is not named in person, it is likely that 54286 Private John Henry Odey was one of those other ranks listed killed or missing. Odey has no known grave and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

On the 30th June 1917, the Bath Chronicle published a brief obituary, which played tribute both to Odey’s Bath origins and his love of bellringing [8]:

WELL-KNOWN BATH BELL-RINGER KILLED IN ACTION.
News was received on Sunday by the wife and parents of Pte. J. H. Odey, of the Durham Light Infantry, that he was killed in action on the 8th inst. He was born in Bath 34 years ago, and was educated at St. Mark’s School, and subsequently at the Blue Coat School, whence he was apprenticed to Mr. Holoway, antique dealer of Bath, with whom he remained for fifteen years, and then entered the employ of Mr. Batchelor, upholsterer, etc., of Swindon. He joined up last September, and went to the Front at the beginning of January. Deceased, who was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Odey, of Southville Terrace, Lyncombe Vale, married a Miss Parker [sic] of Westbury-on-Trym, and there are two children, a girl aged eleven and a boy aged eight. His wife resides in Stanley Steet, Swindon. Deceased was a very enthusiastic bell-ringer, and regularly rung for Sunday service at St. Mary’s, Bath, during the time he was resident in the city. He was a member of the Diocesan Ringers’ Association, and had rung at almost every church in the district. At Swindon he held the position of tower-master.

The Ringing World of the 6th July also included a tribute from his fellow ringers at Christ Church, Swindon [9]:

KILLED IN ACTION.
SWINDON STEEPLEKEEPER KILLED.
News has been received that Pte. John H. Odey, of Swindon, has met his death in France, and for his wife and two children, who are left, sincere sympathy will be felt. Pte. Odey, who, before joining up last September, worked for Messrs Chandler Bros., as upholsterer, came to Swindon from Bath about five years ago. Soon after his arrival in the tower he was elected a member of Christ Church Guild, having had previous experience in the art of campanology at Bath. Needless to say, his services will be greatly missed by his fellow ringers, with whom his quiet, unassuming disposition made him very popular. For some time Mr Odey had been steeplekeeper, and here again he carried out the duties entrusted to him in a painstaking and thorough manner. As a last token of respect to a departed comrade, members of Christ Church Guild, with sympathising ringing friends from neighbouring towers, met at the tower on Wednesday evening in  last week, and rang touches of Grandsire and Stedman Triples and Bob Major, with the bells muffled.

City of Bath War Memorial

John H. Odey’s name on the City of Bath War Memorial

John H. Odey’s name appears on several war memorials in both Bath and Swindon. At Bath, his name features on the main city war memorial in Victoria Park (thinly disguised as H. J. Odey), on the Widcombe war memorial outside the Church of St Thomas, Widcombe, and on the memorial inside the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick. In Swindon, John Odey’s name can be found on the main war memorial in Christ Church, where he had been steeplekeeper.

References:

[1] Ringing World, 15 July 1921, p. 417.

[2] Ringing World, 10 May 1912, p. 322.

[3] Bath Chronicle, 30 June 1917, p. 7.

[4] Ringing World, 20 May 1921, p. 291.

[5] WO 363/4, Service Records, The National Archives, Kew (via Findmypast)

[5] H. R. Sandilands, The 23rd Division, 1914-1919 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1925), p. 152.

[6] WO 95/2182/2, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry War Diary, 1914-1918. The National Archives, Kew.

[7] Bath Chronicle, 30 June 1917, p. 7.

[8] Ringing World, 6 July 1917, p. 210.

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