Counting the cost of war that devastated so many families

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Sam Hepworth tells the story of her grandfather, one of two brothers who went to war.

I never knew my grandfather John Henry Hepworth – he died three years before I was born, but in my living room I have a very old chair which once belonged to him.

Looking back on his early life has given me a snapshot of him as a young husband, father and soldier in the Great War. Two brothers went to war, but only one returned. This was probably a scenario which happened to many local families in the area.

These particular brothers were called John and Reuben Hepworth – and they both joined The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 8th Battalion.

Their parents, Hannah and Henry Hepworth, lived on Thornton Street in Batley. John was conscripted into the army on August 31, 1916, and left for the battlefields on October 28 the same year His recruitment documents filled in at the time said he was 28 and just five feet tall.

His wife was Florrie and when he left for war he had two young children, Fred and Connie, the latter being only a few months old. John was sent out to France almost immediately where he became a stretcher bearer and spent many of the war years stationed close to The Somme.

He didn’t carry any weapons and his main job was to assess the wounded on the battlefield and decide if they were walking wounded or needed to be carried back to the trenches.

This would was a dangerous job, going out onto a battlefield defenceless in order to help others and after the war he was awarded a British War and Victory Medal for his services to the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Reuben was six years younger than his brother and joined the same battalion. In November 1917 the regiment was sent to strengthen the Italian resistance, following the disaster at the 
Battle of Caporetto. Whilst the troops were still in Italy, Reuben was killed in action on December 11.

He was buried at Giabera British Cemetery, in Italy. Plot 2, Row B, Grave 9. He never married and was only 24. The grave is still there and his name is also inscribed on the war memorial in Batley town centre. After his death the Hepworth family received a posthumous medal on his behalf for giving his life for his country, which the family still has.

When John returned home he went back Batley to work in a bottle factory. He and Florrie went on to have three more children, Harry, Blanch and Percy. No one remembered him ever talking about the war or how his brother was killed.

My grandfather died in 1966, when he was 78, two years after appearing on the front page of The Batley News celebrating his golden wedding anniversary with Florrie. The article said they enjoyed a family party at the Common Road Working Men’s club. And this is how I shall fondly remember them both.