Gunner John William Hornbuckle 1893 - 1917

By Celia Hornbuckle ©

This article first appeared in the NNWFHS journal April 2009

On Remembrance Day 2002 I was helping out with a Children’s Church Club in Higham- on-the-Hill called “The Highlighters” talking about the poppy and people who were injured or lost their lives in the Wars. I mentioned that I had  some First World War medals, which belonged to an uncle of my late husband, and I was asked to bring them along the following week to show the children.

John William Hornbuckle’s medals were still in their little boxes with the ribbons and certificates. I also have his army belt, stirrups, scrolls, a plaque, coins, books, mug, plus a number of photographs and lots of postcards. Sadly his nephews Albert, Gordon and Geoff have all died and these things are now in my care and are to be passed down later in the family.

By the following Monday I had got together a folder of things connected to John William and the children and helpers were very interested in his life. They were able to do some rubbing of the medals, plaque and coins commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and Edward VII Coronation in 1902.

While Geoff and I had tried to find out more about his army career and paid for a search in London, we were told the records were lost during the bombing in the Second WW. I decided I would try and see if I could find out more so I wrote to the Royal Artillery headquarters. They were not able to help with his military life, but were able to tell me from a family photo that I sent them that he had been awarded a wounded stripe and a good conduct stripe, also that the photograph was taken while on compassionate leave, as his second button was blacked out. His trade badge was the crossed guns (Gunners).

One day while searching through old newspaper records I found an article in the “Midlands Counties Tribune” 14th December 1917 under the title “Died from Wounds” and this enabled me to put the postcards to him and from him in some order.

John William was born in South Wigston on 24th July 1893, and his brother Charles Ernest was born 6thNovember 1894, the children of William and Jane Elizabeth Hornbuckle, nee Exon. William Hornbuckle worked on the railways and moved his family to 55 Webb Street, Stockingford in 1903; lots of railwaymen I believe moved to the area around that time.

The brothers both attended Stockingford Church School and the family attended St Paul’s Church as many prizes show. They both went to work at the Tunnel Pit and postcards tell of many accidents happening there. John William Hornbuckle left Stockingford at the age of 21 after signing up to join the Royal Horse and Field Artillery on 1st September 1914.

“Will” started his training in Sheffield and conditions were tough. Postcards tell of him living in Hillsboro Barracks along with H. Mears, a man whom he had worked with at the Tunnel pit. They were hoping to travel home together but had to wait until they had some clean clothes as they had been in the same ones for ten days and had had very little food. Conditions got worse as more and more men arrived. They were only given one blanket instead of two this coming up to winter time too. Will was pleased when he started signalling because he didn’t have to do so much marching.

Grandmother Exon was knitting socks for the soldiers and Will was pleased when he received food parcels from home; he asked family to number his mail because he didn’t believe he was getting it all. In December 1914 he sends a photo of himself and his mates who live above the stables with him.

On July 1st 1915 Will was sent out to the Dardanelles and was in the Sulva Bay landing. It was for his action on 2nd July 1915 that he was awarded  the 1914-1915 Star Medal.  He was wounded at Chocolate Hill and taken ill with the fever, then spent five months convalescing in Egypt including Christmas, as cards show. Will was sent back to France on 22nd March 1916 and was in action in the Somme. The postcard of him cleaning his gun in the trenches shows a different picture from what the conditions were really like.

On May 13th 1917 Will was injured again, this time in Monchy and was sent to hospital in Cardiff with a bad hand injury. A postcard shows him in hospital with his arm in a sling and other patients in beds packed tightly together. He was transferred on his birthday to Coytrehen Parc Hospital in Tondu, South Wales .

Will returned to action in France on 1st November but on the 20th was gassed and received shrapnel wounds. He was admitted to the 2nd Australian hospital, but sadly died of his wounds on December 3rd aged 24. William and Jane Hornbuckle attended their son’s funeral the next day in France. They went many times to visit “The Dear Old Boy’s Grave” which was moved several times before finally coming to rest at the British Empire Wimereux Communal Cemetery France.

J.W.Hornbuckle’s name is on the memorial in St Paul’s Church and in Riversley Park on the Other Regiments Panel.

His NNWFHS Memorial Page can be found by clicking here

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