John Gerard Annal was born in Warboys near St Ives, Huntingdonshire in 1892, the son of Henry Sinclair Annal and his wife Caroline (née Jowitt). Henry was a chemist and after marrying Caroline in 1888, he moved from Portsmouth to Warboys and finally settled in Melksham, Wiltshire, where the family were living in 1901.
On the outbreak of war in 1914, he joined the Somerset Light Infantry and after being shipped out to Bombay in November 1914, the regiment was sent to the Gulf in May 1915. A few months later, John was wounded and hospitalised but soon returned to action. In January 1916, his regiment was sent to Basra as part of the 37th Indian Brigade and, in April 1916, while fighting in Mesopotamia, John was wounded again and captured by Turkish forces. He was held as a Prisoner of War but died of dysentery on 15 June 1916.
That we know so much about him and his experiences in the war is thanks to a series of letters written by John to his old headmaster, George Corner, and published in the school magazine, The Wellingtonian. The letters have been transcribed and can be read here: Lives Of The First World War.
John was buried in the Prisoner of War Cemetery at Mosul. It seems that his body was later exhumed and buried in a war cemetery (probably Basra). He is commemorated on panel 12 of the Basra War Memorial. His name also appears on the Melksham War Memorial in Canon Square and on memorials at Melksham United Reform Church and St Michael’s Church, Melksham. There is also a memorial plaque for the Somerset Light Infantry at Wells Cathedral on which it can be assumed John’s name appears.
He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star and the Victory and British medals. His entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects shows that his effects (valued at £19 17s 4d) were left to his father.
John was named after his grandfather, John Gerard Annal (1818-1894). This older John was born at Grimness, South Ronaldsay and left Orkney as a young man to join the Coastguard. He eventually became a Chief Officer of the Coastguard in Goodwick, Pembrokeshire.