Private Joseph KEELING

North Staffordshire Regiment
8th Battalion
Service Number:
Date of Death:
19 July 1918 (Died whilst prisoner of war)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
XI. A. 2.

Personal History:

Joseph was born in the September quarter 1897, the son of Thomas (Carter on Farm) and Mary Emma (née Newham) Keeling of 83 Bennett Street, Buxton. He had six older brothers and sisters, John William, Arthur, Frances Ethel, Marian Josephine, Herbert and Sidney Thomas, and a younger sister, Sybil. (1901 Census RG13/3269)

By 1911 two more children, Fred, Reginald and Harold Richard, had been added to the family, which was still at the same address. Joseph was employed as a "Grocer's Errand Boy". (Census RG 14/21242)

[N.B. Mother, Mary Emma, died on the 22nd January 1918 and is buried in Buxton Cemetery. The names of her two sons, Joseph and Sidney [see Footnote below], who both gave their lives in the Great War, are engraved on her gravestone. Their father, Joseph, was buried in the same grave after his death on the 18th April 1928.]

Military History:

There is no record when Joseph enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment as unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. His Medal Index Card indicates that he entered the War in France after December 1915 as he is not eligible for the 1914-15 Star Medal. By comparing his Service Number with others in the Regiment it seems likely that Joseph enlisted about May 1916.

The 8th (Service) Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment had formed at Lichfield on the 18th September 1914 as part of K2 (Kitchener's Second New Army) and became part of 57th Brigade in the 19th (Western) Division. The Battalion originally landed in France on the 18th July 1915, so clearly Joseph joined later after training, as a replacement or reinforcement.
In 1917 Joseph's Battalion fought at The Battle of Messines, 7th - 14th June, followed later in the year by The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, (20th - 25th September); The Battle of Polygon Wood, (26th September - 3rd October); The Battle of Poelcappelle, (9th October 1917); The First Battle of Passchendaele, (12th October) and The Second Battle of Passchendaele, (26th October - 10th November) - all phases in The Third Battle of Ypres.

The 8th Battalion had started the year 1918 near Cambrai remaining there until the 15th February when they moved back into a training area at Haplincourt. By mid-March they were part of V Corps in the Flesquieres Salient. The 21st March 1918 saw the beginning of 'Kaiserschlacht'  - the first day of the German Spring Offensive, signalling the start of The Battle of St Quentin, 21st - 23rd March 1918, followed by The First Battle of Bapaume, 24th - 25th March 1918. This was the start of a much larger engagement which became known as The First Battles of the Somme, (21st March - 5th April 1918).

Without Joseph's Service Papers it is not possible to know during which of these Battles he was captured leading to his subsequent death as a prisoner of war on the 19th July 1918. However, in reporting his death 'The Buxton Advertiser' stated that he had "Been in enemy hands some months". On the 21st March 1918 Joseph's Battalion lost 293 men killed in action. Nine more died on the 24th.

The Battalion War Diary for 24th March reads:
"In the course of the morning it was reported that the enemy had broken through towards ROCQUIGNY and the situation became so critical that warning orders were issued that a withdrawal would be probable. About 11.00 a.m. enemy attacked Cheshires on our right, but with no success. No enemy had been seen on our immediate front or left. At 2.00 p.m. right flank was in the air and orders to withdraw to BAPAUME were issued. Enemy were now very close and some of our men were not able to get away. 2Lt Carver M. C. DCM was badly wounded and had to be left." (CWGC records suggest that Lieutenant George Stanley Carver, M.C., D.C.M., survived the War, but was a Prisoner of War. He had enlisted as Private 2570, Army Cyclist Corps, before being Commissioned in the North Staffs Regiment on the 13th April 1917.)

The Buxton Advertiser reported that Joseph's father had received a 'communication' from the Central Prisoners' of War Committee notifying him of his son's death at "Friemersheim a Niedersheim". The information had been received from a German clergyman, who wrote:

"I regret to inform you that John (sic) Joseph Keeling died after a short illness in this camp. According to the report, his death was caused by peritonitis and meningitis. He was buried on the 22nd July in the cemetery here. His comrades accompanied his coffin to the grave and laid a cross on it. I myself held a short service according to the Common-prayer Book. May God comfort you in your sorrow. - (signed) Carl Wiede, clergyman."

Joseph now lies in Cologne Southern Cemetery. In 1922 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries. Cologne Southern was one of those chosen and the following year, graves were brought in from 183 burial grounds in Hanover, Hesse, the Rhine and Westphalia - including 20 burials of 1918 from Friemersheim Cemetery.

· In June 1915 The Buxton Advertiser published photos of three of Joseph's brothers also serving -
  John William - Grenadier Guards; Sidney Thomas - Northumberland Fusiliers and Herbert -
  King's Own Scottish Borderers.

· Lance Corporal Sydney Thomas KEELING, 13th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed
  in action on 18 July 1916.

· "The Buxton Advertiser", June 1915 and 7 September 1918
·  I am grateful to 'The War Graves Photographic Project' for the photo of Joseph's grave

Commemorated on:
Commemorated on his parents' grave in Buxton Cemetery

Link to CWGC Record
Cologne Southern Cemetery
Privates John William, Sydney Thomas and Herbert Keeling (The Buxton Advertiser - June 1915)
Jasper's name on Ashford memorial
Joseph's parents' grave in Buxton