Cradley turned out in force when Sgt. Joe Tyler was buried with full military honours in August, 1916. First published in The Blackcountryman, Autumn 1969, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp.35-37.
The Funeral of Sgt. Tyler by Peter Barnsley
At the beginning of August, 1914, Joe Tyler - "a nice, quiet sort of chap" - was 25 years old, held a job as a traveller in the Midlands for Messrs. Lyons and Co., and was engaged to be married. He was an old scholar of the Cradley Church Day schools and had become a chorister and Sunday School teacher at St. Katherine's - the daughter church of the Parish Church of St. Peter. As befitted a churchman, he went regularly from his home in Colley Orchard to the nearby Cradley Conservative Club where he was a valued and respected member. In short, he seemed set for a comfortable, contented life with the prospect of promotion in his job and the certainty of a useful and respectable position in the community.
On Tuesday, 4th August, war was declared by Great Britain upon Germany. Very soon afterwards, Joe Tyler volunteered, and enlisted in the 3rd Birmingham City Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Joe Tyler attained the rank of Sergeant-Cook before going to France in the Autumn of 1915. In the front line, no job was a sinecure and Sgt. Tyler's cooking duties certainly did not keep him out of the range of German fire. He saw fierce fighting and on one occasion was the first man to reach another local soldier, Private Bert Coley of Cradley Heath, when the latter was fatally wounded late in 1915.
Sgt. Tyler came through all the fighting without a scratch, only to fall ill with dysentery. He was invalided home and spent several months in a Devonshire Hospital before coming home at the end of July, 1916. He was incurably ill and on Sunday, 27th August, he died, aged 27 years.
On Thursday, 31st August, he was given what was said to be the first Military Funeral in Cradley for over 50 years. After prayers at Sergeant Tyler's home, the hymn 'For Ever with the Lord' was sung as the coffin, draped with the Union Jack and covered with flowers, was borne to the gun carriage. A firing party from the Worcestershire Cadet Battalion stood at the 'present' while the coffin was carried out. The bearers and the escort party were members of the Royal Engineers.
The gun carriage bearing Joe Tyler's coffin. The escort and and bearer party was composed of soldiers of the Royal Engineers. In front of them were the Firing Party and the Salvation Army band. Headed by two policemen, the procession moved away while the Dead March was played by Cradley Heath Salvation Army band. The band was preceded by the firing party with arms reversed. Behind the escort and bearer party were members of the Worcestershire Cadet Battalion from Stourbridge, Halesowen, Coseley and Dudley.
Crowds of people lined the route and in front of both Colley Lane School and Cradley Church School the staff and pupils lined the walls - "-boys at attention and girls and infants at salute."
Behind the Gun Carriage came the mourners, the Day and Sunday School Teachers and (illustrated) the District and Parish Councillors. From right to left: H. J. Cox (later Mayor of Halesowen), Alf Westwood, Ben Hodgetts, George Davis, Alfred Hickman, George Bird, Henry Reece (The two men immediately behind Mr. Reece are unknown), Josiah Bloomer (on Mr. Reece\'s right), Edgar Dunn (in glasses), Edwin Bird (who said prayers at the house), unknown, William Simons. Both photographs were taken in Colley Lane, just below the Schools. The house in the background is now demolished.
After the service, conducted by the Vicar, The Rev. R. A. Norris, the procession left the Church, again to the strains of the Dead March, played this time by Mr. Frank Stevens at the organ.
The Vicar conducted the last rites at the graveside, and, after the firing of three volleys by the, Worcestershire Cadets, Bugler Spencer sounded the Last Post. To end the ceremony, the hymn 'On the Resurrection Morning' was sung, and Sgt. Tyler was left in his premature grave.
The procession, which was marshalled by Mr. Joseph Jaquiss, the headmaster of the Church School, must have been very impressive, especially to the uncomprehending infants as it passed. As the column moved slowly along traffic-free streets, the mournful strains of the Dead March, accompanying the slow tread of many feet and the creaking of the gun carriage, must have given many onlookers a sense of the solemnity of the occasion. Joe Tyler was very much in the mind of almost everyone in Cradley on that day. But at this distance of time, there is a certain irony about the ceremony, for now, fifty-three years later, you can only see Joe Tyler's grave and its simple headstone if you are first prepared to hack away the rank grass and the rash of rose bay willowherb - a plant that thrives on neglect - -that has obscured Joe Tyler's grave along with many others. Of all the local men who fell in the 1914-18 War, Joe Tyler is probably the only one who came home to die and was buried with full military honours in a spectacular public ceremony. Today, it seems, he could not be more completely forgotten, by old soldiers and civilians alike, if he had been blown to pieces in a Flanders trench.
With acknowledgements to the "County Express", from whose contemporary account of the funeral most of the facts in this article are drawn. The photograph of the gun carriage, escort and bearing party loaned by Mr R. J. Cox of Kinver. Both photographs by Mr. Beech, Imperial Studio, Cradley Heath.
Original essay reproduced courtesy of Peter Barnsley.
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