Among the 23 Commonwealth war graves in Horsforth Cemetery is that of John Helston, a boy of the Royal Navy. This is his story.
John was born John Elston (it is not entirely clear when he acquired the ‘H’ of ‘Helston’) on 12 April 1899, in Keighley. He was one of five children of John (Senior) and Catharine. John Senior had previously spent seven years serving in the Irish Rifles but was an iron founder’s labourer at the time of John Junior’s birth.
By 1911, John Junior and two of his siblings were under the care of the Keighley Union Workhouse. John and two-year Joseph were patients at the workhouse infirmary and one-year old Samuel was recorded as an inmate.
At the outbreak of the First World War, John Senior volunteered to join the Army Service Corps and spent a year at the Second Reserve Horse Transport Depot in Blackheath. During his father’s absence, John Junior was discharged from the workhouse and enlisted with the Royal Navy as a Boy (second class) on 17 February 1915, service number J/38500. He was 15 years old, 5 feet 3 inches tall with brown hair, grey eyes, a fresh complexion and a history of poor health.
Boy Helston began his training on HMS Ganges, a Royal Navy shore establishment training station in Shotley (situated on a peninsula between Harwich and Felixstowe). The Ganges had previously seen service as HMS Minotaur, which had taken part in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Fleet Review in 1887.
On 17 June 1915, Boy Helston achieved the rating of Boy (first class) and was posted to HMS Victory, another shore establishment (not the famous flagship of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar).
After just two months at HMS Victory, Boy Helston became sick with tuberculosis and was discharged from the Navy. He was transferred to Dean Head Sanatorium on Scotland Lane, Horsforth. Presumably, this was the closest place to his home in Keighley that could accommodate him.
After a long illness, young John died on 25 March 1916, less than three weeks short of his 17th birthday.
I’m very grateful for material supplied by the Men Of Worth Project during the preparation of this piece.