Born in 1891 to John and Mary Jane Allen, John James junior was born in Silvertown, Middlesex. He is recorded as living at 21 Leonard Street. His mother was of Irish descent from Antrim and he was a sibling to two older sisters, Jane and Maggie, and a younger brother, George Ore Allen. Unfortunately tragedy struck the family in John’s teenage years as his father passed away at sea in 1905 aged 47; the circumstances of how this occurred are unknown. Following this the family moved to 44 Amelia Street, Silvertown perhaps in an effort to start afresh following his father’s death. John Allen Junior is recorded as being single and working as a cutter in the 1911 census.
Records inform us that Allen was a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales, alternatively known as the Royal Berkshire regiment. His service number was 11579. The 2nd Battalion was a regular army regiment which suggests John James Allen was a serving Army member before the outbreak of war.
The 2nd Battalion the Royal Berkshire regiment was serving in Jhansi, India when war broke out. They embarked from Bombay on the troopship S.S.Dongala on the 27th September 1914 and reached Liverpool on October 23rd. The battalion briefly stopped in Winchester to join the 25th Brigade and left for France with 30 Officers and 978 other ranks.
Allen’s first duty on the Western front was to relieve the 1st East Surreys in their trenches at Fauquissart where they suffered from trench feet and illness due to the abrupt change of climate. Further, the 2nd Royal Berkshire regiment was one of the battalions which fraternised with the Germans on Christmas day; it is likely John was involved in this famous event.
Throughout the war the 2nd Royal Berkshires fought with distinction and served in many battles, however, we do not know if John served in all but can ascertain he must have fought in the majority. The first major battle was Neuve Chapelle from the 10th to the 15th march 1915 which resulted in 75 killed, 223 wounded and 17 missing further losses were sustained in a raid on May 10th. The battalion was involved in the first phase of the battle of Loos on the 25th September 1915 which resulted in a bloodbath of 131 killed; no one reached their main objective of the 2nd German line of trenches. After these two battles casualties had been so high the battalion had to engage in two months training to teach replacements the rigors of life on the Western front.
Allen took part in the battle of the Somme; his experiences of this region would have begun with the Battalions movement to the area on the 28th march 1916. A silent reconnaissance in June found the Germans were safe and well in their deep dugouts despite the pounding of the artillery. Despite passing on this information the 2nd Royal Berkshires were ignored. John’s battalion was tasked with attacking Ovillers on July the 1st where they suffered 437 dead. The 5th Battalion went over the same ground a few days later only to find their progress was stalled by having to tread over the bodies of the 2nd Battalion. Thus, this is testament to the futility of war and the ignorance of the higher echelon of command in the British army.
Finally, John James Allen participated in the battle for Passchendaele in 1917. He was involved in the phase of the 16th August in the battle of Langemarck. However, despite almost surviving more than 3 years on the Western front John James Allen met his death on the 1st December 1917 near the famous village of Passchendaele. His mother Mary must have been devastated by losing her husband and son in her lifetime. He is on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
John James Allen was commemorated on his family gravestone in Saint Michael’s Church East Wickham Graveyard along with his mother (who died in 1927, aged 70) and sister Jane Clamp (who died in 1941). Also remembered is his father who had died in 1905 at sea. The gravestone has since been cleared but a record of the inscription has been kept by the church.We have found no evidence to connect John Allen directly to Welling and so the Trust has no current plans to add his name to the East Wickham and Welling Memorial, located in St Michael’s Church.
This story has been researched by volunteers. We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this soldier, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/845955/ALLEN,%20JOHN%20JAMES