John Mitson Westrip was born and brought up in Springfield, and by 1911 had moved to Dovercourt where he worked in the Co-op. He was there at the outbreak of the war and enlisted into the army in Harwich. In May 1917 John died from wounds received in action near Arras. His family lived in Arbour Lane. A cousin was killed in an air raid on Chelmsford during the Second World War.
WESTRIP, JOHN MITSON,
Private, 10th (Service) Battalion, Essex Regiment
A large number of British dead who had been lying where they fell in the capture of this (Wancourt) ridge the week before were buried by us. On the whole we had four days of comparative quiet whilst in support. There were no communication trenches, and some movement over the top by day was therefore imperative. This usually drew a small ration of enemy artillery fire.
C. Q. M. S. Mann, of D Company, fell victim [on 7th May 1917) to one such sharp salvo. He had come up from the transport lines to pay his daily visit to his company commander, and was just starting out on the return journey to his relatively safe billet when he was killed.
The padre buried him that night in the light of the struggling moonbeams during the eerie pauses of shell-fire, while a small knot of comrades, officers and men, paid a last tribute to a faithful soul who answered the first call to arms in 1914.”
During this relatively quite period John was another soldier from the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment to die - succumbing to wounds, also on 7th May 1917 - one of only two other fatalities for the battalion that day. He was aged 28.
Today he lies at Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, Pas de Calais, in France (grave: IX. H. 4). The cemetery, which is 22 kilometres south-west of Arras, was used from June 1916 to May 1917 by the 20th and 43rd Casualty Clearing Stations, and from April to June 1917 by the 32nd. The whole of plots VII, VIII, IX and X were filled in April and May 1917 during the Arras offensives.
On 3rd May 1918 the Essex County Chronicle published an in memoriam notice for John:
“Westrip. - In loving memory of John Westrip, who died of wounds received in action, May 7th, 1917, aged 28 years.
No loved on stood around him; To bid a last farewell; No word of comfort could he leave; To those he loved so well; We little thought his time so short; In this world to remain, Of thought which from his home he went, He would never return again.
From Mother, Father, Brother, and Sisters. 3 Alma Cottages, Arbour Lane, Springfield.”
The 1918 register of electors listed John’s mother and William Digby at 3 Windmill Cottages, Arbour Lane. Windmill Cottages were a terrace of four cottages situated behind the Alma public house, a site now occupied by the pub’s car park. 3 Windmill Cottages was also known as 3 Alma Cottages, and later was renumbered as 39 Arbour Lane.
John is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, the Harwich, Dovercourt and Parkestone Co-operative Society War Memorial and on the Springfield Parish Memorial at All Saints’ Church. He was entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal. Another Springfield man serving in the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment, Edward George Harvey was killed just two days before John died from his wounds.
John’s mother died in 1937, aged 73. His cousin Sidney Arthur Westrip was killed in an air raid on Chelmsford in 1943.
John was born in Springfield, on 20th June 1889, the son of the single woman Helen (sometimes ‘Ellen’) Marshall Westrip. His mother had been born in 1864 in Springfield. John was baptised at All Saints’ Church in Springfield on 28th August 1889, his name being recorded as ‘John son of Helen Westrip’, suggesting that his father was a Mr. Mitson.
Helen had an elder child, Kate Ethel Westrip, who had been born in Springfield on 1st April 1883 and died in 1919.
At the time of the 1891 census John was one year-old and resident with his unmarried mother at Windmill Hill in Arbour Lane, Springfield. The head of household was Ellen’s father 54 year-old David Westrip. He was an agricultural labourer born in Suffolk who had come to Springfield around 1864, but had been widowed in 1876 when his wife Harriett died in childbirth. Other members of the household included John’s uncles Samuel Westrip (aged 30, a baker, born in Suffolk), and Herbert Westrip (aged 22, a coachman, born in Springfield), and John’s sister Kate Ethel Westrip..
On 8th October 1893 John’s mother married a soldier, William Digby, at Chelmsford Register Office. The couple had a further three children, Helen Adelaide Digby (born on 6th December 1893, died in 1934), William George Digby (born on 20th July 1896, baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Springfield on 6th September 1896, and died in 1971) and Alice Mary Digby (1898-1976), who were all born in Springfield.
The 1901 census revealed that the family was still resident at Windmill Hill. John’s grandfather, David, remained the head of the household, which also included John (now aged 11), his mother (who was working as a general domestic servant), his sister Kate Ethel and their three younger half-siblings. All apart from David had been born at Springfield. John’s father was away at the time serving in the Army in South Africa.
David died in November 1904. Seven years later the 1911 census recorded John, by then 21, boarding at 28 Hordle Street in Dovercourt, the home of the 48 year-old cab proprietor John Cummings and his family. John was a shop assistant in boots and furnishings.
By the time war came John was still in Dovercourt. He enlisted at Harwich and served as Private 35099 in the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment, a ‘New Army’ battalion that was attached to the 53rd Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division. It went to France in July 1915 and into the line for the first time a month later. The battalion saw much action in the summer of 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, most noteworthy perhaps being the capture of Thiepval on 26th September 1916. In early 1917 the battalion was in the Ancre valley, captured Folly Trench on 8th February 1917 and helped capture Irles on 10th March 1917.
On 2nd May 1917 the battalion moved forward to the valley between Neuville Vitasse and Wancourt, a couple of miles south-east of Arras, Pas de Calais, France, where it participated in the British offensive at the Battle of Arras. The following day, one that was gloriously hot, comrades from the 18th (Eastern) Division attacked in the neighbourhood of Cherisy, while John’s battalion waited in reserve. Cherisy was captured but was lost in a counter-attack, a scene repeated along the front. In the evening of 4th May 1917 the battalion took up a position south of Arras in support between Heninel and the front line.
A post-war account of the battalion recalled:
“These positions consisted chiefly of trenches scarcely begun, German gun positions and a system of German practice trenches which went by the name of ‘The Rookery’, and we therefore had to put our backs into the matter of completing them as a last line of defence east of the Conjeul River.