John Bidwell Laurance

His name appears in the first Gazette of the 1/1st Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion printed in the winter of 1914 as a Second Lieutenant serving with E company.

From a local newspaper dated 17/10/1914 under a heading "The Hunts. Cyclist Battalion." orders for Sunday, 11/10/1914, gave the following change of company responsibility for the officers, it was also stated that these changes were by no means permanent.   Lieutenant  J. B. Laurance to be posted to H Company.

Second Lt. (temp Capt.) J. B. Laurance to be Lt (temp Captain) (1st March 1915). - He was one of a small number of officers from the H C B that received a promotion as reported in the London Gazette.

At the wedding of Captain Kenneth Hunnybun in August 1916 he held the rank of Captain and formed the guard of honour as they came out of the church.

In the ”London Gazette” dated 28th August 1917, he was gazetted Captain to have precedence from 1st June 1916.

Marriage Details - Lieutenant J. B. Laurance 1/1st HCB son of J. Laurance Justice of the Peace of Shortacre Peterborough, married Nancy Kathleen Cock of Ilmington, Warwickshire at Ilmington 18/2/1916. He was one of the men who took part in the drowning incident some months before.

6/5/1916 - The following appeared in Tuesday's "Gazette", - Hunts. Cyclist Battalion - Sec. Lt. (temp Lt.) J. B. Laurance to be temp. Capt. (Oct. 9).

17/10/1914 - The Hunts. Cyclist Battalion - orders for Sunday (< 17/10/1914)  gave the following change of company responsibility for the officers, it was also stated that these changes were by no means permanent and Lieutenant  J. B. Laurance was to be posted to H Company.

6/5/1916 =  The following appeared in Tuesday's "Gazette", - Hunts. Cyclist Battalion - Sec. Lt. (temp Lt.) J. B. Laurance to be temp. Capt. (Oct. 9).   


Drowning Inquest

Private Cecil Walter Jackson who was 19 years of age, was drowned in an bathing accident at 11:30 am on Speeton beach,  Saturday 28th August 1915, his body, however, was not washed ashore until the next Friday, 3/9/1915 when it was discovered below high cliffs at Buckton.  He was a member of H company, the 1/1st Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion, who before the war lived with his parents in a cottage at North Street Stilton in the north of the county. He was a brick maker's clerk before he joined the Battalion.

The story is well documented in the local press and the details below are an outline of events compiled from several of those sources.

 The company of 15 men had on the morning of the tragedy cycled from Filey,  under the charge of Lieutenant John B. Laurance. ( J.P. of London Road Peterborough.)  On arrival at Speeton beach the men were paraded down to the water in fatigue dress ready for bathing parade and after changing entered the water within a five minute period. private Jackson was the first to enter the water, at the time the tide was on the ebb and there was a nasty swell running.  Lieutenant John B. Laurance soon noticed that Pte. Jackson and Pte. Ernest R. Hodson were about 60 yards from the shore line and becoming worried he called for them to return, they both turned and were swimming back to the beach, when it was noticed that Pte. Jackson was struggling to make the distance to the shore. They shouted to him to keep going, and Pte. Hodson who heard the cries tried to get too him, but as he did so the current was taking them both out to sea. 

It is reported then, that lieut. Laurance who had by this time managed to swim out to the scene, reached Pte. Jackson and attempted to swim with him to the shore, he was then joined by Pte. Hodson who had by this time reached both men.  Hodson swam on his back pulling Jackson with him, he was holding him under the right arm, his left arm was around Lieutenant Lawrence's shoulder.  They tried to make shore, but the current seemed to increase and they were carried further out to sea.  Jackson, although a good swimmer, soon became exhausted and probably light-headed and he grabbed the Lieutenant by the throat causing him to sink under waves.  This happened twice, and when Laurance surfaced the second time he saw that Hodson had got Jackson around his waist, and was still swimming strongly.

