696157 PTE. J. RYLANCE. R.F.A.
John Rylance was born on 11 April 1891 in Bamber Bridge and baptised at St Saviour’s on 10 May. His father was Joseph Rylance (b. 1862 in Euxton), a cotton cloth bundler. His mother was Sarah Jane Woods (b. 1861 in Southport). Joe and Sarah Jane were married in 1884 and they had 8 children but only three of them survived: John, Elizabeth Ann (b. 1894) and Richard (b. 1901). In 1911, the family were living at 5 Jackson Street, Bamber Bridge. John was a cotton drawing tenter.
John enlisted on 20 May 1915 in the Royal Field Artillery. That was the same day as the other Briggers but he didn’t follow the normal pattern. He was slightly older, at 34, and he may have had previous experience in the Territorials. His attestation papers show a service number 1757 which would more likely have put him in 276Bde but then he has another number, 2554, which would have put him in 286Bde. But it seems that during training he was moved to the 57th Divisional Ammunition Column. He was promoted to Acting Bombardier in 1916 but reverted to Gunner at his own request once in France. Just before leaving for France, however, John was married back at home to Jane Ann Prescott (b. 1890 in Cuerden). They lived at 28 Dewhurst Row.
He was given a new service number, 686157, and he went to France on 14 February 1917 (at this point he was still with 57th Division). In early 1918 he spent a couple of periods in hospital in France and it was when he was released the second time on 20 April 1918 that he was transferred to Y.50th Trench Mortar Battery, which was attached to 50th Brigade of 17th (Northern) Division. 17th Division was involved in both phases of the German Spring Offensive, but Operation Georgette was called off on 29 April so John might have been involved at Kemmel (25-26 April), and Scherpenberg (29 April). I don’t know the precise circumstances but he was taken prisoner on 27 May 1918 and he was taken to Langensalza Prisoner of War Camp. John was able to send a postcard to his wife from the camp in June, telling her he was a prisoner, but she heard nothing more. Indeed, Jane wrote to the War Office in February 1919 asking if anything more had been heard of him and it was only in response to her enquiry that she learned that her husband had died 3 months previously.
More than 75,000 British soldiers were taken prisoner during the German Spring Offensive.
Prisoners of war in World War 1
The situation of World War 1 prisoners of war in Germany is an aspect of the conflict little covered by historical research. However, the number of soldiers imprisoned reached a little over seven million for all the belligerents, of whom around 2,400,000 were held by Germany. Starting in 1915, the German authorities put in place a system of camps, nearly three hundred in all, and did not hesitate to resort to maltreatment and methodical exploitation of the prisoners. This prefigured the systematic use of prison camps on a grand scale during the 20th century.
We now nothing of John Rylance’s experience at Langensalza (the picture shows Langensalza in 1918, at the time he was there), however, conditions there do not seem to have been as bad as they were in other parts of Germany. Conditions were nevertheless very harsh. It was not unknown for wounded prisoners to be shot on the spot on the battlefield rather than taken to prison camps. In other parts of Germany prisoners were forced to work for example in the coal and salt mines of Westphalia. Complaints included: arbitrary and brutal maltreatment by camp NCOs; exploitation by the civilian owners of the mines who had no concern for the welfare of the labourers since they could be easily replaced if they died on the job; lack of medical care; low and irregular payment; collective punishment for individual offences (escape attempts or insubordination); and working shifts of 8 hours being regularly forcibly extended to 11 or 12 hours.
Whatever the circumstances, John died in PoW camp Langensalza on 19 October 1918, aged 27. A death certificate later said he died of dropsy caused by exhaustion and he was buried originally at the PoW camp. He is now buried at Niederzwerhen, near Kassel, Germany. Niederzwehren cemetery was begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp. During the war almost 3,000 Allied soldiers and civilians, including French, Russian and Commonwealth, were buried there. In 1922-23 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries. Niederzwehren was one of those chosen and in the following four years, more than 1,500 graves were brought into the cemetery from 190 burial grounds in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse and Saxony.
Service Number: 696157
Date of Death: 19/10/1918
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, "Y" 50th Trench Mortar Bty.
Cemetery/memorial reference: VI. G. 13.
Cemetery: NIEDERZWEHREN CEMETERY, KASSEL
Additional Information: Son of Joseph and Sarah Jane Rylance, of Bamber Bridge; husband of Jane Ann Rylance, of 28 Dewhurst Row, Bamber Bridge, Preston, Lancs.
Jane Ann’s brother was Herbert Prescott. Born on 18 February 1886 and baptised at St Saviour’s on 14 March, Herbert was a cotton weaver. In 1911, he was living with his parents, his sister Jane Ann and their brother Richard at 28 Dewhurst Row, Cuerden. In 1912 Herbert married Mary Esther Livesey (b. 1889 in Bamber Bridge) and they had a son, Edwin (b. 1913). Herbert was living at 27 Smith Street, Bamber Bridge, when he enlisted on 10 December 1915. It appears from his attestation papers that he wanted to join the Black Watch but this is crossed out and he joined first the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and then the King’s (Liverpool Regiment), with service number 5847. He was called up on 20 June 1916 and he remained at home in training until 28 June 1917, he was the sent to France and he was wounded and he then returned home on 6 August 1917. He went back to France on 29 December 1917 and on 6 January he was transferred to the North Staffordshire Regiment, 9th Battalion. He was posted to 27 PoW Coy on 1 April 1919. During the year he was promoted to Acting Corporal, then Acting Sergeant, but reverted to his substantive rank of Private, and was then serving at home from 4 September 1919 until he was demobilised on 15 January 1920. It seems he spent his last couple of years’ service with the Labour Corps but I haven’t been able to trace 27 PoW Coy. PoW could stand for Prisoner of War, as some Labour Corps companies were engaged in managing the work of prisoners, but the waters are muddied by the fact that the full title of the North Staffordshire Regiment is the Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment). 9th Battalion was a Pioneer Battalion so he would obviously have skills that would serve in many roles.
Herbert’s wife Mary Esther died in 1926 and two years later he married Mary Jackson (b. 1896). Herbert died in 1961.
Jane Ann had another brother, Richard, who was born in Cuerden in 1893. He is probably one of the two R Prescots on St Saviour’s Roll of Honour, but I have found no military records. The other R Prescott is probably Jane Ann’s cousin, Richard, born 1881 in Cuerden. Richard married Phoebe Everett in 1908 and they had two sons, James (b. 1910) and Thomas (b. 1916). Just after Thomas was born, Richard joined the Royal Air Force. Before the War, Richard was a cycle agent and after the War he set himself up as a garage and omnibus proprietor in Bamber Bridge. His service number was 44951 and he enlisted on 23 August 1916 but I don’t know anything else about his service record.
She also had a nephew, Henry James Prescott (b. 1898 in Fareham, Hampshire). Henry’s father was Jane Ann’s brother Joseph (b 1872 in Cuerden). Joseph was a nurse in a mental hospital. It seems he was training in Hampshire where he met his wife Alice Parvin. They had two children in Hampshire before moving to Goosnargh where Joseph worked as an attendant in an insane asylum. In 1911, he was working at Whittingham Hospital. It’s possible that Henry followed his father (and also his brother Richard) into mental hospital nursing. He was 265291 Pte. H. J. Prescott, in the Labour Corps. He did not serve abroad and I have no other records of his service. We only know that he died in a Military Hospital (near Oswestry) on 10 May 1918, aged 19.