Who do you think they were? // John William Husbands

Tuesday, 16th May 2017

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John William Husbands
John William Husbands

John William Husbands was born in 1878 and brought up in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, the home of the Husbands family for generations.  His father William Henry was a merchant’s clerk who married Theresa Pearson in Sheffield in 1877.  Theresa returned to her home town the following year to give birth to John, the first of five children. In 1891 William was now a shorthand clerk and the children were all at school in Gainsborough.

By the census of April 1901 the family had scattered. William and Theresa and their three youngest children had moved to Ecclesall, Sheffield and second son George was working as a print machinist and boarding in Farsley near Leeds. John, now 23, had moved to Burton on Trent and the census reveals that he was a journalist and reporter; probably learning his craft on the Burton Daily Mail.

In 1902 he moved to Birmingham and married a Yorkshire girl, Edith Healas from Dewsbury. He may have met her when visiting his family in Ecclesall, or going to his brother’s wedding in nearby Leeds or just having a drink at the Kings Arms Tavern, Dewsbury, where she was a waitress at her father’s pub. Their wedding banns gave his address as Princess Rd, Edgbaston, Birmingham.  Their daughter Irene was born in Birmingham in June 1903 and a son Joseph in 1904.

In 1904 John joined the staff of the Birmingham Daily Mail. In 1905 following the death of the author, playwright and dramatic critic, T. Edgar Pemberton, he wrote a weekly column “Flashes from the Footlights.”   These articles ranged widely, not only covering previews and reviews at the main Birmingham theatres but also issues affecting the theatre nationally at a time when it was being squeezed by the music halls and new picture houses.  Improvements to the bookings system were called for. Was ‘Revue’ music hall or a stage play? He bemoaned the shortage of top touring productions quoting Actor Managers “there’s pots of money to be made out in Australia and Canada” taking their productions on “no risk” colonial tours rather than to the provinces.
His Birmingham Mail obituary commended his all-around ability as a journalist. “Endowed with a facile and clever pen, he ranked high as a descriptive writer.  He numbered amongst his personal friends many members of the theatrical profession.”

John was popular with his colleagues “by reason of his public spirit and camaraderie.”  He joined the NUJ when it was formed in 1907 and supported the Newspaper Press Fund.

By the 1911 census the family of four and one servant were living at 44 Cambridge Road. At the outbreak of war in 1914 John enlisted in Birmingham as a Territorial Reservist with the Leicestershire Yeomanry – Trooper J.W. Husbands No. 3657.

He was able to continue his column. In February 1916 he reflects on the booming success of the theatre in time of war despite national exhortations to economise but notes that “since the Zeppelin visitation to the Midlands” evening audiences were falling off.

In 1916 John signed up for active service and transferred to the infantry 1st/4th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment as Private J.W. Husbands with a new number, 7510. The regiment was part of the 138th Brigade, 46th (North Midland) Division and was active north of the River Ancre.  They were billeted at Souastre, south of Arras and spent every four days up to their knees in mud in the trenches around Hannescamps being bombarded, and then relieved for four days back at the billets.

On 14th December 1916 John wrote an ‘army will’ bequeathing everything to Edith who was then at 275 Pershore Rd, Edgbaston.  On February 21st 1917 there was very heavy bombardment on the front line trenches with shells and trench mortars. John was wounded by a shell and transferred to No.43 Casualty Clearing Station. 1st March was his 39th birthday and he was renumbered with the rest of the Territorial Infantry.  John died of his wounds on 4th March 1917.

Edith received this dreadful news at 96 Church Road, Moseley where the family lived until the 1930’s.

John is buried at the Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, Pas-de-Calais and commemorated at St Mary’s Church Moseley, Birmingham Hall of Memory and the Post and Mail at Fort Dunlop.