Joseph Stephenson,known as Joe, was born in Royton in 1876. He was the third child of Robert, an Iron Turner, and Jane. Joe's elder siblings were William and Rachel. At the time of the 1881 census the five of them were working at 15 Peter Row and then ten years later they could be found at 42 Orchard Street with Joe working as a piecer in one of the local cotton mills, perhaps the Holly where he was working when he joined the army. Shortly after that census in 1891, Joe's dad Robert died aged 45.
Joe was later to become a self employed carter and he is listed as such in the 1901 census whilst living at 56 Sandy Lane. Also there was his mother Jane, now working as a midwife; sister Rachel who was a greengrocer and an adopted sister - Sarah Wootton who was then aged 16. It seems that the four of them lived above Rachel's greengrocer's shop. Joe's brother William had married in 1898 and was no longer living with the rest of the family.
By 1911 Joe was living with his mother and Sarah at 134 Middleton Road, Rachel had married a Robert Mellor by this time. Joe's mother Jane died in 1915 aged 71.
Joe was still living on Middleton Road when he joined the army in January 1917, most probably after being conscripted. He joined in Royton and became a member of the Manchester Regiment. Joe was sent out for active service in the spring of that year, to the Regiment's 12th Battalion. By that time Royton men James William Barker, Thomas O'Dea, Harry Travis Stott, John Brannon and William Muckler had all been killed serving with the battalion.
In the last days of April 1917 the 12th Manchesters received 83 other ranks as reinforcements and it's likely that Joe Stephenson was amongst their number. At the time the unit was in billets as Sus.St.Leger. On May 9th Joe would have had his first experience of the front line, relieving a composite battalion of South African troops south of Gavrelle. this lasted a couple of days until 11th when relieved by the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers. At 06:00 on the 12th the 9th NF and 10th Lancashire Fusiliers launched an unsuccessful attack, following it the battalion relieved the surviving men of the Lancashire Fusiliers in the frontline. One of those of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers killed that day was Daniel Towers. During the relief the communication trench packed with Manchesters came under German bombardment, they suffered 25 casualties. Further casualties from shellfire came on 13th,14th and 15th. On the 15th,four Lancashire Fusiliers survivors came into the Manchesters front line reporting other wounded were still out there - stretcher bearers were sent out after dark. Joe and his comrades were then relieved that night by the 7th Lincolnshires. Just as the battalion relief was complete in the early hours of May 16th the Germans launched an attack which necessitated the men heading back to hold the line.Once fear of breakthrough had ameliorated the battalion was put into reserve on the 17th.
The men were involved in carrying and digging parties over the following days with a steady flow of casualties due to enemy fire and then spent the rest of May in and out of the front line, when they were out they were never far from the front, and more casualties were suffered.
The Battalion finally headed for some well earned rest on May 29th when they moved to a camp at St.Nicholas. They left the following day, entraining to Saulty and then onto billets at Coullemont. 3 Officers and 105 other ranks joined as reinforcements on May 31st indicating the losses suffered during Joe's first month as a frontline soldier.
June saw the Battalion in training at Coullemont before heading back to the war on the 20th, taking the line the following day.There followed days of again being in and out of the front line whilst providing working parties when not.
It is unfortunately not possible to pinpoint exactly when Joe Stephenson was mortally wounded but the cemetery he is buried at indicates he was at one of the casualty clearing stations based nearby at the time and therefore was probably not too long there. On June 28th a member of the battalion was wounded by British gas shells being fired short of their intended target, on the 29th a German shell fell by Battalion HQ killing and wounding men and then there were further hits from British shells, in total that day the Battalion lost 6 men killed and 8 wounded. The slow attrition of the front continued the next day with a bombardment from German heavy trench mortars killing 4 and wounding 2. The Battalion was relieved on July 1st but before doing so another man was killed and 2 further men injured. Joe was probably one of the men hit on that last day, but the earlier instances cannot be discounted, and he passed away in a nearby Casualty Clearing Station.
Back home in Royton, Joe's siblings were first informed that he had been dangerously wounded and then followed the news that he had been killed.
Robert's brother William died in 1921, sister Rachel followed in 1931 and is buried with their parents in Royton Cemetery and Sarah passed away in 1956.
Date of Death:02/07/1917
Cemetery:Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension