Remembering one of the First World War’s young fatalities

Ernie Tribe's Uncle John Arthur Tribe died in World War 1 at the age of 20. He has a collection of i

Ernie Tribe's Uncle John Arthur Tribe died in World War 1 at the age of 20. He has a collection of images, his original dog tags, medal and his funeral memorial card. - Credit: Archant

When Ernie Tribe’s uncle lied about his age to join the army in 1911, he could not have predicted just four years later he would lose his life during the largest British offensive of 1915.

John Arthur Tribe's funeral memorial card

John Arthur Tribe's funeral memorial card - Credit: Archant

John Arthur Tribe was 20 when he was killed during the Battle of Loos, in north east France – but he had

An image of John Arthur Tribe with Ernie Tribe's father and his brother in law

An image of John Arthur Tribe with Ernie Tribe's father and his brother in law - Credit: Archant

already accomplished a lot in his short life.

“He had always wanted to be in the army,” explained Ernie, 68. “He went to India in 1911 and then went to France after the war broke out.”

Aged 16, John had given a false birth date of 1889 –which would have made him 22 – in order to enlist in the 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

The battalion returned from Delhi in November 1914 and moved to France the following month

John was stationed close to the mining town of Lens, and on September 25, 1915, the Battle of Loos broke out.

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It was preceded by a four-day bombardment of German trenches, and marked the first time British troops had used chlorine gas.

But a number of failings led to a heavy loss of British casualties. Advancing over open fields towards uncut wire, thousands of men were gunned down by German artillery.

John was one of them.

“His final resting place is known only to God,” said Ernie, who lives in Marston Avenue, Dagenham. “There’s a memorial to all the soldiers who lost their lives in Loos, and I went out there three years ago with my cousin and my brothers.

“It was the first time any of the family had been there, and we took a picture of John and left it there.”

John’s younger brother George – Ernie’s father – also played a role in the First World War.

“He joined the Merchant Navy when he was about 14,” said Ernie. He served during the First World War, and part of the Second World War as well.

“They were really important, carrying food and weapons to the soldiers who were fighting.

“If they came under attack they didn’t have anything to fight back with, either.”

The eldest son of John and Amy Tribe, Ernie feels John’s death would have hit his parents hard.

John and George were part of a close-knit, large family that grew up in Kirby Street, Poplar. “Three of the siblings moved out to Dagenham, and another three stayed in Poplar, and we saw them a lot when I was growing up,” said Ernie.

“John didn’t marry or have any children, but two of my aunts lived until they were 100. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my grandmother to be told John wouldn’t be coming home.”

Former builder Ernie is researching his family history and hopes John’s story will never be forgotten.

“I’m doing this for my grandchildren,” he said. “It’s important that we remember where we came from.”

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