John Darrall Anstey, a member of the Birmingham Ansteys, was born in 1892 in Erdington, Birmingham to parents John William Anstey and Catherine Darrall; he was the elder brother of fellow Anstey Hero George Henry Anstey. Their father died in 1895 when they was very young so John and his brother George Henry Anstey were placed into care at Sir Josiah Mason’s Orphanage (a home for destitute children), Bell Lane, Erdington for at least some of their childhood.
By the time of the 1911 Census however, the brothers were back living with their mother Catherine in Princess Road, Edgbaston – John was an insurance clerk.
We are unable to locate John’s wartime Service Record, but can accurately piece together his World War One story from other sources. We know that he volunteered for service right at the beginning of the war, joining the ‘Birmingham Pals‘ Battalion in September 1914 (Service Number 28), attached to the 14th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
All three of the ‘Birmingham Pals‘ battalions were deployed to the Western Front in France on 21 November 1915 (confirmed on his medal index card). The 14th Battalion (1st Birmingham) formed part of 95th Brigade, 32nd Division, though on 28 December 1915 it was transferred to 13th Brigade, 5th Division.
John fought in the Battle of the Somme, which commenced on 1 July 1916. Specifically he was involved in the Attacks on High Wood near Longueval, France, which began on 14 July 1916; he died in an attack on Wood Lane, which was reported thus:
“At 22.00pm on 22nd July, 13th Infantry Brigade attempted an attack on Wood Lane, 14th Warwickshire Regiment on the left, 1st Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) on the right, meeting strong resistance from machine-gun fire and suffering heavy casualties, as did a second attack at 03.30am the following morning. At the same time 1st Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and 1st East Surrey Regiment of 95th Infantry Brigade supported 3rd Division in a joint attack on Longueval, capturing several machine-gun posts but also losing heavily against others.“
John officially died late on 22 or early on 23 July 1916, “killed in action” during the Wood Lane attack, with “A” Company Platoon No II, 14th (24th?) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment; he was buried at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval in France, grave reference “XV. B. 29“
It appears that for a while John had been mistakenly reported as “missing in action” rather than “killed in action” because his death was not reported in newspapers for over a year. For example the ‘Gloucester Citizen‘ newspaper 13 October 1917 edition reported “Roll of Honour: We record with deep regret the death on the field of honour of the following former Insurance Officials… News has been received of the death in July, 1916, of John Darrel Anstey, who had been reported missing. He was a private in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and was formerly a clerk in the Birmingham branch of the British Law Fire Insurance Company“
Similarly the ‘Birmingham Daily Post‘ 10 September 1917 edition noted “Casualties Among Midland Men: The following particulars of local men killed have been supplied…Private John Darrall Anstey, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, eldest son of Mrs. Will. Anstey, 114, Varna Road, Edgbaston“. The ICRC (‘Red Cross’) also had a card on him, stating “Anstey J. D. Pvte No 28 14th Royal Warwicks blesse et disparu depuis debut Juillet 1916. Rep: Mr G. H. Anstey 114 Varna Road, Edgbaston” – presumably they erroneously thought at the time of his disappearance that he might have been taken prisoner of war.
For his services, John was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star Medal, as well as the Victory and British War medals.
John is commemorated at the family grave at St Peter’s Church graveyard in Harborne, the inscription reading “Also of John Darrall Anstey, eldest son of the above John William Anstey, who was killed on the Somme July 22 1916 aged 24 years“. Probate was to his mother Katherine Anstey (widow), confirming his address as 114 Varna Road, Edgbaston where his mother, and later his brother George Henry Anstey, resided.
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