John Gerard Annal, known as Jack, was born in 1892 in Warboys, Huntingdonshire; the only son of Henry Sinclair Annal, a chemist and his wife Caroline. Henry set up a chemist business in Bank Street in Melksham, Wiltshire around 1896 and ran it until retirement in 1927.
Jack grew up in the town, playing for football for Melksham Juniors. He attended Melksham High School and, having passed the necessary exams, moved to Wellington School in Somerset in September 1906. According the school magazine he “worked well and his spare time was chiefly spent reading, to which he was devoted.” He left in July, 1908 and seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a chemist.
Jack is recorded on the 1911 Census as an assistant chemist, apprenticed to James Henry Shepherd in Clevedon, Somerset. Shepherd’s chemist shop was, perhaps coincidentally located at Malvern House, Hill Road in the town.
The publication Soldiers Died in the Great War subsequently recorded Jack as having enlisted joined the Somerset Light Infantry (SLI) at Bath. However at the outbreak of war, the Malvern News gave his home address as Belle Vue Terrace, Great Malvern. Perhaps he was working at a chemist in the town – perhaps Manders on Belle Vue Terrace?
In August 1914 Jack Annal joined the 1/4th SLI, part of the Territorial Wessex Division at the beginning of the war. The division sailed from Southampton to Bombay on the 9th November 1914, where the formation was dissolved.
Jack, along with a number of other men of his battalion, were attached to 2nd Dorsets, and in May 1915, were ordered to Mesopotamia. In October of that year, Jack was badly wounded in the left leg. Annal wrote from Hospital at Amarah giving a graphic description of the onward march and the hard fighting and privations of the gallant army. He wrote:
“I can fully appreciate the difficulties of the ambulance people, so the less said of our treatment the better. However, after 10 days of misery, we are now safely in Hospital.”
The Siege and Fall of Kut
Having recovered Jack re-joined his unit – it’s not clear when, but the 6th (Poona) Division of which he was a part, under Major-General Charles Townshend, had fallen back to the town of Kut-al-Amarah after retreating from Ctesiphon in late 1915. The British Empire forces arrived at Kut around 3rd December 1915. They had suffered significant losses, numbering only 11,000 soldiers. It was decided to stay and hold the position at Kut instead of continuing the march downriver towards Basra; the long loop of the River Tigris, here was considered to offed a good defensive position although supply lines from distant Basra were stretched.
Pursuing Turkish forces a few days later and a long siege ensued. After three attacks in December, siege fortifications were begun facing Kut in preparation for an attack from relieving forces from Basra, using the River Tigris. Relief efforts failed and after four months, the garrison surrendered on 29th April 1916. The survivors of the siege were marched to imprisonment at Aleppo, during which many died.
Jack was reported a prisoner of war at the end of June 1916, however he had already died of disease by this time, only a fortnight into captivity.
His obituary in the Wellington School magazine, published in July 1917, with these details. The author commented that “…re-reading his letters which appeared in the Magazine, one realizes what a brave, adventurous soldier he was. All who remember Jack Annal sympathize deeply with his family.”
Today John Gerrard Annal is commemorated at St Michael’s Church, Melksham and Union Church in the same town as well as on the Malvern Library Memorial
Malvern News 24/11/1914
Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 29/7/1905, 7/1/1928,
James, Brig E A British Regiments 1914 - 18 1993
Wellington School Magazine