Before the war John is known to have worked at the Coppice Colliery (known locally as the ‘Fair Lady’) – the 1911 census records him as a colliery horse driver.
John enlisted with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards in January 1915. He died on 26th September 1916, when he was killed after a shell exploded in the trench he was in.
2nd Lieutenant M.A Foster later wrote to Mrs Shirley saying: ‘We had taken the village of Lesbouefs on the previous day and your son was a member of one of the reserve machine gun team. We were in a trench on the edge of the village and were heavily shelled on Monday night and Tuesday. It was not until the evening of that day, that a shell exploded in the section of the trench John was in. He was mortally wounded but was able to give me your address and asked me to write to you’.
John is commemorated on the Heath Hayes War Memorial and on the Thiepval Memorial in France.
After Armistice the Silver jug (pictured here) was presented to St. John’s Church, Heath Hayes. The engraving on the back reads: ‘To the Glory of God & in memory of: W. Cockin [Cockayne], W.T. Archer, A.E. Morris, E. Yates, J.H. Shirley, C.H. Clayton & J. Tooth – who died on active service in France 1914-18. Also as a thanks offering, for the safe return of sons from the war and for the blessing of Victory and Peace. May 1919′.
Although it is nearly one hundred years old, it is still used in weekly services at St. John’s Church on Hednesford Road, Heath Hayes.