Jack led ‘war horse’ soldiers

Following on from our August First World War features, this week’s Memory Lane shares another local centenary story from this historic time.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 7th October 2014, 12:53 pm

On August 21, 1914, hundreds of Biggleswade residents and many from the surrounding villages lined the streets of the town to welcome the Northern Signal and Telegraph and Air Companies of the Royal Engineers who had come to the area for local training before going overseas on active service.

They arrived on horseback being led by Cpl John F Strong, as shown in the photograph published here. In all, 15 officers, 412 men and a staggering 285 horses were accommodated in the town and it was reported at the time that local residents were ‘generous and kind’ in accommodating them.

Cpl John Strong was Anne Newman’s grandfather, and she kindly came in to the Chronicle offices to talk about her family history based around this historic First World War photograph that was first published in the North Beds Courier.

John, aka Jack Strong originally came from Leeds where his father’s business was making clay pipes.

He loved horses and worked for the army in wireless and telephone communications.

After this photograph was taken, he and his companions were posted to France and he was subsequently awarded the military medal for bravery when he crawled along the ground under enemy fire to restore a broken telegraph line destroyed by shelling.

He met pretty local girl Maud and married her in 1917 while on ten days’ leave.

They are seen here together in the photograph (above) that was taken at the time.

Sadly, Jack was poisoned by mustard gas, and although he survived, when Maud met him on his return she hardly recognised him as he was a skeleton of his former self and both his hair and skin had turned yellow.

Jack and Maud remained in Biggleswade, which Jack had described as being like ‘the Garden of Eden’ when he first came down from Yorkshire.

In civilian life, he worked as a salesman for the Idris Lemonade depot. The couple went on to have four children: Violet (who sadly died as a baby), John (Anne’s late father), and two more daughters, who are still living, Mrs Vanda Grey and Mrs Joyce Ellis. Jack died in 1976 aged 84 and Maud died in 1979, also at the age of 84.

Thanks to Anne and her husband for sharing this story.