Private Joseph RILEY
[See: Footnote below] 

Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
1st Battalion
(Formerly: 6th Battalion)
Service Number:
(Formerly: 4502, 6th Battalion)
Date of Death:
13 September 1918 - Died
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
V. G. 11.

Personal History:

Joseph was born in the September quarter 1897 at Harpur Hill, Buxton, the son of Joseph (Lime Burner) and Mary (née Tait) Riley. He had two older sisters, Emily and Fanny (1901 Census RG 13/3271).
In 1911 (Census RG 14/21239) the family were living at 5 Temple View, Harpur Hill, and Joseph was employed as an "Grocer's Errand Boy". Also living there was sister, Fanny. Emily, who was now married to Isaac Thompson, also lived there with their son, Harold, aged 2.

After the War Joseph's mother, mary, received his "effects" amounting to £42 11s 3d [£42.58], which included £17 10s [£17.50] "War Gratuity". (£42.58 has an equivalent value of about £1,900 today - 2016.)

Military History:
Joseph originally enlisted in the 6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, in Buxton, for "The Duration of The War",  but unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived so his enlistment date cannot be found. However, by comparing his original Service Number (4502) with others it would lead to the conclusion that he joined up around June 1915.

Being the local Battalion Joseph more than likely joined "C" Company. The Battalion had been formed in Chesterfield at the outbreak of War, part of Notts. & Derby Brigade in the North Midland Division. On mobilisation it moved to Harpenden and went on in November 1914 to Braintree. The Division left Southampton on the 25th February 1915, landing at Le Havre the following day. The North Midland was the first Territorial Force Division to arrive complete in a theatre of war. The first months were spent in the Ypres salient.

Assuming Joseph did enlist about the time deduced above he would probably joined his 6th Battalion in time to proceed to Egypt on the 23rd December 1915. After just a few days in Egypt, however, the move was countermanded and the units were returned to France. On the First day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, the 6th Battalion were engaged in the diversionary attack at Gommecourt.

During 1917 Joseph's Division were engaged in : Operations on the Ancre (March); Occupation of the Gommecourt defences (4th March); The attack on Rettemoy Graben (12th March); The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line; The attack on Lievin (1st July) and The Battle of Hill 70 (15th -25th August).

During these actions Joseph was wounded twice, so probably was not personally involved in all of them, no doubt recuperating.

It is known that Joseph was wounded again after he transferred to the 1st Battalion on the 31st January 1918. (The Battalion had been in in Bombay, India at the outbreak of War and returned to England, landing at Plymouth on the 2nd October 1914.) The Battalion was attached to the 24th Brigade in the 8th Division.

After Joseph joined them he would have seen action at The Battle of St Quentin; the actions at the Somme crossings; The Battle of Rosieres, and the actions of Villers-Bretonneux - all phases of the First Battles of the Somme (21st March - 5th April 1918).

In terms of significant losses, a lot of 1st Battalion, Notts & Derby men were captured defending St. Christ on 23rd - 25th March 1918, two days after 'Kaiserschlacht'  - the first day of the German Spring Offensive: 21st March, and Joseph was reported missing on the 26th March 1918 near Villers Bretonneux.  One Officer and 19 men of William's Battalion were killed or died of wounds defending St Christ.

There are records that a number of POWs died in the last three months of the war, with their poor health blamed on the starvation rations given to them. This, as a likely reason, is supported by his cause of death being listed as "Died" rather than succumbing to wounds received in action. However, in reporting his death on the 23rd November 1918, 'The Buxton Advertiser' gave his date of death as 3rd November, no doubt later revised by the I(C)WGC.

Having died as a prisoner of war on the "Officially Accepted" date of 13 September1918, Joseph was buried in Valenciennes (St. Roch) Communal Cemetery. The CWG says "Valenciennes remained in German hands from the early days of the First World War until 1 - 2 November 1918, when it was entered and cleared by the Canadian Corps." Joseph is buried in the plot from which the German burials came, before being reburied elsewhere, reinforcing that he was a POW and probably died of illness.

· One of Joseph's comrades, Pt. William James GENT, another Buxton man of the 1st Battalion, Sherwood Foresters  was also captured and died
   as a POW the day after Joseph.

· There are two 'Joseph Rileys' on Buxton Memorials, both of whom served with the Sherwood Forester Regiment:
   Private 71688 J. Riley appears on The Slopes Memorial and the Memorials at Harpur Hill, and served with the 1st Battalion,
   Sergeant 35867 J. Riley is on the Fairfield Memorial, but no Sgt. is included on The Slopes Memorial. He served with the 10th Battalion

· I am grateful to Steve Morse, 'Bronno' and Jim Grundy (GWF) for information about Joseph's service.
· I am also grateful to Pierre Vandervelden for providing the photo of Joseph's grave [see: "In Memory"]
· "1st and 2nd Battalions the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the Great War" - H.C. Wylly
   (ISBN-10: 1845744241) pps. 42-43
· "Eighth Division in War 1914-1918" by Captain E.O. Bax Cyril, J.H. Boraston, Cyril E.O. Bax (ISBN-10 1843421895)
· National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers' Effects Records, 1901-60

Link to CWGC Record
Joseph Riley's grave