Who Do You Think They Were: John William Willoughby Hudson

Wednesday, 9th December 2015

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JWW Hudson
JWW Hudson

100 years ago on 30th November 1915, John William Willoughby Hudson was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was just 20. He and the other men of Moseley who fell during WW1 will be remembered at a short ceremony at the war memorial at St Mary’s Church on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November.


JWW, or Jack as he was known in the 1911 census, had been on home leave just the previous month at Meerend, 60 Salisbury Rd, Moseley. His father Percy William Hudson, mother Kate and 2 older sisters, Verity and Helen were comfortably off with a live-in cook and parlour maid. Little did the family know that this brief reunion was the last time they would see their young and only son.


Birmingham born Percy, a leading Liberal in the city, was a master printer and stationer. He ran the family firm Hudson & Sons Printers, with his brother Reginald. It was founded by their dynamic nonconformist grandfather Benjamin Hudson, in Bull Street in1821. Benjamin was a printer, publisher, stationer and bookseller at “the oldest bookshop in Birmingham.”  He was a leading citizen, active in the Anti Corn Law League, a petitioner for the abolition of slavery, and a Guardian of the Birmingham Workhouse amongst many other things.


Jack was born in Edgbaston on11th June 1895.  His death at such a young age meant that school had played a major part in his life. He attended Green Hill School in Moseley – a boys boarding school that appeared in the 1841census as Green Hill College; 22 boys and staff run by schoolmistress Miss Charlotte Thrupp, and located near School Rd. Another reference suggests it was founded in 1823 by Charlotte and her sister Anna Thrupp


Jack may have been a day boy because his name does not appear on the 1901 census with the 23 boarders. By then the school is registered as Greenhill School, Ascot Road run by the previous head’s widow, Mary A Davis, assisted by her son Edward.  Jack was notable for wining four Firsts in School Sports in one day.  He is remembered in the Roll of Honour of old boys “serving their King and Country” published by the school in 1915 and held by the Imperial War Museum.


In September 1907 Jack was admitted to King Edward’s School, New Street.  The school records suggest that he was neither the most academic of boys nor particularly sporty. However he joined the school’s Officer Training Corps and took up shooting, at which he excelled. He secured the marksman’s badge and was described as a “crack shot.”


He left KES around1913 and went straight into the family firm, then on the corner of Edmund St. and Livery St. He also joined the Territorial Force and in October 1914, within a month of the outbreak of war was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment stationed first in Thorpe St. Birmingham.


In March 1915 they mobilised for war.  Jack was transferred to the 1st/5th Battalion, arrived in France on 23rd March and was promoted to full Lieutenant in June.  He took part in several engagements on the Western Front, often between the lines at night in charge of working parties and frequently on duty as a sniper by day. On 30th November while on observation duty near Gommecourt he located a German trench mortar battery that had been firing into their trenches an hour before.  With tragic irony, as he turned to climb down from the parapet of the trench, he was shot in the head by a German sniper and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness.


Eloquent tributes were paid by Brigadier General Sir John Barnsley, his company Major and his Platoon Sgt, who writing to his parents on behalf of the N.C.O’s and men, said “your son was held in high esteem both as a leader and a gentleman. Personally I have lost one whom “I felt honoured to be commanded by.”


John William Willoughby Hudson is buried at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.


Stephanie Silk

With thanks to Jan Berry, Edwina Rees, Alison Wheatley, Archivist KES and the B13 Research Platoon