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Stephen Cannon

Sergeant Stephen Cannon, 3/8998, 8th (Service) Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own, (Yorkshire Regiment), (Green Howards)

Stephen Cannon was born in Wakefield on the 30th December 1865, the youngest son to twice married labourer Thomas Cannon (1820 - 1882) and his second wife Susannah Page (1828 - 1896) who married in Wakefield in 1848. Thomas Cannon's first wife Caroline Dobson (1820 - 1846) had died in 1846, most likely from complications giving birth to their third child Thomas Cannon junior. Thomas Cannon had been born in Endmoor, 5 miles from Kendal, Westmorland before moving to Yorkshire with his family. He worked as a labourer in a soap works before becoming a greengrocer in Wakefield prior to his death in 1882.

Stephen Cannon joined the Yorkshire Regiment, enlisting at Pontefract for 12 years on the 6th January 1885 at the age of 19 years. His army record notes that he was 5ft 5¾" in height and weighed 126lbs (9 stones or 57.15 kg) with a fair complexion, blue eyes, brown hair with no smallpox scars. He was based at Richmond Barracks in North Yorkshire and in September 1885 was classed as a drummer boy, but by May 1886 he was Private 1294 S. Cannon.

Green Howards on Parade at Richmond Barracks

Above: The Green Howards moved to Richmond in 1873 and the Barracks were built in 1875.

In June 1886, Cannon was promoted to Lance Corporal and then to Corporal in October 1888. However, in August 1889, he bought himself out of the Army by paying £18 (about £3,000 in 2023) after he was married.

Stephen Cannon married farmer's daughter Mary Blatherwick (b. 1867, Newark, Notts) on September 12th 1888 at Richmond Parish Church, North Yorkshire. There were five children to the marriage and the youngest, Elsa Cannon was born in Ossett in 1905. The eldest child Frederick Cannon was born in Wakefield in 1890 and the other three: Winifred Evelyn b. 1892; Mabel b. 1895 and Arthur Brian b. 1897 were all born in Earlsheaton. In 1891 the Cannon family had moved from Wakefield to Spring Gardens, Earlsheaton where Stephen was employed as a confectioner. In the late 1890s, the Cannon family had moved to live in Dale Street, Ossett and Stephen was now working as a clerk in a rag warehouse. Perhaps in search of a better salary to support his family of five children, Stephen Cannon made a massive change in lifestyle and by 1911 he was working as an ironstone miner and living with his family at Bank Street, Guisborough.

At the very start of WW1 and at the age of 49 years, on the 14th September 1914, Stephen Cannon once again joined the Yorkshire Regiment at Richmond, serving in the 8th (Service) Battalion as Private 3/8998.

The 8th (Service) Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment was formed at Richmond, Yorkshire on the 22nd September 1914 and they served in the 69th Brigade, 23rd Division. The battalion moved to Frensham, then Folkestone and Maidstone in Kent, before landing at Boulogne, France on the 26th August 1915.

23rd Division saw a lot of action in 1916 and 1917 after their training period in 1915. The Division fought in the Battle of the Somme; Battle of Albert; Battle of Pozières; Battle of Flers–Courcelette; Battle of Morval; Battle of Le Transloy; Battle of Messines; Third Battle of Ypres; Battle of the Menin Road Ridge; Battle of Polygon Wood and the First Battle of Passchendaele.

8th Bn, Yorkshire Regiment at Flkstone in 1915

Above: Unidentified platoon of the 8th (Service) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment at Folkestone in 1915. Is Stephen Cannon one of these men? He was aged around 50 years at the time.

After surviving a lot of heavy fighting in France and Belgium, on the 28th October 1917, the exhausted Division was ordered to get ready to move by rail, and on 31st October 1917 the destination was confirmed as Italy where they were to remain for the remainder of WW1.

On the 11th November 1917, 16 days after the Battle of Caporetto, they concentrated around Mantua, South of Verona as part of XIV Corps. From here on the 19th November, 23rd division marched out to the front line, with the 69th and 70th brigades relieving the 70th Italian Division on the western part of the Montello and the adjoining plain South of the Piave River from 2nd to the 4th December. They immediately began to reorganise the defences to the standard defence in depth pattern used in Flanders and began patrols. Relief by the 41st Division began on the 13th February 1918, by which time the division had suffered 38 dead and 136 wounded mostly due to artillery and air attack, comparatively small numbers compared to Flanders.

The relief was short-lived as the 5th and 41st divisions were withdrawn from Italy to meet the impending German spring offensive (the Germans had also withdrawn six of their divisions from Italy). The division returned to the Montello from the 24th to the 26th February, and by the 8th March patrolling was impossible due to the height of the Piave river. The division was quickly relieved by the 51st Italian Division and by 16th March was out of the line.

23rd Division was redeployed to the hills south of, and overlooking the Asiago plain, with its back to the edge of the Asiago plateau, some 3500 feet above the coastal plain, another different environment to Flanders, the 68th and 70th brigades taking over from the 11th Italian Division. Patrolling and raids were once again possible in spite of the cold and snow, and there was very little fire from the Austrian artillery. They were relieved by the 48th Division on the 23rd April 1918 and the Division went into reserve around Trissino. It was planned to return the division to the plateau on the 19th May, for an offensive timed for mid June, on the march back men began to fall sick with influenza, which swept through the division over the next few weeks.2

During WW1, 23rd Division suffered 23,574 men killed, wounded and missing.

Sergeant Stephen Cannon, 3/8998, 8th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) died on the 11th May 1918 at the age of 54 years as a result of an accident whilst on active service. He is buried at Plot 1, Row A, Grave 9 at Dueville Communal Cemetery Extension, Italy. He left a widow Mary and five children, three of whom were still living with their mother at Guisborough in 1921.

Stephen Cannon was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals for his service during WW1 and the 1914-15 Star for serving on or before 31st December 1915.

Guisborough War Memorial

Above: Sergeant Stephen Cannon lived at Belmangate, Guisborough and is remembered on the Guisborough War Memorial in front of St. Nicholas' Church. His name was also added to the Ossett War Memorial in 2022 in memory of the few years he lived in the town. (Photo by Edward Nicholl)


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

2. Wikipedia 23rd Division (United Kingdom)