John’s WWI blog: Killed by a sniper’s bullet

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)
Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

February 1, 1916 – Hero dies just a fortnight after winning a gallantry medal

A Harborough area hero has been killed in action just two weeks after receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal, reports the February 1, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Private G Watts

Private G Watts

Corporal Bob Jesson, son of Mr and Mrs James Jesson of East Langton, died instantly when he was shot in the head by a sniper’s stray bullet.

In a letter to Bob’s parents, a comrade Corporal F Shepherd says: “He was walking through a small orchard close to the billet when a stray bullet entered his head – it is practically certain he died instantly.

“The bullet must have been quite a chance shot from the sniper’s rifle, as the enemy cannot observe anyone walking past the spot where the dear boy met his death.”

He adds: “We buried him yesterday afternoon in a little cemetery not far behind the firing line and quite close to where he fell. I shall visit his grave frequently.

Corporal Bob Jesson

Corporal Bob Jesson

“It seems so hard that in the hour of his great honour and distinction he has been taken from us.”

Bob’s commanding officer Major Cecil Nickalls says in a letter to Mr and Mrs Jesson: “Your son, whom I had the honour of congratulating only yesterday on parade before the Officers, NCOs and men, on gaining the Distinguished Conduct Medal, was universally loved and respected.

“Knowing him so intimately as I did, I feel sure that he is proud to have given his life for his country, and in the words of Rupert Brooke, his epitaph fittingly should be:

If I should die, think only this of me

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.

Bob’s death is not only one the Advertiser reports this week. There is official news at last of 22-year-old Private G Watts from Stoke Albany who, it appears, died in action four months ago.

In a letter to his parents his commanding officer says: “I am afraid the only information I can give you about your son is that nothing has been seen of him since October 12 when a mine was exploded under the trench in which your son was.

“I much regret to say that I certainly think he has been killed, though I wish I could hold out for you some hope. He is a great loss to us. Always brave and cheerful, he died like a soldier at his post, and I trust it will be some consolation to you to know what sort of man your son was.”

And there is also delayed news of another death – this one of Lt-Cpl J C Weston whose mother lives in Logan Street, Market Harborough.

Lt Cpl Weston was fighting with the Anzac troops as he had emigrated to Adelaide in Australia two years before the outbreak of war to work as a carpenter.

He had only been in Gallipoli for two months before he was ‘struck by a piece of shell’ in November. The delay in sending the news was because his Captain had been wounded and had only just become capable of writing a letter.