By Michael Carciero, Department of History & Archaeology, University of Chester
John Julius Jersey de Knoop was born on 6th March 1876 in Rusholme, Greater Manchester. One of the many interesting aspects of de Knoop’s story is that his ancestry lies in Germany. His grandfather, Karl Julius Gerhard de Knoop was born in Bremen and migrated to the United Kingdom after the Industrial Revolution in pursuit of work. Karl eventually became chairman of a cotton manufacturing company named De Jersey Co., thanks to his brother Ludwig’smonumental influence in the cotton industry. John’s name takes great influence from his grandfather as ‘Julius’ was one of his forenames and ‘Jersey’ was the name of his company, signifying John’s German roots. He was known by Jersey after he left school.
Jersey’s early life was spent around his grandfather’s factory in Manchester. Despite having a child at such a young age, Jersey had high ambitions and left for University in 1894. He attended Oxford University for the next four years, cementing himself in the University’s history in the process by winning the Boat Racein 1896 and 1897. After leaving University, Jersey married Evelyn at St. George Hanover Square in London on 18th July 1898, and their first child Barbara was born the following year. However, their life in London was short-lived and the couple moved to Northwich, Cheshire at the turn of the century. Jersey’s business success led to him and Evelyn buying Claveley Hall in Tarpoley where they would raise their five children and spend the rest of their lives together.
Jersey joined the volunteer Cheshire Yeomanry in 1902 and quickly rose through the ranks. He also became a Unionist and ran for the Head of the Union for Northwich, voicing his opinion on affairs such as salaries for the soldiers within the Cheshire Regiment. On 25th October 1902Jersey was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, then on 17th January 1908 he was promoted again to Lieutenant. On August 26th 1914, just after the war broke out, Jersey de Knoop was promoted once again, to the rank of Captain. He spent 1914 in Norfolk along with the rest of the 1/1st Battalion of the Cheshire Yeomanry. They were sent there to train as their assignment was not to fight in the trenches in Western Europe, but rather in Egypt, so their training was more thorough, learning to deal with the soaring temperatures.
Due to Jersey’s bilingual skills, he was stationed in France in early 1915 and served in the Allied headquarters as an interpreter. Jersey’s time in France was cut short however, after he was wounded in action in the spring of 1915. He took a bullet which removed the top of his first finger on his right hand at the Battle of Ypres. But Jersey was not one to be put down, and whilst he was home recovering from his wounds he returned to his Unionist duties. He made what The Times described as ‘a striking speech, which attracted much attention’ discussing the lack of ammunition in the Cheshire Yeomanry and the British Army as a whole. He stated that the British Army, ‘hung on simply by their eyelids and kept the Germans from breaking through to Calais. Thousands were killed, largely because of the lack of ammunition on our side’.
The speech earned Jersey a whirlwind of attention, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. The honest nature of his speech was totally unlike the supressed reports of the correspondents within the army and due to this, Sir Arthur Markham announced in Parliament that Jersey was ‘severely reprimanded’ at the War Office. The details of this reprimanding are not disclosed but it is apparent that the British Government were far from satisfied with Jersey’s honesty.
Throughout the period of Jersey being back in Britain, he was a partner in De Jersey & Co. which was then owned by his father. On 17th May 1915, De Jersey & Co. lost a key member and therefore the business was dissolved, leaving Jersey to focus solely on his military responsibilities in the Cheshire Yeomanry. On 3rd March 1916, after Jersey had recovered from his wounds suffered in France, the 1stBattalion of the Cheshire Yeomanry set sail from Devonport, arriving in Alexandria on 15th March. From here, Jersey along with his men travelled to Wardar in North-East Egypt. Thirty seven men (including Jersey) joined the 6th Imperial Camel Corps in April 1916. Upon arrival at the Battalions’ training camp Abbasia, Jersey earned a promotion to Major.
This meant that Jersey saw a unique style of combat during the First World War; combat on camelback. Having a camel to ride was indefinitely preferable for soldiers serving in Egypt during the spring and summer months. Jersey was extremely fortunate to have been selected for the Imperial Camel Corps, as otherwise he would have been marching around the desert wearing a tunic, an experience which was unpopular amongst the soldiers.
The main assignment of the Imperial Camel Corps was to drive the pro-Turkish Senussi tribesmen back across the Sinai desert. The first battle that the Camel Corps were involved in was the Battle of Romani, which broke out on the 4th August 1916. The battle would unfortunately be Jersey’s last. Jersey was put in charge of not only his company, but also the 4th, 9th and 10th Imperial Corps; an immense achievement.
On 6th August, Jersey led his men towards Bir al Aweidiya. At about 1730 hours the four companies of the Imperial Camel Corps encountered enemy troops about one and a half miles from Bir al Aweidiya, of which eight Senussi prisoners were taken. However it was not until the following day that the most significant conflict took place. The Camel Corps were positioned around three-quarters of a mile north of Aweidiya, and aimed to gain access to the town by flanking through the east. The London Gazette reported this operation as ‘very successful’, capturing 53 prisoners and driving the enemy out of several successive positions.
Despite the successes of the Imperial Camel Corps in Egypt, unfortunately Jersey did not return home. He was killed in action on 7thAugust 1916 by a snipers bullet. At only 40 years of age it is a tragedy that Jersey’s life was cut short, however due to his success in both the fields of business and in the military, Jersey is certainly not forgotten. He was remembered by Lieutenant-Colonel Verdin in his history of the Cheshire Yeomanry. At the Battle of Romani, Jersey risked his own life by walking across a ridge in plain view of the enemy in order to draw fire, to determine their location. Additionally, he was shot in the arm yet ‘was quite unperturbed by the wound’ and continued leading his troops.
At his funeral, his body was lowered into the sand as Lieutenant Houghton recited the Lord’s Prayer. Lt. Verdin describes this as a ‘simple but moving end to a man who was born to lead’. He expands to state how the men of Imperial Camel Corps would tell the story of Jersey’s heroic nature 50 years after his passing, a true testimony to his bravery. He is buried at the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in North-East Egypt, along with the other 13 men who lost their lives in the fighting at Romani in August 1916. It is a huge credit to Jersey that despite having a strong German heritage, he was treated no differently to the other men in the Cheshire Yeomanry. There is no greater proof of this than his three promotions in only 12 years. In 1978, the Armistice Remembrance Week Committee made an exhibition to commemorate the role Cheshire played in the war effort, in which Jersey was described as a ‘fearless commander’. To add to this, the London Gazette stated that Jersey ‘handled the Camel detachment throughout with great skill and judgement’.
In his 40 years, John Julius Jersey de Knoop had a tremendous amount of success, and served the Cheshire Yeomanry with passion and excellence.
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