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Remembering Joseph Henry Bowers Whitehead

As the youngest child of 8, Joseph was the only one still living with his widowed mother at the Fold, in Pasture Lane, Embsay, when war broke out in 1914.

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Born in Salford in 1888, into a Methodist family, Joseph was the youngest (2 of his siblings had already died). His father, David, was a stone mason at that time (having previously been an apprentice tailor), but later went into the manufacture of aerated water, and set up a chandler’s shop selling firewood and general hardware.

Within a year of the death of a 3rd child in 1898, David also died when Joseph was 11. This left his mother Annie Elizabeth to bring up her surviving 5 children alone. She had previously worked as a dressmaker, but now took over her husband’s hardware store in Harrogate. By 1901 only 3 of her children were still living at home: George, who helped her in the shop, 16 year old daughter Jessie, and the youngest, Joseph, who would still have been at school.

He appears to be the only child who came to live with his mother when she moved to Embsay sometime before 1911 – all the others having married and moved away (Joseph’s married sister Jessie sadly died in 1916 in Wrexham). Annie, now in her mid-60s had retired. No doubt she supported the movement for women’s suffrage, as she registered to be put onto the electoral roll in 1914 as a widow with property.  She was allowed to vote in local elections, although she would have to wait until after the war before she gained the parliamentary vote.

Joseph was by now an assistant hairdresser, working for Frederick Cork in Sheep Street, Skipton. He was a keen participant in local village life – singing bass in the Embsay Wesleyan Chapel choir and was superintendent of the Wesleyan Sunday School. He was also secretary for both the choir and the Sunday School.


He did not sign up straight away when war broke out, but waited until December 1915, when at the age of 27 he enlisted at Keighley into the West Riding Regiment. His military records tell us little about his army service except that he was sent out to the Western Front to serve with the 9th Battalion. He was home on leave in August 1917 just long enough to obtain a special licence to marry his former boss’s daughter, Edith Maud Cork, at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Skipton. (The bride may not yet have received the news that one of her brothers had been killed in action only three days previously.) Edith worked at Dewhurst’s sewing cotton factory in Skipton, and lived with her parents in Dawson Street, Skipton while she waited for her new husband’s return.

The 9th Battalion’s war diary for the day Joseph was killed tells us very little. They had relieved the Lancashire Fusiliers in the front trenches at Mailly Maillet on the night of June 5th 1918. The next couple of days were “fairly quiet”, but there was heavy shellfire at intervals each evening. Joseph was killed on the 7th June. He was 30 years old. As well as his gravestone in the Maillywood Cemetery, he is commemorated on the Embsay War memorial; in St Mary’s Church; in the Methodist Chapel; on the Skipton Cenotaph; and in Holy Trinity Church, Skipton.

Joseph’s widow had lost not only her young husband to the war, but also two brothers, and suffered the agony of worrying about another brother who was a prisoner of war in Germany.  Thankfully he survived, and returned to Skipton to marry and have a family.  Edith never re-married, earning a living as a tobacconist, living for many years on Gargrave Road, and later Otley Street, with her widowed mother, and her younger sister, Hilda; She died at the age of 92.

Joseph’s mother, widowed and living alone at The Fold on Pasture Road, Embsay, had now lost 5 of her 8 children.  She should not be confused with the other Annie, the wife of William Whitehead, who also lived in Embsay at this time. She continued to live at The Fold until 1932, when she went to Ripon to be with her dying daughter. At the age of 87, Annie also died there, 3 years later.

(Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group, 2018)

With thanks to “Craven’s Part in the Great War” website ( .

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