Joseph Franklin Kershaw

Born: 2 May 1884

Died: 14 October 1917

Studied at the RCA: dates unknown, ARCA Diploma c.1912

No student file has been found for Joseph, but one of his paintings is listed in the catalogue of the 143rd Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, so it seems he was still in London in July 1911, having perhaps just finished his studies. The census for that year also shows that the artist ‘J. Franklin’ was with his wife (of four years) Effie, living in two rooms in a house in Fulham (a favourite district for College digs). By the standards of the time they might have made an unconventional couple: Joseph had been born in Oldham, Lancashire, to a non-conformist family (his father was a well-to-do ironmonger also called Joseph) and had attended grammar school, while Effie (née Gregory) – some 16 years his senior – was an art teacher and daughter of a sculptor.

By the time conscription had come into force in May 1916, the couple had returned north to live in Milnthorpe, Westmorland (now Cumbria), and in June Joseph attested, serving first with the Border Regiment. During August he transferred to 126th Company of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC), one of the new specialist units set up to handle Vickers guns. The MGC reputedly required intelligent and fit recruits, but the very high casualty rates suffered by ‘The Suicide Club’ probably explains why ‘Artist & Painter’ Joseph, with his flat feet (among other things) noted in his medical history, was still considered suitable.

In February 1917 he had moved up the ranks to lance-corporal (unpaid) and then down again, embarking for France in March as a private. Attached to 126th Brigade, East Lancashire Regiment (42nd Division), the company trained until the last week of April, when they saw action not far from the Hindenburg Line. In early May Joseph suffered a gunshot wound to a shoulder leading to his evacuation from the field, but by June he was back to spend a relatively quiet couple of months training, this time near Albert, where the Battle of the Somme had raged the year before.

At the end of August the company moved towards Ypres, ready to take part in the next phase of the Third Battle using the new tactic of a ‘creeping barrage’. With the weather improving a little, the company’s brief September war diary entries convey a sense of desperation to achieve something after the disasters of the summer. A daily tally of thousands of rounds used in each successive position is provided, with an especially intense period noted between 6 and 7 September, when eight machine guns loosed an extraordinary 57,250 rounds in just twenty-four hours. Presumably Joseph was in one of the teams of gunners.

During the second wet week of October the company, now in Nieuport, were supporting exhausted and demoralised troops as the First Battle of Passchendaele began. On Saturday 13 October, General Haig and his army commanders apparently agreed action had to cease until conditions improved. The next day, however, the company, like other troops, were still in the field and recorded ‘1 OR killed by shell fire’. This ‘other ranked’ soldier was Joseph.

He was buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium, with the concise headstone wording later specified by Effie – ‘Artist, Oldham, Lancashire’. He is also commemorated on the war memorial at Storth, Morecambe Bay where Effie had been living.