The Lieutenant who, by this time was exhausted and thinking that Jackson was already dead swam for the shore, being twice swamped by the tide before finally reaching the sand and the arms of his men who had formed a human chain out into the sea. The rest of the company tried to launch a boat that they found under the cliffs, but could not do so because of the swell, so they tied the spars together to help to reach the swimmers.  He was almost unconscious when he reached the shore, asked "where is Hodson ? ", before he collapsed and had to be given artificial respiration to restore him to life.  Hodson was still holding onto Jackson, who was hanging onto his waist, slowly Jackson's grip relaxed and he sank under the waves. Hodson then caught hold of his hair and pulled for all his worth, but did not get a good grip.  With the current pulling them both under he could not continue to hold onto Jackson and had to let go of him. The other men, at the first sign of danger tried to launch a boat that they found on the beach, but they found that they could not launch it against such a fast and dangerous tide.

The report indicates that he was by  this time probably dead, and Pte Hodson not being able to find Jackson again started to swim to the shore, and despite the fierceness of the current made slow progress to a point where he was pulled ashore by the same human chain, lead by Sergeant Joseph William German, that had reached Lieutenant John Bidwell Laurance, and Sergt. Samuel Gilby who swam out to help him return.  Once on the beach he soon recovered from his ordeal.  Lieutenant Laurance was by this time being conveyed to his billet in Speeton where he was attended by the Battalion Medical Officer Lieutenant Garrood, who confined him to his billet for 3 days due to total exhaustion.

It was a Sergeant Joseph William German that started the human chain that rescued Lieutenant Laurence, they also tied spars together, these they obtained from the boat that they found on the beach.  A Sergeant Samuel Gilby also dashed into the sea at the end of some hastily tied sail spars, and then swam out to Hodson to help him back to the shore, he did not need his help, but swam with him to give him moral support and encouragement.  Both the two Sergeants mentioned above were praised for their skill and cool thinking, which stopped them having further casualties.

As a result of the tragedy an inquest was held at the "Dotterel Inn", Speeton near Flamborough Head, which was well known by the men as the venue of many football matches, on the day the body was discovered and was held under the instruction of Sir Luke White MP. who was the coroner for East Yorkshire, on the Friday night, 3rd September 10th 1915. The body was identified by two officers of the HCB.  The coroners court was attended by Dr Garrood and Captain Warwick, of H company (who was stationed at the coast guard station at Speeton), attended on behalf of H company, H.C.B. and the court was informed that the body was discovered by a  Mr. Jess Smith who lived at Filey, a short distance away under high cliffs at Buckton Beach. Mr Smith discovered the body during his duties as a watchman on a steam boat that had been stranded in the bay for some months. The body was discovered on some rocks half a mile from the ship and some mile away from the spot where he entered the sea almost a week later. He gave evidence that the body was very bruised and was in a poor state after being in the sea for such a length of time.  The coroners verdict was "accidentally drowned", and he also praised the gallant conduct of the men that made such an attempt to save him.

A church memorial service was held for Pte. Jackson at the church at Speeton on Sunday morning, when all of H company attended. They played the Death March in Saul, and also played in Filey church at the normal evening service, where the chaplain read a text from Isaiah 43,2, " When though passed through the waters I will be with thee".  Pte. Jackson was buried at Stilton cemetery. 

The Royal Humane Society later presented Lieut. Laurance, of Peterborough and Private Ernest Hodson, who was son of P.C. Hodson of Brampton, with a vellum citation for bravery in attempting to save the life of Private Jackson of Stilton from drowning at Speeton. At the time of the incident both men were serving with the 1st Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion.  Lieut. Laurance received from the H.C.B a silver cigarette case, and Private Hodson received a silver wrist watch and silver watch chain, each item was inscribed to commemorate the event.

Newspaper extract [unknown origin] - dated 4th September 1915.

Hunts. Cyclist Drowned.

Bravery of a Peterborough J. P. 'S son.

A bathing fatality occurred at Speeton, on the Yorkshire coast, on Saturday, in which Private C. W. Jackson, of Stilton, of 'H' Company, of the 1.1st Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion, unfortunately lost his life.  The Company had that morning bicycles to Filey, and Private Jackson was one of a detachment of fifteen men under charge of Lieut. Laurence, son of Mr. John Laurence, J. P., London Road, Peterborough.

On arrival at Speeton, the men were marched down in fatigue dress to the sands for a bathing parade, and all entered the water within half a minute of one another. Private Jackson being the first to enter. In a very few minutes, Lieut. Laurence noticed Pte. Jackson and Pte. E. R. Hodson were out about 60 yards from the shore, and this being further than he liked them to go, he shouted to Hodson to come back. He then shouted to Jackson, who at the time was swimming powerfully, and again to Hodson. Jackson then started to swim towards land with an overhand stroke, but in a few minutes Lieut. Laurence noticed that he was in difficulties, and shouted to him to stick to it and that he would come and give him a hand.

