Joseph Potts, Private 3519, C Coy., 2/7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Died 19th July 1916, Southill Park, Bedfordshire, England, aged 18
Joseph Potts was born on 22nd May 1898 at 77 Higginbotham Street (now named South Park Road), Macclesfield, the son of Lilian and Joseph Potts, a postman. In 1901, 2 year old Joseph was living at No 1 house, court 1, off Hibel Road, Macclesfield with his parents and siblings Reginald (8), Lily (4) and William A. (1).
Joseph’s father died in Macclesfield Infirmary on 5th November 1904, and his mother died in September the following year. Joseph and his younger brother William were adopted by James Sigley of Kerridge and in 1911 Joseph and William were living at 20 Higher Lane, Kerridge, with James Sigley (a quarry man) and his family.
Joseph was educated at Mill Street Wesleyan School, Macclesfield, and Rainow School, and was a regular attender at the Bollington Parish Church Bible Class. Prior to enlisting, he was employed at Messrs. Henry & Leigh Slater’s Paper Mill.
Joseph enlisted with the 2nd/7th Cheshire Regiment in Macclesfield in March 1915. He was too young to be sent abroad and was sent for training with the regiment. The following year, when based at Old Warden Camp near Biggleswade, his company went bathing in the lake at nearby Southill Park and Joseph was accidentally drowned.
A report of Joseph’s death was printed in the Biggleswade Chronicle on 28th July 1916:
SOUTHILL LAKE BATHING FATALITY – CORPORAL OF BATHING PICKET COMMENDED AT INQUEST – IMPRESSIVE MILITARY FUNERAL AT OLD WARDEN CHURCH
…a young private of the 2/7th Cheshire Regiment from the Welsh Brigade Camp at Old Warden, was drowned while bathing in the lake in Southill Park, the estate of the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, on Wednesday of last week, and owing to the depth of the water and the quantity of weeds the body was not recovered until the afternoon of Thursday, despite dragging operations which were carried out by the soldiers under the direction of P.C. Frank Pedley, from the afternoon of Wednesday until midnight and from 4am on Thursday until 3.35pm on the latter day when the body was found in 11ft of water and among weeds 7ft deep at a spot some 100 yards from the bank.
The unfortunate soldier was named Joseph Potts, a native of Kerridge, near Macclesfield, and was aged 18 years. He had served about 16 months in the Cheshires. Under the command of Lieut. Miller he was with others on the 19th attending bathing parade in the lake and had been swimming strongly with a party. He was observed by the picket on the bank to be in difficulties, but he made no call. The corporal on the bank saw Potts struggle or kick out and gave the recognised signal to the corporal of the bathing party, Corporal J. H. Leith, of the 2/4th Shropshire Light Infantry, who was in a boat. The latter heard the whistle and directing the boat to the spot he arrived as Potts sank. Corpl. Leith at once dived, but owing to the weeds he himself got into some difficulties and he found it no easy matter to regain the surface and reach the boat and after gettign into the latter he had to pump quantities of water out of his mouth. As soon as he was fit Corpl. Leith dived again but though he dived five times in all he failed to reach Potts and at each dive the gallant corporal met with much trouble from the weeds. Until the body was recovered under the direction of PC Pedley, it was not seen at all from the period when Corpl. Leith observed Potts to be sinking. The body, when recovered, was taken at once to the White Horse at Southill, where Mr G J M Whyley on Friday afternoon held an enquiry and on the same afternoon the military also held an inquiry into the incident.
After the jury had viewed the body, evidence was given of the unfortunate affair by Lieut. Pedley Miller, of the 2/7th Cheshires, who was in charge of the bathing parade and who gave evidence of identification, PC Pedley who told of his arduous and continued labours in dragging for the body and of its removal to the White Horse. The story of the deceased young private’s last bathe and of his own gallant attempts at rescue were told in plain but most convincing terms by Corpl. Leith and in bringing in a verdict that “Joseph Potts was accidentally drowned while bathing in Southill Lake on July 19th” the jury commended Corpl. Leith for his gallant but unsuccessful attempts to save the lad. The Coroner fully endorsed the sentiments of the jury and promised to forward the commendations to the Colonel of the Regiment, Sir Walter Shakley, who would in turn pass the jury’s commendation to the Colonel of the 2/4th Shropshire Light Infantry….
MILITARY HONOURS AT OLD WARDEN
The final scene in connection with the sad fatality was witnessed on Sunday afternoon, when the remains of the deceased young soldier were laid to rest in the beautiful burial ground of St Leonard’s Church, Old Warden. Full military honours were accorded to deceased, and the funeral aroused great and widespread interest and the attendance at the last sad rites was larger even than when the squire of the parish, the late Colonel Frank Shuttleworth, was buried.
The cortege started from the White Horse, Southill, the coffin being place on a gun carriage of the 342nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, and Colonel Sir Walter Shakley and all the officers of the 2/7th Cheshire Regiment, and the non-commissioned officers and men of “C”, the deceased soldier’s Company, followed the remains as mourners, and the band of the Regiment, under Sergt. Stubbs, led the way. At Old Warden there was a great gathering of soldiers and others. The firing party, with arms reversed, under Sergt. Mosscrop, joined the path to the church as the procession passed in.
