The KIRBY family – Corporal Kirby, John Alfred (1896-1918) and Private KIRBY, Harry Bernard (1898-1991)

Robert Dyer Kirby (1869 -1954) and Jane Hubbard (1865-1956) married at St Martin’s on 29th June 1895.  Before marriage Jane lived at 21 Town Hall Lane and though the family subsequently lived and worked in Highfields – where Robert had lived before marriage – the connection with St Martin’s remained for the rest of their lives.  Robert was sidesman at St Martin’s from 1909 until 1933 and served on the PCC during the 1920s.  Robert and Jane had three children, all sons: John Alfred (1896-1918); Harry Bernard (1898-1991) and Robert Aubrey (1900-1976).

John Alfred Kirby was born at 6 Clipstone Street, Highfields (since demolished) in 1896 and baptised at St Martin’s at 18th April 1897.  The following year the family moved to 14 Diseworth Street.  Brother Harry Bernard was baptised at St Martin’s on 10th September 1898.  Robert Aubrey Kirby was born in September 1900.  Sometime between 1901 and 1911 the family moved to 14 Fairfield Street, remaining there until 1928.  Father Robert worked as a carpenter and joiner.  Just before 1914 he set up business at 2 ½ Glebe Street, very close to home.  John probably attended Melbourne Road School like his brother Harry, and perhaps attended Wyggeston Boys’ School.

John Alfred Kirby enlisted in the Leicestershire Regiment 21st January 1916 at the Town Hall recruiting office aged 19, when he was a clerk.  He was 5’6” and weighed 117lbs.  He was posted to the 3rd battalion on 25th March 1916, promoted to corporal on 30th April 1917, then posted to the 15th Royal Scots (known as ‘Cranston’s Battalion’) on 5th July 1917.

During the beginning of the Second Battle of the Somme the 15th Royal Scots were in the front trenches, under constant bombardment with shells and gas, and took up positions near the villages of Croisilles and then Boyelles.  The battalion fought under atrocious conditions for two days.  On the second morning, 22nd March 1918, there was little actual fighting but around lunchtime “some hundreds of Germans with a profusion of machine guns appeared…..all day groups of German machine-gunners could be seen rushing forward.”  It is likely that John Alfred Kirby met his death at this time.  He was pronounced missing presumed dead.

John’s father Robert carried out work on St Martin’s Church in 1918, 1919 and 1920, including opening the clerestory windows, repairing guttering on the chancel roof and securing the book boards in the nave and south aisle, for which he was paid £1 13s.  In March 1918 he successfully applied for £50 – presumably a loan – to enable him to take on an apprentice, therefore enabling him “to overcome a financial anxiety.”

In 1920 Frederick Macnutt, vicar of St Martin’s, witnessed father Robert Kirby’s application to receive his son’s memorial scroll and plaque (these had to be applied for and the application countersigned by a minister or a magistrate).  Once the package arrived it was left unopened by Robert and Jane for a long time.  Robert apologised for the delay in acknowledging receipt, explaining that Jane was “not able to open it,” presumably because she was too upset.

John’s personal effects, consisting of two discs, were sent to his mother on 23rd May 1924.  These must have been discovered during the period of grave searching and relocation which took place in the years following armistice.  However no body was found.  John is commemorated at Arras memorial, which commemorates around 35,000 servicemen who fell in the Arras sector between 1916 and 7th August 1918.  The memorial was unveiled in 1932.

Harry Bernard Kirby was born on 1st September 1898 and baptised at St Martin’s fifteen days later.  His birth was officially registered as Henry Bernard Kirby but he was always known and recorded as Harry thereafter.  He attended first Melbourne Road Council School and then Wyggeston Boys’ School where he learned French and Latin and received physical training.  After leaving Wyggeston’s Boys he worked as a student teacher and then as assistant teacher at Avenue Road Extension School in Clarendon Park, then an area populated by working class families where the fathers were carpenters, bricklayers and small shopkeepers.  In 1916 he took exams in English, history, geography, mathematics and Latin – achieving first class honours.

Harry was probably conscripted later that year, and joined the army as a private in the 86th Training Reserve Battalion before subsequently joining the 13th Durham Light Infantry.  In September 1917 the battalion fought in the battle of Menin Road Ridge, part of the Battle of Passchendaele – in just five days the British recorded over 20,000 casualties.  In November 1917 they moved to Italy, following a combined Austro-Hungarian and German victory over the Italians at Caporetto in October. Trench warfare followed but the situation was very different to that on the Western Front and relatively few casualties were sustained.  The 13th battalion withdrew from Italy in September 1918.  Then followed work on repair, graves work, etc., until April 1919.

Upon returning to civilian life in 1919 Harry left Leicester to study for two years at St John’s College Battersea, a Church of England teacher training college where he was judged to have “a heavy and monstrous manner of speech.”  He still obtained good work from his pupils during his first year teaching practise at Belleville Road School in Battersea, and was “fairly satisfactory” at Winstanley Road School in 1920.

Harry married Kathleen Simpson (1911-1994) in Leicester in 1939.  They had a son, John, in 1940, a daughter – Valerie – in 1943 and second son, Martin, in 1946.  During the 1950s the family lived at 97 Romway Road, moving to 140 Andrew Road, Anstey by 1966.  In about 1970 they moved to Barrow on Soar, settling at 29 Welland Road, Barrow on Soar.  Harry continued working as a teacher.  In 1970 he acted as executor for the will of a former colleague George Watson Bates.  Harry died in Barrow on Soar in February 1991.

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