Hodson, also seeing Jackson in difficulties, swam towards him, but instead of him making any headway, the current was taking him further form the shore. Lieut. Laurence, however, reached him and was attempting to swim with him towards the shore where Hodson joined them. Hodson then swam on his back, holding Jackson under his right arm, Jackson having his left arm over Lieut. Laurence's shoulder.

In this way they tried to make the shore, but the current continued to carry them further out. Jackson then became exhausted, and probably light headed, and in his struggles he caught Lieut. Laurance by the throat, causing him to sink, and when he rose again Jackson's struggles caused him to sink a second time.  On coming to the surface, and while treading water to recover himself, he saw Jackson under the water in an insensible condition with his arms around Hodson's waist, Hodson still swimming strongly. Lieut. Laurance now being quite exhausted, and thinking Jackson already dead, struggled to the shore.

Twice he was washed under by the large swells, but eventually was rescued and brought ashore by the men of the company, who had formed a chain, and, with the help of a rope, managed to reach him. he was able to enquire "Where's Hodson?" when he collapsed and became uncontrollable, and artificial respiration had to be resorted to restore him. He was then carried to his billet at Speeton and attended by Lieut. Garrood, the Medical Officer to the Battalion.  In the meantime, and when Lieut. Laurance had gone under the second time, Hodson , with great coolness managed to assist Jackson for a further period, but he turned over after a time and caught Hodson round the waist with both arms.

Hodson continued to swim in this manner for some time, but Jackson's arms gradually relaxed and he sank. Hodson, however, very pluckily went after him again and caught him by the hair, but owing to the slight grip he could get, the weight and the strength of the current and the fact that both were now submerged he was obliged to let him go, and was unable to find him again.  There seems little doubt that Jackson was already dead at this time, as Lieut. Laurance had thought. By this time Hodson was a very long way from shore, but he slowly made headway and reached the chain of men who pulled him in and assisted him to the beach, where he soon recovered.

The company behaved throughout with the utmost coolness. On the first appreciation of danger, they did all they could to launch a boat which was grounded on the cliff bottom, but this was found to be impossible. They then roped spars together and proceeded out in the form of a chain, and in this way succeeded in reaching Lieut.. Laurance and Private Hodson as has been described All the men were remarkably steady, and there was an entire absence of anything like flurry or panic. Not a man lost his head. Sergeant S. Gilby acted with forethought and decision and it is probably due to them and the men of the detachment that the disaster was not greater.  Of the conduct of Lieut. Laurance and Private Hodson it is impossible to speak too highly. They came very near to loosing their lives in risking them for Private Jackson.

The sad event cast a gloom over the whole battalion and those interested in the battalion in the district. Captain Warwick, of 'H' company, gives Jackson a an excellent character. He was bright, cheerful and good at his work. He was a strong swimmer himself, but on the way into the water warned those that could not swim, not to go in far, and to be careful of the currents. Having been stationed at Speeton Coastguard Station, he knew the coast, but apparently committed some error of judgement.

He lost his life whilst engaged in the service of his country. At the parade service on Sunday, the battalion band played the "Dead March" in "Saul," and it was again played on the organ in Filey Parish Church on Sunday evening.

A memorial service was held in the little church at Speeton on Sunday morning, when 'H' company attended, the Chaplain taking for his text [Isaiah 48 : 2] 'When though passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.'
From the Hunts Post 15th December 1921, states that from the London Gazette (7th December 1921), and AO-166/21 amended AO-332/21, he relinquished his commission on 30th September 1921, and kept his rank of Captain.

Information from John Laurance - My Grandfather was the J. B. Laurance mentioned and I have in my possession a silver cigarette box given to him and inscribed Lt. J. B. Laurance 1st Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion from his brother Officers February 17th 1916 family legend says this was for rescuing the soldier drowning in the sea off Scarborough which is mentioned in your site.

        The engraved identity bracelet of John.
        The engraved cigarette case presented to John.

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. . Martyn Smith