How our local postman became a BIG GUN.
Joseph Alexander Morris, of Whettleton Hill near Craven Arms, is recorded as a postman in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. He also appears on the Shrewsbury Postal District War Memorial and the Craven Arms war memorial at Stokesay, despite having survived the war. When members of the Craven Arms and District History Group traced his descendants they were told that he died on February 4th 1919 of the ‘Spanish flu’. Many men were debilitated and fell victim to the pandemic. The Imperial War Graves Commission, as it then was, took the decision that anyone who died as a result of the war before 31st August 1921 should be included on memorials.
When he left his rural round in June 1916 for the Western Front, he was posted to 366 Siege Battery. This had the History Group scratching their keyboards for some time. “None of us had heard of this unit and it proved so elusive we even wondered whether a clerical error had set us on the wrong tack” said Russell Jones. “I’m so glad we persisted because when we found it, we were thrilled. Gunner Morris had become part of the team that serviced the monster guns mounted on railway trucks, which could fire on the enemy from well behind our lines.”
366 Siege Battery was equipped with two 9.2inch naval guns mounted on railway wagons. The guns, weighing 28tons, could fire a 30 stone shell, weighing the same as two very burly men, 15 miles at a muzzle velocity of 1,800mph. We could not have dreamed that ‘our postman,’ would lead us to one of the biggest guns of all on the Western Front.”
There were three waves of the flu pandemic. The first originated in the USA in early March 1918. American troops are thought to have brought the virus with them in April. The first wave was comparatively mild; however, during the summer a more lethal type was recognized, and fully emerged in August. Pneumonia often developed, with death coming two days after the first signs of the flu. The third wave to which Morris succumbed occurred in the first months of 1919.
Gunner Morris’ simple grave with no headstone is to the left of the path which leads from the church porch to Stokesay Castle, next to the churchyard wall. This piece in the military jigsaw was uncovered by Meg Pybus “we had a rough description of the location of his grave, but when we searched, there were no visible references to him. After several dead-ends, I started to scrape away the moss on the stone edging of another grave. Suddenly, the name “Alexander” appeared and I knew we had found him.”
He died on February 5th 1919. The stone mason seems to have had doubts. The first date inserted was the 4th. It was one of “Uncle Alex’s” descendants who made the author of this article aware of the full scale of the tragedy. If one turns to the adjacent Morris family headstone you read how the family lost two more members to the ‘flu; his mother Emma died 11th February [aged 74] and his niece Hilda Emma Hotchkiss [aged 12] a day later. I was told “We think his mother and young niece may have tended to him at the cottage Peacehaven in Whettleton.”