A Coincidental Find

Some time ago I purchased a photographic postcard of a WW1 soldier serving with the Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment). As is most common with these photographs, it was unnamed and my interest was in the distinguishing mark he was wearing on his shoulder (as part of a long on-going research project). The only clue written on the rear of the card was “Attached to 70th Bde (Infantry) Italy”. Having filed the photograph away, I thought that would be as far as my research could take me.

The Postcard

A few years down the line, I was doing some routine research through local newspapers (in this case ‘The Derbyshire Courier’) from the Great War period, and to my surprise, a face instantly jumped out at me. The face was that of 32707 Pte Joseph Stanley May of the 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment). I was certain that I recognised the face from a postcard, and promptly matched the two together. The odds of putting a name to an unidentified soldier on a postcard, over 100 years later must be astronomical!

The Derbyshire Courier 25th March 1916

Having now identified the soldier as Joe May, I did some further research to see what else I could find out about him. Sadly, Joe died of wounds at No.24 Casualty Clearing Station on the 21st August 1918, aged 24. He is buried in Cavalletto British Cemetery in Italy.

IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR JOE THOUGH LOST TO SIGHT TO MEMORY DEAR

Epitaph on Joe’s grave as listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

I continued my search for Joe in the Derbyshire Courier, and found another article from September 1916, stating that Joe had been wounded. The article mentions that he was attached to a Machine Gun Section, which could explain the writing on the back on the postcard. Joe could have been attached to the 70th Brigade Machine Gun Company at the time.

The Derbyshire Courier 16th September 1916

A final article appeared in my searches, being the notification of his death appearing in September 1918, giving lots of detail of Joe’s tragically short life. As well as his death, the family suffered further heartache with the death of Joe’s eldest brother (whom he had enlisted with) in 1916. 32706 Pte Percy White May 17th Battalion (Notts & Derby Regiment) was Killed in Action on the 16th June 1916, aged 27.

In March 1918, another brother, 72337 Gnr Ernest William May A Bty, 82 Bde Royal Field Artillery, was taken Prisoner of War. Sadly, Ernest also died whilst a POW on the 4th October 1918, aged 26.

Two other brothers also served during the war. 2196 Pte Harold B May 6th Battalion (Notts & Derby Regiment), had been a pre-war territorial soldier, and was the first to serve overseas. Harold survived the war and was demobilised in 1919.

51833 Pte Reginald Victor May 2/4th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry also survived the war and was discharged in 1919.

The final brother, John Adrian May was born in 1902, and hadn’t been old enough to serve during the war.

The Derbyshire Courier 7th September 1918

As a small tribute to Joe May, I have compiled a timeline of his life, from information available. I would love to hear from anybody who may be related to Joe, or anyone who could share further information.

  • 5th March 1894

    Joseph Stanley May was born in Old Tupton to John Stanley May and Mary Ellen May.

  • 15th April 1894

    Joe was baptised at North Wingfield.

  • 1st October 1900

    Joe begins school at Tupton Infants School.

  • Pre-War

    Joseph worked as a Grocers Shop Assistant.

  • 24th November 1915

    Joe enlisted in the Army with his brother Percy W May, both joining B Company 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment).

  • February 1916

    Having completed his basic army training, Joe is drafted to the 11th Battalion (Notts & Derby Regiment) and joins them on the Western Front. He becomes an officer’s orderly, and at some stage joined the Machine Gun Section.

  • 25th March 1916

    The Derbyshire Courier publish a story on the family titled “Pilsley Headmaster’s Four Sons at the Front” (It was this article I first stumbled across and identified Joe). Joe’s father was the headmaster of Park House Council School, Lower Pilsley (Now known I believe as Park House Primary School)

  • September 1916

    Wounded by shrapnel whilst serving with the Machine Gun Section.

  • 16th September 1916

    The Derbyshire Courier announce Joe had been wounded.

    “Pilsley Schoolmaster’s Son Wounded”

  • November 1917

    The 11th Battalion (Notts & Derby Regiment) moved to Italy from the Western Front, Joe along with them. A newspaper report states that he was twice recommended for bravery whilst in Italy.

  • 21st August 1918

    A shrapnel shell bursts over a headquarters that Joe is attached to, mortally wounding him in both legs and right arm. A blood transfusion was attempted, but sadly Joe Died of Wounds at No.24 Casualty Clearing Station, aged 24.

  • 7th September 1918

    The announcement of Joe’s death appears in The Derbyshire Courier.

    “The Second Call – Pilsley Schoolmaster’s Big Sacrifice”

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