Later the Rev. G. K. Cassels (vicar) conducted a deeply impressive service and the hymns “Let saints on earth in concert sing” and “Abide with me” were most feelingly sung. Mr A E Ballard (Biggleswade) presided at the organ, and at the conclusion of the service played most impressively the “Dead March” and prior to the opening of the service he played “O Rest in the Lord”.
The scene at the graveside was one that will be long remembered by all that were present. Comrades carried from the church the polished elm coffin, which was covered with the Union Jack, and on top were deceased’s cap, belt and bayonet, while officers of the Regiment, the relatives, and other comrades, carrying the floral tributes, brought up the rear. In the meadow adjoining “God’s Acre” there were hundreds of troops lined up, while facing the grave were the firing party, the buglers and drummers under Drum-Major Ellis, and to the left the Band of the Regiment. The Chaplain of the 2/3rd Welsh Brigade, Captain Rev. Sennet Davies, read the committal service most impressively, and led by the band, soldiers and civilians joined in singing the grand old hymn “Jesu Lover of my soul” and to the tune “Aberystwith” it was played and sung by the soldiers as we have seldom heard it rendered. The benediction was pronounced, and then the firing party formed up and fired three volleys, the buglers following with a deeply impressive rendition of “The Last Post”, Sir Walter Shakley and his officers meanwhile standing at the salute, and so the last scene of the fatality impressively closed.
The mourners were Mr James Sigley (step-father), and Mr William Potts, also of Kerridge (brother). The coffin, as stated above, was of polished elm with brass furniture and was inscribed “Joseph Potts, ‘C’ Co., 2/7th Cheshire Regiment, died July 19th, 1916, aged 18 years.” Mr Sam King carried out the duties of undertaker.
The floral tributes were very fine and the inscriptions were as follows: In loving remembrance from all at home, from mother, father, brothers and sisters; With deepest sympathy, from the neighbours at Higher Lane, Kerridge, Macclesfield – ‘God will clasp the broken chain Closer when we meet again’; From the Colonel and officers of the 2/7th Cheshire Regiment; From the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of ‘C’ Co., 2/7th Cheshire Regt., a token of respect for our comrade; With deepest sympathy, from the sergeants of the 2/7th Cheshire Regt.; From a friend at Billington [sic]; With deepest sympathy, from Mr and Mrs J Berridge, Old Warden.
A report of the inquest (and funeral) was printed in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent on 28th July 1916:
DROWNING FATALITY IN SOUTHILL PARK
The death of Pte Joseph Potts, 2/7 Cheshires, whilst bathing in the lake at Southill Park on 19th inst., formed the subject of an inquest, conducted by Mr G J M Whyley, the Deputy Coroner, at the White Horse, Southill, on Friday. Mr Joseph Simms was foreman of the Jury, and Major F J Finlow represented the Military Authorities.
Lieut. J R H Millar, 2/7 Cheshires, said on Wednesday he was in charge of the bathing parade at the lake in the Park. There were about 120 men present; also a boat in charge of a life-saving picket. They arrived at the lake about 6pm and Pte Potts was present. About 20 minutes later he heard shouts that a man was in difficulties and he saw a man’s head and arms just above the water. There were other men within 40 yards of him, but there were a lot of weeds there. The boat was about 40 yards away. Deceased was supposed to be a good swimmer. The body was that of Joseph Potts, aged 18, who came from Kerridge, Bollington, a village near Macclesfield.
Corpl. John H Leith, 2/4 KOSLI, said he was in charge of the bathing picket on Wednesday. About 6.25pm he received an order to proceed to where deceased was in difficulties. He sank when they were within 25 yards of him and did not come up again. When they got to the spot witness dived to the bottom and made a search, but could find no trace of him. The water there was 13ft deep and the weeds were very thick. He got wrapped in them himself before he could get to the surface. He went down four times but without success. The weeds were about 9 feet long, and he thought deceased’s legs got caught in them.
PC Pedley spoke to recovering the body by dragging. It was in 13 feet of water with 7 feet of weeds, and it was covered with weeds.
Captain A Mackenna, RAMC, Warden Camp, attributed death to drowning.
Pte F Hobson, 2/7th Cheshires, said he warned deceased to keep to the right on account of the weeds.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
Locally, Joseph Potts’ death was reported in the Macclesfield Courier of 29th July 1916.
Private Joseph Potts is buried in a grave north of the chancel in the Old Warden (St Leonard’s) Churchyard near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Joseph Potts.
Elsewhere, he is commemorated on the Bollington (Palmerston Street), Bollington (Parish), Kerridge Sunday School and Rainow war memorials, and the Henry & Leigh Slater (Bollington) Roll of Honour.
Adopted brother of Albert Sigley, who served with the 8th Welsh Regiment and was killed in France; brother of Reginald Potts, who emigrated to Canada and served as Private 430163 with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and William Potts, who served in the Royal Navy with service no. SS118812, both of whom survived the war.