Percy was one of seven children born to John and Margaret Bousfield, they lived in Appelby near Westmoreland, John worked as a labourer on numerous farms in the area. Marrying in 1880 their first son, John, was born shortly afterwards, followed by William in 1882, and Emily in 1884. In 1886 he decided to move to the industrial north west hoping for something better. The family settled in Primrose Hill in the Wirral, an area soon to be absorbed by William Lever’s model village of Port Sunlight. He was still working as an agricultural labourer two years later, their twins Richard and Thomas were born, then Robert in 1890 and Anthony in 1892. But the first of several family tragedies befell the Bousfields when Emily died in 1892, then Thomas, aged only three in 1892, followed by his twin Richard in 1895.
In 1895, looking for a fresh start, John moved his family a few miles south down the Wirral, to where the small town of Ellesmere Port was beginning to show signs of expansion. This growth was mainly due to the new wharves constructed where the recently opened Manchester Ship Canal passed by, from its access on the Mersey at Eastham Locks, right on into the heart of Manchester. John Bousfield soon found employment there, working on the pontoon. Shortly after John had begun work on the pontoon, there was another arrival in the family when Percy was born in 1895, and life seemed to have taken a new turn, but this was followed in 1898 by the death of his wife Margaret, which must have had a devastating effect on the family.
John was now forced to take in a domestic servant to work as a cook and to look after the younger children while he and his older sons were out at work. In fact, his second son William had now moved out and was lodging close-by, working as a navvy on the canal, but he too had contracted an illness and was dead by 1902 at the age of twenty. Eldest son John moved out shortly afterwards, taking a job at the Iron Works, which had now become the main employer in the town. By 1911, John senior was working on the Ship Canal, while Robert was also working for the canal company as a warehouse man. His younger brothers Anthony and Percy were also in the Burnell’s Galvanised Iron Works working as packing checkers.
When the war came, the Bousfield brothers continued in their employment, but by 1915, as it was clear the war wouldn’t see a swift conclusion, they decided to join up together and signed on in July. By this time, many of the iron workers in the town were either engaged in the production of corrugated sheets for use in the campaigns or in munitions. This production was clearly important and many with such skills were encouraged to stay in these positions, but it must have been difficult for these men to remain behind. Robert, Anthony and Percival joined up, while their older brother John continued in the iron works – those older than thirty-one were encouraged to stay in their jobs if they were contributing to the war effort. The three brothers went together and signed up for war service on the same day, their regimental numbers are close together. All three were kept together in the 11th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, as were numerous men in Ellesmere Port who would have been known to them.
The three brothers standing left to right Robert, Anthony and Percy. The two men seated are unknown
The 11th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment had been raised in Chester on 17 September 1914 as part of Kitchener's Third New Army, and joined the 75th Brigade, 25th Division. This was the closest the town had to an ‘Old Pals’ regiment. The new recruits were moved out of Chester to camp at Codford St Mary in Wiltshire on November 1914 for introductory training, then to winter billets in Bournemouth. The following year the Cheshire’s were moved again to Aldershot in May 1915, for final training. Four months later on 26 September 1915 they had landed in France, where the division was concentrated in the Nieppe area, where they continued their training. A few weeks later on 26 October they transferred to 7th Brigade (still in the 25th Division), but it wasn’t until May 1916 before they went into action.
John Bousfield received regular letters from Percy, in one Percy describe being wounded.
“I am quite well, except for a bit of a stiff knee, where I was wounded by a piece of shrapnel. It was only slight, for it never caught me fair or it would have been Blighty for me. It hit me on the left side and only just scarred the skin, but it knocked all the use out of me for a bit. I have had a few days rest in hospital, but I am going back to the trenches very soon”.
Percy who had just turned 21 in April died of wounds 5th July 1916 on the Somme, the 11th Cheshire’s joined the battle just after the main attack on 3rd July with a costly attack near to Thiepval. It was during this action on the 3rd that Percy was wounded.
The village of Thiepval had been an objective during the first hours of 1 July but had still not been captured. According to the Regimental History, on 2 July the 11th Cheshire’s received orders that they would take part in an assault on a German stronghold known as the Leipzig Salient, south of the village and close to Ovillers near the Albert-Bapume Road. Their assembly positions were near Martinsart Wood, but the planning for the attack seemed to be hurried and poorly thought out, as it was revised at almost the last moment. Their battle orders were received only three hours before the planned 3am assault, and as a consequence it had to be delayed a further three hours. The infantry may have received new orders, but the artillery did not, and their barrage went ahead three hours early. When they repeated the covering barrage for the actual attack, they had insufficient ammunition and could not sustain the support. Inevitably the results were disastrous. Accompanied by the 8th Battalion, Border Regiment, the Cheshire’s went over the top at 6.20am, passed over No Man’s Land in perfect order, continued advancing towards the enemy lines, but as they moved to within 50 yards, heavy machine gun fire opened up and line after line of troops were mown down. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Aspinall, was killed and every Company commander became a casualty. The Adjutant, Captain Hill, took command. The Regimental History records, ‘He decided to get the men still living back into the trench they had jumped off from and to hold it as a defence line,’ and that ‘on the morning of the 4th, no organised body of men existed. One simply ran about no-man's land collecting men here and there.’ Of the 677 soldiers who had gone into action, only 356 were able to answer roll call on the 4 July. Percy had been badly wounded, and like many others in this action, was recovered behind the lines to the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station at Puchevillers, about ten miles to the west. Nothing could be done for him and he died on 5 July and was buried in the adjacent cemetery. Back home his death was not reported in the local press until 5 August, when the announcement was made in the Birkenhead News and Wirral General Advertiser.
Ellesmere Port Heroes
Each week furnishes fresh evidence of the sacrifice which Ellesmere Port is making for freedom, and the latest local man to be killed is Private Percy Bousfield, the youngest of the soldier sons of Mr J.Bousfield of 21 Sunnyside. The deceased joined the Cheshire’s just over twelve months ago and attained his 21st birthday in the trenches last April. He was previously wounded, but only slightly, and the cause of his death is the result of wounds received during the offensive. He was wounded on July 3rd and died on the 5th.
There are many other families who lost two of their sons or brothers. But the tragedy that befell John Bousfield was most cruel. He had suffered the deaths of three of his infant children, hoped for a fresh start with a move to a new town and job, only to lose his wife and second son aged twenty. His pride at three of his grown sons fighting for his country soon turned to abject despair as one by one they fell on the battlefield.
John Bousfield once had a wife and had fathered seven children. By Autumn 1917 he was living alone, all his family dead, save for his eldest son. He decided to return to where he had probably been happiest, to the rural countryside of his childhood, where he died in Eamont Bridge, Westmoreland, aged 78 on 23 February 1927. His son John also lived into old age, he died aged 84 in Chester in 1965.
Cheshire Roll of Honour would like to thank Mike Royden for this information on Percy.