John Abel has been a particularly difficult man to trace and some details of his life are not clear. He is sometimes listed as Abel John and sometimes simply as John. I have recorded him here as John Abel, as he is listed on the War Memorial as J A Morris. Where there is doubt that I have found the correct man I preface the sentence with ‘It is likely that…’.
John was born on 12/12/1883 at 1 Brook Street, Lewes, the son of John Joseph and Mary Morris nee Washer. His birth was registered at the beginning of 1884 as Abel.
John Joseph and Mary had both been born in Lewes and by 1891 they were living at 4 Green Wall with John Joseph described as a general labourer. John Abel was listed as John.
By 1901 the family had moved to 2 Green Wall but John Abel was not listed. Signing on as Abel John he had joined the 3rd Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment on 12/10/1900 and was numbered 8372.
John said he had previously worked for Mr Mowbray as a carter’s boy. His medical examination notes that he had a scar over 2 inches long on the outside of his right leg.
The 3rd Battalion was a militia battalion, originally formed in December 1899, but sent to South Africa in March 1901 to take part in the 2nd Boer War. John’s papers state that he formed part of the mounted infantry.
As a result of his service John was entitled to the South Africa medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
The men returned to the UK on the SS Dominion in August 1902 travelling via St Helena. John left the battalion in September of that year.
While still serving in the RSR it was suggested to John that he transfer to the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery. His papers show that he enlisted in Woolwich on 18/11/1902 and was numbered 28793. He was posted to the 53rd RFA on 16/12/1902 but this was not a successful move as he deserted on 14/01/1903.
He was missing from the roll for just over a month but listed as ‘rejoined awaiting trial’ on 19/02/1903. His trial seems to have been dispensed with as there is no record of it on his papers, but all his prior service with the RFA up to 23/02/1903 was forfeited.
He returned to duty as a gunner but was discharged for misconduct on 22/05/1903.
After this date accurate details of John’s life away from the army are difficult to find. By 1911 his parents had moved to 1 South Place but John was not there. It is likely that he was living in Nutfield in Surrey.
A record exists showing a John Morris with the postal address ‘in a barn, Mercer’s Farm’. The age and place of birth line up with ‘our’ John.
Also listed in the same place was Daisy Morris from Croydon. The census lists them as married. In fact John Abel Morris, carter, married Florence Ethel Daisy Faulkner on 19/07/1913 at Tilsey. They both said they came from Tilsey.
A daughter Ellen Daisy Beatrice had been born, reportedly at 26 Spring Gardens, Lewes, on 13/02/1912. Two further children were born in Lewes, John William Henry on 27/03/1914 at South Place, and Margaret Elizabeth Rachel on 13/10/1915. Margaret died at two months old.
Later information on army pension papers suggest that the above information is correct but it cannot be positively confirmed.
John was called up into the The Royal Sussex Regiment in 1914 as John Abel, and is recorded as enlisting in Hastings. He joined the 13th Battalion, the 3rd South Downs Battalion, and was numbered as SD 3403. Numbering of the South Down’s battalion was done in groups alphabetically. 3403 was probably issued in January 1915. Following enlistment the men were moved from Bexhill to Maidstone in July and then Aldershot in September. The final move before landing in France was to Witley where they came under the control of the 116th Brigade of the 39th Division. They landed at Le Havre in March 1916.
John was sadly part of what has come to be known as ‘The Day that Sussex died’. On 30/06/1916 the 39th Division took part in a fruitless diversionary attack at a position known as Boars Head, near Richebourg, the day before the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
This one attack led to around 1300 casualties, the bulk of them from the 13th Battalion.
While John is usually recorded as a private, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission suggest he was a lance corporal and spell his name Morriss. He is buried in the St Vaast Post Military Cemetery at Richebourg in plot III S 7.
John is remembered on the St John sub Castro Memorial but not on the Lewes War Memorial. He was entitled to the War and Victory Medals and these, along with his effects, were sent to Florence.