By Anne Marie Curtis, St. Werberg’s Great War Study Group
As the Great War went on, several articles about the Beatty family found their way into local newspapers. The Beatty family came to be regarded as an example of the type of patriotism displayed by the ordinary people of Chester. The parents of the family were James and Mary Beatty, nee McAndrew. They had been married on 20th Oct. 1869 in the old Catholic Chapel in Queen Street (this was the predecessor of St. Werburgh’s Catholic Church, which was later built on Grosvenor Park Road and only completed in June 1914). By 1911 the couple had 12 children and what is more remarkable, all were still alive. Sadly this was not to remain the case.
James Beatty had been born in Ireland but Mary, though of Irish descent, had been born in Chester. They lived in the Boughton area of Chester, at that time regarded as the Irish Quarter. The couple started their married life in Parry’s Entry, Foregate Street. They later moved to Victor Street and by 1911 were living in Beaconsfield Street. James worked as a labourer and later a gardener with Dickson’s Seeds nurseries, Newton-by-Chester. Dickson’s also had a seed store in Eastgate Street at this time. All that remains of this once thriving business is the name “Dickson’s Drive” in Newton-by-Chester. The Beatty family were staunch supporters of St. Werburgh’s Church. Their children were baptised there, they attended the schools there and were confirmed there.
Most of the older Beatty sons started work in the gardening business, though they also usually served for a period of time in the army or navy. After their service was completed they returned to Chester, married and settled down. Only the eldest, son, Thomas failed to return to Chester. He married in Colchester after he left the army and stayed there, working as a gardening foreman. After serving with the Royal Navy, Peter Beatty worked in Chester as an hydraulic fitter, whilst his brother Hugh became a bricklayer after his period of service with the army. James Beatty jnr. had indifferent health. In 1911 he had a long period of treatment in Chester Infirmary and he does not appear to have done any military service. Of the younger brothers, Richard Beatty, who had trained as a gardener and nurseryman in Solihull, returned to Chester and ran his own fruit, vegetable and flower store in Frodsham Street, whilst John, who had been in the army and served during the Boer War, before being invalided out, returned to Chester and worked first as a nurseryman with his father. John married in 1913 and was later employed as a gardener on the Eaton Estate in 1914, earning £1-15-4d per two weeks. Joseph and Frank Beatty worked as a shop assistant and a nurseryman respectively. They do not appear to have done a pre-war stint of military service. Their brother Edward was possibly doing military service from around 1910. The Beatty sisters, Mary and Catherine, were married and the youngest child, Rose Ann was still at school. By the standards of the times all the Beatty siblings appeared to be doing quite well in both their working and family lives.
When war broke out in August 1914 the lives of the siblings of this family became altered out of all recognition. Thomas was too old to enlist and James jnr. performed munitions related work. Both had silver badges to demonstrate their exemption from military service. The remainder of the sons enlisted as the war continued. Hugh and Peter, as members of the Reserves, were called up quickly, Peter on 13th July 1914, before war had officially even started. John left his employment on the Eaton Estate in Feb. 1915 to (re)join the army and it is thought that Richard, Joseph and Francis enlisted at around the same time. James and Mary Beatty now had seven sons on active service.
1916 was a particularly tragic year for the family. The first son to die was Hugh. He was killed by a shell explosion on the Somme. Hugh left a wife and five children. The family had only just been informed of Hugh’s death when James jnr. died in Chester Infirmary. James’ lungs had already been somewhat compromised and his munitions related work caused chronic serious illness. In 1917 it was the turn of Peter, who was killed in a tragic naval accident in the harbour of New Orleans U.S.A. and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery there. Peter left a wife and daughter. 1918 brought news of Richard’s death in the Middle East. He was buried in Ramleh War Cemetery, Israel and Gaza. Richard left a wife and two children in Chester. Thankfully Edward, John, Joseph and Francis returned to Chester at the end of the war. Edward had been mentioned in Douglas Haig’s despatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French President.
In June 1922 a remarkable ceremony took place in the gardens of Chester Cathedral. This was the unveiling of the Great War Memorial. Two special ladies were chosen to perform this ceremony, Mrs. J. Sheriff Roberts and Mrs. Mary Beatty. Both women had lost three sons on active service during the Great War and they represented all Chester mothers who had endured loss. The two mothers were from different areas of Chester and different social strata. Mrs. Sheriff Roberts was the wife of a former Mayor of Chester. Her three sons had been pupils at the private Arnold House School, Chester and had become officers in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The Beatty boys had been pupils of St. Werburgh’s Schools and belonged to other ranks of the Army or Royal Navy. The two mothers were however, united by their loss.
Mary Beatty died a few months after this ceremony and James snr. died a few months after his wife. Mary Beatty always regretted that the death of her son James did not get the same recognition that the deaths of her other three sons had done. When interviewed she always stated that she had lost four sons in the Great War and it even states this in the Victoria History of Chester.