Percy Drake (1880-1917)

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This page is part of a project by David Verguson to research the lives of those who appear on war memorials and rolls of honour in the Lindley area.

Biography

Percy Drake was the son of William Medley Drake and Sarah Ann Drake, of 34 Springdale Avenue, Huddersfield.

Like Leonard Haigh and Wilfred Nutton, Percy Drake is on no memorial but is buried in the Methodist Church graveyard on East Street. Like them, he died in England. And, like Leonard Haigh and George Henry Moore, died in England as a result of illness rather than enemy action.

The family lived in Kirkheaton when Percy was born 4 January 1880 and William Medlay Drake, Percy's father, was a draper and shopkeeper. As well as Percy they had one other child, Eliza Ann who was three years old. William was almost a local man: he had been born in Dalton in 1853; Sarah Ann, his wife, was two years older and from Leeds.

Ten years later the Drakes were still at the same address but William had given up shopkeeping and was secretary to the local gas works as well as collecting the rates locally.

By then they had two more children: Amy born in 1882 and Kate born in 1885. In all, the Drakes had five children but had lost two by 1911: Amy had died aged 19 and Fredrick William who died age 7 months in 1892 and was buried at St. John's, the parish church, Kirkheaton.

By 1901 the family had moved to Fisher Street in Lockwood and William work for the Borough council as an "Inspector of Nuisances". Percy was a plumber and Eliza Ann worked at a printers. The Drakes had come up in the world: their neighbours included a book binder and a bookseller, a manager and an assistant manager (his son) at the Co-op, a theatrical manager, an accounts clerk and an employer in yarn spinning.

Percy was a member of Paddock Wesleyan Church and sang in the choir. Later, he was secretary of the Sunday School and a keen member of the temperance Band of Hope.

They had moved gain by 1911: to 34 Springdale Avenue, Lockwood, a house with a name and six rooms: Fenley House. Percy was no longer a plumber but a "Collecting Agent" for an insurance company, the Pearl. Kate had left home after marrying Norman Ellis, a bookbinder, in the spring of 1910 and lived not far from her parents at 17 Blackmoorfoot Road. Eliza still lived at home but was not said to have an occupation. No servants lived in — the house was perhaps too small — but almost certainly Sarah Ann employed one on a daily basis.

In late 1912, Sarah Ann died at the age of 62.

When war broke out in the summer of 1914 Percy was 34 years old, too old perhaps, to rush into the Forces unlike many of his contemporaries. Besides he may have had other things on his mind: on 3 April 1915 he married Lily Hall, a weaver from Longwood, and moved in with his in-laws at 34 Lower Gate.

Percy seems to have attested into the army on 7 June 1916 before being conscripted, in effect registering his willingness to serve, after the introduction of the Military service act earlier in the year. However, he was not actually mobilized until 4 September from when his service was calculated.

His original form was amended at Sandwich Barracks, Kent, and his trade, collection agent, was crossed out and "plumber" inserted. "Royal Engineers", in the handwriting of the captain D. H. Oliver, was written on the top of the form and it was over-stamped with the captain’s unit, the Inland Water Transport Section. Percy became a Sapper.

It sees that at some point someone had interviewed Percy and found out he had a useful trade that could be of value in the Engineers and his initial form was altered accordingly.

At his medical he was described as 5' 1¼" tall with a 32" chest that had a range of expansion of 1½ inches.[1]

Percy's religion was said to be Wesleyan and he allotted Lily 3/6 of his pay each week and in addition she received a Separation Allowance of 9/-.

Percy saw no service overseas. The R.E. Inland Waterways and Dock Section was operating the port at Richborough, on the banks of the River Stour, where the engineers had constructed a large embarkation camp. Percy was in the Shipyard Company and his skills as a plumber would have been very useful indeed. Thousands of soldiers were sent by night across to Dunkirk and Calais.

In early May, according to the report of the attending ambulance driver, Percy collapsed while on duty at Stonar Camp, had a temperature of 99 degrees and his pupils were contracted with no reaction to light. His speech was incoherent and his right side paralysed. He was rushed to the Hill House Military Hospital at Minster, Ramsgate but died at 2.25, 4 May. Cerebral haemorrhage was the cause of death: Percy had had a severe stroke.

In the opinion of the Canadian Army Medical Corps captain who investigated the death, Percy's death was not due to disease contracted since enlisting but "natural causes aggravated by active service".

Lily was informed before the 11 May and would in November receive a pension of 13/9 a week. A note in the file records that Percy left effects to be returned home.

Percy's body was returned to Huddersfield and on 9 May he was interred in the graveyard at the Methodist Church on East Street in grave number 46 at a cost of £7-5/9. He does not have the usual Commonwealth War grave but a stone in keeping with most of the others in the churchyard.

Gledholt Church may have been the family's place of worship — it is almost the nearest Methodist church to Lockwood and Longwood — but it has no graveyard. It was the Gledholt minister who witnessed the regulation form listing Percy's family on 4 October 1919. However, Percy is not on the memorial in Gledholt Church but is remembered on the village war memorial in Longwood Churchyard.

The couple had no children and Lily married again: on 10 August 1929 at the age of 41. In the church of St. John the Evangelist, Golcar, she married John Fielding Pearson a loom tuner aged 60, also a widow.

William Medley Drake died in mid 1920.

Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922

The following extract is from Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922 (2014) by J. Margaret Stansfield:

DRAKE, PERCY. Sapper. No 126287. Inland Water Transport Royal Engineers. Born Kirkheaton 4.1.1880. Son of William Medley Drake and Sarah Ann Drake, Finley House, 34 Springdale Avenue, Huddersfield. Employed as an insurance agent for the Pearl Assurance Company. Attended the Paddock Wesleyan Church and was a member of the choir. For some years he was secretary of the Sunday School and was an ardent worker for the Band of Hope. Husband of Lily Drake, 34 Lowergate, Longwood, Huddersfield. Enlisted 4.9.1916. Died in the Minster Hospital, Ramsgate of a cerebral haemorrhage, 4.5.1917, aged 37 years. Buried LINDLEY WESLEYAN METHODIST CHAPEL YARD. Grave location:- J, 46.
ROH:- Longwood War Memorial; Shared Church Paddock.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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Notes and References

  1. As 5' 3" was the minimum height for an infantryman — except for the so-called "bantam battalions" — it may be why Percy was taken in to the engineers.)