Lieutenant John William Jeakes

6th Bn, Princess of Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment), 53rd Brigade, 18th Division, B.E.F.

Malvern Commemoration: Holy Trinity North Malvern,

Burial/Commemoration: Poelcappelle British Cemetery

Nature of Death: Died of wounds near Poelcappelle, Flanders 12/10/1917

Age: 36

Next of Kin: Only son of John William and Clara Jeakes of Taynuilt, Graham Road, Malvern

Education: Malvern College; Cambridge University

Previous Employment: Solicitor

John William Jeakes

Early years

John William Jeakes was born in Iver, Buckinghamshire in 1881; the only son and youngest child of John William Jeakes and his wife Clara.  John senior was a member of Lloyds and the family lived at Delaford (possibly Delaford Manor) in the village of Iver.  

John attended Malvern College and went up to Cambridge in Trinity Term, 1899 and graduated in 1902.  He trained as a solicitor and practiced in London.  In 1911 he was living with his cousin, in Sunningdale.  At the time of his death, his addresses were given as  52 New Broad Street, London and 7 Highgate Avenue, Highgate.

First World War

John Jeakes enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers in the early months of the war, and was discharged to a commission in the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 26th January 1915.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in July 1915 and landed in France on 26th October 1915 where he was posted to the 1st Battalion. 

As a platoon officer, he was responsible for his men, which on occasions included writing to the families of casualties.  In October 1916, he wrote to the mother of Rushden soldier, Pte Kenneth Walter Webb:

“Dear Mrs Webb, – I regret to have to break to you the sad news that your son, Pte K Webb was killed on Oct. 20th. I cannot express how sorry I feel for you, though you must be proud of your son, who died for his King and Country. All the time he was with us he did his duty and we could always rely upon him. I know that all in his company would wish me you express their sincerest sympathy with you in the loss of your son.

“He was killed when in the trenches, but you will no doubt be relieved to know that his death was immediate and he suffered no pain. He is buried behind the line and a cross will be – and I believe already been – placed to mark his grave. If there is anything you would like to know, write me and I will try and answer your questions. With my sincerest sympathies to you in your great sorrow, I remain, yours truly, J W Jeakes, Lieut.”

On 26th February 1917, Lieutenant Jeakes was admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in Millbank with a gun shot wound to the buttock.  He spent nearly three months here, before continuing his convalescence at Lady Mary Maynell’s Hospital

Battle of Passchendaele

On recovery, Jeakes returned to France and was posted to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment.  He joined his new battalion on 20th August while they were at Dikkebusch, part of the 18th Division.

John Players Cigarette Card illustrating 18th Division

John Players Cigarette Card illustrating 18th Division

At this time the Battle of Passchendaele was raging.  After a week’s training at Road Camp, the battalion, along with the 8th Suffolk Regiment were ordered to support an attack on Poelcappelle by 55th Infantry Brigade.  It was to prove a costly failure.

The attack on Poelcapelle

The men of the Royal Berkshire assembled in Cane Trench in the early hours of the 12th October, enduring considerable gas and high explosive shelling.  At 5.25am, 55th Brigade began their attack, and at 6.10am the 6th Royal Berkshire moved up to their second forming up position.  They were heavily engaged by enemy machine guns and snipers from positions around the Brewery, Meunier House and Beek Houses. 

At 6.30am the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Longhurst was killed, and a Captain Rochfort took command and went forward to reconnoitre the situation.  Within five minutes he was wounded, and Lieutenant Wernham, the officer left of Battalion HQ, assumed command of the battalion.  It appears that around this time, John Jeakes was mortally wounded too.

Writing to John’s parents, his company commander wrote:

‘Soon after the battle started your son was mortally wounded by a bullet and he died within a short time. His conduct up until the time of death was splendid. He took no notice of heavy fire from rifles and machine guns but urged his men forward and set them a fine example of courage and devotion to duty. His death is a great loss to us. We all liked him and admired him immensely. Please accept my deepest sympathy in your sad loss. I hope it will be a solace to you that he died a soldier’s death, cheering on his men and in his last moments when he knew all was over, kept up his spirit and told those men who stayed with him to go on and leave him.’

The ruined village of Poelcapelle, 19 December 1918.

The ruined village of Poelcapelle, 19 December 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source

A fellow officer wrote:

‘…He had not been with is for very long and it was his first fight with this Battalion. His reputation was that he was an extremely brave man in action and he more than lived up to that. The attack began in very heavy rain and added to that the appalling state of the ground, the Company got somewhat disorganised. Your son did his best and more than partially succeeded in getting his men together. He died within a short time of being hit. He was in my Company and I can only say what an awfully good fellow we all thought him.'”

The remaining troops of the battalion dug in, and were finally ordered to withdraw to their start positions at 7pm.  However owing to the confusion on the battlefield, and the onset of daylight on the following day, the whole battalion was not clear of the line until 4.30pm on 13th October.


John Jeakes died close the battlefield and was buried at Poelcappelle British Cemetery.  This cemetery was vastly expanded after the cessation of hostilities, with many men being brought in from small surrounding cemeteries and from battlefield clearance.  Today there are now 7,479 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery; 6,230 of the burials are unidentified.

John Jeakes' headstone at Poelcappelle British Cemetery in 2008.

John Jeakes’ headstone at Poelcappelle British Cemetery in 2008.

John Jeakes is also commemorated twice at Cambridge – at Trinity College and Kings College Chapel and in London on the Solicitors and Articled Clerks memorial in the Reading Room of The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London.

Malvern News 3/11/1917
Rushden Echo 17/11/1916
The London Gazette 25/2/1916
1881 Census
1891 Census
1901 Census
1911 Census
Cambridge Alumni
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Imperial War Museum War Memorials Register

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