In September 1878 David Emms married Eliza Ellen Fuller in Saxlingham Church. He was a farm labourer and they started their married life living on Saxlingham Green. They had five children of whom four survived. John Frederick was born in the summer of 1879, James in 1881, Florence in 1883 and Amelia in 1891. John was baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Saxlingham Nethergate on 5th October 1879.
John, named after his grandfather, attended Saxlingham School. In his teens he moved to work as a groom in Sutton in Surrey. On 23rd July 1899 he married Edith Annie Jenkins in the parish church, Benhilton, Sutton. Her father Edward Jenkins was a police officer. They were both twenty years old.
They had five children, Dorothy Ellen born 23rd September 1899, Florence Emma Rachel, born 30th July 1901, Edward David, born 29th August 1903, John Frederick born in 1906 and who died in 1909, and Emma Amelia, born 11th January 1908.
In 1911 they were living at 2 Stayton Road, Sutton, Surrey (now renumbered 39) and John was working as a domestic gardener. John enlisted in the 10th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment at Kingston upon Thames on 7th April 1915. He transferred to 8th Battalion on 31st December 1915.
When he joined the army he was 35 years and seven months old. He was 5 feet and 4 inches tall and weighed 9 stones 9 pounds. He had 6/5 vision in both eyes and had slight varicose veins on his left thigh. It was considered that these would not cause him any problems. The family were living at 8 Pylbrook Road Surrey when he enlisted which is very near to where they were living in 1911. By May 1917 Edith and family were living back at 2 Stayton Road, Sutton.
From 7th April 1915 till 31st December 1915 John was training in Dover, Fleet and Shoreham. On the 31st December he transferred to 8th Battalion and arrived in France on 23rd January 1916 and joined his Battalion in the field on 10th February.1916.
On 18th June 1916 he was admitted to a Field hospital with an abrasion on his hand. He spent the next few weeks receiving treatment at different places in Rouen. He was eventually discharged from the hospital on 2nd July 1916 and rejoined his regiment in Etaples on 5th July 1916.
At the beginning of 1917 the 8th Battalion were in Le Titre area living in billets in Neuf Moulin- Foret L’Abbaye. They spent the early part of January doing training exercises such as practising bayonet fighting, the use of new box respirators and throwing grenades. Unfortunately during one of these practices one hand grenade exploded prematurely killing one man and injuring others. They also did physical training and took part in football matches with other regiments. On 11th January they marched over two days to a Forward Area. On arriving they all had to rub whale oil onto their feet. From 17th January to the end of the month they were employed helping digging in the cemetery at Varennes and constructing tramways or light railways over the newly captured ground near Thiepval.
During this kind of work the labour force were often within range of the enemy and subjected to shelling and sniping. Sometime and somehow John Emms received a gunshot wound to his right thigh which also resulted in the fracture of his femur. He was admitted to 1st/1st South Midland Casualty Clearing Station at Dernancourt on 1st February 1917 and died there from his wounds on Thursday 15th February 1917.
Wounded soldiers were taken to these casualty clearing centres so that they could be assessed. The patients were either treated there and sent back for duty or stabilized so that they could be sent to a hospital in England. They were not intended for long stay patients. The casualty clearing stations were usually situated near railway lines in order to facilitate the transport of the patients.
John’s personal effects were sent to his widow Edith in the summer of 1917. These included letters, photos, pips, a religious book, a metal mirror, a French book, wallet, wrist watch and protector, tobacco pouch, knife, false teeth, matchbox cover, purse, coin, a writing pad and correspondence.
John is buried in Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Grave reference, V.B.19 .The cemetery is situated about 3 kilometres from Albert in Somme France. The cemetery contains the graves of men who died in the casualty clearing stations or field ambulances.
In October 1919 Edith had to provide information to the war office about John’s family in order to receive a scroll and plaque. She sent them details of his children but also his parents, sisters and brother. His parents David and Ellen were living on Pitts Hill in Saxlingham along with Florence Emms. His sister Amelia had married, aged 17 years, Bertie Ernest Page in 1908. They had a daughter Mildred Amy Page born in 1909. Amelia also lived on Pitts Hill. James Henry Emms, his brother, was living in Taverham, Norfolk.
Although John had lived for many years in Sutton Surrey, he seems to have had strong connections with his family in Saxlingham. As well as his parents and sisters he also had extended family in the village. His uncle, James Emms, senior, had a farm in the village and he had several cousins also living there. His cousin Arthur Emms was also killed in the war on 18th July 1917.
As well as being remembered on the Church War memorial, John Frederick Emms is commemorated on the War Memorial in Sutton, Surrey.
Census records:1861,1871 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
Saxlingham Nethergate School log book.
British Army WW1 Service Records.
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920.
Papers from Saxlingham Nethergate Church Chest now deposited at Norfolk Record Office.
8th Battalion, East Surrey War diaries, December, January and February 1917. www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk
Many thanks to Betty and Gordon Sturman of Sutton, Surrey for family photographs and information. John Emms was Betty’s grandfather. She is the daughter of Florence Rachel Emms who died in 1994.
John’s grandson, Betty’s cousin, John Arthur Hunter, RAF, was shot down 17th July 1940 over France and is also buried on the Somme at Cayeux-sur-Mer.
Clive Gilbert -photograph of names on Sutton War Memorial.
N.B. George Albert Jenkins is on Saxlingham Church Memorial because of his connections with John Emms and family.