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John Henry Reynolds

Private John Henry Reynolds, 352016,134 Labour Corps (formerly Private 55355, Training Corps, 83rd battalion)

The short biography is that John Henry Reynolds who died in France on the 2nd May 1915 and who existed only in name. If you continue to read on you will learn more of John Henry’s life than probably he knew himself. He was in fact John Henry Hoyle, the son of William Hoyle, a farm labourer, and Agnes Hoyle, formerly Rayner, alias Reynolds. John Henry was born in Gawthorpe at 12.30 p.m. on the 4th October 1881 and baptised in a private ceremony at Holy Trinity Church Ossett on the 7th November 1881. Agnes, whose true maiden name was Rayner, also went by the surname, Reynolds. There is no evidence of William Hoyle and Agnes Rayner, or her alias, Reynolds, having married.

John Henry Hoyle had older siblings. Mary Elizabeth Hoyle was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Ossett on the 5th January 1879. Her father was also William Hoyle and he and her mother, Agnes, claimed to be living as man and wife on Gawthorpe Lane, Ossett. It is likely that Mary Elizabeth was born in late 1877 or early 1878, and that her birth was registered as Mary Elizabeth H. Rayner at Dewsbury in the March quarter of 1878. A second child, Nancy Ann was born on 18th July 1879 at Park Farm, Gawthorpe Lane, Ossett where her mother, Agnes, was a housekeeper.

Nancy Ann’s birth certificate suggests there was some doubt about the identity of her father and the marital status and maiden name of her mother, Agnes. William Hoyle’s name appears on the birth certificate as the father, but his name was crossed out. The Registrar didn’t get as far as entering William’s occupation on the certificate. Agnes, a housekeeper at Park Farm, Gawthorpe, appears to have given her name as Agnes Reynolds Hoyle, but the name Hoyle was crossed out. Imagine the Registrar’s confusion. He should have considered himself fortunate since Agnes’s maiden name was not Reynolds but Rayner.

Agnes made her mark on the birth certificate against the amended name, Reynolds. If she couldn’t write perhaps she couldn’t read either. This appears to be the first example of Agnes using the name Reynolds. It may simply have been an error by the Registrar who may have misunderstood Agnes’s pronunciation of the name Rayner, but it was a name which would accompany Agnes and some of her children for most of the rest of their lives.

Agnes Rayner was born in Tong, Bradford in the spring of 1857, the daughter of ropemaker Henry Rayner and Nancy, who appear not to have married. All censuses where Agnes is recorded, with various surnames, confirm this date and place of birth.

By 1861, Henry and Nancy were living with their four children, including Agnes, the youngest, at Turnpike Road, Tong. All of the children were called Rayner. Sadly, Agnes’s mother, Nancy died in summer 1864 and later that year Henry married Jane Pawson. Agnes was seven years of age when her mother died and when her father remarried. By 1871 Henry Reynolds and Jane were living at Tong with three of Henry’s children, including Agnes from his relationship with the late Nancy and one child born to his marriage to Jane. Agnes, now aged 13 years, was working as a doffer in a mill.

By April 1881, Agnes (now calling herself Hoyle), aged 24 years, was living at Victoria Terrace, Whitwood Mere, near Castleford with local man William Hoyle, aged 36, a widower whose wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1874 without issue. William was a labourer in a local pottery. William and Agnes Hoyle were living as man and wife but there is no evidence of a marriage. Living with the couple are daughters, Mary Elizabeth Hoyle (aged 3) and Nancy Ann Hoyle aged one (an invalid) who were both born at "Gawthorpe Lane". John Henry Hoyle was to be born there later that year.

In 1891 Agnes, the said to be 36 years of age (but actually 34) years of age was living on Whitehall Road, Tong with 47 year-old coal miner, Henry Wood. Agnes had reverted to the name Rayner and by this time she had five children, Mary E., Nancy Ann, John Henry, Jonathan (aged 6 years, born in Tong) and Harriet (aged 4 years, born in Gildersome). In the 1891 census all of the children had the surname Rayner, but Harriet’s birth was registered as Harriet Wood Reynolds in Dewsbury in late 1886. Jonathan’s birth appears to have been registered as Jonathan Wood in June quarter 1884 in Bradford.

By 1893, Agnes Reynolds had moved on and she had married coal miner Henry Hargreaves at St. Paul’s Church, Drighlington, on the 28th March 1893. Henry was apparently a bachelor aged 49 and Agnes apparently a spinster aged 37 years of age. By the time of this, her first and seemingly her only marriage, Agnes had at least five children from at least three earlier relationships. On the 4th January 1893, three months prior to her marriage to Henry, Agnes had three of her children, Nancy (Reynolds), Jonathan (Wood) and Harriet (Wood Reynolds) baptised at the same church. The children were all baptised in the name Reynolds and the record shows that Agnes was the only named parent of these children. The other two children, Mary Elizabeth and John Henry were not baptised on that day, having been earlier baptised in the name Hoyle at Ossett Holy Trinity Church.

By 1901, Henry and Agnes Hargreaves, and Agnes’s five children, three girls and two boys, all named Reynolds, were living in Drighlington. John Henry was 24 years of age and working as a coal miner. Also living in the household was a 3 year old "grandchild" named Emma Reynolds, but this is more likely to be Emma Hargreaves whose birth was registered in Bradford in late 1897. The identity of Emma’s mother is uncertain.

It seems barely possible, but by 1911 things appear to have taken a turn for the worse for the family. Henry Hargreaves was by now an inmate at the Union Workhouse at Clayton, Bradford. Agnes, reverting to her Reynolds name, was living at Drighlington with three of her children John Henry, a trammer in a coal mine, Nancy and Harriet. All of the children were recorded with the surname, Reynolds.

The 1911 census summary sheet for the household, however, suggests that Agnes may have led the census enumerator a merry dance since it originally read Reynolds which was crossed out and replaced with the name Hargreaves, which was crossed out and replaced again with the name Reynolds.

Agnes Hargreaves (nee Rayner, alias Reynolds) died in February 1922, aged 64 years, and was buried at Drighlington Congregational Cemetery on the 14th February 1922.

The dysfunctional life of John Henry Hoyle, alias Reynolds, was to follow him to beyond his grave. According to the War Office listing, "UK, Soldiers Who Died in The Great War 1914-1919" he was born in Dortrop (sic) and living at Adwalton when he enlisted at Bradford in 1917 and joined the Labour Corps with service number 350216. We now know for certain that he was born in Gawthorpe, Ossett.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission1 record that on the 2nd May 1918 in a Belgian Military Hospital, most likely no great distance from his grave. John Henry died of his wounds suffered as a result of enemy action and is buried at the CWGC cemetery at Beveren Sur Iser, north west of Ypres, Belgium. The CWGC record him here as J. H. Reynolds, service number 55355 of the 83rd Battalion, Training Reserve, transferred to (352016) to 134th Company, Labour Corps.

John Henry’s sister, possibly his only full sister, Mrs C.G.P. Walker, of Firth’s Buildings, Adwalton, near Bradford, requested the C.W.G.C. that his headstone be inscribed with the words "In Love Thought And Memory From His Sister".

In early 1904 in the North Brierley area of Bradford, Charles George P Walker married Mary Elizabeth Reynolds (baptised Hoyle, birth registered Rayner). Mary Elizabeth was the sister of John Henry Reynolds (baptised and birth registered Hoyle). Both were born in Gawthorpe and it is certain that they both lived there, at least for a short time, in the late 1870s/1880s.

In the absence of his army service records which, like so many more, were destroyed in an enemy attack on central London in WWII it is impossible to know the precise location and the circumstances in which John Henry Reynolds suffered the wounds from which he died, according to the CWGC, on 2nd May 1918.

Formed in January 1917, the Labour Corps grew to some 389,900 men (more than 10% of the total size of the Army) by the Armistice. Of this total, around 175,000 were working in the United Kingdom and the rest in the theatres of war. The Corps was manned by officers and other ranks who had been medically rated below the "A1" condition needed for front line service. Many were returned wounded. Labour Corps units were often deployed for work within range of the enemy guns, sometimes for lengthy periods.

In April 1917, a number of infantry battalions were transferred to the Corps and in the crises of March and April 1918 on the Western Front, Labour Corps units were used as emergency infantry. The Corps always suffered from its treatment as something of a second class organisation: for example, the men who died are commemorated under their original regiment, with Labour Corps being secondary. Researching men of the Corps is made extra difficult by this, as is the fact that few records remain of the daily activities and locations of Corps units.

John Henry was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals indicating that he had served overseas in a theatre of war. His was a reserved occupation by the time of his enlistment and it is likely that he volunteered to serve his Country in this way rather than as a miner. The U.K. Army’s Registers of Effects for John Henry Reynolds reveals that he left his effects to his mother and next of kin, Agnes Hargreaves (nee Rayner, alias Reynolds).

John Henry Hoyle alias Reynolds, aged 37 years, is buried at Beveren-Ijzer Churchyard, West-Vlaanderan, Belgium at grave 14. The churchyard contains the graves of 20 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War and eight Second World War burials (two of them unidentified).

Even in death there is uncertainty for John Henry since his Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestone in Belgium records his death as 2nd May 1918 whilst the Book of Remembrance for the Men of Drighlington Parish records his passing as July 1918.

We are indebted for additional research by Andrea Hartley, Ossett Through The Ages (OTTA), who first brought this brave Ossett soldier to our attention.


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission