Sapper John William FOX


Regiment/Service:
Royal Engineers
Unit:
96th Light Railway Operating Company
Service Number:
WR/290221
(Formerly: R.E. 284422)
Date of Death:
13 November 1918
Age:
23
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
E. 216.


Personal History:

John was born in the March quarter 1895, the youngest son of Abraham (Labourer) and Mary Ann (née Lomas) Fox, at 4 Cross Street, Fairfield, Buxton. He had 2 older brothers and an older sister, Robert, Norman and Cissie. (1901 Census RG 13/3269) 
By 1911 (Census RG 14/21234) the family had moved two houses to No. 8 and John's father was now employed as a "Carter", working for the Council. 16 year old John was employed as a "Bookstall Assistant".

Military History:
John enlisted in the Royal Engineers in Buxton. His Medal Index Card indicates that he entered the War after 1915 and unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. Railway Operating Companies were set up to run the trains, with the tracks being laid by Royal Engineers Railway Construction Companies. In total they consisted of about 200 men, with few Officers. The men called up around this time were railwaymen in civilian life who had volunteered in late 1915 under the Derby Scheme and had their call up heavily deferred due to their Reserved Occupation, being finally called up in October 1917. However, quite how John fitted this general designation is not clear, unless in some administrative capacity.

The 96th Light Railway Operating Company was formed and trained at Longmoor Camp,
Hampshire, and embarked for Egypt on the 2nd December 1917 aboard HMT Osmanieh.
(The Osmanieh was built in 1906 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co by Swan-Hunter.)

The liner Osmanieh, commanded by Lieutenant Commander David R. Mason, was taken over
for service as a fleet auxiliary during the First World War. She was carrying troops and medical
staff to Alexandria when, at 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 31st December, 1917, she struck a mine
laid by UC 34 under the command of Oberleutnant zue See Horst Obermuller at the entrance
to Alexandria harbour. She sank very quickly taking with her Lieutenant Commander D.R. Mason,
2 other officers. 21 of its crew, 1 military officer, 166 other ranks and 8 nurses.

Unlike many of his Company, John seems to have survived the sinking of the Osmanieh and
continued his work laying the tracks for the temporary railways.

The fact that he died - with no specific reason given (e.g. 'of wounds' etc.) - two months after The
Armistice may suggest that it was of one of the many illnesses which beset British troops in that
part of the World. One possibility, of course, is the influenza epidemic which was rife about the
time of his death.

He is buried in Kantara Cemetery, but, as the CWGC says about the location:

"Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre and the cemetery was begun in February
1916 for burials from the various hospitals, continuing in use until late 1920. After the Armistice,
the cemetery was more than doubled in size when graves were brought in from other cemeteries
and desert battlefields, notably those at Rumani, Qatia, El Arish and Rafa."

He may have died at one of the Hospitals there, possibly the 24th Stationery, or have been brought
there later for reburial.


Footnotes:
· Sapper Frank FURNESS, of the 98th Light Railway Operating Company, also died and is buried in Kantara
War Memorial Cemetery
· Sapper George WARRINGTON, of the same Company as John, was killed aboard the Osmanieh and is
commemorated on The Chatby Memorial.

Sources:
· I am grateful to British War Graves for the photo of John's Grave
· A detailed report regarding the loss of the Osmanieh, from which the following information is extracted.
Statement of Sub. Lieut. H.S. Barnes: ‘...At about 10:20a.m. I received the pilot on board. Following him up on to the bridge I questioned the pilot as to the ship docking. The order “slow ahead” had just been given when the explosion occurred.

The Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] and myself standing together were blown through the roof of the wheel house and back on to the deck. He immediately gave orders “stop engines” telling me to clear away the boats...’

Statement of Lieut. Col. P.R.C. Groves, D.S.O.: ‘When the explosion occurred I was standing looking over the rail on the promenade deck, on the port side, close to the steps leading up to the bridge. I immediately ran up these steps on to the bridge and asked the Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] how much time we had. He replied “A few minutes”. I said “Is the order to be, into the water?” He said “yes”...The Captain pointed out to me that the ship was going down by the bow and also told me to get everyone forward. He was apparently thinking of the boilers exploding...Finally, when the boat was level with the water and the forward well deck was nearly full, I turned to the Captain and said “what about it now”. He said “yes, we must be off”. He then ran to the port side of the bridge whilst I went to the starboard...’

The court of enquiry stated the following in their summing up of the incident: ‘We consider the loss was occasioned by striking a mine or mines. For this no blame is attributable to the Captain or officers of the Osmanieh, and their conduct throughout, and that of the crew, with a few exceptions was marked by courage and devotion to duty.’


Link to CWGC Record
Spr. John Fox's Grave
HMT Osmanieh
'The Times' reported the loss the following day:
poppy
H.M.T Osmanieh